FAQ’s & Tips

If you’re told you need a new movement, please call me before you let that happen. I have been hearing more stories of shops just wanting to replace the movement. This  is done by people who don’t want to repair your clock or don’t know how. Sure, it’s an easy way to turn a profit, but that doesn’t make it right.

My clock is just wound too tight. How can I get it running? With the possible exception of some weight driven clocks, when a clock is fully wound it simply will not wind any farther. Forcing it beyond that point could cause something to break. OLD WIVES’ TALE: “I over wound my clock.” You can’t over-wind a clock. Something may be broken but it’s not over-wound. When winding a spring driven clock, it will get harder and then should come to a stop.  A fully wound clock that refuses to run has a mechanical problem that requires attention. It’s not just “wound too tight”.

Do you make house calls? I offer free local area pickup. I will be happy to fetch your clock and take it to my workshop where it can be properly serviced. I normally do not service clocks in the home except possibly to adjust the beat or rate.

My 8-day clock runs fine for 6 days then slows and stops. This condition is common with spring-powered clocks and can have several causes. As springs run down they provide less power. Anything that causes the clock to require more power than normal will cause it to stop before the spring is fully run down. Lack of oil, dirt build-up, and worn pivots [bearings] are the most likely cause. After many years springs often take a “set” or become weak and can simply no longer provide a full 8-day run. All of these conditions can be corrected, but if the springs are weak, the simplest solution is often to simply wind the clock twice a week.

Why does my clock not strike the correct hour? Most clocks use a count wheel strike system. The time side and strike side of the clock are completely independent. The time side of the clock does not “tell” the strike side what the actual time is, just that it’s time to strike again. There are two conditions that can cause the strike and time to get out of step. The strike did not run when it was supposed to and got behind, or the strike didn’t stop when it was supposed to and got ahead of the time. The most common cause of the strike not running is that it was not wound, or not fully wound so the clock continued to run after the strike had no power left. Worn parts, lack of lubrication, and improper adjustments can all cause the strike not to run or to stop.

The exact procedure for getting the strike back in step with the time varies from clock to clock (please contact me if you need help with this). If the strike continues to get out of step for no reason, then your clock will need to be service to correct the problem.

Can a clock be damaged by turning the hands backward? Most clocks can be turned backward if they are not within 10 minutes of striking and you don’t turn them back past 12:00 (or 12:00 and 6:00 if the clock strikes on the half hour). Many “newer” clocks have setback movements and can safely be turned back past 12:00 and 6:00, but doing so will cause most American clocks to strike an incorrect number of times. Most clocks made before about 1885 will be damaged if turn backward past a striking point. Non-striking clocks can be set backward. Unless the label in the clock (or your clock repair person) tells you that your clock is a setback model, it would be best to assume that it is not.

Why does my clock not strike exactly on the hour? This is a frequently encountered condition that can be caused by any one or a combination of several things. Forcing the hands of a clock to turn backward past 12:00 frequently results in this condition. Loose, bent, or poorly fitted hands may give the appearance that the clock is not striking at the right time. The strike mechanism may be out of adjustment or badly worn. Most old clocks have some lost motion or “free play” in the gears that move the hands so it can be challenging to make the clock strike straight up exactly on 12:00 every time. A minute either side of 12:00 is usually considered normal, several minutes off indicates that servicing is needed.

Can you refinish my clock’s case? Yes, probably, but are you sure you really want to do that? Generally, whenever anything original about an old clock is replaced, the market value of the clock is decreased. If the finish is so bad that the clock makes a really bad presentation, then yes, it may be time to consider refinishing it. In many cases a good cleaning and a coat of wax may be a better choice. Then there is the choice to use a modern durable finish or try to duplicate the original finish method. Every clock is an individual case and the decision is really up to the owner. Keep in mind that a clock that’s 150 years old is supposed to look 150 years old. It’s ok to leave a few blemishes.

Can my clock be converted to battery power and still strike? Yes, battery powered quartz movements that strike the hour and/or play Westminster chimes on the qtr. hour are available for many old windup clocks. Keep in mind that whenever anything original about an old clock is replaced, the market value of the clock is decreased. The original movement should be retained and passed on to any future owner of the clock.

Is there a way to silence or quiet my clock’s “strike” sound? The simplest way to silence the strike sound on many clocks is to simply not wind the strike side (usually the left side) of the clock, however, if you later decide to wind the strike side and the clock has a count wheel strike mechanism, the striking may be out of step with the time of day. Some clocks, especially those with a rack & snail strike mechanism, may not run if the strike side is not wound. Metal strike hammers can often be replaced with leather faced hammers for a softer tone. A stick-on felt pad can sometimes be placed over the hammer face to reduce the sound. A clock shop may be able to fabricate a hook device to restrain the strike hammer when you prefer not to have the clock strike.

