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My Clock Keeps Stopping: Part Three – Cuckoo Clocks

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Did you know that most of the time you, as the clock owner, can correct the problems that cause your mechanical cuckoo clock to stop? That’s why we’ve posted these troubleshooting tips. However, if your clock stopped because the chains slipped off the gears or there’s a buildup of dirt and oil, you’ll need professional help to get your clock running again.

Here are six easy things to check:

1. Is the clock hanging straight on the wall?

If your clock looks like it’s not hanging perpendicular on the wall, plum it up, then give the pendulum a gentle push to get it swinging again. Then listen for a steady, even beat. The silent space between the tick and the tock should be the same. If it isn’t, carefully tilt the clock slightly to the left or to the right until the ticktock rhythm sounds even.

2. Is the door latch blocking the cuckoo door?

A small wire latch (door lock) can get in the way of the cuckoo door. Make sure it’s not preventing the door from opening.

3. Is the bird’s lifting wire out of place?

Check inside of the clock case to make sure the lifting wire (attached to the top of the bellow) is below the bird’s tail and not on top of it or on the side of it. If needed, gently move the wire under the bird’s tail.

4. What’s the position the shut-off switch?

Check the shut-off switch to make sure it’s not in the “on” position. Even if it appears to be “on”, move it in both directions. Sometimes the switch can be somewhere in the middle of “on” and “off” and if it is, then the clock may not work.

5. Is the clock wound?

Forgetting to wind any clock is the most common reason it stops working. All mechanical cuckoo clocks are powered by the gravitational force of its weights, which drop slightly with each swing of the pendulum. When you wind your clock, the weights are lifted back up so they can begin their drop again and keep your clock going. As you wind, don’t lift the weight with your other hand in order to help it along. Instead, let the chain support the full load of the weight and keep winding until the weights are at the very top.

6. Are the hands touching each other?

Have a close look at the hour and minute hands to see if they’re contacting each other. If they are, gently press the hour hand slightly back toward the clock dial, making sure it doesn’t touch the dial. If the hands still touch each other, slightly bend the minute hand toward you. This should create the needed clearance space.

So, if you’ve found any of the above problems and have fixed them yourself, congratulations!

What You Need to Know About Oiling and Cleaning Your Clock

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The Unexpected

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.

BLOG-NAWCC-clock-repairshopSomewhere 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.

BLOG-#3movement-hands-ebaySeven Factors 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.

BLOG-#2Eurpoeangiftpalace.com10300_01

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.

BLOG#2-Charlie Chaplain-moma.orgModern-TimesHere’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

BLOG-#2Mini_Silver_Pump_Jack_Clock 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

BLO-Oiler-cu26Before 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.

Ask The Expert:  Do you have a specific maintenance or repair question about a clock you own? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll have Jim Fischer provide the answer.

 

PHOTOS:

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