How to Repair an Antique Clock

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How to Repair an Antique Clock

Antique clocks make attractive additions to homes and collections, with many enthusiasts looking to buy and sell them for their monetary and historical value. Added to this antique value, however, is antique fragility, and it’s advisable for an owner to consider a few guidelines before opening it up for restoration. With hundreds of complex moving parts, it is not possible to undertake all repairs without the help of a professional, but by considering some of the issues affecting antique clocks, the tools used to fix them, and methods of maintenance, an owner may be able to make several repairs from home and help keep their clock running for years to come.

History of Antique Clocks

The first clocks date back thousands of years and were not fragile devices. They were called ‘water clocks,’ and measured time by the displacement of liquid from one container into another. Though robust compared to the modern mechanical watch, they were not overly accurate. The sundial is also as old as it is sturdy, but due to its use of the sun, it was really only useful during the day. During the centuries that followed these early timepieces, huge technological leaps forward increased the level of precision and complexity of clocks. This complexity also increased their delicacy and their need for careful repair. The inclusion of pendulums, gears and hands, made caring for clocks a profession of its own, and ‘horologists’ continue to work on preserving antique timepieces to this day.

Discover Antique Clock Repair

Antique clocks are generally over 100 years old, and this is an important point for an owner to note before attempting any restoration or care. Many horologists around the world dedicate their knowledge to the intricate workings of these distinctive, diverse, and historical timepieces; offering precise repairs, oiling, adjustments, and replacement parts tailored to individual makes and models. It is important for an owner to note that in the world of antique clocks, small mistakes can have big penalties. With an owner’s commitment to care, and following a few delicate procedures, however, it can be possible to undertake certain repairs at home. In the case of these repairs, doubt should always be a warning sign, and a clock should be taken to a professional if the owner is ever uncertain. Many antiques, such as the tall grandfather clock, or the ‘atmos’ clock which runs using air pressure, are generally too complex for simple home repair and should be seen to by a professional.

Components of Antique Clocks

An antique clock owner should consider the components within their piece before opening it up. Below are listed the internal and external parts.

Internal Parts

Description

Power Source

Allows the clock to work and is generally a weight, suspended and wrapped around a spring.

Oscillator

Vibrates at a steady frequency, such as a pendulum or balance wheel, and connects to the escapement.

Escapement

‘Pushes’ the oscillator to make up for frequency lost through friction, also gives out a measured pulse.

Counter Chain

Series of gears that convert the escapement’s pulse into minutes and seconds on the indicator.

External Parts

Description

Housing

The case of the clock that can be made out of various materials including brass, silver and wood.

Indicator

The readable portion of the clock that is usually represented by two ‘hands’ and the numbers one through twelve.

Feet

The very base of the clock that rests on the ground or shelf.

Common Problems Requiring Repair

Though the variety of antique clock types is quite wide, they share a number of common problems listed below.

Problem

Description

Dry Gears

Caused by the drying of oil needed for lubrication of the internal components.

Timing Error

A discrepancy in the telling of time as a result of incorrect movement of the clock’s oscillator.

Bent Hands

Often a result of impact to the face and can lead to the jamming of the clock.

Over Winding

Can result in the snapping or the jamming of the main spring.

Tarnishing

Discolouration that comes from the metal components coming in contact with the element.

Tools Used in Clock Repair

Clock repair requires certain instruments, depending on the adjustments being made. Below are listed of some of the commonly used tools.

Tool

Description

Blower

Small puffer that can blow a light, targeted rush of air to remove dust.

Watchmaker’s Hammer

A small hammer used for making delicate hits to metal elements.

Magnifying Glass

Magnifies the work area, often strapped to the head to allow hands to be free.

Longnosed Pliers

Small pliers with the ability to grip a small surface area.

Watchmaker’s Oil

Specifically designed for the smooth running and cleaning of clock gears.

Watchmaker’s Screwdriver

Suited to the small size of screws found in antique clock mechanics.

Tweezers

Smaller than longnosed pliers, allowing precision grip in a small space.

Pegwood

A thin piece of wood that can fit into holes such as a watch hand, adding stability to repairs and cleaning.

Oiler

A device that administers a small amount of watchmaker’s oil to a surface.

Clock Level

A small spirit level used to ensure that the placement of the clock is even.

