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Introductory Guide to Repairing Mechanical Clocks

Introductory Guide to Repairing Mechanical Clocks

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Introductory Guide to Repairing Mechanical Clocks

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Lançado em:
Feb 29, 2016


This up-to-date, clearly written and beautifully illustrated book is targeted at the amateur repairer and at the absolute beginner with no experience, as well as at hobbyists who often dabble with, but have little knowledge of, the techniques used in quality horological repair work. Written by a professional clock repairer and using a common sense approach, this workshop companion for the beginner 'keeps things simple' whilst placing an emphasis on the quality of the work. It provides step-by-step illustrated instructions and simplifies a large variety of tasks that are often regarded as being complicated, such as re-pivoting, jewelling and bushing. Moreover, it presents a great deal of useful advice and contains over 400 high quality colour images that help to explain and clarify every procedure that is covered. This no-nonsense guide to rectifying the common faults found in mechanical clocks will be essential reading for all those interested in horology but specifically for the novice who wants to repair mechanical clocks according to best practice. Beautifully illustrated with 424 colour photographs.
Lançado em:
Feb 29, 2016

Sobre o autor

Scott Jeffery's interests in horology stem from his fascination with engineering and workshop practices. After studying aerospace engineering at BTech level, he went on to university to pursue his interests in aerodynamics and mechanical engineering in the form of a bachelor's degree in motor sport engineering. After receiving a mechanical watch one Christmas, he enrolled in the British Horological Institute's distance learning course, and is now a fully qualified MBHI. Scott has repaired over a thousand clocks and runs Hampshire Clock Works in Twyford where he was initially trained by his mentor, Chris Baldwin CMBHI.

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Introductory Guide to Repairing Mechanical Clocks - Scott Jeffery


Chapter 1


In my first four years as a clock repairer I have served my apprenticeship under the watchful eye of Chris Baldwin CMBHI, achieved MBHI certification, run a profitable clock repair business and been commissioned to write this book. Getting to this stage has been challenging and inspiring, and my intentions with this book are to guide you through what I have come to see as the minimum of knowledge and understanding it takes to become a competent repairer of basic mechanical clocks in the quickest amount of time possible, while still allowing plenty of scope for future developments in the knowledge, experience and equipment it takes to become excellent in the field. I have done all I can to re-imagine my first year, and to write this book in a manner which I would have found easy to understand while being technically interesting.

My biggest challenge was to limit this book to the true beginner, to not delve too deeply into the many subjects of horology and, above all else, to keep it interesting.

Deep theory has always failed to hold my attention for long. The detail given to mathematical examples and long-winded explanations can make reading chapters on theory a real chore. To combat this I have kept the theory portion of this book on a need-to-know basis, but there is a lot to be said. I have opted to leave out any unnecessary mention of historical aspects in order to keep the words flowing and to keep the reader in a technical mindset. Photographs have been provided where I feel you could benefit from their presence, and the accompanying explanations have been written to work with them. In this way you are able to see the components being discussed as though you were sitting with me at the workbench.

My intentions are to make the reader aware of the existence of the many components and theories which they are likely to come across in their first year ‘on the job’ and not to provide a full in-depth study of each. With the understanding that things such as thermal expansion or circular error exist, you are able to make informed decisions. You do not need to be able to calculate it to perform a good-quality repair.

Being relatively new to the industry myself, I completely understand the position of the reader, and what some might see as a disadvantage I use to my advantage.

There are specialist tools for every job, but which ones do you actually need to get it done? Do you really need to invest in a full workshop, ultrasonic cleaning equipment and various lathes just to repair your great-grandmother’s mantel clock? It is unlikely. I have put together a tier system to help you define your needs and buy the necessary level of equipment to suit. These are the ‘three toolboxes’.

