Is there a ghost in my clock?

So….today I thought I would write a brief article around the subject of  “haunted clocks”. Before I rattle on its probably worth mentioning that I have a periodic table chart on the workshop wall to remind me how fantastic science is without the need to embellish it with an unknown layer of paranormal speculation. You dont need to. Have a good look at how atoms fit together, what they do, how they work and then contemplate wether you are prepared to believe such precise organisation and balance came about by by chance. Despite the heavy subtext of a creative hand in the process of designing the universal components and forces, I still sit on the fence.

I cant prove the existence of a creative force; a force or entity that would logically a very high intelligence to be capable of creating reality with quantum physics blending into the Newtonian model that has a lot to do with clocks. I can however almost feel it.

Micheal Angelo described the frustration those of us who contemplate the existence of a higher power in his Sistine chapel frescoe showing a man reaching out to touch god with god reciprocating. Their hands almost touch but they dont…….and an inch is as good as a mile to a blind man.

You sort of know the art is telling you that last inch is made up of faith.  A rare commodity. Whenever I see the picture I always think “for gods sake try a bit Bl*&*y harder” but thats emotion not logic. Perhaps thats what the artist was trying to tell us.

close but no cigar

At any rate thats the reason I do not dismiss my customers accounts of their odd and seemingly paranormal experiences with clocks. I believe one should keep an open mind considering how unbelieveable the nature and possibilities of science are.

Clocks hold a special place in the history of science. Their invention showed the dawn of mankinds greater awareness of his environment. Now, the main driver for this was the NEED to tell the time. The sun dial, if you know how to use one (set it up at night using the north star as a reference point and you will get the best shaddow arc), is dead handy. It does two things. It will tell you the time of day but of course, because the shaddows are longer and shorter during the year you can tell roughly what time of year it is by their length. Pretty handy if your planting, hunting or celebrating annually. No mechanics required and, as yet, I have not been asked to repair a sun dial. Actually, thinking about it Tom here at the Antiques Centre did ask me but the thing sold broken. Good old cast bronze or brass sundails are popular sellers – specially the late Victorian arts and crafts influenced design. Im going off point here a bit…

OK, so why would a sane (ish) man of science start waffling on about ghosts in clocks. Well, its pretty simple, I hear the same story over and over again. The clock stops the day, and often to the minute by some accounts, the owner dies. It appears in some way that these clocks have some sort of linked lifeline with their owners. This is so common I could probably calculate some stats but off the top of my head I would say that one in 20 repairs comes with these accounts.

It is unfortunately not proof positive of something in science we have yet to understand. The fact of the matter is that your average 90 year old isnt particularly concerned about keeping their clock serviced every decade. An un-serviced clock will run for ages past its service point, its just that it will wear more quickly. Clock servicing is in effect preventative maintenance. So of course what you find is that a mantel clock that stops the day the owner died did so because the chap was winding an 8 day clock up every day. As the spring wears on a clock you will find its running time reduce over weeks / months. A weekly wind turns into a 5 or 6 day wind interval until the clock will only run apex of its power curve wound right up. After a day or so the power drops below that required to keep the pendulum in perpetual motion.

The other thing that happens is people say “the clock never worked again after the last time he/ she wound it”. This seems odd obviously. Why should this happen?. I would love to say the likely answer is a soul bond between owner and celestial measuring device. Unfortunately the reason this happens is that clocks are a bit quirky and fussy about the level and position they sit in – specially horizontal alignment for pendulum clocks.

When somebody new comes to wind the clock they are not used to how tight to wind it so they give it the beans. This usually means the clock gets moved in the process and falls out of balance in a totally un-ghost like fashion. The person who winds the clock thinks that they have not changed a thing but in reality moving the clock 1cm on an uneven surface can easily set it off beat / level and stop it. People often turn up at the shop with clocks that are perfectly ok but they just need to be shown the balancing method. If you dont know this then watch this video I produced explaining things.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ7sjJrftV0

There are some examples which are less easy to explain. These are old carriage and grandfather clocks. Its very common for these to stop when their owner does. Inevitably when I see the clock the problem is simply an overdue service but it does seem strange that the critical point where the clock turns from being in need of a service to not working due to dirt build up, coincides with the owners passing. The occurance seems to be way above what one might expect statistically. Having said that one must consider that when a relative dies the clock winding is generally not at the top of the “to-do” list. Inevitably this means the clock sits idle, possibly in premises that are no longer heated and any fouling in the gearing gets a chance to change viscosity and change its characteristics to an abrasive glue rather than a lubricant.

