Mickey and his friends try their hand at cleaning up a tower clock. Well…they tried!
Three centuries is a long time, long enough for things to come in and out of style many times over. But if I were to tell you that there’s a unique product, that after three centuries is still going strong, could you guess what that was? If you know your clock history then you may know that it’s none other than the beloved Black Forest cuckoo clock. What’s the reason for its continual popularity? It’s a combination of things: whimsical charm, kinetic experience and a relationship that can start from the very first day you bring the cuckoo into your home.
But there is one more reason: it’s the German clock making tradition of the Black Forest. For generations cuckoo clocks have been made by craftsmen of that region with a consistent high level of workmanship. These clock smiths are masters at what they do and they love their craft. The passion they put into their work shows in the long lived quality of their clocks and in the abundant variety of their designs. In recent years a lot more choices in decorative styles have emerged, but the cuckoo clock has traveled through time in mostly an unchanged state. It’s anchored in tradition and keeps going strong.
To preserve this tradition of clock making the Black Forest Clock Association was founded in 2006. After I viewed their video (below), being an artist and technician myself, I had so much more appreciation for the works of these craftsmen. This “bird’s eye” video tour takes you right into the heart of Black Forest cuckoo clock factories and workshops of Rombach & Haas and Christophe. There are lots of great closeup shots. You’ll see movements and clock cases being assembled, jig saws cutting templates, wood carvers carving their designs, painting, staining, varnishing and the making of pipes, clock dials and figurines.
So take the tour. I hope you enjoy it! Also, you can click here to find out about The Clock Route Of The Black Forest.
Photo and Video Credits:
Photo #1 – Rombach and Haas Filigree Cuckoo Clock
Photo #2 – Rombach and Haas Bamboo Cuckoo Clock
Video – Black Forest Clock Association
In this article you’ll get the basics on how to correctly spot clean and oil your own clock. If you haven’t already read our other article ‘What You Need to Know About Oiling and Cleaning Your Clock’ give it a whirl. It goes into detail about the frequency of cleaning and oiling a clock and is good primer for what you’re going to read in his article.
Most clock owners are familiar with what a clock movement looks like but in case you’re not, the image on the right will give you a pretty good idea. Each gear in a movement is mounted to an axle and each axle is mounted between two brass plates. The place in the plates where the axle goes into is called a pivot hole. On the outside wall of each plate around each pivot hole is a small bowl-shaped depression called an ‘oil sink’. Each one holds a small reservoir of oil and releases it slowly over time to keep the pivot hole lubricated. (photo on the right). The pivot holes are where a lot of friction takes place; they’re the focus of your mission, the spots where you’ll be cleaning and oiling. For a more detailed explanation on lubrication and friction see ‘Why A Clock Needs To Be Cleaned And Oiled’.
Before you do anything: If you have a newer clock that’s still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, be sure to check with them first beforehand, since servicing your own clock could void the warranty.
Are All Clocks Candidates?
Floor Clocks: According to our clock repair answer man Jim Fischer, 85% of all floor clocks have access panels, either on the side if it’s a grandfather clock, or on the top if it’s a grandmother clock, and you can do your own maintenance on them. “But if access to the movement including all of the hard to reach spots, is not available, then various other techniques and equipment are needed. In that case a professional clock repairman should be hired to ensure that the clock stays in good working order.” Jim said.
As for modern wall clocks and pendulum style mantel clocks, he said “These rarely have side or top access, but if you’re vigilant and mechanically inclined you could do the work yourself. The movement would have to be carefully taken out through the back of the clock, or through the front by removing the dial, cleaned and oiled, then carefully put back in” (more on this in a future article).
“But there are some timepieces that the average clock owner should not try to service himself. and cuckoo clocks are one of them. Because of their complex mechanisms that operate the bird, bellows, chimes and figurines, a routine cleaning and oiling of a cuckoo is a big undertaking. It can take a professional three times longer to service than other kinds of clocks. And that gets very expensive. It’s why a cuckoo clock owner doesn’t typically have regular professional maintenance done, but instead has a new movement put in after about 25-30 years. If you know that a replacement movement is no longer available then regular professional maintenance makes good sense.”
“Then there are a myriad of other types of clocks – French, English, old German, Vienna, etc., These generally are ‘fussy’ and usually present some difficult tasks in getting them apart and back together properly. There are just so many things to watch out for on the antiques/vintage/non-American clocks that they should be left to the pro.”
You may be surprised to know (unless you own one) that there are some mechanical clocks that can go for longer periods of time without lubrication. “American antique clocks such as Seth Thomas, Gilbert, New Haven, Kroeber, Waterbury, Ansonia, etc., are designed with thick brass plates and because of that they continue to run without regular oiling for a long time, even with excessive pivot hole wear. Therefore, with these kind of clocks, a preventive oiling program is not as important as it is with clocks that have a modern German movement, which are built more for precision. ” Jim said.
