Grandfather clock stops, then stops again.
July 27, 2008 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Why does Grandpa stop and start all the time? Twelve years ago I inherited a longcase clock that was purchased by my great-grandfather in Massachusetts more than a century ago. Now it just doesn't want to tick-tock with any consistency.

The clock's pendulum simply stops swinging for no apparent reason, which stops the clock's hands from advancing. "Grandpa" has generally run more smoothly in the summers than in the winters, apparently in sync with the relatively higher humidity in summer as compared to the dryness of our heated home in the wintertime. In recent winters the weights controlling the chimes have sometimes stopped descending. But this summer the clock's pendulum has gotten quite balky. Before spending the big bucks on a clock repair house call, I thought I'd seek the hive's advice. Is there an easy fix? Should I (for example) apply some oil to the weight wheels or other mechanical parts? Has anyone tried a product like this and found that it worked?
posted by Rain Man to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Clocks of this kind often seem to have a mind of their own. Dozens of factors can affect their performance -- you cite a few like temperature and humidity. Did it get moved, so it's not quite perpendicular anymore? It might need oiling, but you can easily overdo it or use the wrong stuff. It's worth observing the works, working on the balance, seeing if anything pops out at you, but if this is a valuable antique clock, I recommend not oiling it yourself. Call in a pro, you'll be happy you did.
posted by beagle at 6:32 PM on July 27, 2008

One thing you could try is a spirit level. Sometimes it's just a matter of being slightly out of balance that, over time, could cause it to stop ticking. And sometimes, it's just a matter of persistence. I have a couple of old wall clocks that will run for 5 minutes and then stop, and need to be restarted a couple of times, especially right after winding, but then they'll run for a couple of days after that. Finally, if the grease in the gears has deteriorated and is sticky instead of slick, it's enough friction to, literally, gum up the works.
posted by Dave Faris at 6:40 PM on July 27, 2008

They're much more subtle than you'd think. You have to get them exactly level and often there are little screws to adjust the pendulums swing length and such up in the mechanism. Find a pro and have them come out and set it up for you. That's what I had to do after trying on my own to get it to run for more than an hour.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:44 PM on July 27, 2008

Mechanical clocks need routine cleaning and lubrication. There are ways to reduce the need, like using jewels for bearings, but even so, sooner or later they will need some TLC. (Dava Sobel's book Longitude, a good read, explains some of the technical challenges involved in making the first reliable marine chronometer; overcoming friction in changing climates was one of the biggies.) I'd recommend finding a good professional. There should be several in the Twin Cities.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:45 PM on July 27, 2008

Well thanks everyone, I'm convinced that I should hunt down a reputable clock expert. I have tried balancing a bit, adjusting the screw on the pendulum to regulate its speed, and upping the humidity in the winter, but I'm guessing that Dave Faris is right about the sticky gears. With all the family heritage aspects I don't feel too comfortable spraying oil every which way all on my own.

And hey, I liked Sobel's book too, but hadn't made the connection!

Can everybody get a 'best answer' tag?
posted by Rain Man at 6:54 PM on July 27, 2008

We inherited a grandfather clock and it needs a professional servicing every few years to stay on time. It costs a couple of hundred bucks for a home visit to have it done.
posted by COD at 6:55 PM on July 27, 2008

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