So, if your clock stopped when your parents or grandparents passed on there is possibly less need to call the Ghostbusters than you might expect once the dust settles. Call me instead. No charge for clock blessings and my sincere hopes and prayers of a good journey for your loved one.

Regency Auction Grandfather Clock Advice

I help people out with clock identification via email. I try to keep it quick but always end up spending too much time on it. I have plenty of proper work to do. I like doing it and it creates the community I like to believe exists for this website but Im wasting my time….unless I publish the enquiries and replies so everyone can benefit from the iformation imparted. I really dont know why Ive not th0ught of this before. So from now on Im going to try and quickly post up any of the longer replies as opposed to the ones that go “.3.5mm, dont bend the hands and makes you use the rubber washer or the face will rotate. All the best justin.”. Incidentally thats fitting sizing and fitting a quartz movement advice. Anyway, heres the first letter Im posting up.

On 2019-09-16 18:27, Derek wrote:
> Can I take you up on your generous offer of a basic evaluation on this
> English long case clock which I bought at auction recently. After
> repairing the foot of the crutch it has been running smoothly and
> accurately driven by its single continuous chain. The name on the dial
> is R. Stevens with Stovesley underneath. The photos are attached.
>
> Thanks
>
> Derek Aspin

Auction_Grandfather_Clock_Advice

Hi Derek,

The case is typical of a late georgian i.e. 1770 and the face ans size of the clock push the dating a bit further forward to the regency period when urns and swags were the decorative fashion.

With a chain it must be a 30 hour clock and such things were the equivalent of a cheap car at the time – A major purchase for the owner but done to a budget. The hand decoration on the dial is ok, the hands look original and its a late enough clock for there to be a high chance its in its original case.

Watch out for the chiming mechanism on 30 hour chain clocks. The method the clock uses to stop itself after each chime sequence is pretty brutal so if you just blue-tak the top fly wheel on the chime train firmly this will stop the clock chiming an save your rattling it to bits, realistically beyond repair. Turn the chimes on at xmas and when you have friends over rather than have it on all the time.

Good buy although the clocks wear quickly due to being pretty basic from a movement perspective. When you get your next one talk to me and Ill try and point you in the next direction. I change my grandfather clock every few years – it can refresh the look of an entire room. The best clocks are smaller e.g. 5.5ft, exotic wood e.g. walnut veneer or chinese laquer, brass faced (pre-1770) and in my view the square ones have the edge from a practical and aesthetic perspective. A good reconditioned brass face with polished brass, guilded spandrels, and a re-silvered chapter ring (we can do all that if you buy a dilapidated one) is probably my next clock. At the moment I have a Mason London arch dial 1730 I love but it may be time…. for a change.

Got to go, lots to do. Well done on your purchase and happy to assist.
Regards,
Justin Holt
Braintree Clock Repairs
www.braintreeclockrepairs.co.uk
07462 269529

We now provide balance wheel platform escapement repairs

Ok. A short but not insignificant post about a new sevice we are offering.

We can repair ANY platform escapement with ANY problem.

Prices start at £200 and run to whatever they run to. Under £1000, unlikely to be £750, probably £450 but dont be surpirsed by 550 and if its a clean and refit then your at £200. So bascily no help a at all – I apologise. Theres also a minimum charge of £60 to look at it properly and take it apart to component level before we give you the bad news on price for doing it properly, and then the “this price gets it working” conversation takes place and a fix is agreed and scheduled.

We need the WHOLE clock to do the repair if possible. If its a large heavy 19c slate or an ornately framed clock then just the movement will be enough. Only remove the movement if you are confident in doing so. And unplug it if you need to. Quite important that.  If you know roughly what you are doing but need a hint or two then email or ring me for advice. Its either easy and we can sort it out in two minutes or its a “give up and bring it in when your passing”. All this assumes that postage is your preferred way of doing things.

The reason we need the whole clock is that there is a lot in the fitting of these platform escapements. Ill do a separate blog on that.

