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Restoration of the wood pedestal base

This month we describe the restoration of the clock's pedestal or what we will refer to as the base. The base contains the clock's pendulum, pulleys and weights. I decided to insert this into the February section even though it was completed in January and was done over the period of late October through January since there was not much else to report on the mechanical portion of the restoration in this month. The restoration of the wood base was done by an outside firm. So there are only photos of the base as received and then a few ‘in progress’ photos from the cabinet restorer.

The restoration of the Pouvillon clock is being done by the Buchanan firm in Australia. When it was imported from London early last year the wood base was examined by Australian Customs and was found to have had an infestation of wood worms. It’s likely that this was an old one, but the Customs officials insisted that the base go through quarantine and be fumigated to eliminate any danger of infestation. The clock and base had been well packed in England and had made the journey to Australia without incident. However, the fumigators had damaged the base. It looks like something had either backed into it or ran across it. This is the nightmare of anyone who ships valuable clocks – damage in transport or from customs inspection. Thankfully the clock was not attached to the base at the time and made it through intact.

In addition to the scarring along the upper edge, the base slightly smashed, probably from impact with a forklift truck.


The first photo shows a section of wood that had come away with extensive wood worm damage. Notice the wood powdering near the lower end. The next photo shows another section with similar damage. At this point we were unsure if the case had retained enough structural integrity to support the heavy weights that powered the clock. Not a propitious beginning to the restoration of the base!

These photos show two areas of the underside where the brass feet are secured. In the first photo one can see the area adjacent to the brass foot has been filled in with new wood, next another view of that area. The next photo shows another mounting point with evidence that the foot has been moved at least once or that a different foot with another set of holes was used before the current version.


Here we have the lower seat board for the clock. There are two seat boards used and are sandwiched one upon the other. The upper board, not shown, is attached to a decorative trim surround and lifts off the base with the clock attached; allowing for easy transport and presentation of the clock without the base. This lower seat board has the upper weight pulley set attached and remains fixed to the base. It's apparent that there have been many alterations in the various attachment points over the years. Next an inside shot of the cabinet floor with the lower pulleys in place.



These photos show a close up of the lower base pulley pair as well as the initial stringing of the weights to test for the structural integrity of the base. The weights are triple compounded and so are quite heavy requiring the case to have a good structural integrity. The rigging is first shown from above and then from below. After an initial trial it appears that the seat board is sufficient to take the weights. The remaining base is yet to be evaluated.


Buchanan decided to gingerly wind up the weights and after the broken pendulum rod was repaired, we initiated the pendulum. Needless to say the clock would only tick for a brief period of time before stopping. The movement has been in disrepair for at least the past 28 years as we know from photographic evidence as far back as 1983 that the clock has been unchanged from that time though the present. Fortunately, the base looks to be solid despite all of the visual damages.


Next we evaluated the rear access door. It was severely warped and there was no prospect of it ever closing properly in its current state.


These photos show evidence that the base did not originally have a black, painted finish. In fact, upon close inspection it was evident that the black finish was spray painted on an underlying wood finish and it scraped away rather easily. We were cautiously optimistic at what appeared to be our good fortune. This was to be short-lived. Of course why would anyone spray paint a perfectly good wood grained cabinet? Well we were about to find out.

The first evidence of damage, one of many areas which ultimately lead to the cabinet being painted, was located in the rear access door. After the paint was removed we found several very deep gouges were hidden by filler before being painted. The last photo shows some of these gouges went clear through the door.

The first photo shows another gouged out area near the base. The next depicts an area where wood was replaced with later piece of joined wood. The next photo shows a curiously repaired area where apparently wood doweling as well as a wood block was used to repair a broken section.


Here we have further areas with wood filler. 

Here we have more filled cracks and in the second photo more damage to the left edge of the front, center panel. There were countless areas of scratches gouges and other signs of abuse and neglect all over the surface of the base. The base is made of oak and was stained to look like a mahogany finish. The last photo shows damage near the upper door hinge area.

There were very few areas that could have been salvaged in a presentable fashion by merely scraping off the black spray painted top coat. So we were left with the following options:

 A. Forget about the fact that the base originally had a wood grained finish and paint the case back to the way we found it, which is a glossy black finish.

 B. Try to refinish the case back to what the original case finish looked like while keeping as much of the original material as possible and accepting the fact that prior repairs and damaged would be visible.

C. Create a new base in the same manner as the original and finish it off in the same manner.

Choosing C would not be in keeping with our restoration goals within the scope of this project and was not even considered, especially since we had determined that even with all of the existing problems the structural integrity of the base had not been compromised.  However the choice between A and B was a difficult one as were several of the restoration steps we took with the clock movement itself. The strict conservator faction would say we should have never have touched the black finish in the first place and given that we did should simply repaint the areas where we removed the paint back to a finish as close to the rest of the black finish still in place. Since the base originally had a wood grained finish we assumed that the base was painted after Mr. Pouvillon’s death and opted to retain the original material with all its flaws and still try to reveal the finish as would have originally been seen when Pouvillon had first completed the base. So in summary I chose B. I now show the refinished base.

Here are some of the areas that showed distress before restoration. In the first two photos one can see we accomplished a near perfect reversal of the damaged and wood filler areas. In the third photo we were less successful and accepted the prior damages as a part of the case 'patina'.


In this photo the base is seen from above and we also see the upper seat board with its decorative surround.



Notice the very slight color difference along the left vertical line at the edge of the center panel as it runs along the inner edge of the adjacent molding. This entire area had quite noticeable damage all along the grain and I was uncertain how this would turn out. I am pleased that the cabinet maker was able to overcome this as well as the many other obstacles that the base presented. These photos also represent the truest sense of the cabinet color while most of the rest have a slight red-shift to the color.


Here we see the rear access door is straightened and now closes as intended. The center panel had suffered too much damage to be salvageable and a new carcass of plywood was used to prevent any future warping and this plywood was then veneered with a matching material on both sides. This is how one gets a mirrored graining on both sides of the door to give it the look of a panel made from a single, solid material. Given the extensive damage the door had sustained, this was a wonderful result. We left the interior of the case as found and one can the shadows where the lower pulleys are located.

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