I last worked on Lockwood & Almquist back in November. That’s also when I last photographed the clock as well – please forgive the reprint complete with Christmas lights. I promise they’re not still up. It’s an interesting clock with an industrial strength movement. The last month or so I’ve noticed the clock running a bit slower than before and also needing to be wound tighter than before to stay running. It was time to take another look.

The Movement

I pulled the movement out to see how 5 months of runtime played out. I should say that it is unusual that a clock will develop issues after only months of running. A well-serviced clock should run at least 5-10 years. Something clearly wasn’t right when I first serviced the movement.

This movement is unusual in a couple ways. First, it is designed to run for 90 days on a wind. To achieve such a long run time, the clock is powered by two massive springs. The winding arbor drives both springs and is geared down to only require a reasonable amount of force. The consequence of this is that fully winding the clock requires over 250 turns of the winding crank.

Another way the clock is unusual is the back plate – it is thick cast iron rather than brass. Most clocks use brass for the movement plates and steel for the pivots. In addition to looking pretty, this is done for a reason – brass and steel are chemically compatible for wear. Steel on steel can be problematic. This is mitigated to a large degree with oil, and this clock obviously worked fine for the first hundred years of operation, so clearly it can work just fine, but it’s an unusual setup.

When I originally serviced this clock I approached it the way I approach any clock. The basic steps are to ultrasonically clean, polish the pivots, repair any wear with bushings, reassemble, and oil. Bushings get polished as well with a smoothing broach. If a pivot hole isn’t sufficiently worn to require a bushing, I normally just scrape out any leftover gunk the ultrasonic cycle missed with some peg wood.

At first glance the oil on the winding gear pivots was a little dirty. This surprised me. Also, the pivots in the back side of the movement looked dry. There was a bit of oil there, but not as much as I expected.

I disassembled the movement to check the condition of the pivots. They looked fine. I checked the verge pallets, and there were a couple minor marks. I don’t believe I polished the verge the first time around, so I did it this time.

Before reassembling the movement, I tried to address the pivot holes in the cast iron back plate.   I’m not entirely sure what the best way to approach this would be, but I took some time with some peg wood and got some more junk out. I did this the first time too, but apparently not adequately. I reassembled the movement and added a bit more oil to the rear plate pivots.

The Pendulum

The other thing I wanted to readdress this time around was to add even more weight (!) to the top of the pendulum rod. A quick refresher (more detail in my first post) – with the bob in the center of the adjustment range, the clock ran 5 minutes per hour too slow. Somewhere along the way the movement got altered or replaced, and the pendulum as I found the clock was too long for accurate timekeeping. For aesthetic reasons I didn’t want to just cut the pendulum rod shorter – it already seemed too short for the case, so I opted to add a bunch of weight to the top of the pendulum rod, which increases the speed of the pendulum, allowing me to move the bob down to a reasonable location on the rod.

The clock kept time with the added weight I settled on last time, but just barely – the bob was all the way at the top of the adjustment range. I wanted to drop the bob to the middle of the adjustment range if possible.

Space behind the movement is limited, so the weight needed to go mostly to the side of the rod. Last time I used multiple layers of 1/8″ thick 1 1/2″ wide steel bar. This time I used a piece of 3/8″ thick by 2″ wide bar.

The pendulum rod is just under 3/4″ wide. A 3/4″ end mill was almost a perfect fit. I cut the slot in two depth passes, leaving the slot just shallower than the thickness of the pendulum rod.

Here you can see the original weight arrangement the clock ran with for the last 5 months and the larger machined block.

I didn’t want to do anything to irreversibly alter the pendulum, so I decided to clamp the weight to the pendulum rod with a piece of the same 1/8″ thick 1 1/2″ wide bar I used previously.

