Charles Edwin - antique clocks and barometers

  Longcase clocks that don't work --
-
- solutions to common problems
Before you start fiddling with the innards of your longcase clock (grandfather clock, tallcase clock, or whatever you choose to call it), please be aware that (a) there is no substitute for the knowledge and experience of a professional clockmaker, and (b) the clock's movement must be in very good mechanical order, without excessive wear, before anything is going to work as it should. Old clock movements are pretty robust, and even a badly neglected clock may still keep pretty good time. The point is, just because it will run doesn't necessarily mean that all is well. Antique longcase clocks are expensive these days, and it may make a lot of sense to find a reputable clockmaker before attempting any repairs yourself, and damaging a device that has survived two hundred years because its owners respected it.

There's also no substitute for regular maintenance. When we sell a clock, we recommend (in writing) that the movement be lubricated after three years of running, and torn down and cleaned every other time, at the six year mark. Even in today's relatively dust-free homes, those are about the limits. Having said that, here are some possible fixes for some of the most commonly encountered problems.

Problems. . .
and possible solutions
Clock stops, and will not restart ticking when the pendulum swings.
Check to see if the weights are wound up properly. Inspect the hands to see if they are touching each other, or rub against the dial or the glass. See if the seconds hand touches the dial or the hour hand. Try moving the minute hand forward slightly to see if the fault clears. Check the cables where they wind around the barrels, to be sure they aren't looping over themselves. Try moving the calendar indicator or hand forward slightly to clear any interference.

Clock stops just before 1 o'clock.
Caused by jamming of the strike mechanism behind the dial, and is usually accompanied by the strike not sounding. See that the strike weight is wound properly. Move the minute hand slightly back (but not past the hour, please!) to clear any obstruction. Pull gently on the strike weight while moving the minute hand past the hour. This condition usually requires the attention of a clockmaker for a permanent fix.

Clocks stops within a few minutes.
Clock is probably out of beat. This is best corrected by a clockmaker. See if the pendulum is rubbing against the back of the case, and if so reposition the case so the back board is vertical or leans forward slightly.

Clock stops at apparently random times.
Check to see if the clock is wound properly. Check the hands to see if they contact each other or the dial or the glass. Move the hands slightly if so, but bend them very gently and only a small amount. Listen to the beat of the movement and see if there is a regular rhythm to the tick; have a clockmaker adjust it if necessary. Check to see if the case may be shifting position when touched, or because of nearby road or foot traffic vibrating the floor. If so, the case must be fastened securely to the wall behind it.

Clock stops after about 4 days.
Check the installation to see if the case is firmly fixed to the wall. If it is not, the sway of the pendulum may cause the weights and in turn the case to sway, and stop the pendulum. (This is called the "four-day disease" and is the main reason for our insistence on attaching longcase clocks to walls.)

Bell sounds flat, or clatters instead of ringing clearly.
Bell may be loose, or the hammer may be out of adjustment in relation to the bell. Tighten the nut holding the bell, and check the screw that holds the bell's stand. Adjust the hammer arm so that the hammer comes to rest, after striking, about 1/16" away from the bell.

Strike operates,
but the bell doesn't sound
.
The hammer may be too far from the bell. The bell or bell stand may be loose, or the hammer arm may need to be bent gently by small amounts as described above.

Charles Probst
5 September 1996



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