James Bucknell Crediton Grandfather Face Restoration

20190426_124342[If google has brought you her because you want to know “how to reset the chimes on a grandfather clock” then skip down to the blue italic text. Note that this fix method only works with countwheel based grandfather clocks]

This James Bucknell from about 1780 (from the look of it) is a great clock I enjoyed restoring and repairing for many reasons. Firstly I like a challenge every now and again. It came to me in a bad cosmetic state, silver oxide blackened chapter ring, corroded spandrels and a face plate that really needed some attention.

Doing these faces is interesting work with a “good reveal” as you completely change the character of a clock by returning the face to pretty much the state it left the makers workshop in. I use traditional hand methods because they are the best. They offer accurate delicate control in the clean up and spinning stage and a sense of security that the job is properly executed with the correct amount of plate in the later stages. There really isn’t any point in hurrying it.

I’m often not the first person to have refinished the chapter rings on the clocks I do and it makes me weep sometimes to see how much the last goon has skimmed from the face, often removing character serifs and fine detail. I put this down to lazyness induced use of power tooling. Power tools and clock faces do not mix.  On the other hand you do want that spun effect so some abrasion is necessary if only to set the circular grain. Its a delicate balance and all the more interesting for it using the trad methods although its a bit slow.

When Im working on antique clocks I cant help being aware they are pretty much engineering historical record. There are not many other engineering diciplines that have a preserved evolutionary chronology in the way clocks do and these 17th,18th and early 19th century clocks are the history ecapsulated. Each genuinely carries a story and its not so much about who made it specifically as it is about what was going on at the time and why the clocks were evolving and improving. The fact that they were not evolving as fast as they could have done because of the demarcation and guild system is also just as fascinating if somewhat eye rolling.

The reason this clock got the treatment was fundamentally the same as every other clock we do the same for. Its a bit of a “thing” with brass faces generally. I think that an aged and corroded clock face tends to give the impression of some sort of basic nature to the machine – a simple and perhaps mechanically clumsy look. When you resilver the face, refill the engraving and get the brass and guilding back as far as you can, the clock takes on a different persona. It looks every part the scientific instrument it should do. It was presented at its first sale as an example of the finest engraving and materials technology to encase mechanical alchemy.

These clocks, specially during the really early period 1660-1740 were about as understandable to the indigenous population, in terms of their workings, as a robot butler or home matter transporter would be to us. You needed a church to tell the time normally. So the function of the clock was really where the value lay. Decoration was traditional and in line with furniture styles of the time. Later on it was done to a price and the market developed naturally to its various levels with London maintaining top dog influential status for what was hot styistically, which was what was hot about 100 years ago. They made village planning permission committees look like dynamic agents of change.

Face design was based on a guild defined set of design directives and proportions. So what we see today – these striking commanding status symbols, is not what the first eyes who saw the clock saw. They saw an incredible machine with a readout on the front that created the time from moving metal.

So, having bigged up the importance of the face it is of course really just a frame for what this clock meant when it was made – accuracy and fine engineering; arguably the most important and influential science of the time. The period in question is pretty much 1690 to 1800 for most of these well made brass faces in the London style.

I think this clock might be towards the end of that period as the innovations are quite “out there” in clock terms where moving a spandrel 2 inches might be considered heresy. These deviations from the conservative norm happened later in overall production history and were more common the further away from London the clock was produced.

You may think I am, uncharacteristically, exaggerating the importance of the tech within and what goes into that with some of these clocks. Surely after all, a clock is a clock and accuracy is important but the true value of the clock at the time of its production would have been in the finish and that it told the time. Given that all grandfather clocks are pretty accurate simply because they have a long pendulum (its 90% of the solution), surely the emphasis of a good clock is likely to be looks rather than any extension to the engineering.

Well your wrong! (or right depending on what you thought). Look at this beautiful piece of innovation. This is actually a bit too good for an early clock. One clockmaker is unlikely to have come up with all the innovations here and some are clearly borrowed from other genres of clock. A couple of things on it such as the way it lifts its second hammer on the hour so that it single strikes out the hour and double strikes out the quarters….thats very clever I have to say and I wish I could show it here but its a bit too much.

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Im not sure how much detail this picture will show in terms of zoom but if you can zoom in have a good look; Ive posted it at maximum resolution. What you can see there is a quarter chiming two bell grandfather clock running off the most complex and challenging countwheels I have had the good fortune to take to bits. I’ve worked on 8 bell clocks but, actually, this is more inventive and mixes the mechanical features from a couple of other clock types.

The countwheel was used a reasonable amount on British clocks but we favoured a different (and the now prevalent) stepped cam on the canon pinion. Countwheels were popular in the USA where they seem to be used exclusively, and in Europe where you often see them used on slate mantle and boule bob pendulum clocks. What is totally uncommon (Ive never seen one) on a countwheel system is to attempt a quarter chime. I’ve seen internally and externally mounted countwheels but nothing with this level of segregation.

The system is arguably not fit for purpose as it is so vulnerable to wear but it works brilliantly with the only difficulty being setting the zero point on the countwheel and consequently then checking and entire 12 hour sequence of chimes for each attempt. I wasn’t prepared to believe that the hand cutting could be so consitent that there was not going to be an error tollerance that might creep out on a full run; so I had to do one every time to be sure. I did find the sweet spot after a few attempts by working from the mid-point of the trench outwards on each adjustment.

The problem from a technical perspective is that the system works like a punch card. Each time the clock strikes an arm taps down on the countwheel which is always rotating while the clock is chiming. When this arm comes down it hits either the edge of the countwheel or goes into one of the carved out square trenches. If it falls into a trench then this extra distance the arm travels is enough for it to lower a lever connected to it into a blocking position for the chime mechanism as a whole. The chime system locks and the arm is set in the trench ready to be lifted into action on the next quarter hour.

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So, tap the lever on the countwheel edge and the clock keeps going, and drop the lever into the countwheel trench and the chiming stops. Thats essentially the key process.

[As an aside, this also means on this particular type of clock you can advance the chime without moving the hands just by sticking your hand round the back of the movement and lifting the lever out of its countwheel trench. If the clock is out of sync e.g. it reads 10 o clock but strikes 11 times then its probably been jogged and the lever has jumped out of its trench and carried on until it hits the 12 o clock trench. To correct this just keep on lifting the lever until the chime catches up with what it says on the face. If you do this, firstly advance the minute hand to 5 past the hour to avoid the lift cam on the front of the face clashing with your movement of the lever at the back.]

So the countwheel is a thing of wonder and true engineering prowess considering it was all done with hand tools. For me at least, there is another impressive factor in all this which I was educated in when setting up the countwheels “zero degree point”. If you work out how many chimes happen in 12 hours you will come to the figure of 468 including quarter chimes. That therefore has to be your graduation round the wheel. A convenient 0.7692307692307692 degrees. I mean at least its and exact number.

To understand how a countwheel sequences have a look at the the wheel in the picture. You will notice the same trench pattern repeating on the edge, but separated by a larger degree arc of edge on each repetition. What you are seeing are the stop trenches for the first 3 quarters followed by the main sequence of flat rim that continues until the wheel turns and the next trench is reached. This means that the wheel has to be cut to an accuracy of less than a degree absolutely consistently. Any deviation at any point will throw the entire sequence out as the chime system is absolutely linear.

I work with brass a lot and problems like this are a horror. You cant correct it if you get it wrong and brass is like butter once you get the hang of things with a good file and some other fun tools. When you look at the wheel it does look complex but it much worse than it looks!. When you consider each of those gaps is a minimum of two chimes and the brass on the lever is 1mm you realise how tight things are.

You cant make any mistakes in calculation or execution when fabricating this item. Yes there are jigs and suchlike that are used but even then its literally a single stroke to many with your abrasive of choice and its game over and probably a guild flogging followed by excommunication. Working with this clock has made me respect the chap who made it, its as simple as that.

“Excellent, so just mark out 3 of those 468/360th wide segments on an arc accounting for the lever edge presentation arc from its spiggot, lever thickness, and dead straight connecting edges. Oh and dont forget you are fired fired fired into the gutter if you get it wrong.”

