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Mechanical Grandfather Clock, clean and oil

5553 Views 18 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  jerry_nj
This subject doesn't fit well under the general area of "tool shed", but I can't find a better place to start this discussion.

So, I'll just ask at this point: any interest here? Is there a better MyTractor area to take such a discussion?
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My Son cleaned a 31 Day wind up I got in Korea and gave to my Mom, which came back to me, and a Cukoo that we got in Germany Black Forest. thet seem to work but not keep time well. Pointers would be welcome.
The pendulum on your cukoo clock should be adjustable. If it's running slow, slide the weight up a bit and watch for a while. We had one growing up and dad had it within about a minute/week.
Yes, both have pendulms..... Can't seem to find the "sweet" spot. and the 31 Day chimes twice on the 1/2 hour. Not a big issue as these were out of commission for years. My Son got bored (unemployed) and decided to tinker with them.
My reason for posting was driven by a decision to maybe clean and then oil my grandfather clock.

Brief History:
I built (wood work only, clock mechanism came completely assembled) an Emperor grandfather clock kit in about 1978. It has a moon dial, Westminster chimes. The clock works is in an open metal frame which is mounted inside a wooden case with glass doors and closed back. The bottom of the works "box" is open for the bell pull chains and the pendulum to hang through. So, the works is protected from the falling dust we see settling on the surfaces of tables, but the works are not immune from airborne (flying) dust.

The clock saw regular 24/7 use for about the first 8 years of its life. Then it saw only intermittent use since as we moved to a smaller house and the clock is in the living room, which we use (no family room). I'd estimate it has been used (keeping time) no more than 1 year in the past 20 years. This use has been for a few days or a couple of weeks at a time. I'd start it just to get the works going, to clean some of the dust off the stationary wheels and gears. A number of years ago it wouldn't run more than an hour or so and I opened the clock and put a drop or two of light oil (I think WD40, a "no-no") and the clock ran fine.

About a month ago I decided to start it up again. It wouldn't run more than about one minute before "grinding" to a halt.

I decided to open again and try to clean lightly clean it and put some proper oil in key wear locations. I was surprised to read, web on in a book I checked out of our library, that an ammonia/water solution is used to clean, not a petroleum/solvent type cleaner. It is also clear there are special light oils for use in clocks. Some indications are a sewing machine oil (available locally) may be used.

The first step is to blow dust out of the works.

I used my shop air pump to blow the works out, which I have not removed from the GF case. Then, not yet having any clock-oil I decided to take at tooth pick and put a drop of full synthetic 5W motor oil on the main shaft. I then gave the pendulum a start swing. The clock has been running for about 24 hours now and keeping very good time.

I have the Westminster chime bars removed, to gain better access to the works. I may leave them out, or put a piece of duct tape across them to make the clock silent or very quiet on its announcement of time marks. I don't like to see the clock just sitting in the corner of the living room, dead to the world. Being an old guy, the musical piece: "stopped short, never to run again, when the old, man, died..." comes sadly to mind when I look at it stopped short in the corner:crybaby:

So, this isn't a how to, more an interest in what other DYI'ers may do to keep old fashioned mechanical clocks going. I have no interest in trying to fix a pocket watch, or any electric devices, just the old stuff.

I may order a small bottle of full synthetic clock oil. It is advertised to not dry out like traditional oils (varnish up) and in fact clean out old oil residue. I may have put some trouble goop in with the engine oil I used, but for now the clock is running great. I don't see why oil detergents would be a problem...what else is in engine oil that could be a problem? Being full synthetic may provide some versatility offered by traditional engine oils.

If something doesn't read, sorry for the typos. We have some snow this morning in New Jersey, so I'll not take time now to proof read before posting. Please feel free to ask question if you see something you'd like to understand better about what I have done.
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I've built several clocks and have cleaned a few. I don't repair them, though.
Never tried to clean one myself, Jerry, but...

I had a Black Forest cuckoo clock for a while when I lived in Germany. It kept pretty good time but developed a strange problem wherein it would only go tick-tick-tick, rather than tick-tock.

So I bundled it up carefully, and lit the after-burner on the BMW and headed to the place in the Black Forest where I bought it.

I explained the problem to the owner in my poor German, and he said he would have his best clockmaker have a look.

Out from the back comes an old man in jack-boots and a leather apron. He grabs the clock, hangs it on the wall, shines a big flashlight in its face, and said.....

Ve have vays of making you tock!

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Ve have vays of making you tock!
How long have you been waiting for the chance to share that???
D-Dogg, don't leave us in suspense! Was he able to fix your clock?? :aetsch:

That called for a

If the clock's internals have gotten a bit gummed up, you might try adding 2 oz of Seafoam per winding. Sorry, this is actually interesting to read, I know nothing about this kind of stuff. Didn't even know clock oil (synthetic or dino) existed.
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never tried to clean one myself, jerry, but...

I had a black forest cuckoo clock for a while when i lived in germany. It kept pretty good time but developed a strange problem wherein it would only go tick-tick-tick, rather than tick-tock.

So i bundled it up carefully, and lit the after-burner on the bmw and headed to the place in the black forest where i bought it.

I explained the problem to the owner in my poor german, and he said he would have his best clockmaker have a look.

Out from the back comes an old man in jack-boots and a leather apron. He grabs the clock, hangs it on the wall, shines a big flashlight in its face, and said.....

ve have vays of making you tock!