Prices vary so much by job as they can include anything from re-manufacture of the balance weel or re-jewelling to pivot holes so theres much more to go wrong that you might think and we do the job properly – we dont say “well thats ok for the moment” if it looks like its going to fail in then next few years.

If you want us to fix yours email pictures and then phone. Its not really worth having a conversation on diagnosis without some idea or what we are dealing with and I can tell a lot from a few pictures at least about the type of unit, if not the cause of the problem, However it does atually help with this as well to a degree as different clock types have typical faults you line up as the usual suspects.

The most common problem we have sees so far is balance staff breakage and/or jewel fracture. Spring damage is common with a broken staff, as is pallet wear or damage, depending on how luck you got with the bang that broke the clock. Pivots and gears are generally ok and dont need too much work, if any; its the staff, jewel points, pallets and spring in that order for the most part.

The skills and extensive experience required has now been acquired so we are very confident this will go very well in terms of adding another complimentary skill set, so much so infact that we need to limit the amount we take in or it will impact our core more general business of repairing just about any clock.

A lot of my friends think it is madness to offer a general clock repair service with such a broad range of clock types (as opposed to sticking to perhaps long case or cuckoo clocks – specialising) but its all part of the fun as far as I’m concerned and I want to keep it that way.

So, we are allowing a capacity of 5 escapements per month and these slots may be taken by jobs that come in and are discovered to need this attention mid-job as has been the case so far – usually with a replacement solution as opposed to a fix.

Thats now changed to a fully tooled and experienced craftsman with decades of experience at the highest end of things. He can fix a Rolex if you take a hammer to it. Genuinely. Totally bad example of course because Rolex themselves are even better tooled up than us so that would be the place to go, however, if gives you and idea of where we are.

If you want your platform escapement repair provided by us then dont wait. Order it now and theres less chance you will get a “no Im sorry I cant store anymore in my small workshop” or “yes, about 6 months. Sorry.”

I have no idea what happens next. Could be nothing or the phone might explode with phone calls. More probably Ill  l will get the really difficult frustrating profit risk work nobody else will take. Or trade enquiries.

I hate trade enquiries. Fix your own bl***** clock if you put “Clock Fixa”on your business card. If you think you probably cant fix the real problem then tell the customer and stop wasting their time with your voyage or discovery into your own incompetence. I have discovered over the years, honestly, to my surprise, that Im better than most and one of the best. Nobody can touch us on cuckoo clock repairs standard and experience backed up by our supply and UK wide accreditation from Loetscher in Switzerland, we are great on grandfather clocks, prepared to take on 20th century overly complicated cheaply producted post war clocks and, as yet, weve not turned down and job and completed to delivery or resolution.

I cant say this doesnt lead to some pretty pressurised situations but its worth it. At the moment Ive got two massive station clocks with broken (split to 3 pieces) faces, rusty iron bezel frames and movements that are industrially joined to the iron frame to ensure structural strength under nazi bombing. So ive got a, finish (rust) problem, a ceramic boding solution to apply on a huge jig, reinforcement of the structure and a high power electricity phase controlled movement. And I have to do it so that its accessible for seasonal time changing. Is that clock repair? I don care because I have a picture in my minds eye of what this will look like and I like the look of it!.

Then I have a Secticon electro-mechanical movement to service – a complex and unique movement. The clock case / dial / hands are together a breathtaking piece of iconic 60’s form and this clock is going to be very sought after when that genre recycles properly and becomes the standard for the few years. And then and then and then and so on and so forth.

Its a jungle out there – even in clock land. Thats why this is a temporary service. We are testing it nationwide as opposed to just offering it to existing customers. If its too much then we will just stop. If its too little, it doesnt matter and if its just right then we will keep it going. So, nows a good time as we wont let anyone down whos already ordered if we suddenly pull the plug on the whole thing. I suspect it will be months but with the speed of the internet it could be days quite frankly.

I left that paragraph to the end to filter out all the “might be interested” people who gave up half way through and you….have a problem you need fixed.

Proverbial “bent pin” bodge and god

Almost all the clocks I repair have had prior repairs – good and bad. You marvel at some of the skills you can see have been put to bear in the past, and on other occasions you wonder what possesses some people when faced with finding a mechanical solution.

Then theres this. Its an aluminum washer secured with a bent pin.

