Here are a few basic techniques for clock care that will help you enjoy every clock you own and maintain the reliable service for which our clocks are famous. Remember, most clocks are designed to be set up and maintained by their owners without benefit of professional assistance. People with little or no mechanical aptitude or experience have been buying and setting up their clocks for 300 years.
Setting Up Your Clock
If you have a clock with a pendulum, it will generally either be removed from its hanger or locked in place for transit. Once you have fastened the clock to the wall or set it on a good solid surface, you should remove any packing material. If you have a clock with chime hammers, release any lock on the chime or strike rods. Hang the pendulum from the suspension spring at the top back of the movement or the pendulum hook below the movement.
If you hang it from the suspension spring, be sure the pendulum rod is between the fork-shaped projection or over the crutch pin. This will usually be a brass L-shaped arm hanging from the back of the movement with either a pin or a fork protruding near the center of the movement.
Winding Your Clock
Most clocks need to be wound once a week. If you have a weight-driven clock, first hang the weights from the appropriate pulleys and cables. Be sure the cable is not tangled and is properly seated in the groove in the pulley. Generally, the heaviest weight goes on the right side, the next heaviest weight on the left, and the lightest one in the center. Many clocks use similar weights on the left, or left and center. Always put the heaviest weight on the right.
When winding a weight-driven clock, turn the crank slowly to raise the weight. Make sure the cable doesn’t tangle, and stop winding just before the pulley at the top of the weight moves out of sight.
When winding a spring-driven clock, turn each winding arbor until it is tight, and you can feel that it’s at the end of its travel. If you stop short of a full wind, the clock may stop running or chiming before the week is over.
Putting Your Clock in Beat
The ticking sound of a properly balanced clock will be as even and consistent as a metronome as the pendulum moves from side to side. When a pendulum clock stops running, it’s usually because it’s “out of beat.” This happens if the clock is not perfectly level, and can be easily corrected.
Pull the pendulum to one side and release it. As it starts to swing, you should hear a ticking sound at each end of its arc. If the tick is irregular, with a galloping or uneven sound, the clock is not in beat. To correct this problem, begin by making sure that all arbors are wound and the pendulum is hanging correctly with nothing obstructing its path. Anything that interferes with the pendulum’s arc will usually stop the clock.
An out-of-beat clock is corrected by leveling the clock case. Tilt the clock slightly to the left or right as you listen carefully to the ticking sound. You will notice that the ticking becomes more consistent as the case is leveled. On mantel clocks, place appropriate shims under the base to hold the case in a level position. This method is more effective than using a carpenter’s level and will produce more accurate results. If your clock stops after a while, just start the pendulum again and repeat the leveling procedure until the beat is as even as possible. Once you master this technique, you’ll have no trouble setting up any pendulum clock in the future.
Setting the Time
When setting the time on an antique clock, you should move only the minute hand forward, stopping at each hour and half-hour to allow it to strike before advancing it to the next half-hour. If it has a quarter-hour chime , you should also pause at the quarter-hour marks to allow the chime to complete its cycle.
New clocks with two winding holes should be set in the same manner as antique clocks. New clocks with three winding holes can be set by moving the minute hand backward to the correct time. The chime will automatically correct its cycle within an hour after you have set the clock. If you have a calendar or moon dial on your clock, advance it forward only.
Synchronizing the Strike
Should your clock strike the wrong number at the hour, count the number of strikes and move the hour hand to the correct number. The hour hand can move either forward or backward, but remember not to move the minute hand backward.
If your clock strikes the hour at the half-hour, you can reset it by passing by one half-hour without pausing to allow the strike to play. Then adjust the hour hand to match the number that it strikes.
Adjusting the Strike or Chime
If you feel the sound of the strike or chime is not right, you can adjust it simply by bending the arm on the strike hammers to bring the hammer head closer or farther away from the rod or bell. Usually, you should have about 1/4″ clearance when the hammer is at rest, so that it bounces away after striking the bell or rod, leaving it clear to resonate. Obviously, the harder the hammer hits, the louder the sound.
Regulating the Timekeeping
Clocks are adjusted to accurate time in our shop or at the factory. However, any time a pendulum clock is moved, it is likely to get slightly our of regulation and run fast or slow. This is easy to correct, and the clock will remain constant once you have readjusted it in its new environment.
Most pendulum clocks have a rating nut at the bottom of the pendulum. If you turn the nut to the right (clockwise), raising the pendulum bob, the clock will run faster. Turning it to the left or lowering the pendulum bob will slow it down. Just remember “lower is slower.” Generally, one turn of the nut will affect the timekeeping by approximately one-half to one minute a day. Remember, the round pendulum bob must move down with the rating nut to affect the timekeeping. Most clocks are accurate within one to two minutes a week when carefully regulated.
Some antique French clocks have a rate adjuster in the dial just above 12 o’clock. This is adjusted by turning the arbor with a small key. Usually turning to the right advances the rate and to the left slows the clock. Try adjusting it in 1/2 turn increments until correct.
The instructions above will get you through almost all of your clock encounters and keep all your horological pets ticking along merrily.