Clock Repair – Cuckoo Clocks Will Make You Cuckoo!

Clock Repair is really not that hard, at least the problems that most often get called repair. Most times the term repair is applied to adjustments, cleaning and lubrication. I would say that 90 percent of the time your old timepiece needs one of these three done to it. The other 10 percent of the time you might have to get some expert clock repair help.

Ok, I have an old timepiece that just doesn’t want to run, what do I do? First off, if the it hasn’t been cleaned in the last five years, it most likely needs cleaning. If someone recently moved the clock, it most likely needs adjusting. As far as lubrication, usually you give it a tiny bit of oil right after cleaning. I know I am dancing around your problem so lets get into some specifics.

Let’s say that your clock has been sitting in the same place for the last 10 years and you don’t remember when it was last cleaned. It runs for a short time and then as soon as you look away, it stops. This is a clock that likely needs cleaning. If you take your heirloom into a clock repair shop they will likely look at it and tell you that the pivots, pinions and bushing are worn and the escapement is beyond repair. They will call it an overhaul and tell you it will cost you your next year’s salary. Don’t do it!

I have worked on many clocks that have had worn bushing and pinions, and I have yet to see an escapement that won’t keep going. Even with the wear, these clocks have gone on to work for many years with just a cleaning every five years or so. Of course, I am assuming that the clock hasn’t somehow been damaged. If so, you may have to get some serious clock repair help.

So, how do you clean a clock mechanism? First things first, what kind of clock is it? If it is a weight driven clock, it is easy. If it has mainsprings, well we will have to be aware of those and tame them. Cuckoo clocks are just a laugh a minute, just kidding; they are kind of a pain but can be done also. And if it is one of those glass domed anniversary clocks they are pretty easy also.

Weight Driven Clocks

Assuming for a moment that you have a weight driven clock, it could be a grandfather clock or a tall case mantle clock, for example. First thing in clock repair is to remove the pendulum. This is accomplished by lifting up on the pendulum slightly to unhook it. Then, lift the weights off the chain hooks. At this time, we can remove the mechanism from the case. Most of the time, these type of movements are mounted to a horizontal board that will simply slide forward out of the slots that hold it. In other situations, the movement may be mounted using some wood screws. Either way, I expect you have it out by now.

To do a proper cleaning, the movement needs to be disassembled. I know that looks pretty intimidating, but it can be done. Taking it apart is easy, it's the putting back together that can appear daunting. I am here to tell you that it really is not that hard. Takes patience and some common sense but then you will have it.

Here is how I approach old clock disassembly when doing clock repair and cleaning; I begin by giving the movement a good looking over and if it is a movement that I have not worked on before I will take a few close-up digital photos to use if I get stuck later. Is it a single, two or three train movement? A single train simply keeps time – no striking the hour or any other noise. A two train movement will have the time keeping gears and a set of gears that cause striking the gong on the hour and usually the half hour. The three train movement has time, striking and a set of gears that cause musical chiming like a Westminster tune. Of course, the more trains, the more complex the reassembly. But again, it really only looks impossible, I am proof that it can be done by the common person.

Here are my thoughts on disassembly of a weight driven clock. Remove the four or five screws or nuts that hold the back plate to the posts that connect the two plates. The back plate is the plate opposite the hands. Lift off the back plate and lift out the gears and shafts one at a time. If you start with the weight driven shaft and work towards the top of the movement, you will see that each shaft will have finer teeth as you move up. Put the gears for each train into separate piles and keep them apart at all times.

Now comes giving the parts a good cleaning. There are some great clock cleaning solutions available at some of the clock part supply houses, but I prefer to make my own. Here is the recipe I use, and it works great and is a fraction of the cost.

3 1/3 ounces of Murphys Oil Soap

6 2/3 ounces of Acetone

20 ounces of household ammonia

Add enough water to this mixture to make a full gallon.

You will likely find the Murphys and Ammonia at the grocery store. Acetone is available wherever they sell paint.

A safety note, acetone is very flammable so use it only where you have good ventilation and no open sparks or flames! Clock repair is not overly hazardous but always be safe!

I found a shallow plastic dish pan at the local thrift store which I pour the gallon of cleaning solution into. Then piece by piece I wash the clock parts. I use an old toothbrush and for the bushing holes I use a combination of toothpicks and those little brush picks you can get for cleaning between your teeth. When I am finished washing my clock parts, I pour the solution back into the jug a store it till next time. It can be used many times before you discard it.

After a good scrubbing give the parts a good rinse in plain water. I then get out an old hair dryer and blow dry all the parts. For assembly I use a couple of six inch long 2X4’s to lay the front clock plate on. This way the hand shafts can hang down and not hit the bench top. I then put the weight shafts in place followed by the rest of the gears in order. Usually, not all the shafts will stand perfectly upright, not to worry. Next, slip the back plate in place over the weight shafts and the two bottom posts. Put the two screws or nuts on the two bottom posts, but keep them very loose. Then align each shaft with the back plate holes one at a time working from bottom to top. Remember, all parts will really only go in one spot.

To help with the alignment process, I made a small tool from some stiff wire that has what would look like a sideways “S” on one end. With this I can push or pull the shafts into alignment with each of the bushing holes.

