Top 10 FAQs: Mechanical Clock Movements

Mechanical clock movements can be tricky. From mounting to pendulum use, here’s a list of the 10 most frequently asked questions about mechanical movements and their answers. Continue reading

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How To: Choose Between a Quartz and Mechanical Clock Movement

When looking over movement options for a clock design, you can choose between a quartz or a mechanical clock movement. If you’re new to clock making, you may have questions like:

How do you determine which is the best choice? Is there any advantage of one type over the other? Are there any disadvantages that would sway a decision one way or the other?

In this post, we will explore aspects of each in order to answer the question of Quartz versus Mechanical Movements.

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What It Comes Down To

The selection of a clock movement really comes down to factors of personal preference, although aspects of an existing clock case can predetermine movement selection for you (more on this at the end). Assuming that a clock case poses no restrictions for either movement type, let’s examine some of the key differences between the two in regard to personal preferences.

Price

Price point can certainly be a main factor regarding movement selection. Generally you will find quartz clock movements to be less expensive than mechanicals. Mechanical clock movements are constructed in a manner that is meant to last (to include the materials selected for movement fabrication).

In short, you do get what you pay for. Quartz movements are primarily constructed from plastic, which allows them to cost considerably less (roughly 1/3 to 1/4 of the price of a mechanical movement depending on the quartz movement features desired). If price-point dictates selection, quartz may prove to be more enticing.

Maintenance

Mechanical clock movements can be compared to a car. They require maintenance in order to work properly for years to come. Would your car last if you elected never to change the oil? No, and the same can be said of a mechanical movement. Mechanical movements must be oiled every one to three years. They must be cleaned and oiled every three to five years.

There are books that can help to guide you through doing this, or you can seek out a qualified professional (it is always good to have the movement professionally serviced every once in a while anyway). If you are not prepared to maintain a movement for years to come, a quartz movement may prove to be the better option.

Longevity

Generally a quartz clock movement will last around 10 to 15 years, although I will admit that it is not at all uncommon to see one last longer. The fact remains, however, that they will not last forever. Inversely, mechanical movements can last well beyond the time-span of the clock-maker himself (and even a generation or a few beyond him/her). There are mechanical clock movements from the late 1700’s that still work and keep accurate time today.

Mechanical clock movement longevity requires maintenance (see above), but you can count that it will outlast a few quartz clock movements in its lifetime providing it is properly serviced at the appropriate intervals. In regard to aspects of longevity, the mechanical movement is the better option. 

Sound

While sound only encompasses chiming movements, sound quality is still a personal preference that many look for. Generally, mechanical clock movements feature mechanical chime hammers which physically strike tuned chime rods of various lengths. The resulting vibrations produce certain notes depending on the length of chime rod. Furthermore, the wood case assembly (due to the structural nature of wood itself) will serve as an amplifier of sorts for those vibrations. This creates a rich, deep chime that is audible in even the largest of rooms.

On the other hand, quartz clock movements have an electronic chime recording, which is typically amplified by a built in (or remote mount) speaker. Inexpensive quartz chiming movements can sound “tinny” and electronic, but (for the most part) chime quality has improved for most quartz movements in recent years. Inversely, certain clock case designs can actually muffle the quartz movement speaker, inhibiting volume. Sound quality aside, the best volume will typically come from a mechanical style movement in a wood clock case assembly.

Precision

Many assume that works of a mechanical nature would be more precise than a quartz clock movement could ever hope to be. Others might argue that quartz is more precise. Actually, neither is necessarily true. Both movement options can prove to be equally as accurate. The main difference is that mechanical movement accuracy is adjusted by us, and therefore only as accurate as we adjust it to be.

That being said, you can always continue to “fine-tune” a mechanical. A quartz movement will always be as accurate as the oscillation rate of the quartz crystal. Understand that this is pretty accurate (less than 1/2 second loss per day if kept at a consistent temperature), however there is no real way to adjust accuracy beyond this. Slight advantage goes to the mechanical from a precision-adjustment aspect.

Intimidation

Many customers tell me that mechanical clock movements are quite intimidating. I can certainly relate, as they do look fairly complicated. But the truth is that they are not nearly as complicated as one would think. Similar to a quartz movement, there is no real sub-assembly required. You receive a factory-assembled movement ready for mounting with the provided hardware. Mechanical clock movements include accessories for ease of perfect mounting (in terms of centering the hand shaft and key-winds).

Many also feature auto-beat adjustment, which allows you to simply over-swing the pendulum so that the clock can regulate the beat on its own. Fine-tuning adjustments can take time, but are relatively easy to perform. Bottom line: While the quartz would appear to be easier to work with, do not be intimidated into purchasing a quartz movement just because the mechanical seems too “complicated”.

Movement Replacement For Existing Clock Cases

This was the topic we initially skipped at the onset of this article with the assumption that the clock assembly would present no issues. Generally this is not the case when selecting a mechanical or quartz movement replacement in an existing case. In this realm, quartz movements have the distinct advantage being that they are less restrictive in regard to case assemblies being able to accommodate them.