There was a time when I wondered if I could keep busy with clocks full time and would need to do barometers and woodwork. But that was a long time ago and disappeared the more I realised my work is created by human nature as opposed to mechanical failure. Mechanical failure IS human nature. QED.

I’m up at St Mary’s Church in Gt Bardfield today doing a clock strip down demo as part of their harvest festival celebrations – thanking god for the skills he gave us. Think he missed out the guy who did this clock last time. He must have been in the charm que instead assuming he charged for the fix.

IMG_20190914_134946

Loetscher brilliant service story

Ok so you probably dont want me to sell you the values of Loetscher but this is worth hearing if your thinking of buying a cuckoo clock new or even used (avoid used clocks – they are normally sold when they start to fail due to lack of servicing).

A customer came in with a two weight Loetscher he bought 3 years ago in Switzerland. Mots cuckoo clocks need a good clean and service every three to five years or so because they act like little air purifiers. The door flapping open 24 times a day wafts air and particles into the clocks which sticks to the oil.

This forms a glue type paste and power is lost on the top elements of the gearing. Cleaning the clock solves this and a good movement should give you 25 years service if regularly maintained. Half that if you dont, because the oil dust mix acts as an abrasive and wears the pinion holes to oval.

This pivot bush oval wear means the gears dont connect as designed and all the maths for force goes out of the window. At this point the clock needs rebushing or the movement replaced. So get your clock serviced is the obvious subtext here.

By the way this is particularly relevant to 8 day clocks because they use larger weights and wear happens faster. If you’ve spent £1500 – £2000 on an 8 day multi-automata 3 weight for goodness sake get it serviced every three. If its a two weight you can probably leave it for five.

Anyway, this is about Loetscher service.

You see the clock that came it was out of warranty. Repairs were therefore chargeable. But there was a problem. The movement looked a little too worn for a 3 year old clock. The pinions were rattling a bit and it looked like the aforementioned re-bush was necessary.

This made no sense. A three year old clock should not show any visible signs or wear. Something was wrong.

When the customer returned I told him this and asked him if he had bought the clock as a used item. No such thing – he showed me the receipt from the retailer  confirming the date of purchase.

So, I contacted Loetscher on the customers behalf. We looked at photos of the wear and came to the same conclusion that this was not a new clock when purchased. The retailer had sold the customer an ex-demo clock as a new item in all probability. Not good!. So we took on the problem and sorted it out.

Loetscher paid for a new movement and I fitted it for free. This was without any customer intervention. We did this because both Braintree Clock Repairs and Loetscher have high quality standards and the situation offended those standards.

The customer has just picked up his essentially new clock and is delighted. We are delighted. Loetscher are delighted.

Thats the way to do it.

If you buy a cuckoo clock buy a Loetscher. They look great with a fine detail model village type style as opposed to a dolls house style, and the service backing up your clock is brilliant. Specially in the UK because we do it.

More clock repair help less waffle. Probably.

Recently I’ve struggled to get time to publish on the blog. Its a problem because the blog goes to the heart of what we do.

Now as regular readers know I would happily live in a clockwork Nicolai Tesla world where technology, excluding aeronautics, rocket and space tech, medical science, and glass manufacture all stopped in about 1870. Hmmm… That doesn’t make much sense so In will summarise it by saying computers have some link to evil and the Antichrist. But they are sort of handy so I’ve decided to change the blog a bit. More videos.

When I starred this it was firmly aimed at helping people like me who like clocks. Recently a lot of the content has become a bit more towards generic education and theory. So what I’m going to do is unedited “pick up and record” mini tutorial vids on the job. If I come to something interesting I’ll just try and self direct and wing a 1 min video on it. Almost every day there’s something I entertain writing about and don’t have the time. With a bit of luck and assistance from the Beelzebub phone I should be able to rebalance the blog towards real fix solutions and information. Also, I’ve just spent £120 on a Blackview 5800 indestructible water proof phone I am testing out. I can’t believe how good it is for the money but its a bit heavy (which I actually like) and it looks like Optimus Prime (a kids cartoon character – but its bullet proof.

Anyway, thats the news. More videos.

