How to repair a century-old barometer

April 9

Question: I have an English barometer that I think is at least 100 years old. It does not work correctly, as the mercury holder on the back needs attention. Any ideas on where I could have this done?

— McLean

Answer: Mark Pellmann, who does business as the Clock Maker at Gwathmey (804-752-6633; www.masterclockmaker.com) does this type of work. Although it might be possible to ship the barometer to him, he strongly recommends bringing it to his shop in Ashland, Va. (about 1½ hours south on Interstate 95) and picking it up again when it is repaired.

Shipping rules regarding mercury aside, there are practical reasons why hand-delivery makes sense, Pellmann said. Some mercury barometers aren’t sealed, so the mercury could drain out if you shipped the instrument and the package tipped. And even if he sealed the opening before sending the repaired instrument back to you, a sharp drop might push the heavy mercury against the glass with enough force to shatter it, negating all the work he did. Plus, Pellman said, most of his customers find a visit to his shop interesting and informative.


The barmoeter. (Reader photo)

If you bring in the instrument, he will assess whether it is a simple repair or something more involved. He can usually estimate the cost of a simple repair on the spot, but if the price is likely to be more than $300, he usually assesses the project more carefully and then gets back to the customer with an itemized proposal before he does any work.

Some other people who repair antique clocks also work on vintage scientific instruments, including mercury barometers. If you want to track down other repair options, a place to start is the directory of people who restore timepieces that’s published by the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors on its Web site, www.nawcc.org.

Question: I just bought a house that was built in the 1940s. The bathtub has blue vinyl seashell non-slip decals on the bottom that I want to remove. I’ve tried alcohol, boiled vinegar and Goo Gone and Oops adhesive removers. Nothing has loosened the stickers. I tried scoring them with an herb slicer to get to the adhesive, but even that didn’t work. Have you any suggestions?

— Prince Frederick

Answer: A tub from the 1940s is probably porcelain, which is tougher than some more modern finishes. So you should be able to scrape off the decals with a single-edge razor blade. To avoid scratching the surface, use a fresh blade and dribble on a little liquid dish soap first for lubrication. Keep the blade at a low angle, nearly parallel to the tub surface. It might help to soften the plastic first with a hair dryer.

Once you remove the decals, the adhesive removers should help take off remaining residue.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s month-by-month roundup of home-improvement tasks at washingtonpost.com/home.

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