Clock Restoration

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Tablet Restoration & Stencil Making Part 1: Many of us feel that we are not particularly "artistic". We can rebuild a complex movement, refinish a case with original materials or craft a missing piece from wood or metal, but when it comes to the more delicate tasks such as restoring or creating a painted tablet, we tend to shy away and outsource the project to an "expert". 

Fortunately, for those of us who feel we lack artistic flair, there are a number of techniques that can be employed to accurately restore a tablet or custom make a high quality replacement. As with the other jobs you perform such as re-bushing a movement, it's all a matter of finding the right tools for the job.

Sometimes you need to restore an existing, but damaged, tablet. At other times, the tablet you need happens to be on a friends clock or on a clock you saw at a regional. Here, what you really need is an accurate reproduction of the tablet design on correct antique glass.

One approach to creating a tablet design is to hand cut a stencil. This is a delicate and time consuming task with many opportunities for mistakes. When only a single tablet will be produced, hand cutting a custom stencil is a significant investment of time that may not be justified. Additionally, some tablet designs were produced using a direct to glass printing process. Many of these designs simply cannot be produced in a stencil form.

Fortunately, there are some viable alternatives to hand cutting stencils. The presentation that follows is Part-one in a four part series. It shows a method capture, electronically restore and resize a tablet image as necessary to produce a highly detailed "master" artwork that will be used to create a new tablet.

Parts two and three in the series show two different methods to get the newly created image onto the tablet glass. The techniques presented utilize some modern methods that do not require any cutting as with a traditional stencil yet produce exceptional detail.

Part four covers completion of the tablet by adding the final coloring and protective backing. Methods to use both paint and metallic powders to produce professional results are covered.

An authentic and serviceable tablet adds tremendously to the overall quality of a clock restoration. The ability to create the necessary patterns and transform them into a finished tablet is a worthwhile skill and one that any restorer with reasonable shop skills can master. This four part presentation should be useful for those who wish to master this skill.


We've all done it, taken on a restoration project that will be, at best, a real challenge of our skills and abilities.

While these projects take a tremendous amount of time to complete, they tend to be the most rewarding and educational.

This little number came to me with the original movement, dial glass and upper tablet. Beyond that, things got a little dicey.

There was only enough of the top crown to provide some good contours for pattern making.

The lower door consisted of only the side that was attached to the hinges.

The columns were not heavily damaged, but the gold was pretty well worn away on both.

All in all, a typical season-long project.


One thing about the clock that caught my interest was the tablet. While most of the black backing paint was worn away, the gold was almost complete, although damaged.

I planned to restore this tablet, but I also wanted to create a stencil of the image since it is not a design seen in either of the Fenn books.

Restoring this tablet is another story. This presentation concentrates on capturing the image and creating the artwork for a new stencil.


The first step is to get a good "digital" photo of the tablet. This can be a challenge since the tablet needs to be well lighted to capture all the detail, but lights tend to create glare and hot spots.

It's possible hold the camera at a angle to the tablet to avoid the glare, but this creates distortion known as "Keystone" error where the top is wider than the bottom.

In the end, the best compromise between capturing detail and avoiding glare is achieved by using natural daylight and positioning the camera about three to five feet from the tablet. The camera's zoom feature is then used to move in close to the tablet to capture detail.

Experimentation with light and camera positioning will usually lead to a good quality, glare-free photo that can be used for making a stencil.

There are a lot of high quality photo editing programs
available at reasonable cost.

Corel, Adobe and Jasc all make quality products that can be very useful in clock restoration work.

Paint Shop Pro from Jasc is one such product and was used here simply because it's the program I have.

Other programs may offer more or different features than Paint Shop, but the features used here are common to all of the software packages noted.

With the digital image of the tablet loaded into the photo processing program, restoration can begin.

There are a lot of strategies for restoring the image, but one that works well and reduces the work is to divide the image into quarters.

Most tablets are symmetrical. That is, the left side is a mirror image of the right. Additionally, many tablets are also symmetrical top to bottom.

With this in mind, the restoration work can often be reduce by 1/2 or even 3/4.........

The basic strategy is to select the quadrant with the best (least damaged) image and carefully restore that quarter. The restored portion is then be copied and pasted over the un-restored sections to produce a fully restored image.