Apart from the challenges in production there is also the general standard of engineering required to keep an instrument with moving parts tight enough to maintain this very rigid tolerance in the countwheel. There is a secondary gear that connects the main barrel arbour with the countwheel gear so the countwheel is driven as directly as possible from the power source. This makes sense as any wear on the teeth will result in the countwheel setting further and further back from is synchronised stop/start position accurate to that rediculous fraction of a degree I quoted earlier. The less teeth and cogs in the gear train the less chance there is of play developing and there being “pick up” in the gearing before power is transferred.

It was a very interesting refurb and a pleasure to get to know this particular adaption. The face really took the restoration process well and came out spectacularly well when compared to its prior state. Marvleous!.

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Nice BilliB wall regulator – clicks and clean

I don’t normally comment on contemporary clocks as I find they are all pretty much the same. This is because the movements available come from two manufacturers these days as opposed to the hundreds of the past. Modern clocks lack mechanical variation quite frankly and all run the same system. Imagine if BMW and Mercedes were all you could buy at the quality end the of the market and its a good analog of where clock making is at the moment. Theres only so much to say about a set range of engines that all do the same thing in the same way.

There are however exceptions to this. Clock makers who go the extra mile and modify the movements, or in the case of this BilliB, extend its functionality with a new gear trains.

You see, normally its quite hard to leech of torque for your own mechanical use. Where are you going to connect to the movement? Its not realistic to start boring holes in the plates and fitting new spindles. Its a customer warranty nightmare waiting to happen and will flatten your warranty from the manufacturer if you get into trouble. I would imagine this reason alone explains why you really dont see this in clocks built around the movements available.

BilliB have aced this though I have to say. They have produced a set of extended wheels and functions mounted directly to the dial pan. The power from the movement is then split off via a canon pinion they have manufactured to fit over the movements canon pinion (in a fashion). Its a really clever idea that delivers plenty of power efficiently from low in the gearings power train.

The other thing I like about this clock is how it looks. Its interesting. It has a scientific feel that evokes visions of the late 19th century. It wouldnt look totally out of place in the lobby of the Pompous Victorian Explorers club somewhere in Holborn around 1895. Obviously I like it but it may not be everyones cup of tea. I believe they do other clocks http://www.billib.co.uk/

The mechanics are well done and BilliB have selected the best movement for the job. You do pay for this level of engineering but its worth it. The only thing I will say is that this particular machine was in for repair on a “no longer runs” brief from the customer.

A quick diagnostic revealed little other than three broken clicks that needed replacing – Billib were kind enough to find some spares for me which  are very hard to get hold of (thanks Richard). Its probably worth pointing out at this juncture that BilliB are not a parts vendor or stockholder, it was their favour to my client/their customer who I have to say only had good things to say about Billib despite being in the middle of a clock stoppage.

So, the repair ….I checked the escapement pressure very little was getting through. It had not seized but really well under power by at least 75%.  It has to be said at this point that the thing with Kieninger movements, specially the very top end units, is that they are finely engineered and susceptible to fouling from airborne particulates. They really are works of art for production units. Everything is thick and chunky where it needs to be and then fine and elegantly sprung where it should be. There is something hand built about them and I expect assembly is done by hand as there are several set points that I feel sure would need doing clock by clock (I could be wrong!).

Back to the point,  what that means is that they dont like dust or any level of air pollution. The pivots need oil and this oil picks up airborne dust over time. The helpful oil then turns slowly into unhelpful waxy black glue. On larger clocks and gearing systems this lubrication is not such a show stopper but on the very low powered fine top gear train pivots it… does stop the show. My point is that on a cheaper movement you can see evidence of this as a black residue in the pivot bushes. On a Kieninger it might stop the clock before you can see this evidence, as on the clock in the pictures below. The movement looked factory clean but a clean proved that this was not the case and the clock now confidently ticks along.

I think a service interval of 5 – 7 years is what I would recommend on a Kieninger. The more enclosed and cased your clock is the slower it will acquire dust build up. Note the BilliB clock below has an open format without reasonably airtight enclosure. A clock like this will need servicing slightly more frequently than one of its enclosed cousins such as a Viennese regulator, but, Id still have this one. It really is a cracker.

 

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BilliB clock repair – clicks and clean!

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New Video Series – Victorian Cuckoo Clock

Ive not posted an article on this blog for a month or two because lots of things have been going on.  Apart from some very interesting work there have also been some additions to the business in the form of my second son Matthew who has joined the business as, for the moment, a spare pair of hands. Edward my eldest son is now permanently stationed in Antiques Centre workshop Wednesday to Friday and I continue to work from my second workshop and cover on site call outs and visits.

While all this change has been thrust upon us I have managed to hook up with a professional film maker and we are producing a series of videos – this is the first!.

 

NEW – Video Tutorial – How to set the beat on a mantle clock

Another self help article…

I think I’ve addressed this before in the blog – its one of the most common problems brought to me at the antiques centre workshop where you can walk in and annoy me endlessly with pointless drivel (I jest of course – but bring work!).

So usually I get a customer walk in with the immortal words “My clock runs for a minte or so and stops”. Assuming its not a major mechanical failure the problem is usually the clock has been set up to run evenly on a surface that isnt the same as the new clock locations. This happens in moves, when people buy new clocks, or commonly when the clock gets jarred sideways during movement for spring cleaning and suchlike.

The video explains this far better than words can and while I prefer to write as I get time limited to 30 words per minute on the keyboard, the vid does the job. This was a single take and the first time Ive ever used the camera to do a vid blog – not bad I have to say so myself. I may well do more video articles as the editing requirement has been non existent on this one.

Rather than embed the video on this page ive stuck it up on youtube so that those of you using tablets and phones to watch get the standard youtube view and quality. Follow click  the link below (it works from PC’s and Macs as well).

https://youtu.be/qZ7sjJrftV0

I shall now start work on particularly nice French ormalou Ive been waiting for a clear stretch on. I hope you get what you were looking for from the video and if you thought it was good post a link or share to this article on facebook or similar- its always nice to know the help travels as far as possible.

 

 

Halloween Expensive Horror Clocks – Clocks to be wary of.

This is not a price list. If you want a price guide to my services click here.

This article is a repairers point of view (mine!) as to what genres of clock are “risky buys” from a service and purchase cost perspective. As with all my articles there no commercial agenda – just good advice and explanation because that’s what this blog is all about.

So what does actually effect cost of ownership and what makes a clock a horror?

Its largely to do with the age of the clock but it doesn’t work the way you might expect. The tendency among my clients, many of whom have become clock friends I keep in touch with, is to assume increasing age means increasing service costs. Oddly it doesnt work like this and there is a reason…complexity and capitalist egg heads making things difficult for everyone.

Clocks were simple once the pendulum was introduced in 1660 or so. You had three gears leading to an escapement cog and and anchor regulating the turn of the top cog one tooth at a time. Just give the cog 60 teeth and then a pendulum that swings at 60 beats per minute and, bingo, you have a very accurate clock if you stick some hands on the end of the spindle ends. You can make one in your garden out of wood and rubber bands if you put your mind to it. It really could have stayed like this for a very long time and everything would have been fine. Clocks would have been mass produced far earlier and everyone would have access to time and the social integration for work and transport that standardised time delivers in a culture.

Then along come the egg heads. Telling the time isn’t good enough!. It must speak the time. Every hour announcing the division of duties and rotas. You need a clock before you need a whip if your going to run an efficient slave based culture after all.

So, very soon after the clock function comes the chime function. At first with some design restraint and fit for purpose i.e. it strikes out what time it is on the hour. This was quickly standardised upon with two approaches. American, and oddly UK West country clocks use the countwheel system more often than not, whereas London and European clocks use the rack and snail cam system for the most part.

The American system is better because it allows the chimes to be advanced separately to the hour hand. The makes the time easier and faster to change. Its also more reliable and wears less. There are a lot more of the countwheel clocks in genuinely good condition mechanically for this reason. The snail cam clocks always come to me with some level of bodge modification to allow for wear, whereas the countwheel machines can often look like they came out of the shop a couple of years ago (apart from corrosion pitting in inevitable pallet and escapement wear).

Whichever system used both clock types (from around 1660 – 1790) now had many more moving parts that depended on each others wear and performace. Adding this function means more maintenance and more to go wrong. Is it worth it? Probably yes, specially on the long case which used to regulate the house slaves activity in Victorian London for instance.

Thats enough for any clock. With those two features the clock is doing practically everything it really needs to do with the minimum of brass hitting steel (which is the fundamental cause of wear – brass is softer).That covers most long case floor standing and larger wall clocks up to about 1850.