If you intend to turn this hobby into a business, full- or part-time, I highly recommend that you contact the British Horological Institute and enrol in their Technician-grade Diploma in clock and watch servicing, and get a qualification under your belt, wherever you are in the world. It can be studied as a distance learning course in your own time, as I did, and it will provide you with certification, industry contacts, a good reputation and all the help and support you could need. For those of you studying the course already, I hope this book will prove helpful in demonstrating the repair processes to you in a real-life scenario and in compiling the theory into a well-organized, readable and uninterrupted whole.

An early 20th century carriage clock, complete with original winding key and travel box.

The front plate of a modern Westminster chiming longcase.

For more information on some of these repair processes, video tutorials, gear train calculators, or just to say hi, I can be reached by visiting www.learnclockrepair.com or www.hampshireclockworks.co.uk.


Scott Jeffery, BSc, MBHI

Chapter 2

The Clock Repairer’s ‘Three Toolboxes’

I have split the relevant tooling of my own workshop into three separate categories, or ‘toolboxes’. These three toolboxes are intended for:

the beginner who wants only to make small repairs, and perform routine maintenance

the enthusiast who intends to complete the majority of their own repairs and those of friends

the aspiring professional, who intends to undertake repairs for profit.

For every process demonstrated and explained within this guide, I note which toolbox you will need in order to complete it to a high standard. If the job requires tooling which you have not yet acquired, I suggest you buy just the tools needed and slowly build up to the next toolbox. However, if it is a once-in-a-lifetime repair for your interest level, outsource it to a competent, qualified professional who can be found at www.bhi.co.uk.


This toolbox will help you to keep your clock running and extend the period between services, and ultimately keep the costs of those services down. For minimum expenditure, these tools will allow you to regularly oil your clock, repair common breakages and make adjustments to correct the more common issues which may arise. Eventually the time will come when pivots are worn and you will have the choice of either taking your clock to a repairer for overhaul, or upgrading to Toolbox 2 and doing it yourself.

The tools I recommend here are the ones I use most often. I have not suggested makes or names except where offering details of my own equipment because this is not an important part of the choice. What is important to remember is that many of the clocks you will encounter were made two hundred or more years ago, with basic handmade tools which were properly sharpened and well maintained. Provided you use them correctly and with care, the cheapest tool can last a lifetime. Abuse them, and even the named brands will not hold up.

Some tools are luxuries and can simplify or speed up a specific job; these are reserved for Toolbox 3, an advanced collection for the aspiring professional.

There are many tools available which are unnecessary or easily made at home; pivot locators and beat-setting tools, for example. I do not recommend buying these.

The majority of this tooling can be bought at auction for a fraction of the retail price, and can easily be refurbished. This is how I have gathered most of my tooling, and if you are confident in reconditioning your own tools, it is the method I recommend for any beginner.


Suitable screwdriver set for clock repair.

For clock work you will need a good selection of screwdrivers. Platform escapements use screwdrivers as small as 0.3mm, while for longcase clocks you can often use screwdrivers more often associated with DIY. In fact, some of my favourite screwdrivers were bought from a DIY supplier, although I had to thin the blades to suit my needs.

I recommend buying a ten-piece set of clockor watchmaker’s screwdrivers from a horological supplier, making sure it includes the larger 3mm blade which is most commonly used in clock work. Choose a set with interchangeable blades as they will chip and require sharpening or replacing, and a swivel top is a nice feature for comfort. For larger work, I use a ‘Stanley Fatmax’ twelve-piece set. This gives a good selection of standard and Phillips screwdrivers. Phillips screwdrivers do make appearances in modern clocks so having a few sizes to hand is useful, although they should not be used in antique work. The blades of the standard ‘flat’ screwdrivers are generally too fat for clock work, but they file down nicely and last a long time.

Refurbishing your screwdriver blades can be done with a sharpening stone or a file. A honing guide can be used to maintain the angle. To sharpen by hand, hold the flat side of the blade down on the stone or, if using a file, support the screwdriver on the edge of the bench and apply the file to the blade. While maintaining the angle, draw it back and forth until a flat surface is produced. Turn the blade over and repeat the process on the other flat until the two sides are even. Finish by holding the blade upright on a sharpening stone and stroking a few times in a circle; this final step removes the weak tip which is liable to chipping.


