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Antique Clocks Questions

I overwound my clock, what do I do?

What way do I turn the key to wind my clock?

Striking, chiming or just keeping time, what does my clock do?

I have just inherited a clock, what are the proper steps for restoration?


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I overwound my clock, what do I do?

Lets talk about some basics with clocks. I will be generalizing, and as you might guess, there are exceptions to some of the statements I will make.

Among misconceptions about clocks, there is none greater than the dreaded prospect of overwinding. I must receive 10 calls a week and probably see 15 clients in the shop whose first statement to me is, "I overwound the clock." Impossible! When you wind a spring to full power or all the way up, the clock should run. The spring is fully coiled and supplying power to the gear train as designed. If after fully winding your clock it does not run, then there is a mechanical problem with the movement. What that problem is exactly I cannot tell without evaluating the clock. Most likely the clock has not been maintained properly, ie: no oilings or cleanings for years, worn pivots and pivot holes, etc.. However, the spring being fully wound is not the problem. I suppose if you had a strong enough key and applied enough strength to it, you could break a spring, quite unlikely though.

Delving into this statement (overwinding), I have formed opinions over the years why I hear this so frequently. It is true in many cases that after winding the clock spring fully, a clock that was running then stops. I attribute this to friction. As a clock runs it is constantly wearing itself out, the shafts of the wheels are spinning in their holes day and night. This process creates dirt, microscopic bits of brass worn off the sides of the holes, and it makes the holes ovaled or egg-shaped. Being both dirty and worn will eventually stop the clock because there is too much friction in the movement. Thus the day you wind up the spring fully, which creates more power and causes more friction, makes it a better candidate for stopping than any other day. The main point I want to make here is, you can't overwind a clock spring, and you shouldn't be afraid to fully wind your clocks.

What way do I turn the key to wind my clock?

One of the most frequently asked questions is, "What is the proper way to wind a clock?" This is very easy to answer, the only way the key will go. No clock ever built will allow the user to wind in the wrong direction. Some clocks wind counter-clockwise while others wind clockwise. Some clocks, the ones having two or more winding arbors, may wind in opposite directions to each other.

Striking, chiming or just keeping time, what does my clock do?

How many winding holes are there in your clock? Striking is what a clock does on the hour and the half hour, no melody is played, a striking clock typically has two winding holes. Chiming is when a clock plays a chime or melody typically on the quarter hours. These chiming clocks will generally have three winding holes. Clocks that have just one hole to wind or one weight to wind are timekeepers only. This means the clock does not strike or chime. As I stated earlier, there are exceptions to these statements. I have in my shop a wall clock that has two winding holes; however, it does not strike. It is a timekeeper only. The two springs in the movement are used to make this clock a better timekeeper by using one spring's power to keep the pendulum running (ergo, power through the gear train), while winding the other spring. In clocks with just one spring powering the running gear train, when you wind that one spring, the running gear train, (called the going train), has no power, thus causing the escapement to not advance the hands or even in some cases to run backwards and lose time.

I have just inherited a clock what are the proper steps for restoration?

Well, you've just received your Grandpa's wall clock. Must be 100 years old. Of course, it has been sitting in the basement for decades, covered with years of dust and dirt. However, it must be made to work and look presentable because you want to hang it in the living room.

The first step is to get the case looking good. You remember that a neighbor is good at stripping and refinishing so you remove the clock's movement and take the case to him. He says he can refinish it and tells you it will look like new. Then the movement goes to a coworker who says in his spare time he tinkers with clocks. Great, that was easy. Now all you have to do is just sit back and wait.

While all this is being done, you happen across a professional clock repair shop. You saunter in and describe your grandfather's clock to the man behind the counter. He is impressed and explains that you have a clock that is probably worth $1,500 to $2,000 in good restored condition. You then tell him about your friend and neighbor who are doing the work for you. Then next sound you hear is this drawn out groan and gasp for breath. Sensing distress, you ask if a doctor is needed. Yes, he says. For your clock.