My clock has a really loud “tic”. Can you make it run more quietly? Maybe. A clock that has badly worn parts, especially the escape wheel pivots and related parts of the escapement, can be noisy. Replacing these parts and properly adjusting the escapement [the part that ticks] can often significantly quiet a noisy clock…. but some clocks are just more noisy than others and seem to defy any attempt to quiet them. Placing the clock on a rubber mat may help. Placing the clock in a different location or another room with different acoustic properties, can often make the sound less noticeable.

Are clocks with wooden movements too fragile to run every day? Most wooden movement clocks are at least 175 years old and many are still running just fine. That says a lot about their durability. Some collectors of old clocks….old cars….old furniture…and the like, feel that these artifacts from the past should be preserved just as they are for future generations and never be used. Others, like myself, feel that old clocks were meant to be run and enjoyed. I have several wooden movement clocks in my collection that run every day. I expect they will all outlive me, then someone else can make the decision to run them or let them rest.

Can wooden movement clocks be repaired? Yes! Wooden movements are very repairable, however the materials and methods are somewhat different. Depending on what parts need to be repaired or replaced, service cost can be significantly more than for common brass movement clocks.

How often should wooden movement clocks be oiled? The short answer is never! The wooden pivot holes require no lubrication. The escape wheel in most wooden clocks has one brass pivot hole that may be oiled once every 3 to 5 years as needed with a very small amount of oil. Likewise, the pallet strip (verge) rides on a metal pin and may be oiled sparingly. There is one exception; if the movement was made with brass bushings, or has had brass bushings installed (a bad idea), then these require oil just like in a brass clock. Some shops lubricate wooden pivot holes with a small amount of graphite powder. Whether this prolongs the life of the clock is debatable, but there is no question that it makes the wood look bad. Most professionals seem to recommend no lubrication on wooden parts.

Should I have my clock’s movement replaced or rebuilt? That really depends on what type of clock you have, how old it is, what you plan plan to do with the clock, the cost, and the availability of a replacement movement. Whenever original parts are replaced with new, the clock’s market value as a collectable, antique, or future antique, will be significantly reduced. If the clock is more than 70 years old, or you plan to keep it in the family for future generations, then, if at all possible, I would keep the original movement and have it repaired or rebuilt. There are a few exceptions.

Quite a few reproduction style clocks from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s are now coming in with badly worn movements. Some models are wearing out early due to problems with some of the original materials used during manufacture. Hopefully, these problems have been corrected. New replacement movements from the same manufacturer may be available for little more than the cost of a rebuild job. Most of these were made by a couple of popular German makers, and stamped with numerous different brand names (even some American names), so your replacement movement will likely have a different brand name stamped on it.

Cuckoo Clocks, because they are more complicated, expensive to repair, and often poorly made, may be good candidates for a replacement movement (if one is available). Many shops simply refuse to accept cuckoos for repair. I accept them on a case by case basis when I deem them to be repairable at a reasonable cost.

If you have an antique clock that has no movement at all, has a movement that’s so badly damaged that repair is impossible, or has previously had its movement replaced with an incorrect movement, then a movement replacement is appropriate. From a collector’s perspective, the best option would be to locate an old movement that is identical to the original movement and have that movement rebuilt before installation. One option to consider is a temporary battery powered quartz movement, which will allow you to enjoy your old clock while you search for a proper replacement movement.

Do you repair Cuckoo clocks? It has been said that almost every home has a Cuckoo clock and that almost none of them run. One reason for this is that many clock repair shops refuse to work on them. Unlike other clocks where the “insides” can be removed as a unit and set up on a test stand for observation and service, Cuckoos have numerous parts (whistles, birds, bellows, etc.) which are separately attached to the clock case. In short, the clock cannot operate out of its case, and in the case, many parts are inaccessible. Many were mass produced and are rather poorly designed. For example, only the front of the movement is usually secured to the case, when the heavy weights are attached, the movement can sometimes be twisted or distorted enough to cause the clock to not run properly, even though it looks perfectly normal out of the case.

Time is money to the shop, and much time can be consumed tracking down and repairing problems with Cuckoo clocks, time that cannot all be billed to the customer (if the shop wants to keep the customer). Cuckoos can be repaired, but the cost of repair may be prohibitive for cheap clocks. In many cases, a new replacement movement may be the best solution. I accept Cuckoos on a case by case basis when I deem them to be repairable at a reasonable cost.

