October 30, 2020 5 min read

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Whether yours is a recent purchase or a family heirloom, it is important to know how to look after a grandfather clock. Grand and imposing, yet elegant and delicate in its workings, a grandfather clock will be a treasured feature of the owners home. Properly maintained, a grandfather clock will long outlast its owner and some 200 and 300 year old examples are still operational. However. These will have undergone repairs and had parts replaced over their many years of service. Like any mechanical system, a clock movement will eventually suffer wear and tear. However, knowing this and understanding grandfather clock maintenance can avoid wear and damage that could stop the clock for good.

How do you maintain a grandfather clock?

This can be broadly broken down into four categories, three of which are easily accomplished by the owner:

1.      Cleaning

For the owner, this should be mainly confined to cleaning the case and clock face. Once a week, dust the outer case as you would any other piece of furniture, applying wax and polish every two to three months. To clean the face, use an ostrich feather duster as this will be soft enough to avoid damaging the hands. Catching the hands with a cloth can cause bending and the hands may snap when bent back. Avoid touching grandfather clock dials with your bare hands as acid in your fingerprints could cause corrosion to the brass. Glass fittings should also be cleaned weekly using an ammonia free cleaner. Spray this directly onto a clean lint free cloth and wipe inside and out. Vigorous cleaning of the face with modern cleaning solutions can cause smearing or damage to the finish. If the lower case interior is dusty, a vacuum cleaner on a gentle setting can be used to clean the bottom. Care should be taken not to blow the dust up as it could enter the mechanism and damage it.

2.      Setting the time

If the clock has stopped or is losing time the time can be reset by gently moving the minute hand with your fingertip. Only use the minute hand and do not turn the hands back past the hour, as this can cause damage. If your clock has a rack striking, pause after turning past 12 o’ clock and allow it to strike completely before continuing. With count wheel striking, you should advance the clock to just past 5 minutes to the hour, pause, then advance to 2 minutes to the hour. The hand should then be pushed back to quarter to the hour to trigger the strike. Doing this for each hour will allow the strike to keep up with the change in time.

3.      Winding

30 hour and 8 day clocks have different methods of winding, although both involve raising an internal weight or weights. For a 30 hour clock, winding should be performed every 24 hours, at the same time of day. Open the case and pull down slowly on the rope or chain which raises the weight, supporting the weight with your other hand.  This avoids putting excess strain on the winding mechanism as the weight rises. Stop before the pulley above the weight reaches the seatboard at the top. 8 Hour clocks use a key for winding and this should fit securely into the winding hole in the dial. Using a key that is too large will wear the winding square and eventually the key will no longer fit, making winding impossible. Turn the key clockwise until the weight is fully raised to just below the seatboard in the same way as a 30 hour clock. Traditionally this was done once a week on Sunday morning before leaving for church. It should still be done on the same day each week, though the day itself is not important. 8 day clocks rarely have maintaining power, so the hands will not keep turning during winding. To avoid losing time, gently push the minute hand forward at the normal working pace as you wind. Avoid touching the clock face as you do so.

4.      Servicing

Unless you are a trained horologist yourself, this should be left to the professionals. Even if you are, it is worth the cost to save yourself the time and effort involved. At one time, this would have been done every three years as the smoke and dirt in the air would enter the mechanism and clog it up. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and servicing is only recommended every ten years or so. During inspection, the grandfather clock mechanism will be removed, cleaned and inspected for damage.  The springs will also be checked and any worn or damaged parts can be fixed or replaced. It is also a perfect opportunity to spot any issues that could affect the smooth operation of the clock in the future. These can be remedied in advance, avoiding costly damage and inconvenience. Attempting to service your grandfather clock yourself can also void its warranty if it has one. Any damage you cause will not be covered, leading to far more expense than a service.


Do you need to oil a grandfather clock?

Any mechanism involving moving parts needs lubrication to avoid wear to the parts and to keep it moving smoothly as a whole. No sensible person would run a car constantly without regular oil changes, the results would be catastrophic. Clock movements are no different in this respect and require regular oiling to extend their life. It is recommended that grandfather clocks be oiled every two years. While this can be done by the owner, it can be complex and if done incorrectly will damage the mechanism. With all the gear trains and intersections in the clock, over thirty points may need application and none should be missed. It is also important to use high quality clock oil and tools, these can be expensive and hard to find. Using the wrong oil will not only reduce the smooth operation of your clock, it can erode soft brass components, causing serious damage. It is always best to consult a trained professional for advice before attempting this, or better still allow them to do it instead.

Clock Corner is a family run business specialising in the repair and restoration of antique clocks and timepieces. We are also experienced in all aspects of servicing and maintenance to keep your timepiece running at peak performance. Established in 1974 with the aim of guaranteeing excellence in clock repair and supplying unique timepieces of all kinds, customer satisfaction is our goal. Whatever your needs contact us, our friendly expert staff will be glad to help.

1 Response

Catherine Carr
Catherine Carr

September 02, 2022

I have a 40 year old floor clock made by Colonial that has been regularly maintained. Unfortunately the person who serviced the clock has retired. The clock stopped about 6 months ago and I have been unable to find someone to service it. I did have someone come look at it and all he did was spray oil in the gears. I’m worried that that might not have been the correct thing to do. I’m considering spraying air into the gears to see if something has them clogged. Can you be of any help? I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

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