The professional asks if you value this clock, and of course you say 'yes'. He then explains that by stripping off the original finish, a finish that cannot ever be restored, you will dramatically lower the value of any clock. He proceeds to ask about the qualifications of the coworker who is going to repair the movement. Does he know the correct and proper methods to disassemble and clean the myriad parts of clock movements made 100 years ago? Does he use a lathe to polish the pivots of the wheel arbors? Does he understand the correct procedure to make bushings and locate them properly? At this point a light is flickering over your head--actually it's flashing red--and you begin to question the concept of hobbyists and amateurs working on a piece of history. Not just any piece of history, but a piece of your family's history.

Because I own and operate a professional clock shop, I hear this story very frequently. The results of improper restoration are usually NOT reversible. The clock in question is most often rendered, (to be politically correct), historically challenged. In other words, the originality has been lost, never to be regained.

The first consideration in restoring any antique clock should be is the work going to harm the integrity of the piece. As my case restorer would say, is the work reversible? Musuems such as the Smithsonian try to conserve pieces of history, not strip and refinish, or do inappropriate movement repairs. I've used the word 'conserve,' a most important word in working with antique clocks. The idea is to conserve the finish, conserve the movement. We want to make it work and be presentable, while at the same time trying not to lose the original feel of the clock. Think of the people who have owned the clock before you, and, the people who should be able to appreciate it after you. When a client brings me an antique clock for restoration we begin by discussing the history of the piece. What is its country of origin, where has it actually been, who has owned it? Is there any provenance with the clock? What has been the maintenance? Are all the mechanical bits intact? Were there any improper repairs or replacements? What is the case made of--marble, wood, metal, porcelain--and what is the condition of the case? Is the clock signed on the dial or the inside, or on the movement? What is the dial made of, paper, painted, brass, silvered, porcelain and what is it's condition? Is it a common or mass-produced clock? Is it unique? What is its current value and the value after a proper restoration? Is it worth it to restore it? Some clocks are honestly not worth the price of a full restoration project. (However, those clocks should not be destroyed or discarded, but kept from deteriorating further.)

As you can see, there are many criteria that we should use to guide us in conserving or restoring an antique clock. After decisions are made about the path to restore the clock, the process begins. If the case needs work, I take the movement out and send the case to the proper restorer; For example, a marble case might need a chip repaired, or a porcelain case may need a crack reglued and glazed. A wood case might need veneer restored or finish conserved, possibly inlay has come up, or joints have weakened. Whatever the need, there are professionals in the field who can effect the proper restoration of the case. If a piece of glass has been broken or damaged, or a painted scene needs work, or the bezel surrounding it has come unsoldered, those would need our attention next. The dial, or face as it is commonly (mistakenly) referred to, would be our next point of attention. Dials come in many different forms; porcelain, painted metal, paper over metal, silvering over metal, and many others. There are professionals throughout the world who perform restorations or cleanings of all the varieties of dials. If needed, the dial would be taken off the movement and sent to the appropriate restorer.

Next, the movement is evaluated. I am a Certified Clockmaker by the American Watchmakers and Clockmakers Institute. That handsome title means that I have proven my ability to restore movements of clocks, including making parts for those destroyed beyond restoration or missing, to good working order. As in all skilled trades, there are correct and incorrect methods of effecting repairs. If a clock movement is dirty, it must be disassembled totally to be cleaned thoroughly. If the movement is worn, meaning the shafts of the wheels have worn the holes to an oval or elongated shape (caused by the shaft constantly revolving or spinning against one side of the hole), it must be disassembled and the shafts turned on a lathe to burnish them to a smooth finish. Then the holes must be bushed, which entails finding the true center of the hole, not where it is has worn to, but where it should be, and from that true center which allows for proper depthing of the gear teeth to one another, a bushing must be located and then opened up to allow 2 to 3 degrees of angle from the movement plate. There are many improper ways to do this work, including punching around the holes in an attempt to move material back toward the center, screwing or soldering pieces of brass to the plate against the shaft in an attempt to center the shaft. Unfortunately, there are even more destructive repairs, but fortunately for you, gentle reader, I will stop here. Again, we must not only be concerned about effecting a repair that will make the clock run, but also that the repair is long term and reversible.

As you can see, there are many facets of restoration that need to be considered for grandpa's clock. Most clocks do not need all the restoration services listed. The point is that antique clocks should be evaluated by a professional before any work begins, thus lessening the chance for irreversible damage to a piece of history.
Written by Robin C. Nance, please click on link below to find more.
Source: FAQ


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