After this things become complicated. Britain and the rest of the world was getting very good at engineering. Components could be made smaller and more accurately from higher grade materials. This opened the door to miniaturisation of the existing two sets of mechanics (time & chime trains). From hereon it all starts to get complicated and actually more expensive on the service side of things.

Smaller components have less room for wear build in as a tolerance. If a pivot end wears its has to be replaced on a small movement. Re-bushing is complicated because you have to locate the new bush with an accuracy of .2mm or less. With a grandfather clock you can shift up to 1mm and in most cases this actually gives the repairer some options to account for uneven pinion gear wear to extend the life of the clock before a full rebuild is necessary.

Its inevitable and human nature to fill up the space you have saved via miniaturisation with other bits of brass that do largely unnecessary things – “just because its possible”. Do you really need you clock to chime three different tunes. Really?. All my customers leave theirs on Westminster or St Micheals which ironically leads to heavier wear on the “Westminster” components and reduces the service interval – more money. As for automata they are just frippery and a draw on the clocks power. Bearing in mind that a spring change is an expensive operation it seems unwise to me to over stress the spring with extra duty thereby reducing its lifetime. More money.

And it doesn’t stop there of course. You have night shutoff mechanisms, quarter chimers, micro regulation spindles, external ruby pallets, and so on and so forth. All completely unnecessary and fundamentally destabilising for the overall balanced performance of the clock (a machine for telling the time).

All this peaked in about 1900. As Victoria died the revolution that had occured in mechanical precision engineering peaked. It really didn’t get much better from a complex precision point of view; from hereon the only thing that changed was the way the components became mass produced, often with inevitable quality issues until after the second world war.

So, what NOT to buy?

As a first clock, dont bother letting anyone sell you a “name” or a a London clock.

Avoid Viennese regulators – specifically the chiming ones. Problems with these are incredibly hard to diagnose and I get competitors ringing me up at the end of their tether asking for advice (in most cases its the top leaf spring by the way chaps – you need to fit a new one and then grind it down to a flexibility that keeps the clock running). The general design problem with them is not the leaf spring alone for the most part. Its the fact that they are incredibly low energy for the pendulum weight and length they use. The weights should be twice as big in my opinion but the fashion as the time was towards miniaturisation and energy reduction purely for reasons of finesse (as opposed to longevity)

Another clock to avoid is a regulator style half hour chimer in a oblong case 1ft x 3ft deep. There is no real “name” for this type of clock but if it looks as described avoid buying it or send me a picture and Ill tell you if its cursed. These fail because they use barrel cage pinion gears which bend over time. Even the ones that don’t seem to have inferior gearing. The components are “skinny” and you feel that there was an effort save money on materials. A completely terrible idea. I can re-drill and fit these with steel rod but its a lot of work and expensive – far more than the clocks are worth. These clocks were produced in what I consider to be the dark times of clock production 1890 – 1910.

Any clock from this period needs to be treated with caution in my opinion, if only because I treat them with caution when quoting and Im at the sharp edge of any bad judgement I make about what the problem might be when quoting. They are tempting however. The clock will have all the bells and whistles, look fantastic, sound fantastic, but will also cost a fantastic amount to get serviced. God forbid you break a spring – all of them use obsolete sizes and I have to make new ones from band steel or modify a stock spring to do the job.

Carriage clocks. Ok… I have to be careful here as there are a lot of carriage clock owners who read this blog. Ironically I love them because they are all the things I said are less desireable from an ownership point of view. I have two – one is spectacular and I dont run it for that reason. They are wonderfully balanced and produced. The problem with them is the platform escapement. This is a little self contained spring and regulator mounted toward the top of the clock. If it breaks fixing it requires watch repair skills and tooling. New platforms are available but it wont look the same and will require some unorthodox mounting in most cases. When sourcing a platformThere are four key dimensions that need to be correct and almost nobody makes them any more. Second hand units can be procured but not by you because you wont know what to buy – even I have to guess sometimes and hope tollerances will allow fitment (Ive lost money repairing these on several occasions with my no fix / no fee policy). Carriage clocks go for between £400 and maybe 2k for the most part although it has to be a chiming repeater to get into that price bracket. You can easily several hundred pounds on a fix for one of the better ones so add this to your purchasing budget as a contingency.

1930’s Grandfather and grandmother clocks. For a brief period these came into fashion and Im asked to repair them every so often. They are not common and very attractive, but BEWARE. Everything I have talked about in this article is relvant to these clocks.  They are spectacularly complicated and nothing appears to be standard. Its as if, for some brief time, these clock makes went bonkers and just did everything differently because they though they knew more than 300 years of mechanical evolution. The strike mechanism and its various setting and triggering mechanisms are made….badly. Badly thought out specifically. Levers are pinned with huge balance differences requiring too much force to trigger and this same “I know better” design runs through the clocks like a stick of rock. They are normally chain driven and have a silvered face with Arabic numerals on a brass bezel with a curved art deco style hood. If you see one of these make the sign of a crucifix and back away while casting holy water on all sides. I will fix these clocks but expect the component manufacturing element of the cost to be about 70% of the total cost.

Fusee clocks have problems with springs and chains. I wont go into detail other than to say the springs tend to be massive and unavailable. Its a make from scratch job and expensive. Its one of the few clocks I wont offer a no fix / no fee service on. There is too much trial and error so its got to be time and materials costing for those. That should give you a clue as to the cost!.

So after all this gloom and doom about what not to buy…what are you safer buying. Well heres a few tips.

Buy something unbranded or by somebody who nobody has heard of as a first purchase. Try and get one from a local maker just for the hell of it. It takes the price down a bit and you get largely the same quality. You can learn how to tune the clock up a bit, marvel at its mechanics, enjoy the sound it makes and do a bit of reading about whats really going on in there which only enhances the joy.

The best first mechanical clock to buy is a 1950 – 1970 pendulum mantle clock. These are currently undervalued and heres the thing… by the time these units were in production things had settled down a bit on th engineering standards. Many engineering companies with great skills and capacity like Smiths of Enfield went from making guns to clocks and did a damn fine job at it. Even the basic gong movements have a strong simplicity and ease of service that I suspect has its roots in the manufacturing lessons learned during arms manufacturing where its a bit more than than the time that matters – a limb or life might be at stake if the thins isnt made reliably functioning. These clocks are becoming scarce as they are scrapped due to the cost of repair but, actually, the two values are starting to come much closer together. Values have trippled in 5 years and will only get better – specially for the British clocks as we enter a new age of independence when we will perhaps appreciate more of our brilliant history of innovation and manufacturing.

Grandfather Clocks. Just buy one of these if you have the space. They are being scrapped so fast that supply will be severely restricted once they gain foothold again. They go in and out of fashion and you can rest assured they will soon become the status symbols they were originally manufactured as once more. Go for a 1700 – 1730 brass face or a late white face – say 1820 onwards. The earlier clock will rocket in value over 10 years and the later clock will rise steadily but require less maintance as they are hardly “run in” at that age (built to last).

Its really hard to recommend any other type as they are all different but as  general rule go for pendulum as opposed to platform escapement. Anything that is costing you over £1500 – get somebody who knows clocks to look at it before parting with the cash, and if you dont know anybody get a guarantee in writing for warranty. As a last resort I will try and help but theres not much I can do without getting in front of the the thing and testing a few key areas.

I have run out of time!. I help people with quick questions on email all the time and devote 20 mins a day to it so its likely you will get and answer to a simple question if you email me although I cant promise it.

Apologies for the grammar, spelling, order of things, logic and generally shoddy cohesion to this article. I get paid by the hour and this one was free. I may come back to it if my proof reader (Hi John) comes into the antiques centre with his normal damning critique of my general presentation. My ex wife helps with that from time to time as well, normally while laughing and pointing. Dont know why we bothered getting divorced quite frankly. Apparently all my sentences are too long and lack punctuation. Im just going to hit the “publish and be damned” button.

New Shop & Callout Hours

As readers of this blog will be aware I have two workshops – One at the antiques centre and one at home. I have tended to use the workshop at home more simply because I can do what I want there, work late, have fun, break when I want to, and all sorts of other soft benefits.

Thats now changing.

I’ve rejuvenated facilities and tooling at the Antiques centre and will be stationed there much more. The plan is Wednesday through to Saturday 10am- 4.30 pm. This also means that if you want me to come and collect clocks for repair or repair them on site then this is going to have to be on either a Monday or a Tuesday.