The Basics: Cleaning and Oiling Your Clock
Ready to start? Here are simple guidelines:
Light: Make sure you have plenty of light so you can easily see how much dirt has accumulated and where it is, and to make sure you’re applying the right amount of oil.
Spot cleaning: A routine spot cleaning of the pivot points should be done before applying fresh oil. The process takes an attentive eye. First, wipe off any large deposits with a soft cloth. Then using a very sharp, thin pivot cleaning stick (barbecue sticks can also be used) scrape out any dried oil and dirt that has collected in and around the pivot points. If it’s packed into the pivots you may need a soft nylon toothbrush and cleaning fluid to remove it. If the movement is still inside the clock be careful that particles of loose dirt don’t drop onto any of the gear teeth. Q-Tips are not recommended for removing the oil and dirt because they can leave strands of fiber in the movement.
Keep in mind that spot cleaning does not take the place of a professional ultrasonic cleaning .
How to Oil:
Before you read further, have a look at this short video clip.
This video deals with oiling only and it’s assumed that any needed cleaning has already been done. Although the demonstration uses a movement that has already been removed from a clock, it also shows you where some of the oil should be applied when the movement is still inside a grandfather clock. In that case you won’t be able to apply oil to the oil sinks since you won’t have access to the outside walls of the plates where the sinks are located. In this situation, you’ll apply the oil to the pivot points on the inside walls of the plates. What does that do? Well, through Mother Nature’s process called ‘capillary action’ some of that oil travels across the axle from the inside of the plate to the outside of the plate and partially fills the oil sink. But know that when you oil pivot points on the inside, those points will need to be lubricated more frequently because the oil sinks aren’t able to fill up completely.
Not Too Much, Not Too Little: Using the right amount of oil is important. If you use too much it will drip down the plate and the remaining oil in the oil sink will follow the drippings due to gravity. Then it won’t be long before most of your oil in the oil sink is gone. Also, if after applying the oil you see that it’s bulging out of the sink, that bulge at some future point could break and the oil would then leak down on to the clock plate. So apply the oil in small amounts and if you see any bulging, carefully wick up the excess with the tip of a tissue. At the same time, use enough oil. If there’s too little, you’ll have to re-oil in a few months or worse, your movement will wear prematurely due to lack of lubrication. So it’s good to be careful when applying oil.
Ultimately, if you don’t feel up to the oiling, or your clock is irreplaceable or of great value to you, it may be better to leave it to a professional.
What About Gear Teeth?
Oiling gear teeth is a point upon which clock experts disagree. In the above video oiling the teeth of an escape wheel is recommended. But here is what Jim had to say about it “That might take care of a short term problem, but some repairmen feel oiling gear teeth can accelerate future problems. I don’t recommend it. If you keep oiling the teeth, then old oil builds up and gets tacky, and fills the spaces where the teeth meet – thus increasing friction over time.”
The Right Kind of Oil
Before we talk about the right oil to use for clock lubrication, there is one type that is so damaging to a clock, we have to mention it first. Under no circumstances ever use WD-40, even as a temporary fix. Yes, it’s an effective lubricant for general household use, but it’s one of a clock’s worst enemies. It gums up the movement and can add enough friction to stop the clock in a just few months. It can also run into dials and stain them and can contaminate the clock cleaning solution when the inevitable time comes for an ultrasonic cleaning. Other oils commonly found in a home are sewing machine oil and 3 in 1 oil. These might work for a while but are more viscous and will run out faster. They could even stain dials and are not recommended.
As for the right kind of oil, there are a number of excellent brand name synthetic clock oils available on the market today. They protect your clock from wear and tear and tend to stay where put. So it’s best to use them and keep your clock happy.
Tools of the Trade
Here is a short list of things you’ll need for cleaning and oiling your clock:
- toothbrush & cleaning fluid (for excess dirt)
- soft cloth to remove oil drips
If you want to go deeper into the world of clock maintenance, Hermle Clocks publishes a professional service manual and has agreed to make it available to our readers in early 2014. Check with us for an update on this.
Did you enjoy this article? Find it helpful, or have any comments? Please let us know.
Photo and Video Credits:
Hermle clock movement – clockworks.com
Grandfather Clock – Hermle Floor Clocks
Cuckoo Clock – Anton Schneider Chalet Style Cuckoo Clock
Oil Sink Pivot – timezone.com
Video – norkro.com
Oil Drop – scaleswmulrica.blogspot.com
Gears – yorkshireclockrepair.com
Barbeque Sticks – alibaba.com
Tooth Brush –freeimageslive.com
3 Oiling Pens – timesavers.com
I was surprised by what I found. Some experts said there’s no need to clean and oil a clock. Just leave it alone. When it has a problem, go and have it professionally serviced. That was their advice. Others praised preventative maintenance as the way to go. They told me that a clock should be oiled every 3-5 years and cleaned professionally 7-10 years. Yes, the experts disagreed.
Finding The Truth
I kept on digging. I soon discovered that there was no absolute, one-for-all answer and that the differing opinions were based mostly on a repairman’s philosophy of cost effectiveness and the kind of clocks he or she serviced.