Using the zoom feature, the area you wish to work on can be magnified to the point that you can see every little flaw.

There are a number of features to the software that make it easy to restore the image at this level.

For example, you can copy a small section of undamaged image and paste it over a damaged area. This works well for filling pin-holes in the image. An "Erase" feature allows you to rub out a flaw. Several other features can be used in combination to remove any and all of the flaws to the image.

Take your time and restore the section of image completely. Don't rush. It is usually better to complete a restoration such as this over several sessions instead of trying to do it all at  once.




Once satisfied with the restored quadrant, use the "Copy" feature to select just the restored area.




A feature called "Mirror" is used to reverse the copy of the left-lower quadrant to be correctly shaped for use in the right-lower quadrant.



You can move the copied-mirrored section down to cover the lower, un-restored, right hand section of the tablet image.

With care, it can be aligned to perfectly register with the image on its left and top.



With the entire lower half of the tablet digitally restored, the lazy approach to restoring the upper half is to simply copy the entire lower half.



A feature called "Rotate" will allow you to rotate the
copied lower half through 180 degrees so it can be
used on the top.




With all four quadrants restored, the center section
still looks a little rough.

An alternative to carefully touching up the entire center section is to use the "Shapes" feature of the software.

This feature provides a number of pre-drawn shapes ( circles, squares, triangles, etc).

With this feature, it's a simple matter to draw a new center section, drag it into position and size as needed.

You can set the color of the shape to match the color of the rest of the image and the new section is totally undetectable.

This is a nice feature to use when you change the height and width of the image and your circular center section suddenly becomes an oval. The correct circular shape is simply dropped over the old oval.

To make a stencil pattern, it is usually better to work with a simple black & white image instead of color.

To convert the restored image to high-contrast black & white, the monotone feature can be used.

With the image in black & white, it is usually a good idea to go over the image and clean up small flaws at this time.

You can often eliminate small "gray" dots simply by brightening the entire image slightly.

At this point you will see that the image is actually very detailed with crisp lines.


Another feature that may be useful is the "negative image" feature.

This simply makes the white areas black and the black areas white. This is the type of image needed for the "no cut" stencil making technique detailed in a related presentation.

When using the image to create a new stencil for a specific application, it may be necessary to have height-width dimensions that differ from the original artwork.

This is easily accommodated using the "resize" function of the software, but it is critical how you go about resizing.

Many photo editing packages default to a 72 dpi (dots per inch) image in the editor. If you originally took the photo with a high resolution camera (say 4 megapixels or greater) then the software package will show the size of the image to be around 23 inches per side.

There are two ways to resize this image:

  1. Select "resize" then change the height and width
      dimensions directly.

  2. Select "resize" then change the dpi from 72 to
      some greater number.

Which method you employ makes a tremendous difference in the quality of your final image.

If you simply resize the height and width you will have an image of your desired size but at only 72 dpi resolution. This is actually quite low quality that is apparent when you print the image.

If, instead of directly resizing the height and width, you increase the dpi figure, the image size will be reduced because you are putting more dots per inch (ie increasing image quality).

Normally, when working with a good photo image it is best to set the dpi figure at 300 or more then set the height and width to your final desired dimensions.

Try it both ways and you'll easily see the difference.




Here is a closer look at the stencil image created from the photo shown at the start of this presentation.

As can be seen, there is a tremendous amount of detail captured that will allow a high quality  stencil to be created.

With the ability to resize the stencil image as needed, this image will be useful for restoration projects for many years to come.






The pattern has been resized to fit the recently built  lower door on the project clock.

The nice thing about digitally creating the pattern is that is can be easily resized, printed and tried out before committing to producing the final stencil.

This tablet pattern may, or may not, be the final design  for the clock, but it's nice to test it out..........

With the image restored and stretched to the correct height/width proportions, the next step is to actually get the image on to our tablet glass. Normally, this would mean printing a copy of the image, pasting it on a suitable stencil material then spending several hour carefully cutting out the image. This is tedious work and it's easy to make a mistake.

Parts two and three of this series show different methods to transfer the highly detailed tablet image to glass "Without Any Cutting....."

Click the link to proceed directly to Part-two

Tom Temple