I drilled and tapped holes (including one broken tap) for screws to clamp the pieces together. Other than the broken tap, it turned out great. Even the casual eye may notice something strange about my drilling setup in the photo above. A real machinist would have measured offsets from the edges of the parts and calculated the hole positions for drilling. As I am not a real machinist I am free from those constraints, so I took the “close enough” expedient alignment method of eyeballing it and using a C-clamp to hold the parts in position while I drilled the pilot holes. The parts were just long enough for me to be able to flip the part around to drill the second side without having to reclamp the C-clamp position.

 
 

This is a really strange situation – the top end of the pendulum weighs more than the bob.

Pendulums need to be plumb to run correctly. This means the suspension point needs to be directly over the center of mass, otherwise the pendulum will do funny things. When I reassembled the clock, the pendulum was arcing in the horizontal direction – the leading edge arced toward the back of the case. I bent the hanger slightly backward to better align the center of mass under the suspension spring and it started running normally.

I timed the clock and put the dial and hands back on. Amplitude seems to be better than it was, so hopefully I’ve addressed whatever issue I didn’t handle adequately on my first go at the movement. It’s a little unsatisfying to not find a smoking gun, but much of success or failure in clock repair comes down to little problems adding up. Hopefully my second look will give this guy another decade of good service before I need to look at it again.

 

 


Most of my repair work has been on smaller pieces, but I’ve done a few full-sized clocks lately, and have needed something more convenient to rig and test movements in process. Previously I set them back up in the case, which creates challenges accessing the back of the movement.

I got some ideas from looking at other commercially available stands and then hit the scrap bin.  These aren’t rocket science, and I have a substantial pile of odds and ends from previous projects to make use of. We’re still under Coronavirus lockdown, so I wanted to see how little extra I had to procure to make this happen.

The frame is pretty simple –  2 x 4 verticals and 1/2″ plywood cross members on the top and bottom. The width of the stand is pretty arbitrary – I settled on 20″ wide which should cover pretty much everything. The depth is more critical – it needs to be narrow enough to not get in the way of the hands in front and the pendulum in back. I cut down the sides of the 2 x 4 verticals to 2″, giving a 2″ gap between the cross members and about 3″ total depth.

I cut the legs out on my CNC router and added a couple of leveling feet.

I have been learning many things in my horological pursuits these last few years. I’m not new to building things, and I’m blessed to have a fairly well-equipped, if small, shop. One thing I wasn’t expecting to learn was to navigate the challenge of having good mess-free photography of shop projects in a working shop that is, well, a bit messy. I don’t think my shop is any messier than the typical shop, but the normal workings of making things – tools and project bits – tend to stay out on surfaces while the project is underway. This isn’t a huge problem for pictures of small items – it’s easy to frame the camera shot around the sawdust or tools, but larger projects like the stand require a shot with a wider field of view, which in the case of the center photo below, includes the open door on one of my benches revealing my high-tech cardboard box holding my shop rags. Conveniently cropped out of the frame on top of the bench is the half-reassembled remote control car I was epoxying back together for my son.

While the basic stand is straightforward,  the movement mount took a little more thought. It needs to be able to accommodate a wide range of sizes. Back to the CNC router, I cut a couple dog bones that can slide to handle whatever size movement I’m working on.

I made a couple long J bolts by threading a piece of 3/16″ zinc plated steel rod. Please excuse the crudity of the J bend – I don’t own a metal bending jig and made them with a vise and a couple pairs of pliers. I threaded the rod by putting the rod in a drill chuck in my mill and holding the thread die. The machine did the turning, I just held on.

The J hooks attach to the stand dog bones with a pair of angle pieces. I milled a slot in the top piece to allow for some positional adjustment, as some movement pillars have decoration or other obstructions that wouldn’t be able to be worked around with a straight up and down clamp arrangement.

The rods are long enough so the clamps can be tightened at the bottom of the dog bones which is easier to access than trying to reach between the stand cross members. 

I left the dog bones a little bit taller than they needed to be to clear the cross members. My original plan was to attach T nuts to the bottoms of the dog bones where hand screws would come up through the bottom leg of the dog bone, through the T nut, and then press on the cross member to clamp it in place. I may still do that eventually, but due to the magic of tight-tolerance machines (CNC routers are amazing), the dog bones have almost the perfect amount of friction against the cross members that they are plenty secure.

