CONVERTING A VINTAGE PLUG-IN CLOCK TO A BATTERY QUARTZ MOVEMENT

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CONVERTING A MID-CENTURY PLUG-IN ALARM CLOCK TO A BATTERY QUARTZ MOVEMENT

The before and after pictures of this clock don't look much different from the front...and that's a good thing!

 

The challenge:

-To replace the burned out electric (plug-in) motor of a circa 1960 Westclox alarm clock with a battery-powered quartz movement, while using the original hands and design elements. (Replacing movements on vintage clocks is one thing, but keeping the original hands is the real feat.)

-Also, to find a new method of holding the clock together, since the original movement had been performing that function.

What made this project worthy:

There are plenty of new clocks available these days that attempt to replicate the mid-century aesthetic, but for a variety of reasons (manufacturing processes, materials available, not to mention 'no longer Made in the USA') they are never quite the same as the real thing. Furthermore, the iconic cat's-eye design of this red and gold clock is unusually terrific (especially those unique hands) and so I deemed this definitely worthy of saving from the landfill.

 

Marrying New Technology with Old Housing

Many older clocks, like this one, rely on the clock movement itself to hold the whole thing together -- so if you remove it, you have to rethink how you're going to keep the components joined. The original movement had two studs protruding backward from it which attached to the casing with two nuts, and the face was bolted to the movement by way of the shaft. Contemporary movements are less substantial and as such aren't used or needed as an integral part of assembly, so there would be no help there.

To separate the clock face from the casing, I unscrewed the nuts and slid the clock apart. The plastic bezel is held in by tabs and easily removed by squeezing it's edges and backing it out.

Next, I carefully disassembled the clock so as not to inflict unwitting damage to the interior parts, which are delicate and must be handled with extreme care. Older clock faces are notoriously easy to mar -- vintage spun metal is quite prone to scratching if rubbed with even the friendliest of cloths (like an old cotton T-shirt), let alone if an abrasive paper towel is used (never do that by the way). Luckily, being an enclosed design, this particular face was relatively clean so I decided it best to leave untouched whatever minor buildup was there and forgo any inherent risks in attempting to clean it.

For the new movement, access through the back of the casing would be needed in order to replace the battery and to set the time and alarm. As the photos show, there was a raised eyeball-shaped section on the back of the housing which worked well as a template for me. Using an oscillating saw, I cut along that edge then cleaned up the jagged melted plastic left behind with a Dremel, creating an ergonomically friendly and aesthetically acceptable opening. I had considered ways to save the back and re-use it in order to maintain the completely closed aesthetic of the original design, but alas, it would be more trouble than it was worth mainly because access to the alarm shut-off would be hampered in the early morning when nobody's in the mood to execute three extra motions to shut off the damn alarm. Also, who's wasting their time looking at the back of the clock? Enough said. Open design wins.

 

Then I was ready to begin reassembly. First, I needed to secure the new quartz movement to the back of the internal face. These contemporary light-weight movements are designed to be stuck on, and usually a little industrial-strength double-stick tape does the trick, but in this case the thickness of the face left no tolerance for the tape while still allowing enough shaft length to accommodate all four clock hands. Therefore, I secured the pieces using a two-part epoxy, gently clamping them (pictured) to ensure proper and precise adhesion.

 

Next, I went to work on the hands -- one of the key design elements that made this clock worth saving. The new movement came with hands that I definitely did not want to use but the old hands of course were not designed to fit the new movement. So, I cut the round hubs off the new hands and used them as adapters by affixing them with epoxy to the hubs of the old hands. Also, the old minute hand had a metal lip on it that had to be filed down to allow for proper adhesion. (Pictured) The alarm hand happened to be the same design, just red instead of gold, so I simply used the new one.

 

The final step of reassembly was securing the movement/face back into the body of the clock. For this job, I cut three small pieces of wood corner molding to use as braces and secured them with epoxy to the insides of the face and casing.

The clear plastic crystal front simply snapped back into place. My terrific vintage clock was once again whole and functional, while maintaining every bit of that original Mid Century Modern style!

This clock has sold.



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