The reason I’m doing this is that many customers now want to bring their clocks to me and talk options during the week. People often have more important things to do on a Saturday and I cant really limit visits to the workshop to Saturdays only any more.

Ok so NOW you can bring your clocks to me in the week. Thats it really.

You would not believe how much of a difference this will make to my work patterns and options, but at the end of the day I need to be available to my customers and there are just too many of you lovely people to squidge into one day of over the counter service work.

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Nice Epping 1725 Brass Face – Service (!!) and Face Restoration!

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Ok so there were lots of exclamation marks in that heading. The reason for this is that this grandfather clock came to me for repair and restoration as pretty much a barn find. A “service” is not really what went on here to get this working.

A client had the common sense to snap it up despite its condition. I would love to say this is because he read my last blog post, but alas, this is not the case – just a huge coincidence.

At any rate I thought I would put up a “before picture” up as I plan to do a follow up article showing the finished job. I wish I had remembered to take a photo of the spider and grime infested movement which is now clean as Im half way through the job. The reason I didnt was because, quite frankly, I wasnt sure if this one was actually going to run. The escapement teeth were bent and the cog was mounted 3″down the movement plate which is very odd. Also the escapement wheel itself is only about 70% of the diameter you would expect in a “standard” clock design. The whole thing looked underpowered and sensitive to changes in the power delivery generally. That was until I realised the weights were Victorian replacements and the wrong size. I swapped them out for the right articles and its running fine now on test. Thats the thing with these non-runner barn finds – you are never quite sure if you are dealing with one clock or a Frankenstien of several clocks reanimated in a windmill by a lighting bolt 100 years earlier (never to work again).

So, the face is very “London” but the movement has its own character of design. It shows, very ineterestingly, how even early on the makers started to play with the design to see if they could better it. In this instance it appears to have happened as soon as the maker was released from apprenticeship and went to expand into the London supra-region and further. It just shows things dont really change at a human level. If you try and hold people back from innovating you wont be able to do so for long.  Epping was a town outside London at that time and so the Guilds influence starts to be deviated from in this clock for this reason. Its not dramatically different and its all the same cogs doing the same thing but slightly differently put together, and actually, in a more sensible way from some respects. I use the word repect accordingly – its a good job. For instance, the rack has an L shaped bend that replaces the stop peg arrangement you normally find – why did nobody else do this? Its a great idea that is stronger and easier to produce. But then….guilds.

When I get a really old clock like this in I tend not to overdo the clean. Its because the brass plate is often badly mixed alloy. You see this on really old grandfathers quite a lot. There are visible patches on the plate where copper is the dominant colour as opposed to the brass gold lustre you would expect. This is only exacerbated by a chemical clean with the sort of quite aggressive compounds you have to use to get a “high shine” I have found. Before modern chemistry in the 19th century the chemicals used in clock cleaning took off the top layer of oxidation from the various surfaces, however, due to the infancy of metallurgy and the cost of the materials involved the mix of copper and zinc could often be in a raspberry ripple style where one element, zinc or copper, was the more dominant element in a particular area of the plate. Acid loves eating zinc but not copper so it eats into the zinc first on the surface leaving the largely inert copper atoms. This is often the reason the plates appear to have copper patches on them where acidic cleaning compounds have been used in the past centuries.

Im going to bang on about this for a bit. Copper is a particularly difficult metal to dissolve with acids and is one of the two metals in the alloy brass; the other being zinc. You may remember from school that copper only really reacts with nitric acid so in cleaning brass plate a nitric acid based cleaner will skim the atoms of copper and zinc off at the same time.

Nitric acid [HNO3] is difficult to make. Specially in concentrated form. Hydrochloric acid [HCL] on the other hand is simply made by passing chlorine, an obvious green gas produced in many reactions, through water. I think its highly probable that HCL was used as a cleaning agent early on in these clocks service history which explains why poorly alloyed brass shows as patchy copper on many of the really early clocks. HCL will just dissolve the zinc, not the copper, which remains on the surface of the plate as if the plate was copper plated!.

Other than its early metallurgy the clock also shows its age in its hand made qualities. You can see the file and cut marks, and no two components, such as bridge screws, are the same.

Can you imagine that today?, something hand made because it is difficult, not because it just adds cost value. Its very hard to find something hand made these days. The term is used for “hand assembled” in many cases and I think Morgan Cars are about the last big company to value the skills required to make the car more than the advantages of higher production.

In time, after the next solar flare that wipes most computer data and returns us to the Victorian era, Morgan and companies like them might do even better than they are today i.e. still make cars when the iphones driving all the other cars become door stops and drinks coasters.  Im just waiting for that solar flare quite frankly. Ill be a God in the post apolocalypitic world. Take away most peoples computers and they are, as individuals, economically functionless. Ill still be mending clocks, and without clocks its really hard to organise anything at all. All you will have to do is find me on Google and….ahhhh I think I may have spotted a flaw in my plan.

Nevertheless, I love this. It really makes you feel like you are working on history and are responsible for carrying it forward. This clock was made 300 years ago by a person. He signed it. He has his immortality in my hands.

This is specially the case in this instance. The client has done the research on this one and found only one other clock by this maker on public record. So this may well be the last clock of his one day.

Anyway this one is getting a bit more love than the others although its hardly possible as I go bananas about anything pre-1740 for reasons I published in my last article. Clocks in the first 80 years or so of Grandfather production tell the whole story – a visual nexus of historical information and provenance.

Heres the chemical reaction for copper with nitric acid. Because Im a geek.

*4 HNO3(l) + Cu(s) ==> Cu(NO3)2(s and aq) + 2 NO2(g) + 2 H2O(l)

The letters l, s, aq, & g refer to the state of each compound, l is liquid, s is solid, g is gas and aq means dissolved in water. Boring. Sorry.

Note that the ratio of Nitric Acid to Copper for this reaction is 4:1 or it doesnt continue. That information you will need if you need to makes some laughing gas. To do this get some conc Nitric and stick some 2p’s in it. A brown gas comes off. This is laughing gas for the most part.

Or read a funny book which is very much less dangerous. Infact just leave it. You will have to anyway as you cant buy Nitric acid anymore due to its use in illegal drug manufacture – its all licenced and tracked and big brothered to an Orwellian degree. 10 years ago you could buy it by the gallon and have it delivered.

Personally, with the exception of modern pharmaceuticals, overall we have gone backward technologically in my opinion.

I must go now as I have to charge up my health band watch which is connected to my phone which is connected to my anti-loss key alarm. It strikes me that I could keep them all together to avoid losing any of them but Ive tried that and it doesnt work.

I actually need a pocket watch with a chain and my car keys on it but you cant buy a simple device like that- or give one to your teenage son as an alternative to a mobile phone. This is because a watch and key chain is unable to advertise to you and track every single thing you do and who you talk to and what you like and when you go to bed and how you get to work and when you eat and what you eat and who you talk to and when.

 

How to identify and buy the best grandfather clock at auction

KIngston_Mere_Grandfather_Clock

So you want to by a good grandfather clock but you dont really know what you are doing…

People keep on asking me to get Grandfather clocks for them. This makes perfect sense with my Antiques centre and Auction connections but if I did it for everyone Id do nothing else and I love my hands on work with repairs and restorations.

I dont sell clocks on the whole. The reason Im writing this is because its in the spirit of self help this blog promotes and I get asked a lot. Specifically I get asked “what sort of clock is the best and can you help me get a good one – I dont really know a lot about them but I would really like one”.

A surprisingly long question for all those people to ask. It really is though.

Here is the definitive time proof answer I believe.

Answer: Buy an early 18th Century Brass Face Clock!

I would get one like the one in the picture above. Its a classic brass face from 1730 and looks good in just about any case. Its currently in its original case but you wouldnt know the original from another similar one – Ill cover that side of thing later. Firstly lest talk about how to buy the clever way and the way trade do generally when sourcing clocks at auction for stock.

Whats the best place to buy a good grandfather clock?

Don’t bother with bigger auction houses over more than about 3 offices. They are too big with too many educated auctioneers who actually know something. You will get a better deal where people KNOW LESS about what they are selling. This may sound a bit cut-throat but thats what this article is about – Im on your side and you have to be a pirate to get a galleon. So HA HAAAARRRR MATEY and a bottle of Evian (I dont drink).

