Tag Archives: period clocks

Scroll Pediments: On Clocks Anything Goes

High ChestScroll pediments are the front panels found at the top of some of the most impressive pieces built in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Furniture such as  Bonnet-top high chests of drawer or highboys (as shown in the left-hand photo), bonnet-top chest on chests and many period clocks have scroll pediments. It’s on these panels that gooseneck mouldings are applied. Scroll pediments, at least on the highboys and other chests that I have seen in books and museums, have the grain running from side to side. (Most scroll pediments attach to the pediment returns with dovetails.) The same holds true for many clocks. But that is not always the case.

Tall case clocks are different when it comes to how they were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On tall case clocks, you can find many construction techniques that leave a 21st-century woodworker scratching heads. Some period clocks – some very expensive period clocks – appear to be held together with little more than chewing gum and grime collected throughout the years.

#5024-03I have pointed out a few of the let’s say questionable construction techniques I’ve found on the Egerton clock that I’m working on. The scroll pediment is just another example. On the original clock, which at one time was for sale at $120,000, the grain of the pediment runs vertically. I know this because I have a photo of the back of the hood.

IMG_1058As I work on my tall clock, I am changing many of the oddities I found with the original, but as always the case, a few of those questionable construction techniques are being repeated. Case in point is the scroll pediment. I decided to keep the grain direction vertical. How this changes the building of my clock is most apparent as you work on the pediment returns. Dovetails, which are found on many of the period clocks that have broken-arch pediments, are not an option because the grain on the returns runs perpendicular to the scroll pediment. As a result, I attached the pediment and the returns with screws. I expect that nails were used on the original, but I went with screws (tightly fitted at the bottom and in over-sized holes at the middle and top for seasonal movement) for a more secure hold.

High_Res ScrollWhat is extremely interesting to me is that if you look at the front of the original Egerton clock you could not know that the scroll pediment grain runs vertically. You would, in fact, guess that the grain runs at a 45-degree angle because that’s the look presented at the front. A veneered face with fancy cutouts fronts the pediment.  The veneer grain is angled. (That’s a detail that I will add to my build.)

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Design, Joinery, Tall Clock

Furniture Detective

Take a look at the photos below. Here is a look at the bottom of the original Egerton Tall Case clock. What do you see?

I see tons of information about how pieces, clocks in particular, were built during the period. While I have come to understand that construction methods used back in the day are questionable when viewed with today’s eyes, I am constantly amazed at what we see.

For example, The bracket feet on this clock are attached under the transition molding that wraps the base on three sides – they may just catch the base sides and front, but if they do it’s not by much. Glue blocks, placed at the corners, fit under the case to carry the load. The rear feet in the photos are aligned with the clock’s backboard. Were the feet installed after the back was positioned? Or did the rear feet simply flop in the breeze until the back was added, at which time a nail made the final connection?

In the top photo, a missing glue block answers the question of how the feet were joined. The faint over-cut lines on the rear side foot indicate that the rear foot was dovetailed to the side foot. (Front feet are mitered.) If the block were in place, as it is in the second photo, we would be left guessing.

Notice, also, how thin the base sides appear. My best determination is that the sides are 1/2″ in thickness. With this information, it is clear that I plan to build an adaptation of this clock, not a reproduction – I don’t see the value in working with stock that thin.

Another question is how the bottom is attached. I have photos from other period clocks that show bottoms held in place by glue blocks (see below). That type of construction may seem shoddy, but there is a reason to adapt this method. Sometime during the clock’s life, it is possible that weights, which drive the movements, could be dropped in the case. At 10 – 14 pounds or more, these weights would do severe damage to the case bottoms. If the bottoms were an integral part of the base, repairs would be difficult if not impossible. Easily replaced bottoms keep the clocks in good repair.

I’m sure there is more information shown. If you see something in the two photos, leave a comment below. Information garnered from more than one pair of eyes makes us all better craftsmen.

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Design