Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clockwork

I spent my Saturday afternoon fixing a box clock that I found on the street over a year ago (that's a picture from when I found it). The pendulum was stuck and I figured I'd just take it apart, check out what was wrong and see if I could fix it and boom, I'd have wind up clock that chimed.

The faceplate covered the inner mechanism so I start by removing the two screws in the back, thinking that would remove the backplate and expose the gears. Instead, I hear chimes fall. I lay the box clock on its back and go about removing the faceplate (which ended up being ridiculous to remove). The painted particle board should have been a sign.

I expose the gears and start inspection. When I was a kid, I'd take apart clocks and music boxes to see how they worked. And, as people are fond of throwing things away, I'd often find clocks in the garbage (um, I dumpster dived as a kid. Another story.) and open them up. I found that as long as the mainspring wasn't broken, I could sometimes repair them.

I turned the minute hand to the half hour and hour and two hammers would move to strike the now removed chimes, so those gears were working. Next was to figure out what was up with the pendulum.

I unscrewed the clock from the box but the pendulum was stuck somewhere in the mechanism preventing me from lifting the clock out. I tried every angle and not only could I not get the clock out from the box, I couldn't even angle it far enough to look at the back side.

I kept trying and realized there was no way I could angle the clock out and I gave up, deciding that the clock was just going to be for show. I'd sand the outside down, repaint it and leave it at that. I screwed the chimes back in, spent an absurd amount of time aligning the hammer against the chime and put the clock aside.

While looking at the pendulum's rod and how thin it is, it occurred to me to saw the bottom piece of wood that the clock screws into. If I sawed right in the middle between the two screws (bottom of photo), I could slide out the pendulum from underneath the wooden support, free the clock from the box, and, when I assemble it up again, hide the cut. I have a Swiss army knife with a saw and it was small enough for me to use in the minimal amount of space available when angling the clock to the side.

I freed the clock and when I turned it over saw the problem: an opening in the pendulum was caught within two gears. This clock must have hit the ground hard to cause this. Thankfully, none of the gears were destroyed.

However, removing the pendulum could destroy the gears if I wasn't careful. It took a lot of delicate hard work but I managed to free the pendulum. I sat the clock upright on the table and tested it out. It worked!

Now, here's where it all went to hell. Where I was once delicate and exacting, I was now excited and careless. There are two pieces of metal hanging in the back. One of them triggers movement in a gear which moves another gear that ultimately moves the clock forward in time and the other is a rod off which the pendulum hangs off of.

The rods were a little bent. I tried to straighten them and by doing so, I broke a tiny piece of metal ribbon that ends up being one of the most important things in this clock - the suspension string (see the photo) - which helps the pendulum swing freely back and forth.

It's not over yet and there's a reason I get called MacGyver: scotch tape the sucker back together! It took a while to get it to be as flexible as I could make it (I'm razor blading pieces of tape into tiny pieces )and I assembled it all back together and it worked!!

Until late last night when the spring fell. I took the clock apart, taped it up again, but the pendulum stopped swinging after a few minutes.

It's at that point that I decide that perhaps I should google clock repair. Come to find out that the suspension spring is something that often breaks but is cheap to replace.

I spent a lot of time on this clock and even though I ultimately failed, it was incredibly rewarding to get it working again for a little while and hearing the tick-tock resulting from my efforts. I'm thinking of looking for old broken clocks at stoop sales and resurrecting this as a hobby!

2 comments:

Chelc said...

This is so cool! My grandpa was huge into restoring clocks, but one of those things we were too little to learn from him before he passed away. He'd actually build new cabinets and assemble the innards from parts he'd scrounged.

Clocks have always fascinated me and held a special place in my heart though. So now you'll have to teach me your knowledge! It's obvious you enjoy it and I'm sure it's so rewarding to hear that tick-tock and chimes!

vivzan said...

Wow, he built new cabinets and assembled the innards? I would have been in awe of your grandpa. Everything you share about him makes me want to go back in time and just watch and learn.

I do enjoy it. I really love the practicality of doing things with my hands and fixing things. Plus, I think gears are so pretty and interesting to look at.

I need to get that replacement part so I can get it working again.