Most smaller auction houses are totally useless at identifying a good clock and frankly just guess – you will see clocks identified as “18th Century Brass Faced by blah blah Nottingham” as opposed to any discreet mention of a specific decade or comment on style or case construction. The less details in the description the better chance you have of getting a clock cheaper than the market would normally pay (at a larger auction house).

Consider this. Small auctions are tricky things to run and the rule tends to be caution in describing items authenticity due to the crippling administration costs of returns and refunds. This is good news for you if you go armed with the right info and check list which I will try and provide you with in this article.

So, the more basic the catalog description, the more likely it is the auction house doesn’t care and hopes the market does their homework for them. If you want to go a upmarket and rely on the auctioneers knowledge more for reasons of….getting a working clock!, then Sworders in Bishops Stortford and Hertford (Essex, United Kingdom) seem to get the right sort of clocks in and I use them for valuation and sale for stuff on Behalf of the Antiques centre in Braintree where I am based some of the week. Ive seen some half decent brass faces go there for under £2000 but as you will find out in this article – its about buying the right one.

Its a good idea to go to Sworders website and have a look online www.sworder.co.uk . If you like a clock there I can go and check it over for you as its half an hour from me. I would urge you to find you own good local auction house and go there however as its really important to see the clock. Some of them can be far more dominating “in person” and you need to meet your clock before inviting it into your house. It really will become part of your home and like a lodger, you will want to vet them first!. Chimes can be loud or quiet or muffled for fast or piercing or bell based or bar based or or or etc.. These thing will effect how much you enjoy owning your clock. Bear in mind most dont come with a night shut-off switch so your going to be living with the chime 24/7.

What is the market for grandfather clocks like and how much should I pay?

The clock in the picture at the start of this article is a really nice clock. It sits in the perfect house. I know the couple as good customers. Theres an immaculate vintage Rolls Royce Silver Something in the garage, Koi carp pond under a glass floor in the living room with small whales in it. Its full of interesting curio engineering objects to boot (heaven for me) . Every bit of the large house is a really nice and interesting place to be. Nice people too. 

So my point is these nice people have a nice clock. BUT Its not the most expensive clock, its just the best type without going mad on the money side of things and its more than “enough”. Good taste.

The thing is you can get a similar nice clock for much less than you may think. 

Theres only so many clocks left and reproduction hasn’t hit the industry sector yet; you don’t see fake clocks although be aware you are unlikely to be getting an original combination of clock head and case. Almost all are what are referred to as marriages which I find a particularly inappropriate term. Ex wives. These clocks and heads actually go together very well on more than two out of three times which makes “marriage” an inaccurate term in my view.

Grandfather clocks are in and out of fashion but always comes back. They have done for 300 years so the trend is unlikely to end. What you are seeing now is a dip in values due to a trend towards moderinism and minimalism in domestic interior design – we see this reflected in what sells at the Antiques centre generally.

Smaller houses are also playing a part in the temporary decline in popularity of these clocks. The wise will note that they are not knocking down the larger houses to build the smaller ones so there is still a home waiting for these clocks and they will return with greater prestige than they ever have. Also the Japs love anything english at the moment and Im sure there are already people out there shipping them over in containers and making a fortune.

It is only fashion and iphones keeping them out in the cold and on the auction circuit in the UK. So, at the moment, the clocks dont store well and are generally sold on inheritance by people who ought to be rounded up and sho…. sorry I almost did a Clarkson there.

The one thing you need to understand about this market adjustment is that Grandfather clocks are ICONIC so it doesn’t matter that current fashions do not allow space for them in the house. After all if your under 40 and don’t have 100 square meters of uninterrupted beige carpet in the living room the world will actually end. Its fact. Theres no room for a grandfather clock with Beige-aggendon upon us apparently.

The point is everyone knows what a grandfather clock is, and always will and thats that. There will always be a market.

If you like them then buy one now even if you store it for your next property move.

This clock face pictured in this article is at the higher end of things. Now I say “at the higher end of things” in the context of the mid market which is the area I get asked most about. It is also the long case clock / grandfather clock type people most frequently ask us to restore which is worthy of note because it sort of suggests these are the ones everyone finds the most attractive – its not cheap to get done but people are prepared to spend a bit more on this fabulously attractive examples.

To be perfectly frank its obvious why these clocks are so popular with their owners. Its because these clocks from the begining of the 18th century have a complex beauty in the face that is an accident of design evolution. Its two face designs build into one.

To explain, one set of face markings (the inner chapter ring marks and fleur-de-lys) is to allow the clock to be read by only the hour hand, and the the other set of markings (minute markers and seconds markers and chapter ring)is for our normal two handed reading method.

The two designs are blended to create a complex classic design that is simply an accident of social cirucumstance – clock reading literacy. These marking dissapear around 1730 so its the best date to buy when considering age vs cost because the clocks get more expensive the older they are due to rarity. The sweet spot is 1730 or thereabouts in my view.

As the art of production had been practised for lifetime by 1730 and the industry was firmly established delivering product by this time so there are more clocks left today. This is why I would buy one of these. There are enough left in the market because there were quite a few made and at the same time they happen to be the best looking – prices are still actually reasonable compared to a good clock from only30 or 4 years earlier when the industry could still be considered in its infancy. Having said this they are still not that common so you will have to hunt around to get one for the right price, but its possible and Im assuming your prepared to invest a bit of time in the chase if your reading this.

Factor in £1k for what could be extensive bespoke repairs if your buying remotely or cant get a guarantee of functionality. It could even be £2k so just get that all important guarantee that its working or your money back.

That guarantee is necessary because you have to bear in mind every single movement component is hand made. Literally. Even the bridge screws match their holes. Replacing broken components means a lot of work and if the broken components are missing Id honestly just as well you didn’t phone me about the repair – do the other thing, but a working clock!. Id prefer to help you do that then work out escapement tooth gradients surrounded by the remains of a Frankenstein clock.

As an owner I have a London Brass face from 1730 and a Country 1780 12″ square face both of which I adore. I put both together as marriages for under £2000 but its going to cost you probably around £3-5k for a good 1730 era clock.

Im pretty sure I could go to market now, July ’18, and get something absolutely beautiful and authentic for about £4000 on a brass face for a clock made in a major town in the 18 century. I wouldnt expect the case to be original to the clock inside but I will come to that. £2500 would get you an enamel face you would never sell and very possibly in its original case. These clock curios will only increase in value in the same way classic cars do and property does. In my opinion.

If you really want to go to town, specifically London, you should expect a London made brass face WITHOUT its original case for a few thousand more, expect to pay 18k+  for a known maker clock in its original good quality case (this article is July 2018).

Features and Variations in a 1700-1730 Grandfather Clock and how to identify one…

The clock picture at the start of this article is a Kingston Avery we had in last month for service and minor component replacement. Its from about 1730. If you can get one earlier for the same price then do that but 1730 is the start point to work backwards from – maybe even 1740 if the same face design is present.

Kingston Avery made tower clocks as well as grandfathers and were clearly a skilled bunch as you can see from the beautiful quality of the face engraving. Its a good distance from London and its influence but the dial maintains its rigid four spandrel chapter ring layout. Theres engraving on the outer of the face which is a little clumsy but more than forgiveable.

The inner circle is nicely engraved with a soft touch and varying stroke depth on the serifs of the letter which you can imagine was quite a skill. There were no second chances doing that job and so thats why I say that the quality is forgiveable.

Engraving was a really technically hard artisan discipline and the clocks were sold with the mistakes visible. Like diamonds we do not expect flawless quality in everything.

Its also very personal once you own the clock and you regard the errors as a fingerprint rather than a blemish. The correction is often entertaining and tells its own story. When you find some of the errors on the face and realise the gut churning that followed the slip of the engravers tool,you cannot help smiling if not sniggering to yourself. Its worth going to the auction viewings just for that.

For some reason its always the straight lines that overshoot as opposed to any mistakes in the filigree work. Some of them are epic and only a stroke away from “start again” really. A common one is where the engraver just started off in the wrong direction on the cut. Half way down you see him realise its not going to meet up with the V point of the 5 (Roman numeral five [V]), and a new line is started mid-bar!.

Having said this, these engraving errors should not be mistaken for exaggeration of a character stroke which is not that un-common on clocks produced away from the city. A typical example of this might be a long thin bar on an arabic 5 or 4.

