clock & barometer repairs
01277 658800   Billericay


tips & faqs

Judging from the problems I've seen over the years, what sometimes seems pretty obvious to me as an enthusiastic hobbyist repairing clock movements, is evidently not always so obvious to others. So here, I list some simple tips for owners of faulty antique clocks. Please don't be shy about clicking on the FB Like button if something helps you.

Bear in mind that these tips could save you a lot in repair costs, so don't be surprised if your local retailer does not approve of what I say. Many of them are good salesmen but don't understand the science of clocks; they simply contract repairs out to specialists so they may see these tips as depriving them of their margins.

  1. How frequently should my clock be oiled or serviced is like asking "How long is a piece of string?" - there's no single definitive answer. Amongst other things, it depends on the type of clock, the environment in which it works, the quality of the oil used, the age and condition when acquired, and the standard of previous repair work. Some repairers will say every three years but this reminds be of the Profumo court case in 1963 and Mandy Rice-Davies' famous testimony "Well, he would (say that), wouldn't he". I'd say a clock needs servicing as soon as it starts playing up, or every ten years, whichever comes first, and that it needs oiling at least once every five years. In ten years, a grandfather clock will tick over 300 million times, a typical dial clock over 750 million times and a carriage clock even more than that! So they don't have as easy a life as you might think.
  2. I am often asked "Can I oil my own clock?" Of course, but clock oil is special; even different parts of the same clock require different oils. So if your clock is struggling to run, never be tempted to use ordinary 3-in-one oil - it's much too thick (viscous) and you'll just make matters worse - the additional drag of thick 3-in-one oil will stop almost any clock, so a clock that was already giving trouble is bound to stop. I once received a movement literally dripping oil - it looked like it had been plunged in a bath of Duckhams. I kid you not. Sewing machine oil is thinner but if you must, use it sparingly on the tip of a needle and only on the pivots, but never on the wheels or pinions - they don't need oil. That said, the tiniest touch of oil on the pallets will help lubricate the tips of the escape wheel but better to have it properly cleaned first and then oiled by an horologist. See my separate page on Intermediate Oiling. Finally, avoid WD40 like the plague! Ask any horologist about the number of clocks he sees drenched in WD40. It's a water repellant not a lubricant and contains chemicals that don't mix well with brass, oil and grease. See my March 2011 blog for a story about this.
  3. If your clock suddenly makes a loud unexpected bang and stops, and you then find that there is no resistance when you try to wind it up, the mainspring has either broken or come off the winding arbor. If it's housed in a barrel then no harm is likely to have been caused but replacing a mainspring is not something for the amateur to attempt. Apart from usually having to dismantle the movement completely, you'll need to open the barrel, remove the broken spring, measure it to ensure you get a replacement of the correct strength and then de-grease it, re-grease it and worst of all, fit it. One slip and the spring could slash your hands so please don't attempt it. Call me (or go and see an horologist local to you) for a repair quote. If it's broken at one end, it can sometimes be repaired but many springs usually cost less than £20 (although fitting will cost twice that and more, unless it's a German movement). And while it's stripped it would be a good time to consider a full service if the movement has not been overhauled within the past five years.
  4. When you need to move the hands on your clock (perhaps on return from holiday for example, or to change from BST to GMT in the autumn in particular), never never force the minute hand backwards. First make sure the clock is wound up and then gently turn it forwards. If it is a striker, pause just after each hour and half hour (and quarter too if it's a quarter-striker) to allow the clock to complete its strike sequence, or you could put the strike out of synchronisation. Safer still, allow the clock to stop by restricting the pendulum swing, and then leave it (for up to eleven hours) until real time catches it up. If it's a quartz battery clock, you should NOT be touching the hands at all or you risk damaging the movement beyond repair and will need a new one - there is a knob on the back for adjusting the time.
  5. If your clock has stopped between 12 and 1 o'clock and you feel some resistance when you try moving the minute hand forward to correct it, the strike train may have run down and lost power before completing its strike sequence, locking the movement up. Try turning the minute hand back two or three minutes and then wind the strike side (usually the one on the left but wind all the winders if you don't know which is which) and it will probably resume striking. Allow the strike to complete its sequence and you should find that the minute hand is now free to turn forwards again to allow you to set the correct time.
  6. If your clock's strike is out of synchronisation (it reads, say, 7 o'clock but only strikes six, five or just once), it's probably an old clock with count wheel striking so have a look at my SETUP page (there's a link at the top of this page) for how to correct it. Remember, on many clocks the hour hand is held in place just by friction - in other words it can be slipped round its arbor to point to a different number on the dial. It's usually much easier to count the number of strikes and then position the hour hand to the corresponding number on the dial than it is to match the number of strikes to the number that the hour hand is pointing to. Indeed, on a rack striking clock, this is pretty much the only way to do it.
  7. If you want to move your pendulum clock from one room to another, or even to another place within the same room, make sure you restrain the pendulum or you'll knock it out of beat. On a Vienna regulator or longcase clock (or other weight-driven clock), it's best to let it run until it stops before moving it; that way, the lines won't get tangled up. If you can't wait, tape up the lines to stop them unravelling. Then detach the weights while you lift the clock. If you don't, you risk damaging something as they swing around inside the case.