On the stand is a tall case movement from the first half of the 18th century – possibly 1725 or so. The open design of the stand allows the free end of the weight cord to be moved around for clearance. 

It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture, but the weight cords on this movement come off the left side of both the time and strike winding drums. The time drum (right side of movement) works out well with the free end of the weight cord to the right of the movement, and the time weight hangs almost directly below the time drum. Since the strike drum (left side of movement) winds in the same direction and therefore the cord comes off the same left side of the drum as the time side, the strike weight actually runs to the left of the movement drum, and the free end of the strike cord is a few inches on the left side of the movement. For clearance, I actually rotated one of the dog bones so the metal brackets wouldn’t be in the weight path.

The free ends of the weight cords were tied around a couple dowels. This movement mounts to a seat board and the weight holes are in the seat board. This stand should accommodate putting the seat board on with the movement, but I wanted to get a bit more clearance on the movement, and so improvised a bit. The thickness of the movement stand was calculated so the pendulum is outside the stand to the back, the weights fall through the middle of the stand, and the hands can rotate unobstructed in front of the stand.

This is an interesting and very old movement. In addition to the usual counting of the hours on the bell, this clock strikes the half hour as well. The date is shown through an aperture on the dial, driven by the gear at the bottom front of the movement with a metal flag sticking out. More on this fascinating clock soon!

 

The Minnesota Clocks & Watches household is coming up on the end of the second week of semi-quarantine, just in time for Governor Walz’s “shelter in place” order to extend it another couple weeks. We are adequately stocked with toilet paper and have enough carbs in the cupboard to feed a small marathon. I bought Super Smash Brothers to play on our Nintendo with our boys and there’s been a lot of floor hockey happening in our bonus room. Thus far we haven’t killed each other. I don’t mean to overly make light of a very serious situation, but a little levity is necessary for surviving the isolation.

Our children seem to absorb a lot of the extra time we’re supposed to have (no commute, no social events) but I have managed  to get in a little repair work in. I’m continuing to work on the batch of clocks I purchased from an estate last month. I just finished up this Colonial grandfather clock. Colonial made so many models it’s hard to pin down exactly when this was made, but I’m guessing 1920’s – 1930’s.

The clock stands about 75 inches tall. It counts the hour and strikes the half hour on a nice mellow sounding coil gong. The case is a vey dark brown. In low light it’s almost black. The metal dial is bronze colored. I’m not quite sure it’s fair to call this Mid-Century Modern, but it’s heading in that direction.

Colonial Manufacturing was based in Zeeland, Michigan and operated from 1906 – 1987. They were a prolific maker, and in the 1970’s had nearly a third of the market share of large clocks in the US. Colonial was primarily a casemaker, using movements manufactured in Germany. 

 

 

 

 

This clock’s movement is stamped Colonial Mfg Co, Zeeland Mich, Germany. The movement manufacturer is stamped Haller & Benzing Schwenningen A.N.

The movement was a dream to work on. It has nice thick plates, and all of the strike synchronization is done on the front side of the movement, which saves considerable hassle in trying to hold all of the levers and pins in place while putting the movement plates back together. With this style of movement, the trains can be assembled between the plates without any care in alignment, and the levers can be adjusted later. This is in contrast to count wheel-style movements where assembly is an iterative exercise in frustration and cursing, trying to coax all of the pivots into their holes while holding the gear train to mesh in just a certain way.

This clock is a bit newer than most I work on, and that plus good design and probably some reasonable care meant that the overhaul wasn’t as daunting as a lot of what I get. A full disassembly and ultrasonic cleaning followed by polishing the pivots to a mirror finish and a bit of polishing and cleanup work to rest of the movement was the extent of what it needed, and back together it went. Note the adjustable pivot holes – the circles near the top of the plate with a slot to rotate to adjust alignment. No bushings were required. 

