For $2, how can you pass up a vintage West German chiming mantel clock, even if it's busted?
I was at a yard sale, and this handsome wood-case brass clock caught my eye, with its
"$2, Needs Work" sticker. I thought, it's the rare clock that can stump me for long, and the problem is usually something so simple that I often feel guilty for keeping someone's once-treasured timepiece, after I've gotten it running again. Especially if the whole job takes me only 20 minutes.
As I was giving the man my 2 bucks for the clock, I happened to mention my experience that the trouble was usually something easy to find and correct. My big mouth: the man's eyes lit up with a wild, wistful hope, and he said, "Do you really think you can fix it?"
Nutz; I wanted this clock, but the thing obviously meant a lot to him; I began to feel that I wasn't going to be able to keep it, if I could get it repaired. The man went on to tell me it had been a wedding present from his mother, many years ago. "Eventually it started running slower and slower," he told me, "and I thought that if I kept winding it harder, I could fix that." I listened to all this with a sinking feeling, for several reasons; this clock has been abused, and I'm still going to have to fix it, and I really can't keep it. When I mentioned the usual necessity for periodic cleaning, as well as oiling to keep a clock running well, the man was surprised.
"I didn't know that," he told me with interest.
Well, for starters, I could see that the clock needed more than just a cleaning. The mainspring had let go and come down with a violent run, and the clock couldn't be wound anymore; it just went "kek, kek, kek" when you turned the key. I didn't press for details of how that had occurred, because the man had already given me a pretty good idea, and he didn't feel good about it. I gave him the two dollars, and I took the machine home to operate.
The first thing I did was to remove the brass works from the wooden case, and then I disengaged all the chiming works from the main clockwork. I opened the mainspring drum, and I found that the end of the spring had been bent so it couldn't hook onto the shaft anymore. I re-formed the spring around a mandrel, and get it to hook up again, but then I found that the ratchet that's supposed to keep the spring from unwinding, was also bent. I fixed that too, and now I could wind the clock. But before I did, I reached in with some little tiny paint brushes and solvent, and I cleaned all the gunk from every pivot point and all the gears and pinions; then, using a toothpick I put a tiny dot of clock oil on each spot that requires it. Just the right size drop will stay put with surface tension, and it will keep the end of the shaft (the pivot) lubricated. Too much oil, too big a drop, will end up giving you less oil, because the drop will run and the oil will drain off. And you don't want oil running here and there, collecting dust and gunk that can eventually stop the gears.
So all this took me only an hour or two, and now I was ready to see how the clock would run. The machine ticked weakly, then stopped. I got it to run for a few more minutes, feebly, and then it wouldn't run any more at all. Now it was obvious that serious surgery was going to be required, but what was the problem? I put the clock on the shelf for a few days, pondering these questions.
I've tinkered with a number of clocks, but one thing I had had never done is to separate the two plates that hold all the gears. I've always feared I would end up with a mare's nest of chaos and confusion. All the shafts and gears will teeter and fall this way and that, and to get it all back together, every teeny shaft has to be lined up with its tiny hole in the opposite plate, all at once. How is that possible? But now I figured I was going to have to take that plunge, and hope that Yoda would show up in a vision, if I got stuck.
I went ahead and unscrewed the four nuts, and then I separated the plates: the dreaded plates. Clicketty-ticketty: there went all the little wheels; now there was no turning back. I extracted the escapement mechanism; this is the delicate back-and-forth piece that makes the clock go tick-tock. I needed to remove only that piece, then put the rest back together, so I could run the gear train and find out which part was not running free.
It turns out that it really wasn't as hard to reassemble everything as I had feared. You just work your way from one side to the other, carefully guiding each pivot into its hole, while gently squeezing the plates together just enough to keep the ones in place that are there already. I got everything back together after removing the escapement mechanism, and then it didn't take me long to find the trouble.
It was serious. When the mainspring had sprung loose, it had kicked back so hard that it bent one of the gear shafts. Once I found it, it was obvious. The bent shaft would turn a little bit, but it would soon reach the jamming point against its adjacent gear, then it would turn no more.
So I removed the bent shaft from the works, and I fixed it. I made a truing jig with a square block of aluminum, which I accurately drilled to hold the wheel, and also made an aluminum bar with the right size hole, to use for a lever. Using the block and lever, I carefully straightened the shaft, levering it little by little until the shaft would turn in its hole with no wobbling. Then I reassembled all the gears back into the clock plates, and the whole train ran beautifully with no binding at all.
Then I put back the escapement assembly, and got all the other parts reassembled into the clock and adjusted; then I wound the mainspring just a little. The clock started to run, ticking cheerfully. It was now so well cleaned and efficient, that the balance wheel wouldn't stay still, no matter how carefully I tried to stop it; it would start itself again, ticking with a solid quiet murmur like a beating heart.
I also cleaned and adjusted the chime and strike mechanism, and it all ran properly, chiming on the quarter, striking the appropriate hour, and keeping excellent time. The whole job was a full day's work, plus a little more.
As of this writing, the clock has been running for three days (it's a 31 day clock) and it's running as accurately as can be. I've hardly had to adjust the balance wheel at all. (The wheel has an ingenious mechanism for doing that: a pair of weights on the wheel moves in or out, adjusting the speed of oscillation the way a ballerina will make herself spin faster by pulling her arms in closer to her sides.)
But, also as of this writing, I have not returned the clock. The man has no idea that I even mean to. But when I bought his clock a week ago, one of the last things he said to me was, "Do you think you will be able to fix it?"
I did think so. But will I be able to return it?
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