  8. If you recently moved your mantel clock and find that it will now only run for a minute, it's probably just one of two things. It could simply be that it is now sitting at a different angle in its new place but if you did not remove the pendulum first you've might have knocked it out of beat. To identify which, move it back where it was and if it runs, you know the clock itself is fine. But if it now won't run in its old place either, try gently swinging the pendulum and listen carefully to the tick; it needs to be even and consistent like a dripping tap or metronome. All the ticks must be evenly spaced (... tick .... tick .... tick .... tick .... tick .... tick). If, instead, you hear an uneven, offbeat tick like a heartbeat (... tick .. tick .......... tick .. tick .......... tick .. tick .......... tick) , then it's "out of beat". (Listen to the background sound on my HOME page to hear a longcase clock in beat). The easy solution used to be to feed pennies under one side of the base until the tick was even. The permanent solution depends on the type of clock you have so go to my SETUP page for how to correct it (there's a link at the top of this page) or make a small donation via my charity page and then give me a call and I'll talk you through it.
  9. If your antique longcase clock refuses to run after moving it and you carefully unhooked the weights first, the probability is that there was still line on the barrel and that the line relaxed when the weight was removed allowing the coils to become entangled. You will need to remove the weight again to untangle the coil. Next time be sure to let the clock run right down on both sides so that there is no line left on the barrel before you remove the weight.
  10. If you're having difficulty winding your longcase clock after moving it to a new location and you removed the weights without first taping the lines to the barrel, stop winding! It's probable that the lines have relaxed and slipped off the barrel onto the winding arbor itself. You'll need to remove the weights (and very probably the whole movement from the case, too) while you patiently unravel the lines. It's not an easy job especially if you persisted in winding the clock, and you'll need a long thin hook (like a dentist's steel tooth pick). It's often quicker to disconnect the line at the seat board so that you can pull it through and unwind it turn by turn. In the worst cases, I would cut the line off completely (it's damaged and weakened anyway) and fit a new one.
  11. If your longcase clock regularly stops for no apparent reason have a look at these possible causes: First make sure that none of the hands (including the seconds hand) are fouling the dial or each other - you'll need to watch for a full 12 hours to see them in every possible configuration. Check that the weights inside the trunk are not catching on something inside the case, like panels in the back, sides or door. Check that the pendulum isn't lightly brushing against the back panel. Study the position of the weights when it stops; is one always about level with the weighted bob at the bottom of the pendulum when it stops. If so, it could be that the pendulum is rubbing against the weight or that the case is gently swinging from side to side in tune with the pendulum causing it to stop (Sympathetic vibration). If there is any movement at all, anchor the case to the wall. It's especially needed if you have wooden floorboards or the clock is standing on a carpet. See my 6 part installation guide for help with this.
  12. If your clock stops chiming on the quarters after you've moved it from one room to another, it might be that you have not fitted the correct weight to each train. Get some scales and weight the weights. The heaviest one should go on the right to run the chiming train. The other two will probably be about the same weight but if not, the lightest one goes in the middle to drive the going train.
  13. If your 400 day clock stops, first check when you last wound it. Because it does not need a weekly wind, it's easy to forget that it will eventually run down. If a full wind does not help, don't be tempted to spin the ball pendulum in anger or you'll wreck the suspension wire that supports it. IF you've already tried that, you'll need a new suspension fitted. The pendulum only rotates about 270/300 degrees in normal conditions so you could easily damage the movement, too, by over-spinning it. And the suspension should hang straight and flat, not like some kinked and barley-twist ones that I've seen. Like carriage clocks, 400-day clocks are delicate instruments and most of the movement is visible so it's tempting to fiddle with it if it stops. Don't. One of the biggest errors made with 400-day clocks is incorrect repositioning the pallets, which are often adjustable and even reversible. Correct setting takes more time and effort than anything else so if a rewind does not cure your 400-day clock, and you've done nothing to it to cause it to stop, it probably just needs cleaning.
  14. I've overwound my clock and now it won't go. I hear this quite a lot and really don't know what it means. A clock should be wound fully and if you then continue to wind it, the mainspring will break; there's no point in between that could be called "overwound". My best guess would be that the leaves of the mainspring have been wound so tightly that they cannot now unravel but this generally happens only if the mainspring is in poor condition - it could be corroded, scored, deformed, dry or more probably just sticky where the old lubricant has degraded after many years. You could try letting down the mainspring a little if you can remove the movement from the case (but you must take great care) but really it's just a sign that the movement needs servicing because if the mainspring grease has broken down, the chances are that the oil in the pivot holes and other moving parts will also have turned to sludge, too. Do not be tempted to immerse the whole movement in petrol or solvent to clean it; aside from the obvious fire risk, the solvent will get into the mainspring barrels and remain there causing further damage over the coming weeks. You need to find a repairer to strip the movement down and clean all the arts properly in ultrasonic tanks.

If your local dealer doesn't want to know, and many don't (or deter you by quoting too much), email me with details and I'll try to advise the best approach. If I am familiar with the problem, I'll probably be able to tell you what it will cost to get it running again. If I don't recognise the problem, and you can explain it in more detail with close up photographs, email me as I'm always interested in a new challenge; with your permission, I might even add it to this page afterwards or start a separate blog perhaps.