A good selection of pliers is essential in clock work, but for a few basic jobs you can get away with owning just the following:

Combination, end cutting and smooth-jawed pliers.

Combination pliers: the grooved jaws are good for pulling pins, and the cutting part for shortening them. Combination pliers will keep the bill down but are not always the best option.

End cutters: a set of end cutters are my most versatile pliers in the shop. They can be used to cut pins, they can be rocked against the plate (protected by a piece of scrap material) to pull out tight pins and, because the jaws remain parallel as they open and close, they can be used safely to loosen nuts. I have a blunted and polished pair for just this purpose.

Smooth-jawed pliers: a pair of smooth-jawed pliers is necessary for manipulating and shaping soft components; the smooth jaws protect the metal from damage caused by a serrated jaw.

To maintain your pliers, regularly remove any burrs and sharp edges on them with a fine file. If they do not take to filing, as hardened steel will not, use a stone or diamond lap to produce the same result.

Soft Solder, Soldering Iron and Flux

Soft-soldering equipment.

With soft solder you can repair a number of components, fix loose or sloppy components and refinish pallet faces. Although the excessive use of soft solder is frowned upon, it is useful for small repairs. I use soft solder in certain repairs and it is perfectly acceptable when done well.

You will require a supply of lead-free solder and a good flux to help it flow to where you want it. You will also need a high-power soldering iron or an attachment for your micro-torch, as you are generally heating up larger components than standard electrical soldering irons are designed for. Smaller soldering irons are useful for a few repairs but are rarely used. If your budget stretches to it, a small blowtorch is recommended for when a soldering iron is not up to the job; it will also allow you to harden, temper and anneal your materials.

The tip of your soldering iron should be kept clean in order for it to work effectively. To achieve this, wipe the hot end on a damp sponge to clean off flux and excess solder. The tip is best preserved when ‘tinned’ with solder after every use.

Ball-Pein Hammer

Ball-pein hammer for general work and riveting.

A ball-pein hammer of about 110 grams (4oz) to 170 grams (6 oz) is just right, although hammers are generally measured and sold in oz and the size is down to personal preference. I personally use a small 4oz hammer with a short handle of about 15cm (6 in). This gives me a good ‘whack’ when needed but gentle controlled taps most of the time. The ball-pein hammer is good for riveting and stretching metals, as well as for providing blows to accurately placed stakes and punches. Any dents and marks on the hammer head will be transferred to the work piece when you hit it, so periodically polish the working surface for best results.

Needle Files

Selection of needle files.

A good selection of needle files is not absolutely necessary at this stage, but it is recommended. If you are soldering, then they are useful for cleaning the materials back to bare metal beforehand, and for removing excess solder afterwards. I use an old square needle file clamped in a vice for rotating the collets in modern minute hands, for making sure that they strike dead on the hour. They can be used for removing burrs and wear grooves in some components, and can be used for reconditioning your other tools as they wear and chip.

To maintain your needle files, periodically remove any material stuck between the teeth by running the tip of a razor blade through the grooves. Applying chalk to the teeth before use helps prevent this build-up, whilst filing soft metals like solder increases the ‘clogging’ of the file teeth.

Clock Oil and Oiler

Clock oil and oilers.

You should be using a good-quality clock oil for maintaining your clocks, such as those sold by horological suppliers. When oiling platform escapements you should use a medium watch oil. For a clock oiler you can use a piece of brass wire, with the end hammered flat and filed into a diamond shape. For oiling watches I would suggest buying a commercial oiler. I prefer a pen-type oiler which dispenses oil with the click of a button.

The oil pot and bottles should be kept out of direct sunlight and dusty areas to prevent deterioration of the oil, and the working supply should be kept clean and periodically refreshed.

Movement Holders and Test Stands

Movement holders for use during repair.