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On fixing, I consider my case to be a need (historically) of some preventive maintenance.

On books (yes they still exist on paper) I'd recommend a look at:
Clock Reparing as a Hobby - by Harold Kelly, I have a 2007 printing, but I think the content dates back to the 70s. It is simple but does give some insights on how to repair mechanical clocks. The theory would also help the mechanically inclined to figure out their own tactics to trouble shoot.

I also have a book: The Clock Repairer's Handbook - by Laurie Penman. This is a larger (more content) publication and a bit more than I need.
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Hey jerry,
Can't help much on the clock but i sure would like to see a pic of it.
One of my ambitions is to build a grandfather someday.:fing32:
The Emperor Clock company is still in business. It looks like I could buy a new movement for my clock for under $300, about what I paid for the kit in 1977 - I have consulted my record, but that price sounds right to my mind, and isn't really important.

It appears the clock I built isn't available any longer, but here is a link to plans for a clock that looks just like mine, except the clock in the link has a fancier pendulum. My clock has a simple disc (about the size of a DVD) on the pendulum stick/rod (cherry wood).

My experience is they made a quality product, all parts fit together well. I have a good wood working shop, but don't recall needing any special tools to assemble:thThumbsU.
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Update, latest "learning" (or guessing :) )

The clock ran flawlessly for a few days so I decided I could put the back cover on and move it back into its corner of the room I took some care to level it, paying most attention to the front-to-back direction. That is, front is the face, and back, well is the back. It seemed close to level so I started the pendulum swinging. About 2 minutes later it stopped. So much for my conclusion that blowing the works out with compressed air and putting a drop of synthetic motor oil on the bearings of the escapement works had fixed the clock.

After several attempts to adjust the level front-to-back and restarting the clock I decided to put the level on the left-to-right (the direction the pendulum swings) and found it a quarter bubble (or little less) low in the right hand side. I put a piece of cardboard under the front right corner. This leveled the front left-to-right but caused the clock to lean slightly backwards. I started the pendulum anyway. The clock has been running fine now for a few hours.

Conclusion (independent of the blowing and oil) is that the level left-to-right is critically important. Think about it I can see why. An error left-to-right caused the pendulum swing to have a steeper climb uphill on one side and the escapement mechanism is designed to give the same "kick" on each side of the swing. So, it seems this extra work in one direction over taxed the escapement mechanism and caused the clock to stop.

For now I have a small carpet shield under the right front corner, and the clock is leaning slightly backwards, but it is running fine and I will leave it that way until it stops again.
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yep it seems with my pendulum clocks that left to right level is most important, i have a school house clock that i built that will not run if it is slightly off left to right, keep it level and it runs perfect.
One of the memebers on the Kawasaki Triples Owner Group is a "clock mechanic" or if fancy words are your thing, he's into Horology

He made it sound like grease and oil on the gears is a big No No :dunno:

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I have a clock that has been in my family and predates the revolutionary war. I got it from my grandmother a couple of years ago. It was in need of some repair and major cleaning so I had a clock guy (I had no clue and didnt even want to think about fixing some of the intricate delicate parts) repair and clean everything. He took the mechanism to his shop for 3 weeks ( 1 week was to make sure it kept time properly) cost was about $600 for everything. When he brought it back to the house, I got around to asking him questions about the oiling and stuff. He said the oil is a special "french" oil for clocks. I was gonna have him come out in a few years and do a onsite oil and clean (around $80.00) but then I found this on youtube. Its almost identical to my movement to.
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Most clocks can be self cleaned by the owner. A clock as old and valuable as your, though, should be left to a proffesional, who by the way is able to actually make replacement part. (McMaster-Carr doesn't carry parts for these.) A good clock oil is light weight, does not become gummy, or collect dust which is abrasive to brass. Additionally, if you guys want to oil your own clock, you only apply as much oil as you can put on the point of a tooth pick.
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I'll vote for that, I in fact used a toot pick to put some small oil (not even a "drop") on the main escape bearings. But, I think the real kicker (I have a Grandfather, not shelf, clock - my wife calls it a grandmother clock, because of its size) was getting it level side-to-side as described in my previous post on this thread. The question in my mind is, however, the the clock had been running (only a few days a year) in place for about 15 years. Then on a start it up to let it shake some "cobs out" I found it wouldn't run. This is was started my DIY job and I did remove the back of the clock, blow it out with compressed air and apply some synthetic 5W30 motor oil (here I was trying to avoid the problems of dino oils which age poorly).

The clock has been running flawlessly and keeping good time since last leveled, my previous post.

I also turned down the volume on the Westminster chimes, that's is what my wife objected to, the volume of the chimes. 20 years ago me downsized and we now share a living room (no family room) with the clock. I put one piece of duct tape on one side of the two chime bar sets (one for Westminster, and one for Hour Counts). It sounds much the same (I have ancient ears/hearing so I can't hear high frequencies/harmonics anyway) to me, but doesn't interfere with the television or conversation.:trink40: I may be able to let it run intill "It stops short, never to run again, when the old man died".

I'll take a look at the youtube, thanks

EDIT: I watched video, EXCELLENT, I had no knowledge of the oil wells. Guess this means one has to pull the work so that gravity can be used to pull the oil into the bearing surfaces.:fing32:
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