Why does my clock sometimes stop for no reason? When a clock stops, there’s always a reason, though not necessarily an obvious reason. If the clock always stops at the same time, the problem may be as simple as the minute hand hitting the hour hand. The clock could also be out of beat or sitting on an unlevel surface. Excessively worn internal parts, a bent tooth on a wheel, or an incorrectly adjusted escapement can also lead to intermittent stopping problems. When most clocks are being wound, they actually stop running – the pendulum continues to swing, but the clock does not “tic” and the time does not advance. Some clocks like to take this opportunity to stop alltogether after being wound, so check to be sure the clock is still running after being wound.

Tracking down and fixing intermittent problems can be a time consuming process. The first step is usually to have the clock movement disassembled and cleaned. While the movement is apart, the pivots should be serviced as needed, and the entire movement carefully inspected for anything that could be causing the problem. Most stopping problems will be corrected when a clock is cleaned, worn parts replaced, and properly adjusted.

What’s my old clock worth?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions and one of the most difficult to answer. I once asked an antiques dealer that question and he told me that my clock had no dollar value until it is sold, and then it would only be worth what someone was willing to pay on that day. Of course he was right, but most people who ask expect a specific amount. Such a figure can be difficult if not impossible to determine.

The actual amount received when a vintage clock is sold may have more to do with the venue where the clock is offered for sale than the clock itself. A clock that might be offered for R10000.00 in a fine antique shop could fetch less than R3000.00 in an on-line auction depending on how many people are interested in buying the clock at that moment.

There are several, often very different, values that can be placed on an old clock. The amount one might expect to receive if the clock is sold may be quite different from the replacement cost for insurance purposes. Then there is the real value the clock has to its owner. A shelf clock that was given to your grandmother on her wedding day should be priceless to you, while to a bidder in an on-line auction, it’s just another clock. The provenance [the origin and history] of the clock is often important. If there is documentation that the clock was owned by a famous person, or even a not-so-famous person, the value will be more to a collector.

Value is greatly influenced by the condition of the clock, and especially so by how much of the clock is original. Two clocks of the same make, model, and age can vary greatly in value. It is often difficult to tell just what is original and what is not. A 150-year-old clock may have had its hands or pendulum, or even the clock movement replaced 100 years ago. The replacement parts may be very old-looking and still not be “original”. Many people assume that their clock is in good condition if it runs and looks nice, but many of these are almost totally worn out or bear the scars of improper previous repair work. A clock that has been carefully refinished may be beautiful, but in many cases it would be more valuable had the old finish been left alone.

There has always been a market for fakes and reproductions. Some are decent quality and can even be desirable, but they are not originals. Others are cheap imports, or old cases that have been fitted with cheap replacement parts. Even the experts can sometimes be fooled by a good copy.

Placing an accurate monetary value on an antique clock requires an appraisal by an expert. Such services, if done properly, include a detailed physical inspection of the clock and careful research. Even subtle differences like who the printer was that made the label, can mean the difference between the clock being common or rare. Such services are time consuming and expensive and usually not justified for “ordinary clocks”. Yes, there are places on-line where for a few bucks one can send in a photo and get an appraisal, but unless the appraiser actually examines the clock, such appraisals should not be relied upon, especially if the clock is thought to be rare or valuable.

One way to get a general “ball park” idea of what a similar clock might sell for is to search on-line auction listings such as www.ebay.com and see what other clocks have recently sold for. One can also search local and on-line clock shops and antique shops like www.rubylane.com to learn the asking price for similar clocks, but such prices may be considerably more than a negotiated selling price. www.antiqueclockspriceguide.com/ lists thousands of antique clocks that have sold at high- end auction houses. If you find your clock listed there, you might consider paying the small fee to view the details. One should keep in mind that although two clocks may appear identical, in a photograph or on-line listing, a careful inspection may reveal that they are quite different.

Sorry, I do not do clock appraisals and I cannot even suggest a “ball park” value without having your clock in my shop for inspection.

What kind of oil should I use to oil my clock? The short answer is clock oil. If the maker has specified a particular kind of oil, that recommendation should usually be followed. Porpoise jaw oil and whale oils, are generally no longer available, so when these are specified, one must find a suitable modern substitute. A good clock oil should stay where its put and not run out of the pivot holes. It should resist drying out, not get too “thick” in the cold or “thin” when warm, reduce friction, prevent wear, and last for several years before being replaced.

Most clockmakers stick with a brand of clock oil that they know will give good results and will often strongly defend their choice over the choice of other professionals. Actually, most any of the name brand clock oils sold by clock parts suppliers such as Timesavers should do just fine. Generic or “store brand” clock oils are usually available at lower cost, but one never really knows what they are and the seller may change suppliers frequently. The main springs in spring powered clocks require a heavier oil or light grease. Main spring lubricants are also available from places like Timesavers. Many shops use 90 weight EP gear oil (manual automotive transmission oil) to lubricate springs.