The clock pictured has also got the moon dial automata which is a bonus. Dont expect this at the price point you are trying to hit – you will find a price hike in the clocks with moving components on the face other than the hands. Instead you might find a slivered engraved disc with an eagle or similar. This is usually surrounded by two sea serpent spandrels whith cherub corner spandrels. If either of those are different check the back of the clock plate for old spandrel fixing holes that show a change has been made. Clocks were often cannibalised by repairers and makers as spandrels styles changed in line with fashion every few years. Its not a disaster if the spandrels match but you want originals really. I wouldnt buy a clock with replacement spandrel holes. Its just not original enough for me but you dont have to care. It doesn’t matter in any other context than resale value.

Grandfather clock face layout and design evolved over a period of 200 years which give or take was 1660 to 1860. Clocks from about 1730 show this evolution at its most interesting point, and for me, are the best buys as you can get a good price and history a’plenty.

Clocks from between 1700 and 1730 show all the old features of earlier manufacturing face decoration from which things simplified as two handed marking was accepted as the norm.

Having said that from this point onwards, apart from the inner chapter ring marking, nothing was really added in terms of design apart from automata in its various forms (moon dial, rocking ship, etc.). From hereon face design really sort of simplified and reduced. Even silvering started to lose its dominance as the accepted chapter ring finish and good quality entirely brass coloured clock faces were common Towards the 19th century.

So, the main feature to look for on any clock you are likely to find at a local auction are the one handed face markings along side our traditional two handed format. The enigma of reading two hands at once was to0 much for the the average Baldrick between 1700 and 1730 or so. After that they got it and the markings dissapear from clocks made thereon. This strongly indicates a clock made in the period you are looking for i.e. early 18th century.

The key decorative features are the graduations on the inner of the chapter ring and the fleur-de-lys although you must have both to be confident your looking at something pre-1730. The fluer-de-lys is one feature that persists even today on modern clock dials and I do wonder sometimes if the people who put them there really know why they are doing it (they are half quarter hour markers).

The inner chapter ring markings I am referring to are the ones that look like the mirror of the minute markers on the outer chapter ring, but if you count them you will find there are 4 and not 5 “minutes”. This is because they are not minute markers, they are quarter hour markers meaning that you can just look at the hour hand to read the time without needing to even understand what the minute hand is for. Literacy levels were low in 1700 and up until then clocks only had one hand to keep it simple.

There is one other thing. If the maker at the bottom is Fecit Londini or some thing similar, this is not the maker. Its Latin for “created in London” and only appears on rare old clocks. If you find a clock with this written on it and its going cheap I have some instructions for you….

1. Get “Braintree Clock Repairs” written on the receipt.

2. Phone me we can arrange to meet me in a remote location on a dark night with no witnesses. Dont tell anyone where you are going.

Everything will be fine and you will be heard of again. Oh and bring the receipt and the clock with you. For evaluation. I will bring a shovel…… for evaluation purposes.

Assuming you haven’t found a Tompion and are just about to phone me you will probably need to consider the case of the clock now you have roughtly dated the face. The first thing to establish is if the case original to the clock.

To check out the case and see if it is original to the clock take off the head by pulling it forward. Ask a porter at the auction house to do this – they will be more than happy to do so. It slides forward like a drawer and has no rear if you just want to have a quick peek with out asking. Having said this I’ve taken many a grandfather clock head in the head as they tend to be a bit wobbly. Also be aware that the door swings open on the front so if you don’t want to be wearing the clock glass frame like a medieval torture instrument then maybe get some help from the auction porters!.

At any rate, there should be no modification to the original movement mounting plank and support. This is really important so pay attention to the next few paragraphs as this is where you might score or lose on your purchase.

The clock was put together by a cabinet maker, not a bodger, so if there is any bad joinery or bits that just look like theyve been cut to fit badly its almost certainly a “close but not quite ideal” transplant from another clock case. Thats fine and not a problem but dont pay for a match when your buying a marriage!. Very true. Im not bitter. Twice.

So look closely, it should look perfect and be joined to the rest of the case consistent with original production. Supports from the main body should run from this section though the main structural body of the clock and LOOK like they are well thought out and originally installed. The joinery methods should be consistent. Look carefully at the base plank on which the movement sits. Is it the same age and colour as the supports? Is the width right? Does the face line up parallel with the body of the clock?.

If these things are not right then the case is more than likely new to the clock.

Think about it…if you had to make a plank to sit on two strutts and it was the finishing job of something that cost the same as a car… would you mess it up and leave it looky scrappy?. No. You would get it exactly right.

Thats what you are looking for. Think like the person who built it. He trained in a guild by candlelight and got stabbed with quill pens in the back of the head by his boss if he got it wrong. Is what you are looking at, the product of that level of motivation?. Its not complicated to work out in most cases.

Swaping old heads into younger cases has been common practice for years and case design is generally so conservative that stylistically its actually hard to find a head that wont match a case from an aesthetic perspective providing its the right size. They frequently ARE the right size because the sizing of the heads was controlled by the guilds.  The whole movement and face assemblies therefor lent and lend themselves to subsequent transplanting. It really is like all the bottle tops mixed up on the bottles out there in marketplace.

What I am saying is that if you do get an original match you will certainly be paying a large premium for it so be certain that you are getting what you pay for.

In all honesty the best idea, and what I have done, is to buy what you like the look of and pay for a marriage not a match. Its better value and your less likely to buy badly.

My Geaorgian brass face is in a Victorian case that was chosen to fit its alcove location. I like the case and I like the clock and I consider them two different good things.

I want a Tompion in walnut but so what.

The point is I suppose that everyone makes a great fuss about “marriages” of clock and case and really, is so common now that its the norm.

Clocks older than 1730

The number one indicator for an early clock is face size. They started at 8″ or so in 1659 and then went up and inch a decade until 12″ became the standard London dial face size forever pretty much in 1700. So thats and inch a decade starting at 8″ in 1660 and evening out to the standard 12″ in 1700.

13” and 14″ clocks tend to be enamel white faces and later on – say 1780 to 1860. The enamelling process came in around the middle of the last half of the 18th century so if your is a white face then is later than 1770. In my experience 1 out of 3 or 4 clocks is a brass face with 1 in 20 being 1730 or earlier.

Whats the top of the Market in Grandfather clocks?

Well, all the kudos clocks are early (1680-1720…..) brass face from a clock snobbery point of view – the high end Tompions and suchlike can be worth millions. The white faces never get into that league although a £20k clock is not out of the question by any means – its just never a stellar value.

I do all blog work on the fly for the most part so I try and be as accurate as I can but its all from memory so.. take it at face value on that basis.

Good luck and well done on getting to the end of this epic article. I really stuck a lot of time and thought into this and had to write it over two evenings as I got more and more into it and thought of all the really important basics I could give you.

So get out there and have some fun looking at clocks and going to auctions. You will see some interesting things, learn some history (or at keast put what you know into context), and in all probability you will end up going to auctions instead of antiques centres from that point onwards.

A client (Martine – Hi Martine!) recently got a “not working” white face at auction from about 1780. She bought it on a gamble and then called me in to fix it. We got the thing running and after a bit of a face restoration and some mechanical work and a service the end bill came in at £1200 for the whole thing. Its a fantastically good price when you consider it but it was a huge risk on her part. The point is if the thing had been any more worn than it was, it could well have been much more for repairs and made the whole thing and economic farce. Dont trust your luck – BUY A WORKING CLOCK!.

This article has taken me absolutely ages so I hope you really get something out of it. Its all done from memory so there might be the odd mistake but its all good advice you are unlikely to get anywhere else – I have no agenda – I just want to help you.

Also a quick thank you to Brian Loomes whos books first provided me with a lot of the seminal information in this article over the years – he’s a grandfather clock god.

Lastly I would like to thank John. John comes into the antiques centre and proceeds to lambast me me every spelling mistake and all the general erata on the articles I publish.  I await your verdict John…bring biscuits by the way, Ive run out.

A Tiny Cuckoo Clock, How a cuckoo clock works and why, and why Loetscher Cuckoo Clocks are Brilliant.

This is not a long article [Edit Note: It turned out to be much longer once I got going] and in fact its technically completely inaccurate because its not a cuckoo clock. I wanted it it to be one. I really did, because in all its no more than 5 cm across which really would qualify it as the smallest cuckoo we have repaired. The other small problem in defining it as a cuckoo clock is that there is a complete abscence of cuckoo. Never mind, its a great excuse to bang on about cuckoo clocks which is basically a leisure activity as far as I am concerned.

