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Clock Maintenance

As with any precision instrument, proper maintenance of a clock will not only prolong the useful life of the clock but also keep its accuracy over a longer period of time. The thoughts Merritt's Antiques shares in this article are not a substitute for regular, professional care of your clock, but rather steps you can take between professional care to maintain both the appearance and performance of your clock.

While it may not sound like maintenance, the placement of your clock may have a direct effect on its performance, and in some cases, its appearance. Heat and light are enemies of clock movements and on wooden enclosures of clocks, particularly antique clocks. Exposure to heat causes expansion of the gears and connections in the clock that can, because the tolerances are so small between the gears, affect the accuracy. If the clock is in a place where there is a fluctuation on a regular basis of heat and cool, warping of the mechanism or shafts that control the hands is a real possibility. The heat will also dry the oil in the clock much more rapidly shortening the useful life of the clock dramatically or increasing the need for more regular oiling than would otherwise be necessary. A clock should not be placed on a television set, or on a wall directly over the back of the set, the heat from the set is vented from the back and will rise to the clock. Light from a window should not shine directly on a clock for a long period of time, both because the sunlight will build heat inside the clock and because it will fade the patina of a wood encasement causing distortions in the color. Heat sources for the home, whether forced air, radiators, or electric baseboard should be a reasonable distance from the clock, particularly from floor clocks that are weight driven as those are much more susceptible to variations due to heat.

Vibration is another aspect of clock placement that directly affects its accuracy. The escapement and balance wheel are subject to modification from vibrations. These can be from such household equipment as a stereo speaker or a home theatre system placed too close to a clock, or even something as putting a clock on a piano or organ that is played on a regular basis. While not nearly as serious as heat and light on the accuracy and appearance of a clock, being aware of the effect of repeated vibrations on the movement may be a consideration in the placement of your clock.

As people regularly change the oil in a car, your clock needs regular oiling as well. Unless you are familiar with how to accomplish that, this maintenance is best left to a professional who can oil those places in your clock that need it. Repair professionals differ about the frequency of oiling, some recommend every year and others up to three years between. Regular oiling of your clock parts will reduce the noise of the clock and the wear of the gears and shafts. It will also lengthen the time between cleaning the clock parts.

If your clock has a quartz power source, whether just for the time or for striking, pendulum movement, or music, keeping a fresh source of that power available is an important maintenance consideration. While a battery reducing to the point where there isn't enough power to vibrate the quartz will not harm the clock movement, of course the clock will not keep time. A separate battery depending on the clock may power extra features on your clock, striking, pendulum movements, and music. Those features will be affected by reduced power. The music may be "off" in timing and the pendulum may swing or spin more slowly. To keep the clock performing in the manner you desired when you purchased it, batteries should be replaced on a schedule that brings new power to your clock before the battery in use is diminished. You can either wait until you see that happening, replace the batteries, and make note of the date. When the point is reached again, you will know to replace the batteries earlier next time. Since most clock batteries last a while, without some notation it may be impossible to remember the last time they were replaced. Or, you can simply replace the batteries in your clock on a regular, annual basis picking a date you will remember, like your birthday, or when changing the clocks for Daylight Saving Time (when you also change your smoke alarm battery). This will assure that the time and any features on your clock have a constant, dependable source of power.

Wood encasements should be cleaned and polished, as any fine wood furniture would be. Metal surfaces, clock faces, weight pulleys, pendulums and any other exposed metal parts should simply be dry dusted. Solvents can damage the lacquer and other finishes on those parts. Glass covers may be cleaned with any commercial glass cleaner. Keeping the face and exposed weights or pendulum free of dust helps maintain accuracy by reducing friction. Pulleys and gears used with weights should never be oiled or greased.

Should you wish to learn more about clock parts and maintenance, we suggest you order from us "The Clock Repair Primer" by Philip E. Balcomb. The product number for ordering is B-124. This book is a very basic description of clock parts, keeping the clock maintained, and performing some simple repairs for the person interested and handy enough to do that. For major repairs and cleaning Merritt's Antiques still recommends connecting with a professional.
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