The most challenging part of the whole repair process was dealing with the weight chains. The chains have a large ring on the free end and a link with wide arms that stick out on the weight end. The holes in the seatboard (the wooden board the movement sits on) are very small to ensure that careless winding won’t pull the chains all the way through the clock. To remove the clock, the chain must be split to remove one or the other of the large links that interfere with the seatboard holes. For disassembly, it’s advantageous to split the chain on the weight end as you can then pull the chain all the way through and out of the movement. For reassembly the reverse is better – removing the ring on the free end allows a string to be fished through the movement and the case to fish the chain through without fighting the ratcheting mechanism.

I did a bit of case work to repair some torn fabric on one of the access doors where someone had punched through.

This was a very satisfying project. Some of the clocks I see are incredibly worn and it becomes a calculation problem of how much work they are worth, considering the low prices of clocks at the moment. This clock, on the other hand, needed a 30,000 mile tuneup, rather than a 200,000 mile drivetrain replacement. I am confident the clock will run very well for a long time.  This clock needs is a new home. Maybe yours?

I have begun work on two more from the batch – an American tall case from about 1850 and an English brass dial clock from about 1725. More on these soon!

We live in interesting times. Here in the Twin Cities metro area life has radically changed from just a month ago. After rattling around solely in geographies that are “someone else’s problem”, the Coronavirus situation has come home to the US. In the last 30 days, the stock market has fallen from its highs on February 19th by about 33%, panic has caused stores to have to ration basic supplies like toilet paper, and schools nationwide have been closed, possibly for the rest of the school year.

My children are home now. I am fortunate to have a job that I can do mostly from home, and am fortunate to have an amazing wife who succeeds for the most part in channeling my kids’ immense energy in positive directions allowing me to be able to focus enough to stay employed. I am very aware that many are less fortunate. Many have lost jobs, and many people with jobs are without childcare to allow them to work. Our healthcare workers have a monumental task ahead of them. And of course there’s the sickness itself, which for some people can be very serious. My heart goes out to you, no matter how you are impacted by this.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

American writer and humorist Sam Levenson said “Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” This quote has been used by many motivational speakers, and its meaning has been stretched to anything from ‘don’t let the clock run your life’ to ‘in difficult times, don’t wish for it to be over, live in the moment’ to ‘embrace the busyness’. I don’t really know what Sam originally meant by this or what the circumstances were when he wrote it, but as he was born in 1911 and lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, I’m sure he had ample experience with adversity. I suspect his aim was to encourage us to focus on the task at hand and not to pine for easier times so much that we forget to live in the moment.

I would like to revise his quote to be “Look at the clock and do what it does. Keep going.”

 

In addition to my wife and children keeping me company at home, I have a number of inanimate friends that remind me of their presence with ticks and chimes. The picture above is of a few of the clocks in my home office. On the left is a Welsh Tall Case clock from about 1750, signed Winstanley, Holywell. In the center is a Waterbury No. 3 Regulator from around 1880, and on the right is a Waltham regulator labeled Central Scientific dating from about 1910.

I find antique clocks very beautiful and fascinating. They are surprisingly precise – even low-grade clocks run within a few dozen seconds a week, which considering there are almost 605,000 seconds in a week, is quite something. I’m also captivated by the history of the clock. How many families have treasured our Welsh Tall Case since its construction 13 generations ago? Where has it spent its life? When did it make the voyage across the water to America? What conversations did it overhear while ticking away in the corner?

In the 275 years since this clock was made empires have risen and fallen, America became a nation, we have fought brutal wars, and we have made technological and humanitarian advances. The clock shows some wear and tear, which I find beautiful, but through all of that time and history, it’s still going, having ticked somewhere around 8.6 billion times. Not without help, of course; many clockmakers have cared for this clock over the centuries without whom this clock would have been on the scrap heap long ago.

Look at the clock and do what it does. Keep going.

I think looking at an old soldier like Winstanley reminds us that tomorrow will come. We were never promised a life without challenges, but with a little help from friends we will keep going.