Now, the one tricky part on any kind of time and strike clock is getting the timing right. Usually after getting all the shafts in place and all the screws or nuts onto the posts I hold the movement in my hands and using my fingers rotate the striking train gears. When the striking process ends the wheels should catch and stop. There will be one of the gears in the striking train that will have a little post sticking out of it. This post must engage the wire hook that hangs over it at just the right time or the striking will just keep on going. So if you find that the wire hook misses the post, you will have to adjust the rotation no more than ½ turn. Do this by removing the nut or screw from the post in that upper corner. Usually the left corner as you are looking at the back of the movement. With just that one screw or nut removed, and the others slightly loose, lift the plate corner until the shaft falls out of the bushing hole. Then rotate the shaft no more than a ½ turn. Slip the shaft into place and put the screw or nut back in place on the post. Try spinning the gear train again. If it catches and stops the gears, great! If not, repeat the adjustment. It will sort out quickly.

Now to lubricate your newly cleaned movement. Before this, you should order some proper clock movement oil. This stuff is designed to stay in place for a long time. Never use WD-40 or sewing machine oil as this stuff dries out too fast and causes the dust to be drawn onto the bearing surfaces where it makes a good grinding compound. Use only the tiniest drop of oil on each shaft. Never put oil on the gears, they just don’t need it and will end up collecting dust and making that grinding compound thing I just mentioned.

You can now put the movement back into the case, hang the pendulum, chains and weights, make any adjustments and watch it run for at least a few more years.

Spring Driven Clocks

Springs are a serious matter in clock repair. To work with springs, you will have to purchase some spring keepers from the clock parts supply house. These look like the letter “C”. Before taking anything apart, wind the spring tight and slip the spring keeper into place over the spring. Using the open end of the “C”, rotate it into position through the back plate openings. Now you will need to carefully let the tension off the spring by holding the tension with the key, lift the little clicker catch and let off the spring tension. You can also purchase a spring let down key set which looks like a smooth handled screw driver which makes this letdown process an easy task.

Once all the springs have been tamed, you can disassemble the clock just like the process described in the weight driven clock discussion above. Make sure all spring tension is off the gears before starting to take anything apart. Whenever you are working with the springs and there is a chance it could get away from you, always wear gloves and eye protection.

To properly clean the springs, you need a spring winder to take all the tension off the spring and that lets all the coils open up so they can be brushed and regreased. If you are just doing your own clocks, just wash the spring as best you can with the spring keeper still in place. The unwinding and rewinding along with the special tools makes this something to skip for the home cleaning job. From time to time you may find a broken spring which will require a spring winder to repair. If, you are doing clock repair on someone else’s clocks, you will want to get a spring winder and do it right.

Another type of spring driven clocks uses a barrel to contain the spring. These are common in clocks where the mechanism is visible. The 400 day or anniversary clock is an example of this kind of spring. Unless you have a spring winder, do not attempt to remove the spring from the barrel. Just let off all the spring tension and clean as previously discussed.

The rest of the process of cleaning and reassembly is just as discussed previously. Again, when oiling your clock, use only the minimum amount of oil needed to wet the bearing surfaces. This is one of the rules of clock repair.

Quicky Cleaning Process

I don’t recommend this, but if you really can’t see yourself taking the movement apart and then back putting it back together, then leave the movement in one piece. After removing the movement from the case, submerge it into the dishpan of cleaning solution. Put some of the cleaning solution into a spray bottle and begin spraying a concentrated stream at each of the bushing holes. Work at this awhile and you will get some of the crud out of the holes. Give the movement a good rinse and dry it off. You can then oil it as previously described. Put the movement back into the case. This simple clock repair will perhaps keep you going for another year.

Clock Adjustments

Most of the time a clock that is moved, will fall out of adjustment. If you have to move a clock, lift the pendulum off the hook and move it separately. If the pendulum is allowed to swing around like crazy it will bend or otherwise knock the escapement mechanism out of place. First thing to check is that the clock is level. If it is level and still won’t run, it likely needs adjustment. Listen to the bet of the clock, it needs to be a nice even “tick-tock” if it is more of a “Tock-Tick” you will need to bend very slightly the wire arm that comes down from the escapement and wraps around the pendulum support hook. A little trial and error will quickly sort this out. Another technique I use is to let the pendulum hang completely still. With my hand I move the pendulum slightly to the right until I hear the tick, note how far from center it moved. Then move it back to center and then slowly move it to the left until I hear the tock. The distances left and right should be the same. If they are not, you will have to bend the little wire.

That is really all there is to clock repair adjusting. You can check alignment of hammers to gongs and feel free to adjust how they hit. Typically, the hammers should not touch the chime or gong when at rest. If they hand just above you will get a much cleaner sound.

Quartz Clocks

Quartz movements have been used now for 30 some years and eventually they stop working. If you have a clock that you just love and it has one of these movements, it is a piece of cake to make a clock repair. Just purchase a new one, remove the hands, unscrew the nut under the hands and slip it out. The new one just goes back in the same way the old one came out. These movements can be purchased very cheaply at the clock repair parts supply houses.

Clock Repair Home Business Opportunity

If you want to make some cash with this new clock repair hobby, I would start by picking up some old clocks and following the clock repair processes described above, tear them down and put them back together again. After the first couple you will have the confidence to keep it going. You will want to pick up some tools like a spring winder, spring keepers, small screwdrivers, a small cresent wrench, a shaft alignment tool and maybe a clock stand. There are other tools, many you can make yourself as you get into it. Once you get established and really get serious, you may need a mini-lathe to repair pivots and pinions as you will run into broken parts during your clock repair efforts.

The downtown clock repair shops charge plenty so there is lots of room for profit for the small home repair shop. A two train spring clock can be completely disassembled, cleaned, dried, and reassembled in an hour to hour and a half. I charge what I think an hour of my free time is worth and it makes for a nice profit. A clock repair hobby could be just right for you!

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