March 1, 2016

How to Care for Your Grandfather Clock

A Place for Your Clock

Your grandfather clock should be located in a place in your home that is free of extremes in temperature or humidity. For this reason, do not set it beside a fireplace, stove, or other source of home heating. Do not place it where it will be subjected to direct sunlight or drafts.

Leveling the Clock

Some grandfather clocks have screw-threaded leveling feet that allow you to raise or lower a corner of the clock case by turning the foot.  The clock should be level front to back and side to side.  A small leveling tool (or spirit level) may be set on the door frame or flat cornice to help achieve this.  Fine adjustments leveling may be needed up at the movement so that the clock does not stop after a few minutes.  Your clockmaker should help you with this.

Hanging the Pendulum

Grandfather clocks have a variety of designs for hanging the pendulum.  Most pendulums are suspended from a “crutch” or a fork on the back of the movement.  If a clockmaker sets up the clock for you, you will not have to worry about how the pendulum is suspended.

Always remove the pendulum before moving the clock to another location. The pendulum bob is heavy and can damage the clock if allowed to swing freely when moving the cabinet.

Hanging the Weights

The weights on most grandfather clocks vary in weight depending upon which “train” of wheels they are driving.  Sometimes, the weights are labeled on the bottom “L”, “C”, or “R” (left, center, and right) to help you position them on the correct chain.

Always remove the weights before moving a grandfather clock.  Free-swinging weight during the moving of a grandfather clock can break glass or damage the cabinet.

Winding the Clock

The chains must be pulled straight down; not at at an angle. Pulling the chains toward you can cause them to slip out of their ratchet wheel.

Slow down as the weight approaches the top. As soon as you hear the weight bump against the top, STOP. Further winding will jam the weight and put tension on the clock that will prohibit it from running. Under no condition attempt to pull the weight down. This can severely damage to your clock. Get a clockmaker to lower the weight for you.

Setting the Time

Rotate the minute hand clockwise until you arrive at the current time. Each time the clock begins to chime, pause until the chiming stops. Continued turning of the minute hand while the clock is chiming will put the chime out of synchronization with the time of the clock.  Some of the modern grandfather clocks are able to re-sync themselves after an hour.  Ask your clockmaker for guidance on your clock.

If your clock chimes on the quarter hour, do not reverse the minute hand past the 3, 6, 9, or 12 hour markers on the dial.  If it chimes on the half hour, do not try to reverse the minute hand past the 6 or 12.  If it only chimes on the hour, do not try to push the minute hand backwards past the 12.  As soon as you feel resistance in turning the minute hand backwards, STOP. Forcing the minute hand backwards can damage your clock.

Starting the Clock

After the clock is wound and the time is set, you can start the clock by putting the pendulum in motion. This is done by giving the pendulum a small push to one side.

Adjusting for Accurate Timekeeping

After you have started your clock, you may discover that it is running too fast or slow. You can improve the accuracy of your clock by following this procedure: After a week’s time (or sooner if the clock is gaining or losing time rapidly), compare its time with that of an accurate time source. This source may be an electric clock or a quartz watch.  You may adjust the speed of your clock by turning the knurled wheel below the pendulum to the left if the clock is running to fast or to the right if the clock is running too slow.

Reset the hands to the correct time and let the clock run for another week without further correction. As the clock’s time becomes more accurate, your adjustments will become smaller. Each time you make an adjustment, make a note of it (1/4 turn, 1/2 turn, 1mm, etc.). Keeping track of your changes will help you achieve the best accuracy your clock can provide.

Don’t expect your mechanical clock to be as accurate as a quartz watch. If your clock is accurate within two minutes for a week, you have a well regulated clock. Simply nudge the minute hand to the correct time when needed or when you wind the clock.

Increasing Your Clock’s Lifespan

Like any mechanical device, your grandfather clock will need periodic maintenance. After ten years, the oil will be oxidized and dirty and will no longer protect the clock’s metal parts. Just like on your car, replacing oil is a lot cheaper than replacing parts. Unlike your car, with proper maintenance your clock can easily provide good service to many generations.  Grandfather clocks should be re-serviced every 10 years to keep them running well in to minimize the parts wearing out.

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