If you are replacing a mechanical clock movement in an existing clock case, the best replacement is usually the same make/model as the movement being removed. Purchasing a different make/model mechanical can (more than likely) require some case modifications and possible replacement of the clock face (not all key-wind hole patterns are the same).

Modern day cases should allow you to locate an exact replacement, but antique cases may house a movement, which is no longer produced. Since quartz movements only require a center hand shaft hole (which is typically a part of any existing clock case anyway, whether mechanical or quartz), they will generally require little to no case modifications and the same face can almost always be used.

So Which Is Best For Your Project?

In summary, a mechanical clock movement will typically be more expensive and require periodic maintenance, but has the longevity to last years into the future. Quartz clock movements are less expensive, however they will not last forever. Quartz movements have made some great strides to improve chime sound quality and volume, but chiming mechanicals remain the better of the two. Expect precision with either movement selection, and do not be intimidated by the appearance of a mechanical. Finally, remember that quartz will probably be the simplest option for replacing a movement in an existing case, but might also be the only option unless possible case modifications to accommodate a mechanical are considered.

Written By: Chris Akright

Chris is responsible for the kit, plan, and finishing technical support, which he has provided to Klockit customers for over 15 years. Chris also contributes new product designs, composes written and illustrated assembly manuals, and works to develop new kit and plan products for the Klockit catalog. Chris’s experience is the culmination of years of training under his mentor, and Klockit Designer, John Cooper.

The Future of Precision Timekeeping

In the beginning, time was a relatively abstract concept that was simply measured by the position of the sun and/or stars. It wasn’t very accurate, but it served a purpose.

Over a thousand years ago, the clock was no more than a dripping water vessel that improved timekeeping accuracy by a few hours. By 1300, the first mechanical timekeeping device was developed, improving accuracy to the hour (within 15 minutes or so). The 1600’s saw the introduction of the pendulum and spring driven movements, and minute hand, which improved timekeeping accuracy to mere minutes per day.

The late 1920’s gave way to the quartz movement, improving accuracy to one half a second per day. A little over 20 years later, the development of the atomic clock improved accuracy to 1 second in about 138 million years (give or take a day). This led to atomic clock movements for retail purchase, which automatically receive radio signals from Fort Collins, Colorado to keep precise time.

What’s Next?

Photo from naukawpolsce.pap.pl

Can we get more accurate than atomic timekeeping? The answer is yes, although the means by which might surprise you. The year 2011 could well be marked as another significant year in the timeline of precision timekeeping with the development of the pulsar clock in Poland.

The pulsar clock is the first clock to measure time using a signal source from outside the Earth. It consists of a radio telescope that receives signals from selected pulsars, which are the remnant stars left-over from giant super-star explosions that took place long ago.

As any star continues to burn its fuel, it converts lighter elements (such as hydrogen and helium) to heavier and heavier elements. Eventually, stars reach a breaking point where they cannot convert the heavier elements (typically iron). Larger stars, much larger than our own sun, become increasingly unstable.

These massive stars basically collapse under the weight of their own gravity, as nuclear fusion is unable to sustain the core running out of fuel. The result is a massive explosion of the outer layers of the star, while the inner layers collapse into either a black hole or a neutron star under intense gravity.

If the core should happen to collapse into a neutron star, the remnant neutron star generally has a very high speed of rotation. For some, a beam of radiation is emitted along the magnetic axis of the star, yet the beam spins along with the rotation of the star. Since magnetic axis will generally differ from actual rotational axis, the stars can appear to flash, or “pulse”, which is how pulsars get their name.

In a sense, they are a cosmic lighthouse of sorts, continually rotating (pulsing) at accurately measurable intervals. For some “millisecond” pulsars, pulsars which basically rotate extremely fast, the regularity of pulsation proves to be more accurate than that of the atomic clock (about 5 times more accurate, improving precision to +/- 1 second in over half a billion years).

Are Pulsars the Future?

Could this become a regularity for timekeeping in the future, where radio receiver clocks latch onto the signal of a pulsar clock for accurate time? Pulsars will continue to rotate at regular intervals for millions and millions of years, and there is certainly no shortage of them as we continue to probe into the cosmos beyond our solar system.

It seems only fitting… And yet, it would also be a cosmic irony in a sense, considering the fact that our timekeeping endeavors first began with the stars so long ago.

Written By: Chris Akright

Chris is responsible for the kit, plan, and finishing technical support, which he has provided to Klockit customers for over 14 years. Chris also contributes new product designs, composes written/illustrated assembly manuals, and works to develop new kit and plan products for the Klockit catalog. Chris’s experience is the culmination of years of training under his mentor, and Klockit Designer, John Cooper.

FAQ: Mechanical Clock Movements

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This post will cover frequently asked questions and their answers about mechanical clock movements. If you question isn’t listed in the post below, leave us a comment and we’ll make sure to answer it. Let’s get started!