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I’m going to dive off into how cuckoo clocks are driven and fundamentally function.

We are at “small clocks” so lets start there. I just had to double check the spelling of “clock” after the “bracket c*ck” printing typo fiasco; click here to read about that later if you want a laugh at my expense (you are welcome).

Anyway, some of the small cuckoo clocks we work on are a miracle of construction when you see what they fit into such a small space. It makes them a little more complicated to work on because with that compaction, comes decreased tolerances in what can move around and how far. Levers and activating wires have less room and length to travel so configuration must be that much more precise. With larger clocks the challenges are different and tend to be the distribution of power to the automata.

The small clock I started with in this article, while not a cuckoo clock, did have some cuckoo styling in the way the gear train was organised. Its actually quite a good place to start when describing the design traits of a cuckoo clock movement. Even this little one had that donkeys kick you get from cuckoo movement when they are properly serviced. A real thwack on each pallet strike!

Pallets on a cuckoo tend to be robust single strip construction. This marries to an escapement cog that is aggressively cut for a long hard and prolonged leverage contact on each pendulum push. This results in all the force from the weight/gear train really getting behind each escapement cog to pallet contact that makes the tick – tock sound we are familiar with.

A clock made in this way needs power on tap. A good mechanical analogue would be a big V8 car engine. Its not particularly elegantly designed but its thirsty on power/fuel and really gets the job done while looking and sounding fantastic.

This power requirement is why so many cuckoo clocks are one day machines. “Why should this make a difference?” you might ask yourself. Well, its about force multiplied by time (or the drop distance of the weight in this case).

To demonstrate how much more power you get from a one day weight system, compare it to a spring driven system on a mantle clock. If you took the spring out of that 8 day clock and gave it enough wind for one day it would have one days power stored in it. Its not much – a couple of full key turns. Much less that the amount of power to lift a quarter of a kilo or more up by 1 meter, which is the energy stored in each cuckoo weight each time you raise it.

A spring may look and feel like the more powerful system but its not by a long way. Even a 30 hour clock spring would struggle to store the energy required to get a cuckoo weight raised half the distance up for a days operation. So the cuckoo movement is powerful and rightly so!.

As Ive discussed, the cuckooo movements are geared and designed to take advantage of this extra power and they use it for, among other things, pushing activating wires, shoving birds out of doors and getting water wheels turning.

I’ve mentioned activating wires which are important to understand when understanding how the power shifts around the clock and creates that wonderful chain of events you get with a cuckoo clock.

These are wires within the clock that literally stick out like arms and press down levers on completely separate systems, such as the music box, to set them off.  These “domino”chain events that are independently driven by the other two weights so each operation has exclusive force applied to it by its weight in sequence. Next time you look at your cuckoo clock chirping away, look at the weights. You can see each weight take control of its process stage by stage.

One weight drives the cuckoo and bellows, the other the music box  and automata, and between them both, the centre weight drives the hands and pendulum. And you really need all that power to drive all the beer drinkers, hens, saws water wheels, and the other day even a band saw on one this week.

So, in summary, all the noise and showmanship of the clock requires three good high torque power plants regulated and conducted by the movement like a conductor waving his baton at the music box, cuckoo and bellows. Thats what the heavy fast dropping pine cones are all about.

A good punch of torque which makes the triggering sharp is  characteristic of a good healthy cuckoo clock and something you should pay attention to when looking to buy one second hand. Even the 19th century Victorian clocks we frequently work on have that assertive sharp operation when they are working properly. The cuckoo should belt out and the door almost rattle on a properly maintained clock. Its a joy to watch.

I dread to think how much time I have spent just watching a wooden bird emerge from a small door in an entirely predictable fashion. Having said that, it always takes the observer by surprise for some reason in a way that other chiming clocks don’t.

The other thing about this, oddly, is that you know roughly what time it is in the house pretty much all the time. Other types of clock such as gong or bar chiming clocks are rather gentle, even if they are loud. Consequently you stop hearing it in the same way as you stop hearing trains if you live next to a railway line. With a cuckoo you just tend to hear the first chirp, and from then on your counting subconsciously wether you like it or not.

I should have been a cuckoo clock salesman.

If I was going to do that, I’d want to sell the Loetschers. I dont have time to actually sell clocks so its a moot point, but I have to say I really like the attention to detail and classic Swiss look of the Loetscher clocks. Of course its down to what you like at the end of the day and there are plenty of styles to choose from but Loetscher are well worth considering.

Mechanically they are brilliant. I was chatting to my friends Loetscher about how many actually go wrong. I asked only because we simply don’t get any warranty repair work and I was wondering how this could be the case with so many clocks sold. Loetscher have been around a long time so there are the vintage clocks to be serviced, however, we only see clocks produced in the last ten years if they have been accidentally damaged, or abused by children playing Tarzan of the Clocks on your £1800 3 weight (happens all the time). Everything is well made on the clocks, even the hands, and they dont seem to go wrong.

So, I asked how many clocks actually came back to the factory due to manufacturing error. It was a ridiculously low figure which Im probably not at liberty to state, however, its the sort of figure you only need one hand to count. From thousands of clocks. That, to me at least, sounds like the sort of component survival rate associated with medical or aerospace.

I don’t sell clocks or spares but if your a Loetscher customer and you need replacement hands then send me a picture of the back and front of the clock. I can send you some hands which we normally provide compliments of Loetscher.

[Edit Note: Ive just re-read this and it comes over a bit “Loetscher heavy”, when it was supposed to be a bit more generic I suppose. This not a selling blog and never will be. I don’t like selling and I dont think other people do either on whichever side of the table your sitting.

I write the blog create more “awsome” and less “suck” in the world for people who are into clocks and mechanics. As far as the Loetscher comments go, they make good clocks. Also I do get on particularly well with them and they are really helpful and care a lot about their customers – genuinely, they take it personally. This makes my job so much easier when we need help with identification or an old model or a lightning fast parts delivery from Switzerland. If thats what I think, and I should know, then I’m going to tell you so you know too. Thats what its all about on this blog, and providing its on subject, I think a nudge in the right direction on consumer advice is ok.]

 

Clocks and Astronomy – How to buy, setup and use a reflecting astronomical telescope

Clocks and astronomy go hand in hand. This blog is about clock help and info and interesting things about clocks.

This is one of the help articles but with a bit of a twist in that its about the largest clock – the universe. This needs observing obviously. So this is for anyone skirting round the idea of getting a telescope who wants good impartial experience based advice on getting started. I have no commercial interests here or loyalties or even preference. Its all nuts and bolts to me really and its just about quality.

In not going to bang on about the history and science and suchlike – its advice and answers on the important basic things around getting a telescope. the fun stuff and the quick wins on what to do.

Ill try and cover the basics of what everything does, why it does it, how and what to buy and what you can expect to see.

The first telescope I got sucked rather severely and it took several buys to really understand the relative merits of the equipment and what is possible at reasonable cost. If somebody had given me a quick introduction and pointers on what to expect it would have saved me a lot of time, so here it is.

Firstly what to buy.

There are two types of telescope generally speaking. Reflectors that use a big curved mirror like a lens, and then there are refractors that use a lens as a lens. Nautical telescopes and everyday binoculars work on the refactor principle with a lens at each end. This is not what you need.

Get a reflecting telescope because they collect more light.

The 4″ mirror  in the telescope has a much bigger surface area than the retina in your eye so everything “it looks at” appears much brighter to “it”. The bigger eye can collect more light per square cm in view which translates as a brighter image. Imagine your eye with a 4 inch diameter, and how bright everything would be. It wouldnt be a magnified view either – you would see what you see right now, just much more brightly, probably blindingly so.

This is what a reflecting telescope is – a big light collector. The bigger the better, and the brighter your view of feint sky objects like galaxies will be.

There is an important thing to understand at this point. Everyone is used to nautical telescopes and binoculars that zoom in and are used to MAGNIFY things. That increases RESOLUTION. Astronomers don’t care about resolution as much as they do being able to see whats going on in a massive dark room with appalling lighting trying to open the Thermos with gloves on and spilling it all over the eye peices. A reflecting telescope therefore increases the INTENSITY of the light you can see because it collects more light per unit of area in front of it.

