You’ll either call this “How To Pretty Up An Old Wreck” or “How To Destroy A Beautiful Antique”. I lean towards the former, but if you lean towards the latter, you might want to skip this one. Here’s what I’ve been doing with all my spare time the last two weeks:


Want to know how to do it? Details pics and procedure under the cut!

Okay, so a word to start: this clock was bought as a present for me when I was just a baby. It’s been in storage for years, since neither I nor my mother had any room for it, but I figured now was as good a time as any to dig it out, except there was only one problem…

I hate naked wood. I mean, I really hate it. I’m not really a fan of natural materials… Stone, wood, anything like that– No. Give me glass and steel and high-grade plastics and I’m happy as a clam, but natural materials feel old-fashioned and fussy to me. So, when I got my clock out and installed it in my hall, I realized that it didn’t go with anything else in the house.


Still. It’s a gorgeous clock, and it has some super history. Shame to put it back in storage… So what to do? Paint it, of course!

Please note that I am NOT a DIY expert, or a painting expert, and I’m definitely not a clock expert. What follows is only a recount of my experience, and a few tips and suggestions which have worked for me on this project and other similar ones over the years. It shouldn’t be taken as gospel, and since I don’t consider myself an expert, you really shouldn’t, either!

You will need:

– an old clock, preferably one you don’t mind fiscally devaluing
– oil-based undercoat paint
– water-based emulsion paint in your preferred finish
– 3 small paint rollers
– 3 small paint roller trays
– 3 flat-tip art brushes, size 6 or 8
– 2 round-tip art brushes, size 1
– 30 to 40 hours of spare time
– a large helping of patience
– possibly a nice long holiday afterwards

Step One: Clean, Sand, & Then Clean Again

Since it had been in storage, it took me a couple of hours with a big vacuum and then a smaller one (and some bug spray, eugh) to get all the webs and dust out, and then I wiped down all the surfaces with a very mild bleach/soap solution. If your clock has been stored anywhere greasy, you’re going to need sugar soap, but mine was mostly just dusty. Once that was removed, it cleaned up pretty well.

Then take a picture of your nicely cleaned clock. You’ll want it for a before-and-after comparison later, and also as a base to try out different painting options while you’re working. Try to take the photo from directly in front of the clock in good light, and take all subsequent photos from the same position.

After the cleaning comes the sanding. I used a sanding sponge with a 120 grit, since anything coarser is going to gouge the wood. You only want to sand very lightly– not enough to be clearly visible on the surface, but enough to give the primer something to grip onto so that you’ll have fewer incidences of chips or flakes later on.

Once you’ve finished your sanding, you’re going to want to wash your clock down again, otherwise you’ll end up with sand in your paint. You shouldn’t need as intensive a cleaning this time around– a simple wipe down should do fine. Then you need to let your wood dry completely (several hours, if not overnight) before moving on to priming.

Step Two: Preparation

While waiting for your wood to dry, you can prep your clock for “surgery”, and set up your painting station.

If there are elements of your clock that you can easily remove (such as the doors or any decorative elements) then do so, but be aware that putting them back in might be difficult if you build up too many layers of paint where elements fit tightly together. If your paint is too thick, you’re going to end up wedging things together, which will only scratch off your hard work, and also look horrible. If you’re taking parts out and you find they only just barely clear the space you’re taking them out of, it might be better to paint them in situ, even if it does seem more difficult at the time.

You’ll also want to remove as many internal workings as possible, and then tie up any non-removeable ones and cover them in either tape or cloth to prevent them from getting covered in paint while you work.

Putting a dustsheet under your clock is also a good idea, especially if you have to paint on carpet. I prefer cloth to plastic, and I’ve used an old bedsheet.

Finally, make sure you use masking tape around the edges where the glass meets the wood. I had to use Sellotape, as I ran out of masking tape, which is really not a great substitute! Masking tape is always better.

All that done, you can move on to the tricky part: applying the paint.

Step Three: Priming

I used an oil based primer for two reasons:
1. It’s grips really well, and
2. I’m an absolute moron.

I had forgotten how much I hate working with oil paint. It smells, it’s sticky, it’s hard to clean, it gets everywhere… I hate it. That said, it definitely gets the job done:


Oil paints take forever and a day to dry, so while your primer is drying, why not decide how you’re going to paint your clock? The more decorative elements, the more options you have.

Step Four: Deciding On A Painting Scheme

I considered a lot of options when painting my clock, some of which you can see below:


I bored everybody to tears asking their opinions on which one would look nicest before finally disregarding all of their suggestions and going with the one that I ended up using.

To do this, you’ll need to grab the photo you took before you started, and plug it into your favourite image-editing program. Depending on the shape of your clock and your level of skill with an image editor, this is either going to be easy or super hard, but either way, it should give you at least a rough idea of how the end product is going to look.