QUESTION: My clock chimes 5 minutes early/late on the quarter hour chimes. How do I fix this?

ANSWER: When the clock is chiming, remove the minute hand from the clock. On the back of the hand is a bushing. With a pair of pliers turn the bushing on the back of the hand so that when the hand is put back on, it’s pointing directly at the number 3, 6, 9 or 12. Make sure you don’t turn anything on the hand shaft while doing this.

QUESTION: The hand nut falls off and if I tighten it down, it stops the clock. What can I do?

ANSWER: Remove the hand nut and minute hand from the clock. Then check the hour hand to ensure it’s pushed far enough next to the dial that at least 1/8″ of the brass shaft it is on is coming through the top of the hour hand. Do not count the threaded part at the tip of the shaft as part of the 1/8″.

Once you have the hour hand in the correct position, you can put the minute hand and nut back on. If the hour hand is too tight to go on any further, remove the hour hand and file out a small amount of the hole on the hour hand. There may be excess paint in the hole making it too small to fit correctly. Be careful not to file too much out of the hour hand; it still needs to be a snug fit.

QUESTION: Why does the middle weight drop faster than the outer two?

ANSWER: There could be several reasons why this is happening. Let us ask you this: are the chimes ever turned off? If so, when the chimes are off, the two outside weights do not move down until the chimes are turned back on.

It could also be that there may be something wrong inside the clock movement. In that case, you will need to talk to a mechanical technician. Klockit’s mechanical technician can be reached at 1-800-556-6474.

QUESTION: What does each of the weights do?

ANSWER: The left weight (as you are standing in front of the clock) runs the hour strike. The center weight runs the time and pendulum. The right weight runs the 15 minute melodies. This is also true for wind up clock movements.

QUESTION: I have a mechanical clock movement reads ’94cm’ on the back, but I want to use a longer pendulum. Is this possible?

ANSWER: Unfortunately not. If you put a 114cm long pendulum on a clock that is meant to take a 94cm pendulum, it will run hours slow by a day and won’t keep accurate time. It’s the same as if you were to put a short pendulum on a movement that needs a long pendulum; it would run too fast.

QUESTION: Where does the heaviest weight go?

ANSWER: On the right-hand side as you face the front of the clock. This is true for all of the Hermle mechanical clock movements we carry. However, the Kieninger 13049 places the heaviest weight in the center because it features an automatic sequence option.

Mechanical Clock Movement Maintenance

If you have invested in an authentic mechanical-style clock movement, it is important to understand regular maintenance will be involved to protect your investment and ensure that it will work for years to come. If you have just purchased and received your mechanical clock movement, it will be factory-oiled and ready to run right out of the box (after mounting and adjustments, of course). Eventually, however, the clock movement will require a bit of upkeep.

How To Clean Your Clock Movement

Clock movements should be cleaned every 3 to 5 years. To clean your clock movement, you will need mineral spirits, clean cloths (soft and lint-free), and small artist brushes.  Use the minerals spirits and small brushes to clean away all dirt, grime, and old oil. Wipe brushes often on a clean cloth so that you are not re-applying dirt/grime to the movement. Wipe away excess mineral spirits and allow enough time for any remaining mineral spirits to completely evaporate.  Once the movement is dry, proceed to lubricate the movement.

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Oiling Your Clock Movement’s Bearings

Would you run your car without any oil in it? You could, but we all understand that eventual damage will occur to the engine. The same holds true for a mechanical clock movement. Bearing points require a drop of lubrication to keep everything running smoothly. Bearings devoid of oil are subject to excessive friction which can eventually lead to expensive repairs or the need for movement replacement. As a rule of thumb, mechanical movements should be lubricated every 1 to 3 years – once every year in drier climates.

How To:

Generally speaking, oil all bearing surfaces which rotate against each other.  Grease surfaces which slide against each other. Here are some tips to keep in mind when oiling your clock movement:

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Lubrication is not the only aspect of maintenance that is important.  As clock oil ages, it can become tacky. Also, oil will collect dust over time. When the dust mixes with oil, it forms an abrasive grime which can quickly wear away at bearings and such.  This is why it is particularly important to clean the movement at intervals in between oiling.

Should You Have a Professional Inspect Your Clock Movement?

While cleaning and oiling your own movement can save you some money, it is still a good idea to have the movement professionally cleaned and oiled every once in a while.  For example, there are some points that may only be oiled while the clock movement is disassembled.  Above all, a qualified professional has the ability to completely clean the movement beyond novice capabilities and can inspect the movement for any signs of wear as they do so.

Written By: Chris Akright

Chris is responsible for the kit, plan, and finishing technical support, which he has provided to Klockit customers for over 13 years. Chris also contributes new product designs, composes written/illustrated assembly manuals, and works to develop new kit and plan products for the Klockit catalog. Chris’s experience is the culmination of years of training under his mentor, and Klockit Designer, John Cooper.