Factors to Consider Before Repairing Antique Clocks

  • Self Care – If handling any chemicals or oils, an owner should be aware of their own safety and ensure that they use gloves and glasses.
  • Make and Model – A buyer should attempt to find a diagram of their particular clock if it is available. This can help with the identification of various internal components.
  • Antique Value – It is important to note that failed repairs on an antique clock may depreciate its value considerably.

Methods of Antique Clock Repair

1. Oiling

An unoiled clock will continue to work, but its metal components run the risk of severe damage. Repairs can be made by first removing the case. After exposing the gears within the clock’s case, an owner will be able to see the ‘pivots’ around which the clock’s gears turn. These have a small indentation on one side, and it is here in which a very small amount of oil needs to be applied using a watch oiler or a toothpick. An owner must be careful not to spread oil elsewhere within the gears as any oil on springs or other components may cause the clock to stick.

2. Straightening Hands

A clock with bent hands may result in them catching on each other and stopping the gears. In order to straighten hands, remove them from the dial and place them on a clean work surface. Insert a piece of watchmaker’s pegwood through the hole of the hand in order to stabilise it. Use tweezers or pliers to gently bend the hand back into its intended shape. The size of the tool required for straightening depends on the size of the watch hands, and care must be taken to limit the amount of bending that the metal experiences, as it can weaken the hands.

3. Tarnished Silver

Antique clocks often have silver components and these can react with sulphides to create tarnish. This can be repaired using some simple steps. If the case is comprised of silver, clean and rinse these elements with some damp cotton balls – taking care to use phosphate-free detergent. Commercial silver cleaner can then be applied using another, clean cotton ball. Once applied and used as directed, remove the cleaning agent using a wet, fine brush, and rinse the surface again using a wet cotton ball, ensuring to dry the case with a fine cloth when finished.

4. Tarnished Brass

The tarnishing of brass elements on an antique clock can be cleaned easily using a solution of flour, vinegar and salt, though it is best to remove brass components before commencing this process. The surface can then be scrubbed using this solution and a cleaning cloth. It is important to note that due to the acids in vinegar, it is possible for antique brass engraving to be lost with the repeating of this process.

5. Over Winding

For key-wound clocks such as mantel clocks, over winding generally results in either a jammed spring or potentially a broken staff. Open the clock’s case and check the staff of the key winding mechanism to see if it has snapped. If the staff is in working order, check the main spring to see if it is properly in position. A tightly wound main spring can cause it to jam or dislodge, and fixing it may be as simple be as placing the spring back in position inside the clock.

6. Fixing a Timing Error

Moving, bumping or improperly positioning a clock can lead to an error in its timing. A good example is the grandfather clock’s swinging pendulum. If the clock is not positioned upright and the pendulum is not allowed to swing at its intended frequency, it can move out of time and spur a reaction of off-time events through the gear train.

To fix a timing error, remove the case of the clock and examine the oscillator to see if it appears to move freely. Oscillators in this instance are generally pendulums or balance wheels. Use a blower to remove any dust or debris from the oscillator and check again. If it is not moving as intended (with a steady ‘tick-tock’) try adjusting it using a watchmaker’s screwdriver. If there are no obstructions to the movement of the balance wheel or pendulum, and it is tightened appropriately, the clock may have other mechanical failures that require investigation by a professional horologist.

Additional Factors Concerning Antique Clock Care

Below are some other healthy habits for maintaining an antique clock.

  • It is best not expose a clock to high temperatures like those found near fireplaces or in direct sunlight.
  • Try to keep antique clocks free from high humidity and moisture as this can damage the parts and aid corrosion.
  • As a general rule, always take antique clocks to a professional for any serious repair or detailed interior cleaning.

Finding Antique Clocks on eBay

If you are looking to purchase an antique clock, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, select ‘Clocks’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Clockson eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique clocks. For example, to find a 19th century mantel clock, type ‘19th Century Mantel Clock’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antique clocks with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique clock you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

Antique clocks are a unique addition to home décor. Due to their fragility and price tag, it is a good idea to take consideration of the above guidelines before attempting any kind of repairs. It is advised that you are equipped with the knowledge of what problems can affect an antique clock, the number of components that need to be maintained, the variety of tools used when repairing, and what steps should not be taken without a professional. Once you have collected this information, you can care for your antique clock confidently. Visit eBay to purchase an antique clock safely and securely.

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