Initially, I really wanted to go with the fourth version up there, but having looked at the rendered image for a while, I decided it was way too fussy and cut the amount of white way down. I’m really happy I did, as I think the final version has just the right ratio of white elements to black elements, and looks better than my original concept.

I went with simple black and white as my clock will probably always be standing near my piano, which is black with white keys, and my black-and-white storage trunk, but you could use other colours to match your own personal taste and decorative scheme. Your options are limited only by how many hours you’re prepared to put into the project and the colours available at your preferred hardware store.

Step Five: Painting

I went with water-based paints for the final colour, and I would advise anyone else to do the same. They’re easier to work with and easier to clean, you have a greater variety of colours to pick from, they smell way better while you’re working, the smell clears faster after you finish, and they release fewer compounds in the long-term. Overall, in my experience, they’re just a way better bet.

What I used was Dulux Vinyl Matt in Warm White and Black. I bought the 2.5L sizes, and to be honest, it was overkill. When it comes to paint, though, I’ve learned that it’s better to have too much than too little– too many times I’ve had different tins of the “exact” same paint show up different enough in shade or tone to be visible to the naked eye, and I just can’t abide that.

Having used several coats of both the white and particularly the black (covering up that white undercoat wasn’t easy), I have about a third of a tin left of the black paint, and two thirds of the white left.


Using this paint scheme on a clock this size (about seven foot tall and a foot wide), you could probably easily get away with 2 litres of the base colour and 1 litre of the accent colour.

I prefer to use rollers where possible; brushes tend to leave obvious “brush marks”, and it’s easier and faster to use a roller if you can. I used one roller and tray for the white paint and one for the black; they’re pretty inexpensive, and it’s a lot easier if you can have a dedicated roller and tray for each colour since you don’t have to clean them quite so often. My advice would be to get the plain sponge rollers, since the furry ones are both more expensive and can also be prone to leaving bits of fluff in the paint when they start to tire.

A warning: if you’re going to do a design like this, with small fiddly bits painted a different colour to the rest of the clock, you’re going to need to use artist brushes. And it is going to take you a very long time.

I painted the white elements on first, and then did the black afterwards. Painting the white was easy, painting the black afterwards without straying onto the white… Was not. My preference is for a flat brush no more than 1cm wide, which is what I used here. Was it tedious? Interminably. Do I think it was worth it? Absolutely.

You won’t get the same clean lines if you use anything else, not unless you have an incredibly steady hand. If you do, you can probably get away with a round brush, but even then I think there’s a particular finish that can be achieved with a flat brush which is unmatched by anything else. I did use a an extra-small round brush to tidy up a few little places here and there, though, so having one or two of those to hand is also a good idea.

A handy tip for working with water-based paints is that if you do have an accident and get a drop of white on your black (or vice versa), if you keep a Q-tip or a sheet of kitchen roll and a glass of soapy water beside you while you paint, you can smear it quickly for easier cleanup. That might sound counter-productive, as then you have a larger area to paint over, but trust me: it’s a lot easier to repaint a palm-sized area of dark-grey-on-black than it is to paint over a bright-white-on-black area that’s only penny-sized.

In general, you will need to use multiple coats, especially for dark colours over white undercoat, but even for lighter colours over light undercoat over dark wood, as I had here. I used the roller as much as possible, on the sides and on the top and once I had painted around the areas where white met black. I did have to spend a lot of time with the artist brushes, though, so I think it’s safe to say that you will also need time and patience, and a willingness to walk away and take a little break when you’ve reached the end of your rope.

When you finish, though, if you’re anything like me? You’ll feel great, both about your “new” clock and about yourself. I’m honestly delighted by how mine looks, and while traditionalists might cringe over the changes I’ve “inflicted”, it makes me smile every time I pass through the hall:


This whole project took me about 35 hours, start to finish. I worked on it slowly, over a period of about ten days… But if I had more patience, I could probably have finished in five days or less, which is about how long it would have taken if I had started painting as soon as the previous coat had dried. If you were to do one solid colour with no accent elements, I think this would probably take you less than ten hours.

Are you a crafty DIY fan? Have you embarked on any home improvement projects lately? Or do you just love upcycling furniture and decorative elements? Drop me a line and let me know!



  1. Shygirl
    Posted November 22, 2014 at 18:56 | Permalink | Reply

    Fair play, this is gorgeous. I like the final colour scheme you went with.

    • Posted November 23, 2014 at 01:49 | Permalink | Reply

      Thank you! It was a lot of work and I spilled (and blessedly successfully cleaned) a lot of paint, but it was so worth it. I really love how it turned out. Thanks for commenting! ❤

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  1. By 2014 IN A NUTSHELL « stuff nez likes on December 30, 2014 at 19:21

    […] Arts and crafts. 2014 is the year I made all kinds of things. I painted a clock, I reupholstered a stool and a headboard, and I upcycled a battered old truck into something new […]

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