Somewhere along the way, I was lucky enough to find Jim’s Mobile Clock Repair. Jim was well qualified to give solid advice. I was impressed with the scope of his knowledge and perspective especially when I found out that he has a background in metallurgical and materials engineering. After telling him about the different opinions I ran into, I asked Jim for his. First off, he said, “If you ever want to have a lively discussion get five different clock repairmen in a room and ask them ‘should I or shouldn’t I oil my clock and what kind of oil I should use’ and you’ll never come out of that room.” So, I pictured myself there in that room, trying to follow the tech-talk…and had to laugh.
“To answer your question,” he said, “today’s manufacturers of new clocks recommend oiling, either by the clock owner or a professional, every 2 to 3 years. If that schedule is kept up then a professional ultrasonic cleaning can be done every 10-12 years, or about after the 3rd oiling. If the clock is not oiled every 2-3 years, ultrasonic cleaning should be done every 5-7 years. To get the most out of your clock’s movement, follow that advice. But if you wait until your clock stops working before you have it serviced, accumulations of dirt and dust can cause unwanted wear. It could even ruin the movement. Keep in mind now that we’re talking about new clocks, not antiques, and that 2-3 and 5-7 years are general time frames only that don’t apply to all clocks.” He went on to explain seven points to consider in clock maintenance.
1. personal economic viewpoint
2. personal maintenance approach
3. materials a clock is made of
4. age and era of the clock
5. service and environmental history of the clock
6. availability of a replacement movement
7. present and future availability of a qualified repairman to overhaul the clock
Let’s talk about the first 3 points on the list: economics, maintenance approach and materials (we’ll cover points 4 -7 in future posts).
1. The Economics
As I had found out on my own, some repairmen say not to clean and oil your clock until a problem arises. Jim filled in the details “They say this because of the economics. It costs less to let your clock go without service than to have a professional do regular maintenance. But taking care of your clock assures its longevity. A clock’s life expectancy with regular maintenance is usually about 35-40 years. But If you don’t keep up with regular oiling and professional cleaning, you can expect the life span of the movement to be shortened by 10 years. The cost to replace a movement, including installation, is about $500. Professional maintenance would cost about three times as much.” Hmm, something to consider.
Here’s some dollar and cents good news on how to take the “ouch” out of that professional maintenance bill. You can learn how to oil and spot clean some clocks yourself. (Note: not all clocks can or should be self-serviced due to their complexity–more on this in a future post). Doing your own maintenance will definitely cut down on your bill by eliminating the cost of regular professional care. However, a professional ultra-sonic cleaning would still be needed at some point (details on that in a minute). If you own a grandfather clock, you should know that to do a proper oiling job yourself, the clock would need to have side door panels for accessing deeper parts of the movement.
Here’s something else you’ll want to know: some manufacturers will void the warranty if anyone but a qualified service person does any of the maintenance work before the warranty period expires. So, read your warranty carefully before you oil and spot clean your clock.
2. Maintenance Approach: Preventative vs. Waiting
So is the preventative approach or the wait as long as possible approach to clock maintenance best? Your personal style of maintaining your mechanical goods could have a lot to do with the answer. Some people like to have their mechanical gear in tip top shape, even if it costs more to do it. Others don’t consider maineinance a priority, and/or they like to save the money.
Now that you know the cost factors and reasoning behind choosing an approach, you’re in a better position to evaluate the pros and the cons and decide what might work best for you.
3. The Materials Of A Clock
Knowing about the materials a clock is made of is key to making the right decisions on how to care for it. “That’s one of the biggest reason why there are so many diverse opinions among both clock owners and repair professionals on how often to clean and oil and what type of oil to use.” Jim said. “Things like the thickness of brass plates, upgraded movements with bronze bushings and type of steel used for components are just some of the variables that determine the maintenance approach for a particular timepiece.” And the age/era of a clock has a lot to do with that. In future posts we’ll talk about this in detail.
The Type Of Oil To Use
Before we said good-bye, Jim and I chatted about a few more things including what kind of oil to use. “It’s subjective,” he said, “some repairmen prefer one brand over another. Yes, some work better than others, but any high quality brand name clock oil will work fine. They all basically do the same thing. They cling to the metal and lubricate it. ” (For details on what oils not to use see “How to Spot Clean and Oil Your Clock”.
By the end of the conversation I was satisfied that I had found the answers I was looking for. So there you have it. The reasons why the experts disagree. The varying approaches. It’s something to think about.
Did you enjoy this article? Find it helpful, or have any comments? Please let us know.
1. Man in Repair Shop – www.nawcc.org
2. Hands and Gears of a Wall Clock
3. Ingolf Haas/Artist & Designer – www.black-forest-clock.de
4. “Modern Times” Movie Clip – Charlie Chaplin (1936)
5. Oil Pump Desk Clock
6. Needle Nose Oiler – www.clockworks.com