Now, I wrote this about a week ago and saved it to a draft file for later publication. Since this I have done a couple of videos. I have discovered that I have a 120mb upload limit on them, so while I have them now ready to publish, I need some software to reduce the file size. With my love of computers already stated, this may take some time but dont worry theres some decent content on the way for you home DIY fix people and buyers. Ive done a short vid on a delightful little french movement explaining why its better and a buyers guide for turn of the century regulators because I just bought one and I love it. But it cost me loads. Im useless at buying clocks. If I want it I end up paying ticket price because my negotiation skills are right up there with Norman Wisdom and Mike Tyson. Basically I dont think I really understand negotiation. The seller says “its £100” and I say “I really really like it and want it and must have it, how about £95”. For some reason the buyer sees my weakness and ends up charging me £120 because Im showing weakness or something. I dont care. I got the clock I wanted. Vid to follow soon!.

Phil – Clock Curator at the Black Country Living Museum email

I dont know why Im posting this email I received up – I hope its not vanity.

It is vanity.

I get quite a lot of feedback like this on the blog and I assure you it is well received. It takes quite a lot of time to produce the articles and I make an effort to actually do something that people will learn from and be encouraged by. People should learn manual skills. We are built to do that, not sit in front of computers all day (as I am doing at this moment). Now I dont think Im teaching Phil much as you cant do what he has done without some considerable skill. For that reason alone I am flattered that he read the articles and found enough in there to keep going for a couple of hours reading. 

Many of the things I explain on the repair and reason articles are as much as to remind people that getting stuck in is something they should be doing, as they are to get people interested in clocks and understand it a little more (and value!) what they are custodians of. Nobody gets cremated with a clock. Yet. Yes. 

Phil is a museum curator volunteer of their clocks and obviously spent some time writing to me so I thought it would be complimentary to publish the email as he mentions some stuff about the Museum he works at. I may well visit but probably not as its far too far and I could be mending clocks or sitting on the motorway – tough one. Anyway Thanks Phil.

He didnt ask me to plug his workplace or big him up or any such thing but I found this website online which I assume is his. https://www.bclm.co.uk/. Its got 20 clocks. Oh and 250,000 people visit a year so its not a knackered old shed with 20 clocks and some guy on the gate asking for £175 for a family ticket if your girlfriend in pregnant. Thats my shed. Anyway Im handing over to Phil now.

Hello Justin,

My name’s Phil and I’m a retired Chartered Engineer and now volunteer clock repairer to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, West Midlands.

I stumbled across your website and blog this evening, and spent two enjoyable hours reading a few of the stories! Keep up the good work, I’ll visit the site again and read more soon. I must say I am amazed at your energy and enthusiasm. You must work all hours, sometimes at your own expense, which is very creditable in this day and age.

All the clock repairs I do are as a volunteer, but the Museum reimburses me for any parts and materials I have to order (I use Cousins UK). I’ve been doing this work for about three years, one day a week. I’m completely self-taught, and I’ve now repaired or restored around 20 American, German and English clocks which are dotted around the Museum. Every week I start the day by going round, winding them all up and setting or regulating them, then I go to the little workshop in the basement and carry on with the particular clock I’m working on. Some have taken me 30-40 hours to restore, possibly more. Many of them had clearly been donated to the Museum because they didn’t work, and a large proportion had suffered some very crude previous ‘repair’ work. In the process I have learned a huge amount, supplemented by reading a lot of books by the likes of TR Robinson, Donald deCarle, Eric Smith and Laurie Penman.

Can I conclude by wishing you and your business continuing success, and thank you again for the blog.

 

Kind regards,

 

Phil Harris

 

Another one came in today I just found. This blog really does help people and that makes me very happy indeed.

Hi
We discovered your website when googling how to replace the gut on a grandfather clock (it snapped at 3am with an almighty crash!).
The help was invaluable and I have replaced both bits without any difficulty and, more importantly, with confidence.
Thank you
Kind regards
Alan

Robert Youell Grandfather Clock Restoration

 

20190524_010454

This Robert Youell went out this week. Overall the job involved restoring the face completely and the movement got a good service and tighten up generally. Things wear and the odd washer is required here and there as well as resetting certain components to allow for connecting face wear. We turned this around in I think under 4 weeks, but to be honest I did it quickly because I couldnt wait to get stuck into it.

My favourite grandfather clocks, as readers of this blog will know, are the machines from 1690 to 1730. For me this is when it really was all rock and roll – the enlightenment was ongoing and our scientific bedrock was being laid. This shows in the clocks.