WD-40 and other penetrating solvent-lubricants are generally not appropriate clock lubricants, even though the makers may recommend them for that purpose. Likewise, oils formulated for automobile engines, guns, fishing rods, lawn mowers, bicycles, air tools, sewing machines, squeaky door hinges, and the so called all-in-one oils, are not recommended. Some of these products may have some of the properties of a good clock oil, but most of them will not have all of the properties of a good clock oil. But do you really need to oil your clock?……..(see next answer below).

How often should my clock be oiled? There is no absolute timetable for how often a clock should be oiled. Environmental conditions, the design of the clock, and the type of oil used for the last oiling are all factors to consider. Experienced clock repair persons frequently are in disagreement on this question. When a clock that’s been working properly starts loosing time, striking more slowly, or stopping before running down, it may be overdue for oiling and/or cleaning.

Oiling is usually done in conjunction with disassembly, cleaning, and inspection of the pivots [bearings and shafts]. A badly worn or dirty clock should be serviced before it is oiled. If the clock is properly cleaned and oiled every 3 to 6 years, there may be no need to have it oiled between cleanings, however some clocks may require more frequent oiling due to environmental conditions and clock design.

My recommendation for most old American clocks is that if the clock is in unknown condition, obviously dirty, or has gone for an extended period without maintenance, then it should be disassembled, cleaned, and serviced before being oiled. After an initial cleaning and service, it may be oiled again about every 1 to 5 years, followed by a complete disassembly and cleaning every 5 to 10 years or as needed. Over oiling only serves to turn the clock into a dust magnet.

Proper oiling usually requires removing the movement from the clock, which should only be attempted by a qualified clock repair person. Clocks should be lubricated with oils and lubricants intended for clocks. Never use WD-40 or other household or automotive products to oil your clock. If you want to oil your own clock, contact me for the proper lubricants for your clock. Clocks with all wooden movements are not oiled except where they have brass pivot holes or brass bushings.

How do you clean clocks, why does it cost so much? Experts agree that the only way to properly clean a clock movement is to completely disassemble it and clean all of the individual parts. This procedure is time consuming but allows the pivots [bearings] and other parts to be easily inspected and, if necessary, repaired or replaced before serious problems develop. Considerable time is required to disassemble, clean, and reassemble a clock movement. A proper cleaning represents a significant part of the cost of a quality repair or service.

Many amateur “clock fixers”, and “cut-rate” clock shops, cut corners, and costs, by using some variation of a technique I call “Clock Baptism” – that is, they dunk the complete movement in a pail of solvent cleaner, anoint it liberally with oil, and pray that God will heal it and keep it running long enough for the customer’s check to clear the bank. You get what you pay for…..sometimes.

Setting the Time on a Grandfather Clock

Clocks should be level and stationary. Swing the pendulum and if your clock is straight and level, it should start with an even Tick-Tock sound. Don’t hang the clock in the path of an air conditioner or heating vent which may blow on the pendulum. The Pendulum should arc an equal distance on either side of its center. Tilting a clock in one arc direction will produce a TICK-tock, the opposite direction a tick-TOCK. Balance the clock until tick-tocks sound equal in intensity.

When setting the time, move the minute hand (the longer one) to the correct time. Do not move the hour hand.

If the clock runs slow, move the pendulum bob up (turn adjustment screw right). If the clock runs fast, move the pendulum bob down (turn adjustment screw to the left).

Remember it takes patience to adjust time accurately.

 

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Striking the wrong hour

If the clock is striking the correct sequence but not the correct number of strikes in relation to where the hands are pointing, then the chances are it is a countwheel clock and the countwheel needs resetting. There are several ways of doing this, the simplest as follows: Turn the minute hand (longest hand) past 12 o’clock and count how many times the clock strikes. If it strikes once, we need to ascertain if this is half an hour strike or 1 o’clock. The only way to do this is to turn the hands forward to the half hour. Again, of course, it can strike one, which could be half hour or hour. In this case, you would have to turn the hands to the next half hour and again count how many times it strikes. If you take the minute hand to five minutes before the clock strikes, i.e. five to the hour or twenty five past the hour and then gently turn the hands backwards 15 minutes, the clock will normally strike. Sometimes you may have to go a little further forwards and a little further backwards to make the clock strike but NEVER TURN THE HANDS BACK ONCE YOU HAVE PASSED THE HOUR OR HALF HOUR AS YOU MAY DAMAGE THE CLOCK. Continue to do this until the clock chimes the corresponding amount to where the hands are pointing ie. If you are working between 2.55 and turning the hands back to 2.35, you would want the clock to strike once after it has previously struck twice for 2 o’clock and then once for half past.

 

 

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