Imagine a water mark on a bank note. If you want to see the water mark you hold it up to the light because its too feint if you don’t. The same thing applies  reversed in astronomy. You can only see the object if you get more light from it. The way to collect more light is to have a larger surface area collecting it. If you do that you see things that you cant see at lower light collection levels. This is the basis for astronomical observation generally in visible light wavelengths.

So, there are big objects in the sky you cant see with the naked eye because they are very feint water mark types of objects like galaxies and star clusters. A reflecting telescope reveals them. The Andromeda galaxy is as big as the moon in the sky yet most people have never seen it. It can be seen as a very feint object on a very dark night but it hardly sticks out in the sky.

The same area of sky viewed through a 4″ reflecting telescope reveals the galaxy entirely as if somebody had shone a light on it from all angles. It looks like a smudge of smoke.

It is in fact billions and billions of stars too small to see individually, but that generate light collectively. Smoke is, after all, just groups of little particles but we don’t see, what we actually see the effect of their collective light reflection.

Its the same with galaxies. Remember the stars are separated by light years and are only a few hundred thousand miles diameter – as in our galaxy. Thats probably equivalent to one smoke particle per square mile or something ridiculous like that. The quantities are unimportant; its principle that a a large enough group of widely distributed objects, if viewed from far enough away, take on a shape and thats what many deep sky “objects” are. Consequently they are feint and hard to see.

A 10″ telescope does not have twice the collecting power of a 5″. It has Pi x R squared which roughly equates to 78.5 sq inches to 19.4 sq inches –  four times the value. This for only doubling the diameter. One of the reasons its hard to select a starting scope is that you know for every jump in price bracket (based on telescope mirror diameter) there is a disproportionate gain in the key performance statistic – light collection.

You will seriously consider a 6″ and frankly…. I would, but Id be doing knowing it was too much money for too little performance gain. Id go in at 8 if not 10 as you may as well go straight to the top if you know thats where your heading anyway…….but that advice is for you maniacs out there, not us stable value for money sorts who do our homework reading a blog like this and get the best deal.

Also a big scope needs mounting and its expensive. You have to look after it. I will keep my cheap one in a corner of the garden with a cover and not worry too much about it. Ill probably use it once a month and special events – you can see the ISS with it for instance and some people say you can resolve the shape although I’m not sure I believe it.

A 4″ reflector is by far the best starting size and there is no real reason to go above that as it will keep you busy for some time as a casual observer of planets, lunar and cometary stuff.

When you outgrow it sell it and upgrade two steps by which time you will know exactly what sort of setup you want in terms of tech and targets. Some people just do planets and gear up to optimise on that, while others like wide field / meteor spotting setups with custom shape shifting seating and supported equipment – effortless comfort based observing.

Some of its heated I believe and there is a binocular format setup. Imagine a comfortable outsized swivel  chair with two traffic cones mounted pointing skyward in a polymer pod and you get the overall idea. Having handed all this advice out on getting a modest 4″, the super comfort setup with huge supported binoculars is what I would go for in an ideal world.

Its is not mentioned much when you buy a telescope, but Patrick Moores eye looked like that for a reason. You get single eye strain and muscle cramps in your brow and cheek occasionally. Eventually you look permanently indignantly surprised. So its binoculars at some point if I get back into it seriously.

Only some galaxies can be seen in a 4″. If you want galaxies jump straight to an 8 or a 10″ but prices start get a bit hairy. One galaxy is much the same as another so 4″ wins the value argument hands down. You can only see Saturn once for the first time and seeing it 4x the size is nice, rather than life changing. As long as you can reslove it to some degree its the same experience for the most part. Awe.

So how does the zoom work – there must be one?…All that collected light needs to be channeled and focused into your eye.

Because of the way these telescopes are designed there is no true “zoom” function. Instead, if you want to look in more detail at a section of what you see, you use a higher magnification eye piece. The eye peices are a standard size and come in various magnifications quoted in mm e.g. 20mm, 12mm, 5mm in increasing magnification.

From memory, the moon fully fills the view with a 10mm eye peice and then a 5mm might let you look at 10% of the moons surface in high detail. Im a bit off on specifics as Ive only just got my latest scope after a break of a few years.

Dont bother with a GPS based system as they are expensive and ruin the fun of learning sky coordinates and getting stuck in a bit more generally. Its the sort of thing you buy later on and get a derivative that suits your needs.

So thats what they do generally on the light collecting front but the other thing they are really good for is looking at planets.

You have seen Jupiter many times even if you don’t realise it. Its a very bright star in the spring / summer sky. When you look at it through a 4″ reflecting telescope you see a disc, not a twinkling star. On a clear night, if you focus you can see the red stripes across it.

Its humbling but none more so than Saturn. This is seen in the winter months. Whats astonishing about this is that you can see it in 3 dimensions. With Jupiter, its a disc. With Saturn you can see the rings offset at an angle. Your seeing perspective on another planet. You will not forget the first time you see it.

Its all well worth getting into for a couple of hundred pounds which gets you the sort of setup you can see below. I actually got this for £30 from a second hand store and repaired the tripod as you might imagine being repair obsessed. Its in perfect condition although I have to get the eye peices separately at some cost.

DSC_0048In terms of setting up the scope its straight forward. First learn the Equitorial Coordinate system which divides up the sky into two axis. I said straight forward, not quick, however all you have to learn is where the axis run from and how the divisions of units work up and down in the N/S E/W rotations. Its fully explained here:

to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equatorial_coordinate_system

The scope unpacks and assembles easily usually. They are designed for home garden use. There are no hair spring or ultra sensitive adjustments to make.

Because its generally designed to look at quite a large arc of sky most scopes are only really looking to be accurate to 1 degree from and engineering perspective on the dials. Its worth going for a Meade or Celestron or better rather than a brown label Chinese machine simply because of the precision engineering standards on the adjusters.

As you start to look for feinter smaller things you have to work at higher magnifications so each movement of the scope is a huge movement in the field of view at high magnification. Precision adjustment becomes necessary and not having it is annoying if your struggling to see something rare.

Also, be warned, the earths rotation is noticeable at 300x times mag. You have to turn the fine adjustment to keep up with the moving object.

Some scopes come with the option of an electrically driven tracker that proceeds to turn the scope to match the rotation speed of the planet. You may as well save your money and go manual until you decide if you want a gps based system that does both tracking and automatic pointing / location for you.

The field of view (how big the circular view you can see is) in a typical small scope is 2 – 5 degrees I believe (of 360 degress / a circle). The moon is about half a degree in the sky. On this basis aiming the telescope isn’t going be that hard for bright objects and most scopes feature a wider angle side mini sighting scope for general aiming.

However, for feint ones you need to use the settings on the scope….

These work by first setting your azimuth by pointing the telescope mount (which is sloped) north and setting your latitude on the base mount (easy). This means its lined parallel with the central axis of the earth from which the equatorial coordinate system works. Thats why its essential to learn the equatorial system. If you don’t want to learn then the machine is going to be next to useless to you on anything but the moon.

So, all you then have to do is set the vertical and horizontal dials on each axis of the telescope to the coordinate values of he objects you want to see (widely available information).  The telescope will then be pointing at exactly what you want to see give or take a degree or so. Fine positioning of the image in the centre of the view is then done via two easily accessible screw handles designed for the purpose.

And thats it. How to buy and get a telescope up and running so you can see what is really going on in the night sky.

Lastly, some temptation….. you can fit your phones camera to the eye piece hole and take long exposure photos. This is good because you get the colour. To explain, in darkness your eyes adjust to heighten contrast and increases the aperture of your iris to let more light in your eye. What a lot of people are not aware of is that it also turns off your ability to see as much colour while increasing your ability to discern black and white. This means what you see in the sky with the naked eye is actually the black and white version of what is up there to some degree. The camera, however, doesnt lie. It picks up the colour so you get to see whats really there.

Theres also a cheat available with electronic imaging. You can increase the exposure time which simulates using a bigger mirror and getting more light. Your tracking has to be right to do this and its a slippery slope to investing in a purpose built CCD camera eyepiece and adaptor with all sorts of exotic software filters and suchlike. Great fun for tech heads and it also opens up computer aided observation where……you dont have to actually be there. Heresy of course, but it is the future.

Well its been an interesting change from clocks but to be fair it was clocks really. Everything can be explained by clocks in one way or another. Key stones of civilization, blah blah, fundements of technology yawn zzzzz…

Back to repairing clocks.