You are going to need to test your clocks thoroughly after repairing them, and various test stands will be needed for the many types of movement you will be working on. Plans for building various useful test stands can be found in the resources chapter; alternatively you can buy commercial test stands if you decide not to make them yourself.

You should also buy a set of ‘clock legs’ or ‘movement clamps’ as shown in some of the pictures, for when you are working on the movement, but you can make do with a short section of 10cm (4in) PVC tube, or the cardboard from the centre of a roll of wide masking tape. For working on platform escapements you should buy a set of round watch movement holders or plastic/boxwood rings.

Let-Down Tool

Let-down tool with interchangeable ends.

Safety first. You can let the power out of the mainsprings in many ways: using the key is dangerous because you have to keep adjusting your grip while holding the click open. Letting the movement run down is acceptable, provided it is not in bad condition and is a timepiece, but I would not like to try letting a worn, fully wound chime train down without the correct tooling. Of course, if you only intend on working on weight-driven clocks, you can pass on this tool entirely.

A Selection of Loupes

For smaller clocks, carriage clocks and platform escapements loupes are necessary. Get a good selection of loupes; 2×, 5× and 10× would give you a nice variety. The material of the body does not affect how well the loupe works, just how it feels. For those who wear glasses, you can buy clip-on loupes with fold-down lenses which give a wide range of magnification.

Selection of jeweller’s loupes.

Demonstrating the magnification obtained by using a jeweller’s loupe.

Some people struggle to hold the loupe in the folds of skin around the eye, a skill which when mastered is comfortable and convenient. But if you find it a problem, purchase a loupe with a wire headband to hold it in place for you.


Tweezers and a diamond lap for their maintenance.

Tweezers come in a huge variety and it can be confusing deciding which to buy. I would suggest a minimum of two pairs. One pair should have ‘fine’ or ‘superfine’ tips for use when working on platform escapements, handling tiny screws or tweaking hairsprings, and then a pair of ‘medium’ tips for heavier work – locating pivots, fitting pins, etc. I personally have a pair of ‘best’ tweezers for fine work, and a pair of ‘rough’ tweezers for abusing, and then my everyday-use tweezers. Buy anti-magnetic stainless steel tweezers; there is no need for anything fancier than this.

Bent tweezer tips can be straightened by using your smooth-jawed pliers. Grasp the tip and pull, allowing the pliers to slip across the surface of the tweezers. With practice you can maintain a perfectly straight tip. Finally, use a fine diamond lap or stone to grind the ‘working surfaces’ flat and remove any burrs. The perfect tip is one which does not spread as closing pressure is applied.


A selection of rags is useful for many things: wiping oil off plates, handling brass, releasing broken springs from the barrel under control and wiping coffee off your chin. Keep them graded according to cleanliness.


Our second toolbox will allow you to overhaul or ‘service’ most types of clock: stripping, bushing, polishing the pivots, cleaning, oiling and reassembling the movement. These tools are in addition to Toolbox 1 and are those which I regularly use when overhauling movements, from basic timepiece carriage clocks all the way up to musical Victorian longcase clocks. This toolbox does not include specialist tools like the truing callipers or the watchmaker’s lathe; these will be part of Toolbox 3.

You will still be limited on component manufacture at this point, and some of the more complicated repairs will be beyond the capabilities of your equipment and experience. However, 80 per cent of jobs which pass through our workshop could be completed using these tools alone; where we choose to use more advanced tooling is usually for speed and cost-effectiveness.

Mainspring Winder

Mainspring winder.

When you start disassembling clock movements it is absolutely necessary to remove and inspect the mainsprings. This is best done with a mainspring winder. Using the mainspring winder helps to avoid distortion of the mainspring, and is by far the safest way of removing and fitting strong springs such as those used in fusee clocks. There are multiple designs of mainspring winder and you should pick the one you find most comfortable to use. My choice of mainspring winder is, in my opinion, the simplest type and the one I highly recommend. Instructions for its use and photographs can be found in the later chapter for reassembling the movement.

