Restoring Antique Clock Movements

All antique clock movements will have been serviced several times in their lives; this is particularly true with clocks that are more than 100, 200 or 300 years old. It is also likely that these same clocks have been repaired several times due to failures or broken components.

As styles and preferences changed through the years, many owners may also have had their clocks altered, such changes could include removing quarter striking or chiming components, converting from a verge to an anchor escapement, removing bells and replacing with gongs or adding musical mechanisms.

As clocks changed hands over the years, or owners moved, parts became lost. Typical lost items might include finials, keys, pendulums, weights and so on. These were then replaced with whatever became available and worked. In some instances complete movements, dials and cases became separated from one another, or faulty movements were discarded and a more recent functioning movement replaced it.

Movements that failed often found their way to less skillful or less knowledgeable repairers, or the owners might improvise and attempt the repair themselves. In many instances the correct parts were either not available, could not be found or were considered too expensive. The clock would then be made to work by fitting wrong or inappropriate parts, or with incorrectly or wrongly repaired parts. An amateur may well have used copious amounts of soft solder in an attempt to repair a broken or fractured part. Unfortunately, most of these repairs will be short lived and the clock will quickly fail again. One common issue with antique clocks is that the owner expects them to run forever without servicing, cleaning or adequate lubrication. Dirt quickly builds up and old lubrication dries and thickens and becomes black. Running a clock in this condition quickly wears the pivot bearings and other moving parts. Many clocks have not been serviced in decades. Clocks need to be lubricated about every five years, depending upon its environment, and cleaned about every ten years, again, depending upon the environment. Some clock movements have been stored in an attic, a damp basement or a garage. The brass plates and wheels may have started corroding, a green powdery surface or pitting indicates bronze disease, and a reddish color indicates brass rot. Corroding brass components must be treated and stabilized to prevent further loss or the total destruction of the piece.
My preferred restoration methodology is to first examine the clock and note its general construction, identify obvious faults, previous repairs and if included, all inappropriate parts and materials now being used in the clock. The movement is then stripped down to its individual components. All parts are then carefully cleaned by hand then examined individually noting all problems and items that need repair, correction or restoration. Wrong parts are best removed and the correct parts either acquired or made. Solder repairs should be corrected and all identified faults corrected. The movement is then assembled, lubricated and put into operation on an appropriate test stand. The working movement is observed and adjusted as needed. The escapement is correctly set for drop and impulse, and striking and chiming mechanisms are correctly adjusted. The movement is usually run for two weeks while observing and making additional fine adjustments. Finally the dial is replaced and the movement is placed back into the clock case.