Psalms 34:1-8 (New Living Translation)

I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart.
Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.
I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

 

 

I recently purchased a collection of clocks from the estate of a longtime collector and have begun to go through them. Some will likely stay in my personal collection, but I need to send on a few that I don’t have room for. First on the list is this interesting Mission-style tall case clock.

I don’t have any concrete information on the age or history of the clock, but I suspect it is a pre-war clock – somewhere in the 1920’s or 1930’s. Other than the “C” shown below, there are no marks on the movement. It is a simple two-train clock – it counts the hour and strikes once on the half hour. The clock is just short of seven feet tall. The open base makes it look a bit like the clock is standing on a chair. The lower door has beveled glass; the upper door has very old wavy glass. I presume the upper glass is original; it’s hard to say about the lower glass. I know beveled glass existed in this period, but it could have been replaced at some point.

When I first started the clock, it started right up, but the chime train wasn’t running consistently. I never assume that a clock I buy has been serviced in any recent memory, and that was definitely true in this case.

The first thing that was apparent after pulling the dial was a whole lot of dirt and a fair bit of wear in the movement.

Modern clock repair benefits greatly from a product of technical manufacturing – highly precise bushings. As clocks run, the friction of the train begins to wear on the movement. With regular service, this wear is minimal, and clocks can run for a couple centuries before the wear is significant-enough to require attention. That’s not the norm for the life most clocks live though – clocks generally are run until they stop working – the equivalent of waiting to get the oil changed in your car until the engine seizes up. How this manifests itself is enlarged holes in the movement plates. The modern solution to this problem is to ream out the enlarged hole and press in a bushing. These bushings were not available until the 1980’s or so.

Earlier repair methods consisted of either trying to close the hole by punching divots around it and smooshing the brass to shrink the hole. This works, but is ugly, and you get only one shot at this. The next time the clock needs service, there’s no more metal to move around. Bushings were sometimes made by hand – the hole was drilled out and a piece of bushing wire was pressed in and re-drilled, but this was time-consuming and error-prone.

One solution to the problem that came along was a Rathbun bushing – a piece of brass with a small pivot hole and a larger hole where the repairer would drill a hole into the clock plate and put a screw through. It allowed some adjustability and didn’t require much skill to install. Unfortunately, it is a pretty cruddy repair. It’s functional as long as the pivot was long enough, but it requires drilling a hole in the movement that wasn’t there before.

This clock was the recipient of two Rathbun bushings – one on the front side of the escape wheel, and one on the strike train, shown above. Mercifully they were soldered in rather than drilled in and so could be removed without leaving a hole in the movement.

After polishing the pivots and bushing the movement plates, I reassembled the movement. The clock ran and chimed correctly, and using my timing machine, set it to 3600BPH – one tick per second, which is standard for large clocks, but it wasn’t keeping time. Making a long story short, this clock isn’t a 3600BPH clock – it’s about 3708BPH. This is a really odd thing – I don’t understand why they chose to do this – the clock is certainly big enough to accommodate a 3600BPH pendulum. 3708 is off just enough to be annoying, without any apparent benefit that I can see.

The pendulum that came with the clock didn’t match. It was the wrong color, was beat up, and was the wrong length. I decided to make a new one that better matched the clock. Pendulum rate is not linearly related to pendulum length. As pendulums get longer they slow down, but a pendulum rod that is twice as long doesn’t run twice as slow. For example, a typical pendulum with a one second tick will be about 39″ long, but a pendulum with a 2 second tick would be around 156 inches long! Because of this and the complexities of calculating how a big chunk of mass in the bob affects timekeeping, it is just easier to determine the right length experimentally.

I mimicked the original pendulum design from a piece of oak and reused the old hardware. It took a couple tries to get the length right so the clock kept time with the bob in the middle of the adjustment range, but I got it. Some stain and shellack made it a passable match to the clock case.

This was a fun project. I had a couple personal firsts – the Rathbun bushings, and the mismatched pendulum rod. I think it turned out really well. I delivered and set up the Mission Clock today for its new owner and it looks great in its new home.