Once the long case clock gets going in about 1660 things are pretty basic. It takes about 50 years for a guild system and agreed design standard to be accepted and used. The clocks start small in 1660 mainly as cage based movements. These are driven by a single weight driving the two essential trains for a chiming clock. By 1690 the two plate system with 3, 4 (commonly) and 5 pillar stantions to create a rock solid base, had emerged. Operations for chime management had been moved to the front of the forward plate keeping things organised, accessible and modular. This change and modularisation of the design, in my opinion, catalysed more innovation.  The clocks while mostly the same mechanical design, sometimes featured innovations such as shut off switches and chime set methods / gateways.

This Youell is a well made and has the following innovations.

  1. It has the countwheel that controls the sequence of chimes mounted directly onto the barrel. It the best way to do it but means engineering the unit with about 8 or 9 hand fitted components. You can do it with half that using a traditional barrel and and externally mounted countweel. This has been done on this clock just to keep it all contained, neat and tidy. Quality craftsmanship and values.20190524_010420
  2. The escapement cog is in the ‘wrong’ place. All the other clocks have one more gear in the gear train. This has one less. That means the escapement cog is mounted near t he centre of the plate. It also means that the power to the escapement is a whole gear higher than on an equivalent clock with the same weight but the “right” amount of wheels. Its brilliant. The machine runs on a weight about the same as two cans of baked beans, the clock has not been rebushed, yet maintains its integrity around the pinions because they have simply lasted longer under less pressure. Maybe this clock is some sort of skunkworks black projects research clock. Surely if you get an innovation like this it would be adopted more generally because I simply cant see any downside with it and considerable obvious advantages.
  3. The third is not an innovation but points toward the overall mindset of the chap who designed it. The triggering mechanism of the drive train is borrowed from its lantern style cage movement predecessor. Having said that he has actually taken the stop mechanism from a cage clock and connected to the aforementioned triggering mechanism. So, he’s been good enough to take the best of two designs and mix them beautifully into something that is better than either.

It shows this chap to be a brave and clever maker.. The movement demonstrates a desire to produce something beautiful mechanically – tidy and precise, at the cost of complexity and the essential use of superior crafting skills including geometry and mathematics.

Engineering this tight means pretty thorough design and precise construction. I mean some of it can be done as a custom fit progressively but the majority of the clock has to be very accurately constructed because thats the way the chap wanted it to look. I should probably stress at this point that this is the first clock Ive seen like this and I see maybe one clock in 50 where you say “hey now thats really interesting”.  When the job is a restoration this is all the better as you get to know the clock very well.

The  dimensions (11″ which strongly indicates 1690 to 1700) and layout of the face are typically London but have subtle differences. The half quarter markers are abstract as opposed to fleur de lys and it doesnt say Fecit Londini after his name which was the form at the time. So its a bit of a contradiction because I believed that the majority of quality makers capable of the early innovations previously mentioned were operating out of London at that period.

I wouldnt have expected these mechanics in anything earlier than 1760 or so. But the clock face and particularly the centre chapter ring are very typical of an early clock. Its also a square face. This in itself doesnt date the clock particluarly accurately as clocks were made with arch section or square face from 1700, but arched only after 1700. So a square face is what you would expect on a clock with all the other pre 1700 features. It looks like a really advanced clock from 1690-1700 to me. The other thing that pushes me heavily towards this date is that the fittings on the back of the face plate are absolutely right and original. Hand made nuts for the spandrels that are unique to each spandrel and not interchangeable. Ive found that tthis dissapears or changes to a neater design mostly after about 1730. The ones on this clock really look “hand made” – you can see the file marks and the slots are off centre. Its the little things like this that give the best clue to a clocks authenticity and age.

The face is very well engraved. Theres not a lot of it but what there is is exceptionally high quality. The name and other script could have been written with a fountain pen its so stylised.

It was a pleasure to restore this one as it had not been done for I would guess about 100 years. In the meantime a layer of laquer had been applied and some areas had aged badly. We managed to restore it with traditional hand methods to near its former glory although we left the guilding on the spandrels intact and simply cleaned and lacquered them. The chapter ring, date wheel, and seconds chapter ring were all re-silvered to good effect and then sealed with oxidation resistant lacquer.

 

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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