Pivot File and Burnisher

Pivot file and burnisher.

This is used for correcting and work-hardening worn pivots. As oil dries and gathers dust, the pivots begin to wear and become pitted and grooved. If this is not corrected when the movement is cleaned, there will be excessive friction in the pivots and accelerated wear to the pivot hole. The pivot file and burnisher is often a double-ended tool. The file end is an extremely fine file and cannot be substituted for a needle file, while the burnisher is a flat, hardened piece of steel, lightly grained across its width. The burnisher has a sharp edge and a rounded edge to suit different pivot types. Be sure to use the correct edge in contact with the shoulder in order to ensure no material is left in the corner which would cause the arbor to bind in its pivot hole.

Maintaining the burnisher is done by refreshing the cross-grain periodically on a medium stone or emery paper stretched over a piece of wood.

Pin Chucks/Hand Vices

Selection of hand chucks and vices.

A selection of pin chucks and hand vices is necessary for holding small components and tools; they are also used when correcting worn pivots if a lathe is not available. Buy a graduated set which will serve most purposes.

Cutting Broaches

Large cutting broach.

Cutting broaches are used for opening pivot holes to an exact size, either to fit a bush or to accept a freshly burnished pivot. The broach itself is a long tapered piece of hardened steel, ground with five sides. The points at which the sides meet form a cutting edge. The broach is inserted into the hole and twisted. It is best to attach a handle to your broaches, or use a pin chuck. Maintenance of the cutting edge is by stroking the five flats on a stone or diamond lap, ensuring that their angle is not changed. Good-quality broaches have a reliable taper and will last a lifetime if treated well.

Smoothing Broaches

Large smoothing broach.

Smoothing broaches are used after the cutting broach and are hard steel tapered rods which are ground perfectly round. As a smoothing broach is twisted in a pivot hole with a small drop of oil, it burnishes or work-hardens the surface of the brass.

A broach can also be used for checking a pivot hole for wear by inserting it into the hole, which should be as round as the broach is. A worn pivot hole will show a slither of light to one side of the broach.

Brass Bushes or Bushing Wire

Good selection of brass bushes for clock repair.

Brass bushes are consumable items which are used to correct badly worn pivot holes. A wide selection should be purchased and graduated sets are available. The outer edge of the bush is slightly tapered to match that of the cutting broach. The inner hole is perfectly concentric to the outer edge and should be opened and burnished with your broaches. Brass bushes can be made in the lathe although much work is saved if a good-quality set is purchased.

Oil Sink Cutting Tools

Oil sinks are needed to retain the small drop of oil placed on the pivot holes. When you bush a worn hole the original oil sink will be cut away and you need to put it back. Oil sink cutters are readily available from suppliers and look like miniature pizza cutters. The round cutting blade is placed on top of the pivot hole where it will centre itself, and rotated in the fingertips. A round dimple will soon appear which will eventually become the oil sink. I use a modified drill bit in which the end has been shaped and polished to produce a good-quality oil sink.

Stakes and Anvils

Selection of stakes and anvils.

Riveting punches and a staking block or anvil are needed for riveting large bushes. In fact, they serve so many purposes that it is highly recommended to just buy a good-quality staking set as listed in Toolbox 3. For this toolbox, simple domed and flat punches and a block or small anvil will suffice.

Machine Vice and Bench Vice

Machine vice and soft-jawed bench vice.

A machine vice makes a very handy bench companion and can be used for a huge variety of applications, from holding components for filing or being used as an anvil, to acting as a temporary movement holder. A small bench vice is also handy; I use mine for holding a block of hard wood for refinishing pivots, closing tight spring barrels and holding mainsprings when remaking the hooking eye, etc.

Bristle Brush and Chalk

Stiff-bristled brush and chalk for cleaning components.

Chalk-brushing is the traditional method of adding a final finish to clean clock

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