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Tablet Restoration & Stencil Making Part 2: Throughout the "golden age" of American clock making ( 1810~1900) a number of different techniques were utilized to create and apply artistic designs to the glass tablets in clock doors. Early designs used relatively simple techniques to create tablets with bold lines and interesting geometric patterns. By mid-century, new technologies were perfected that allowed creation of complex "fine-line"  designs for tablets that could not have been created using a stencil. Today, due to age and treatment, these clock tablets are found in a wide range of conditions ranging from near-perfect to tablets where almost all of the image has been lost.

The ability to restore or recreate tablets is a very useful skill but many restorers with exceptional abilities in a wide range of other restoration techniques often shy away from tablet work because they feel that it is just too artistic for them to master. Fortunately, using some modern techniques, it is possible for any crafts-person with basic skills and patience to recreate even the most complex tablet images.

In part one of this series a procedure was presented for creating very accurate artwork for a clock tablet. In this presentation that artwork will be used to begin to create a high quality finished tablet using relatively simple techniques. Part-three in this series will present a second method to get the image onto glass. This additional technique is somewhat more complex to execute than the method shown here, but more closely matches the techniques originally used in tablet production. While each method achieves the same end result, both should be studied to determine which technique works best for you. Ultimately, the correct method is a combination of application and personal preference.


The earliest and most well known method for applying a pattern to glass is the stencil. For clock tablets, stencils were hand cut from card stock then used repeatedly until too worn or damaged to be used further. This technique worked quite well for applying relatively bold-lined images to glass on a mass-production basis. William Fenn is the best known maker of stencils for clock tablets. He began working with Seth Thomas in 1829 and then in to his own stencil-making business.



For bold-lined designs, it is possible to hand cut a stencil in the traditional Fenn fashion. While time consuming and tedious, this is still a valid approach for certain applications. However, as images become more complex hand-cutting hundreds of individual "cells" opens up a lot of opportunity for mistakes.



By 1860 stencils were losing favor being replaced by more sophisticated techniques such direct-to-glass-printing. This technique utilized a lithography approach that allowed creation of highly detailed, very fine-line designs that simply could not be produced by using  a stencil.





Many of the highly detailed gold metallic designs were created using direct-to-glass printing. As can be seen in the close-up at the left, some of the fine lines would be very difficult to produce with a stencil.





Traditionally, a tablet is created by first applying the various colors of the main image. The tablet is then finished by applying a background of white, black or some other color over both the image and unpainted glass areas.






In the case of gold metallic images, the image was applied to the glass then covered with black paint or asphaltum.

Both types of tablet are very attractive but easily damaged over time. Duplicating either of these tablet types using normal approaches requires a significant amount of artistic ability.

While there are those who specialize in restoring and recreating clock tablets, it is a skill that most of us simply do not have the time or patience to master.


For us "non-artist" there are techniques that can be employed to produce professional quality tablets. The process described here takes the traditional approach, but does it in reverse order.

That is, the black background and black fine-line details will be laid down first and the appropriate color or gold metallic will added to the unpainted "cells".

If you think about if for a moment, this makes perfect sense for us non-artist. Adding color within the completed outline of a design is essentially a "paint-by-number" approach and is a lot easier for most of us to master.

You will find that this approach to creating a tablet image will make it a lot easier to produce a professional quality results.

So, the challenge becomes creation of all that black background detail......


The first step is creation of the needed master artwork. This is covered in part one of this series.

It is recommended that photo quality paper be used to print the image using the highest quality possible on your printer.

Examine the finished print closely to ensure that it is the best possible quality and is the exact size you need for your tablet.




The photo will now be used to copy the image onto a special material known as "Water-slide decal paper". It is commonly used to produce decals for ceramics, tiles and plastic models.

This special paper is produced by attaching a very thin plastic film to a backing paper. The backing paper allows the thin plastic film to be handled and fed through a laser printer or laser copier.

Once the image has been copied onto the paper, the plastic film is lifted or "transferred" from the backing paper by soaking it in cool water for about one minute.

Two different types of decal paper are available and it is very important to get the correct type.

One type of decal paper is designed specifically for use with a laser printer or laser copier. This is the paper used in the process presented here and is the only paper type recommended.

The other type of paper is designed for use with an ink-jet printer. Do Not Purchase This Type of Paper.  It is possible to use an ink-jet printer for making decals but the process involves a number of additional steps and just isn't worth the extra work.

Decal paper is available with a clear film or a white film. Clear is used in this project. If you were copying a color graphic, the white paper may provide better color quality.

Decal paper is available from a number of on-line stores. is one reliable source.



A regular laser copier is used to make the decal. The master artwork should be placed in the copier and copies made on regular paper until the light/dark adjustment is correct.





Decal paper usually has a thin protective sheet places between each paper. This should be removed from the sheet before it is fed into the copier.

When hand feeding paper, the shiny side of the decal paper is usually fed face up. Test your copier if you are unsure.



The decal paper should now look exactly like the original artwork. Inspect the decal sheet closely to ensure that the copy is perfect.

Allow the toner on the completed copy to cure and harden for about five minutes before attempting to use.


Original "wavy" glass should be used when creating a replacement tablet. Wavy glass is still available from a number of sources. Check the NAWCC Mart magazine for some sources.


The glass must be very clean before the transfer process is started. Common Bon Ami powdered cleanser and hot water work well for scrubbing oil, finger prints and other accumulated dirt from both sides of the glass.

Scrub, rinse and dry both sides of the glass then examine it closely to ensure that it is free of contamination and finger prints.



Place the clean glass on a suitable work surface and wipe it with Acetone and a clean paper towel just prior to beginning the transfer process.



The decal should be trimmed to the size of the tablet then placed in a bowl of cool water for about one minute.

Gently test the decal to determine if the film has loosened from the base paper and is ready for transfer.




Use a wet paper towel to dampen the surface of the glass with water. This makes sliding the decal into positin easier.



Lift the decal paper from the bowl and allow excess water to drain. Carefully place the sheet to one side of the glass and  gently slid the film from the paper and onto the glass.

Use a dry paper towel to dab excess water from the decal and push air bubbles to the edge of the glass.

Work slowly and keep covering all areas until all bubbles are removed.

Allow the tablet to sit for about ten minutes then recheck for bubbles.

Keep checking the tablet for about an hour or until the adhesive holds all areas firmly against the glass.



Allow the decal to fully dry over night and it will become very firmly attached to the glass. As the film dries it also becomes thinner to the point it is not detectable.


If a good copy was produced, the black decal usually has no "holidays" or pin-holes. Just to be sure, hold it up to the light to check.

Any holidays can be easily touched up with a small artist's brush and matte black paint.


Once satisfied with the black background pattern, color can be added.

As noted at the beginning of this presentation, Part-three will show an alternative methods to lay down the black background. Since the approach to filling the clear cells is the same for both background methods, it is presented only once in Part-four.

Click this link to proceed to Part-three (another method)


Click this link to proceed directly to Part-four  (adding color)

The water-slide decal process is very easy to use and produces a tablet image that us non-artist can easily work with. Combined with the ability to create custom artwork as detailed in Part-one, this technique means any restorer with basic shop skills can produce high quality tablets on correct wavy glass.

The materials needed to try this process are quite inexpensive and the results can be very impressive. It's worth giving it a try just to see what is possible.

Tom Temple