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  • Graham Powis Member of the British Horological

"Running Like Clockwork"


A clock will be running for many years in its place usually without any professional attention at all. When the clock eventually stops I get the call "it was running perfectly until yesterday"? How many machines are still working after two centuries, let alone being expected to perform a function day in day out for many years? The fact is this is what your old clock is doing. Just like any other mechanical contraption the bearing surfaces will wear over time. The fact is the clock that was "fine up to yesterday wasn't really that, sudden mechanical breakdowns are the exception rather than the norm in clock work.. Most clocks should have been serviced a long time before I get to see them. This isn't wanton neglect by the clock's custodian, more a misunderstanding of what's required to keep the clock running properly. The greater majority of owners will have no idea of what is required to restore their clock so that it's "running like clockwork" again.

Let's have a look at a clock that fits the "fine until yesterday" description

Pictured here is a Longcase clock mechanism of thirty hour duration. This clock is in poor health, the clock parts are grimy and coated, this is normally a cocktail of tobacco and residues from cooking not to mention the years of dust that has settled. {The term thirty hour is a generic term, the average running time is normally 24-27 hours}.

The parts have now been removed from the frame and laid out on a white background. Apart from the mechanism being dirty there isn't any effective lubrication anywhere {on no account apply oil to a clock in this condition}. It pays to remember that clock wheels and pinions should run dry with the exception of the escapement.

So the fact the clock has stopped is a blessing in disguise, not to put too fine a point on it this clock has all but seized thus causing the stoppage,

Careful intervention is required, the wrong approach to cleaning and repairing the clock could completely ruin it. This early 19th Century clock needs a conservation approach to clean and repair it properly.

Here are the component parts of the clock again but looking very different now. Much time has been spent removing the built up grime from the parts.

It is imperative that the clock retains its original features, the original Clockmaker's marks and old repairer's signatures could be rubbed away if an aggressive method is used { Ammoniated cleaners and/or buffing wheels}. The last thing you would want to see is an old clock case with a lovely patina housing a clock movement that looks like a glowing orb under the hood.

What we are left with here are the restored parts that look much the way they did when they were first made albeit two hundred years later . There will surely be a limit to how many times a clock mechanism can be dismantled and cleaned using aggressive practices.

ol The clock parts have now been reassembled in the frame and the result is shown above. Making the clock parts look shiny in longcase clockwork is scorned upon in conservation circles,a buffing wheel will wear the brass parts and any sharp edges or markings can be lost.

Because the clock is now 'Horologically Clean' it can now be lubricated with high quality oils, this is a precise affair the correct oils are VITAL, any oil applied needs to stay where it's put and not flow over the clock parts.

The drive chain and weight pulley and counterweight can now be installed. Once the seatboard,dial,and hands have been fitted the clock will be tested prior to its reinstatement at the Client's home.

Pictured above is a rear view of the mechanism, again no attempt has been made to impart a shiny finish. this clock is now ready to perform its task once more. Hopefully the custodian will have the clock serviced next time well before it grinds to a halt .

It's a sobering thought that this old clock has already passed through five or six generations. This is surely a testimony to how well these clocks were made, the philosphy was clear- "made to last a lifetime", an ethos that has all but gone in the modern world.

This is a rear view of the finished job showing the countwheel and pendulum crutch. Perhaps now is the time to slide the hood of that old Longcase clock and see if there are any comparisons to what you see here?


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