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What You Should Know About Your Grandfather Clock

by: Michael O'Brien

POSTED: March 19, 2009 9:29 am America/Chicago
What You Should Know About Your Grandfather Clock

How Does a Grandfather Clock Movement Work?

In spite of many technological innovations in grandfather clock design, the basic components in a pendulum and weight clock movement have not changed much over the years. The basic parts of the movement include a weight or spring, which supplies the power for the movement. In a weight system, weights are attached to a chain or cord that is wound around a drum. As one weight descends, the unwinding of the chain transfers movement to the gears. The motion is regulated by the motion or vibration of the pendulum. In a mainspring movement, a spring, along with gravity, supplies the power that keeps the pendulum swinging.

A very critical piece of the movement is the escapement which connects a balance wheel or pendulum to the movement. Galileo is said to have designed an escapement while has very ill and going blind. An escapement is used in all mechanical clocks and watches.

Through a train of gears and rods, movement is transmitted to the hands of the clock. As motion is transmitted to the movement, a pinion gear attached to the escapement connects with cogs that are sometimes referred to as leaves. The leaves are on a larger wheel whose pinion connects with another large wheel and so on. This system of wheels produces a rotation. The rotation, once every twelve hours, is carried to the hour hand. Another wheel attached to the minute hand, makes a complete rotation every hour. The movement of the wheelworks is controlled by the swinging of the pendulum.

A grandfather clock can be made to run slower or faster by lengthening or shortening the length of the pendulum rod. Most grandfather clocks have a threaded adjusting rod at the bottom of the bob or pendulum. This finely threaded adjusting rod aids in making very precise adjustments to the speed at which the pendulum swings.

Cleaning Your Grandfather Clock

Owners of grandfather and grandmother clocks who have not followed a regular program of cleaning and lubrication often learn a hard lesson. You may notice that a grandfather clock that was once trouble free begins to have problems. The clocks accuracy falls off or the clock may stop completely. The small bearings and other wear points in the movement of the clock can actually seize up, stopping the movement. To keep your grandfather or grandmother clock in good working order, it is important to have the movement cleaned and lubricated on a regular basis.

Use the Right Lubricants in the Right Place

The oils and grease used to lubricate your clock will lose their viscosity over time. Viscosity is the ability of a lubricant to flow in the way it was design. Even the best lubricates lose viscosity over time. Lubricants will often thicken and slow the movement. Removing the old lubricants is an essential part of cleaning the movement of your clock and must be dome properly.

Cleaning a grandfather clock movement is not a do-it-yourself project and should be preformed only by a qualified professional. A professional will clean the movement, removing old lubricants and dirt. After a complete cleaning, new lubricants are added to the proper locations and in very precise amounts. Using too much or too little lubricant can damage the movement.

Like any type of precision machinery, grandfather clock movements require the use of special grease and oils. Clock movements are complicated and a novice may miss critical lubrication points. Using the wrong lubricants and cleaning solutions can damage the movement, requiring expensive repair or replacement. Cleaning kits for grandfather clocks are available for the nonprofessional and can be a cost effective for the clock owner who confident about tackling the job on their own.

Cleaning the Case of Your Grandfather Clock

There is an ongoing debate over how to properly care for antique wood grandfather clocks. A long time friend of mine has done fine furniture restorations for over thirty years. His advice for properly cleaning my antique wood furniture has been consistent over the years. Heeding his advice against the use of oils and polishes, I use cool water and a clean cloth rag to clean my antique wood furniture. Lightly wiping the surface of the wood with the cloth rung almost dry removes dust and dirt without damaging the finish.

The reasoning behind using nothing but water is simple. Introducing chemicals and oils can potentially break down the old varnish over time. The goal is to maintain the integrity of the original finish for as long as possible. This is just a general rule and there are some restoration professionals who advise using oil-based cleaners depending on the age and condition of the clocks finish. If in doubt about which method is best for your particular clock, always consult a restoration professional.

Many antique floor and grandfather clocks have glass panes as part of the enclosure. For aesthetic reasons if for no other, the glass should be kept clean. A bargain window cleaner may work just fine everywhere else around your home. However, using any type of chemical glass cleaner on your antique grand father clock can be a problem. The harsh chemicals in commercial glass cleaners can too easily come in contact with the wood that surrounds the wood of the case. The best advice is to avoid using chemical glass cleaners at all cost.

About the Author

Michael O'Brien is a writer for
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