If you have an antique or heirloom clock in the family, there is something you really need to know: It can’t run on love (and clockwork) alone. Clocks are mechanical devices, relying on the transfer of force between quite a number of different and delicate components. Just like any other mechanical apparatus they suffer from wear and tear – read on.
Firstly, clockwork needs lubrication. This may sound silly since the parts are all so small and fairly lightweight, but consider that they are also very thin to minimize friction – it adds up to significant surface loading where components touch. Clock makers recommend that some oil be applied to pinion wheels, axles and bushes every 2 years. What kind of oil? Ideally you can buy specially formulated clock oil, but any thin light oil is better than nothing.
Second is cleaning. Why would a old clock need cleaning? Well, you would be amazed to see the dirt they collect over several years. Dust, pet hair, fine soot particles, they all end up sticking to the surfaces where they get compacted by getting into gears and pinions. Condensation which often forms inside clocks on the cold metal makes the grime stick more, and so does old oil residue. The result overall is like a dirty old bike chain – it takes more force to move everything, can cause premature wear from grit between pinions, and can even lead to the mechanism jamming.
We don’t mean to over dramatize this, but just consider that the clockwork runs literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and so on. So an antique from 1900, well over 100 years old has done some serious clock-mileage!
This info is aimed mainly at antique clocks like long case grand father and wall styles, but can be applied to virtually any old or or antique model you can open up.
By practicing these two simple things you will greatly improve your clocks quality of life, and save on very very costly repairs.
Here are my favourite easy maintenance tips:
1. To clear away dust quickly and easily it is safest to BLOW air over the mechanism. Sucking it with a vacuum cleaner is a no-no as you can easily bend or dislodge fine parts. Some vacuum cleaners allow you to reverse the air flow to blow air out, this held at a distance of about 1ft will quite safely blow loose dust and hair etc out of the clock case. Do this regularly every few months and you wont get any where near the dust buildup in the first place.
2. More thorough cleaning is easy with dust-off or similar spray cans. These are just aerosol style cans, but all they contain is compressed air or inert gas. Computer shops use them to clean circuit boards, and sell then for a few dollars apiece. You just use the cans like spray paint – point them at something and press. You get a thin, powerful stream of air that easily blows away dust and grime. Using the supplied straw, you can safely and easily get into all the tight spaces inside the clock cleaning it in next to no time.
3. When oiling, keep in mind that anything that doesn’t actually stick and stay on the wheels and pinions is wasted – it will just make a mess and can cause stains. You want to apply only a TINY bit of oil. It is best to stop the clock by stilling the pendulum if you can. If you get a purpose clock oil it will come with an applicator so use this. If not, don’t worry at all. It’s basically like a cotton bud on a stick, like one of those ear cleaners…which is exactly what you can use. Put a bit of oil on the cotton, and carefully dab it on each little tooth of the wheels. If they are really fine just run it along, but take care not to get cotton fibres stuck. To oil the axles and bushes, use a toothpick or bamboo or wood skewer. Dip just the point in oil, and you can then use the point to accurately place a very small droplet of oil where the axle or shaft meets the casing. Do this at every point of contact you see if you can safely reach it.
You will be amazed how much quieter old clocks and antique clocks run with a bit of this treatment. Another surprise you may get is that it actually keeps time a lot better, and runs longer between winds or re loadings too. This is often simply because the clockwork was working much harder than it needed to.
Just remember to stop if you think you are out of your depth – you might be right. Even slight pressure can bend or break springs and levers. Clock makers spend many many years learning the art of repair and adjustment of the fine internal parts of antique clocks, so don’t risk damaging something you’re not sure of and will cost you a lot to have fixed.