Clock Facts

Clock Facts Clock movement

Clock Facts

Most clocks sit happily in our homes doing the job they are supposed to do, which is to give a rough approximation of the time and to look good. The truth is that the greater percentage of them are certainly not happy and are being steadily ground into dust by lack of maintenance. There are many misconceptions about clocks and most of these are responsible for the wear that causes most of them to wear out, one of the most obvious is the one about oiling the clock. All clocks need to be lubricated but a general spraying with WD40 is just about the worst thing you can do to your clock. The correct grade of clock oil for your particular clock is required but only on specific parts of the movement and certainly not on the gears. Clock oil does not solidify in the same way other oil does and too much oil attracts dust which creates an abrasive mud, quickly wearing out the bearings. Another misconception is about time between services. Different types of clock require different service schedules but most clocks should not be run more than a maximum of three or four years without some kind of service. The general argument is that "I have had my clock for 35 years and it has never seen the inside of a clock repairers workshop and it still keeps good time." This of course may be true but over the 35 years the adjustment has steadily been quickened up as the clock has very gradually slowed. This happens as the bearing shafts cut into the clock plates. The result of this is that when the clock eventually stops, it may cost a great deal of money to repair rather than the nominal fee to clean and service the movement. With the correct care a clock will run virtually for ever and if the clock is a family possession this can be an important issue if the clock is to remain with your family.

THE FACTS


  • Fact - Clocks should only be oiled with the correct grade of oil for that particular clock. Mineral oils can cause corrosive effects on the clock plates and pitting on steel parts. Oil made from animal derivatives such as fish or whale oil becomes solid after a short time in use. Both these types of oil do not stay where they are put and seep down the plates to parts of the clock they should not be.
  • Fact - Only correct clock oil has all the correct properties for the job. Spraying the movement of a clock with WD40 or some other proprietary oil causes a build up of dirt which sticks to the oil and wears out gears and bearings.
  • Fact - Too much of any oil can cause a multitude of problems, oil can also have a counterproductive effect on reducing friction due to 'drag' from the oil.
  • Fact - There are very few parts of a clock movement that require oil. If you oil your own clock be sure to acquire advice about correct oiling points. The oil in most clocks should be changed about once every two or three years. Old oil solidifies and not only wears bearings but 'gels' and slows down the clock.
  • Fact - Most clocks that have been running more than ten years without a service will require some repair to their bearings and escape mechanism. Clocks that have run for longer may have serious wear. I was once presented with a clock which had apparently run 'happily' for thirty five years but had eventually stopped. It was found that one of the pivots had actually worn through the clock plate and the shaft had fallen out.
  • Fact - Most clocks that have been stood for some time 'broken', only require a clean and service. In some cases they just require setting up.
  • Fact - When a clock stops for whatever reason, tilting the clock to restart it can seriously damage the escape wheel. Leaving the pendulum in a clock when it is moved will quite often bend the 'crutch' and cause the clock to go out of beat. It can also damage the escape mechanism.
  • Fact - Most longcase clocks will not go once they have been moved. This is not due to the clock being 'temperamental' or 'sensitive', but due to certain precautions not being followed. Professional advice can prevent this.
  • Fact - Fusee movements are not as accurate as it is assumed. Accuracy can be improved in most clocks by detailed adjustment of the escape. This is also true of 'dead-beat' or regulator clocks, any clock is only as accurate as the operation of it's escapement.
  • Fact - Very few 'named' clocks were actually made by the named clockmaker. Most clocks were 'bought in' and then fitted into cases on the premises of the so called clock maker. Even the most famous London maker 'Tompion' bought in movements for his clocks.
  • Fact - The most important clock maker in the world, John Harrison lived in Lincolnshire before moving to London. He built the first accurate clock that would work at sea and therefore aid with longitude navigation. He also built the first clock that did not need lubrication. It was made of wood and it still runs today.
  • Fact - The old wives tale, 'oil your clock with a feather' is completely the wrong advice and utter fiction. The legend probably comes from the "Everything Within" type books that were popular at the turn of the 20th century. It is odd that such a publication never asked the advice of a clock maker or clock restorer. If they had they would have been told without any doubt that "Clocks should be oiled with Clock Oil and by a Clock Oiler."
  • Fact - With the right care a clock can be made to run 'for ever' which is important if the clock is a family item.