Some frequently asked questions answered

Q: What’s the difference between strike and chime?

A: The strike is when the clock sounds the hour, usually at the hour; for example at 3 o’clock it will strike 3 times. The chime is the tune it plays usually on each quarter, and it usually gets longer for each quarter until the hour.

Q: What is a ‘train’?

A: A train is a set of gears within a clock. A clock which only tells the time will have one train; one which tells the time and strikes the hour will have two; and a chiming clock will have three trains. Usually (but not always) each train has a separate winding hole in the clock.

Q: Which winding hole does what?

A: A chiming clock will have three winding holes. Usually the right hand hole is for the chime, the centre is for the time, and the left hand hole is for the strike. A striking clock will usually have two holes. The right hand hole is for the time and the left hand hole is for the strike.

Q: What is a timepiece?

A: A timepiece is a clock that has one train only, so it only tells the time.

Q: How often should a clock be oiled?

A: This depends on the type of clock and what sort of environment it is kept in, but as a general rule the mechanism (called the movement) should be oiled every 3-5 years.

Q: What happens if it is not oiled?

A: Ultimately the clock will stop, but running with a lack of oil or dirty oil may start to cause a lot of wear and damage to the movement.

Q: What oil should be used?

A: Clock oil is specially formulated for use with clocks, to cope with the speeds and pressures within the mechanism. Normal household oils or sprays should not be used. Sprays will cause dust to stick to the wheels in the movement which will then cause wear.

Q: How much oil should be used?

A: Very little. Only a small drop should be put on each pivot or sliding surface. Too much oil may run down the sides of the movement, drawing oil away from where it is needed and staining the plates.

Q: Should a clock be cleaned before oiling?

A: Strictly speaking, a clock should be fully dismantled and cleaned before it is oiled, and is recommended for an antique or valuable clock. However, this process is expensive and may be difficult to justify in mass produced modern chiming clocks. More cost-effective options are available for cleaning such clocks.

Q: Should the clock be level?

A: Not necessarily. On most clocks it is possible to adjust the beat so that the clock will run when not perfectly level. The beat is the evenness of the ‘tick tock’ sound. What is more important is that the clock is stable and does not wobble.

Q: Can the hands be moved backwards?

A: As a general rule the answer is no. Some clocks have special levers which will allow the hands to be moved backwards, but unless you know that your clock has one, it is better to assume that it has not. A lot of damage can be caused by forcing the hands backwards.

Q: How often should it be wound?

A: That depends on the design of the clock. Most clocks are designed to run for 30 hours, 8 days, 30 days or 400 days. 8 days is the most common for domestic clocks and should be wound once per week. The ‘8th day’ is to give some flexibility on exactly when the clock is wound. 400 day clocks are also called anniversary clocks and are designed to be wound once per year. They usually have a slow rotating pendulum with 4 brass balls.

Q: How do I adjust the rate?

A: The rate is the speed at which the clock runs. On a pendulum clock, the clock will go faster if the pendulum is made shorter and go slower if the pendulum is longer. There is usually a nut at the bottom of the pendulum called the rating nut. To make the pendulum longer the nut should be unscrewed (to the left); to make the pendulum shorter the nut is rotated to the right.

If you want to adjust the rate I advise you to make the adjustment once per day, at the same time of day, comparing the clock with a known accurate time. Make small adjustments rather than big adjustments that may cause you to overcorrect.

The environment will also affect the rate at which your clock runs. A metal pendulum will get longer when it gets warmer, slowing the clock down.

If your clock doesn’t have a pendulum then it will probably have a balance. This is a ring that spins back and forth around a
central spring – doing the same job as the pendulum. Usually a balance may be adjusted by changing the length of the spring using a lever (coming off the back of the balance) or screw (next to the balance).

Q: Should the clock be fixed to the wall?

A: If it’s a tall clock (known as a long case) then fixing it to the wall is a good idea. Usually such clocks are weight-driven so when fully wound they are very top heavy and could fall if bumped into. Also the clock needs to be stable and not be able to move as the pendulum swings. Some old clocks have a succession of holes in the back of the clock where previous owners have fixed them in place. The clock should be upright and not leaning back against the wall. If it does lean back then there is a danger of the pendulum rubbing against the back of the clock and stopping. If you have a skirting board then a spacer should be used to make sure the clock does not lean back.
A solid fixing is much better than a chain or cable.

Get helpful clock advice from a professional

Backed with my years of experience and association with the British Horological Institute, I can provide you with useful tips on how to take care of your clock. Get in touch with me at Stockydale Clocks for more details; I serve clients across the North West.

Does your clock need repairing but you can’t move it? Don’t worry, call us and we will visit you at your home. 01253 763036 or 07765 869554