Clock FAQ’s

What is Horology?Horology is the art and science of time measurement. Professionals who make or repair timekeeping devices are called “horologists.”
Why is it important to look for AWCI members when choosing a clock maker?Clock makers who belong to the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) are part of an organization of industry professionals that sets technical standards and encourages ethical practices. Clock makers who go the extra length to join the national trade association are displaying pride in their profession. They are also demonstrating the value they place on their reputation, integrity and professionalism.

clockmakerThis is a clock maker who has passed a stringent certification exam given by the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI), the premier trade association for professional clock makers and watch makers. These professionals should adhere to the Standards and Practices set forth by the Institute. The first level of certification is known as CC21 (“Certified Clockmaker of the 21st Century.”) The top level of certification is known as CMC21 (“Certified Master Clockmaker of the 21st Century.”) You can find certified clock makers in your area on the AWCI Referral Directory.

>> Click Here to view AWCI Clockmaking Standards & Practices

When should I have my clock serviced?With proper care, a good clock should last a lifetime. Follow these general service outlines to keep your timepiece in good working order, whether you have a wall clock, cuckoo clock, grandfather clock or an antique clock.

Oiling: The use of household oils and over-oiling can cause damage. A clock maker will know which specially-made clock oils should be used. They will know the correct amount to use, and which parts of a clock should—or should not—be oiled.

Important note: Never spray any part of a clock with any kind of lubricant.

Be sure to pay attention to household activities over those time periods! Did you do any remodeling? Did you repaint inside? You can help extend the life of the clock’s oils by wrapping the clock tightly in plastic until all odors or dusts have settled and furnace/air conditioning filters have been changed.

As a rule of thumb, for most clocks, oiling and service every 2-4 years is recommended. For floor clocks, every 3-4 years may be sufficient and for antiques over 100 years old, 4-5 years may be acceptable.


Occasional cleaning is also advised. Over time, dust can collect inside the mechanism. Additionally, dust can combine with old oil to form an abrasive paste that can cause wear and result in a broken clock, or the clock may slow down. It’s best to consult your local clock maker—thorough cleaning may require the removal and adjustment of the dial and working parts.

Important note: Always have your clock cleaned by a professional.

Click here for AWCI Referral Directory

Striking clock
This strikes the hours plus one strike on the half hour. A striking clock usually has two weights or two winding holes (one for the strike train and one for the time train).

Chiming clock
This chimes every 15 minutes (quarter hour) and has three weights or winding holes.

How often should I wind my clock?The number of times your clock needs to be wound depends on the clock. If you are unsure, contact your local clock maker. However, 99% of all grandfather clocks, plus most other types of clocks are designed to be wound once per week. Most of us organize our lives by the week, so winding the clock weekly is an easy habit to begin. Be sure to wind completely so the clock will run the full seven days.

Key-wound clocks:

Springs should be wound until you can wind no further.

Weight clocks:

If the weights are on chains, be careful not to wind so high that the weights hit the underside of the board that holds the movement. If the weights are wound with a crank: For old clocks, follow the same routine as the chain types; if a cable type and made within the last 20 years, wind until the weight stops.

400-day clocks:

Wind fully once a year, but winding every 2-3 months will improve accuracy.

watch-handsSet your clock using the minute hand only. For modern clocks you can generally move the minute hand forward without waiting for each strike or chime. For vintage or antique clocks manufactured prior to the 1950s, the opposite is true: failing to wait as you pass the strike or chime may knock the clock out of sequence. Should this occur, contact your local clock maker for assistance. (Click here for AWCI Referral Directory.)

Important note: Never move the hour hand (small hand) of a clock.

First, you need to know whether you have a clock that “strikes” or “chimes.” A “chiming” clock plays a tune every 15 minutes, while a “striking” clock makes a sound every half-hour and/or hour.

SPRING (Spring Forward):

Striking Clock: Move the minute hand forward, stopping to let it strike every ½ or full hour until you reach the correct time.

Chiming Clock:

For clocks made before 1950… move the minute hand forward, stopping to let it strike every half or full hour until you reach the correct time.

For clocks made after approximately 1950…simply move the minute hand forward one hour without waiting. The clock will correct itself within 4 hours.What should I remember during the time change?

Antique Clock: Wait at each ¼ hour if a chimer, or at each ½ hour if a striker to keep the clock synchronized.

Modern Quartz Clock: These strikers and chimers will self correct. Simply move the minute hand forward until the correct time is reached.

Important note: Never move the hour hand independently. It will follow the minute hand as you reset the time.

FALL (Fall Back):

If you are in doubt about whether you have a striking, chiming or auto-correcting clock, the safest way to advance the time forward is to move the minute hand (only) forward, waiting for it to strike or chime at each interval (on the half or quarter hour). Move it forward 23 hours.

For modern mechanical or quartz clocks: Simply turn the minute hand only, backwards or forwards as needed to reset the time. This may cause the chimes to get out of sequence for a short while, but they will correct themselves within 4 hours. Then move the minute hand forward to the correct time waiting for the clock to play its music at each release point.

For clocks with “set-back” (or “turn-back”) feature: Some clocks were made with a set-back feature, but you will need a professional to tell you whether you have that feature or not. If you are unsure, proceed as follows: If you have an older clock or antique chimer or striker, stop the clock for 1 hour, then restart it and adjust the minute hand to the exact time. In modern clocks, those made after 1950, most will allow you to simply turn the minute hand backwards and reset the time without any problems. The strike and the chime in this case will be correct within the next 1-4 hours.

If you have a striking clock that you know contains a “count wheel” type of counting device, you need to contact a clock professional and have them educate you on how to properly adjust the hands on this type of product. (If you are unsure, you can follow the procedure above.)

Important note: Never move the hour hand independently. It will follow the minute hand as you reset the time.

grandfather-clockIn the earliest days of clock making, the clock’s movement was cased in a small “box” with a dial on the front and was made to be hung on the wall where the pendulum and weights hung free in the open air. With nothing to protect the pendulum, it could easily be upset by a breeze and the clock would stop. Eventually, clock makers began to build cabinets around the pendulum and weights to protect them. Clocks were then able to stand on the floor without being hung and were often called “tall cases,” “hall” or “floor clocks.”

The term “grandfather clock” was not applied until after 1850 when a song written by Henry C. Work called My Grandfather’s Clock was published. It describes a clock that was too big for the shelf so “it stood 90 years on the floor.” It became a popular song in its day, and the sheet music reportedly sold over 800,000 copies, quite a number in those days. It was during this period the term “grandfather clock” began to be applied to floor clocks. Today, any floor clock is called a Grandfather Clock if it’s 6’ 6” or taller, while 5’-6’ is a Grandmother Clock, 4’-5’ is a Granddaughter Clock, and 3’-4’ is a Grandson Clock. In truth, they are all floor clocks.

How do I move a grandfather clock?A mechanical grandfather clock or floor clock is a precision instrument with numerous delicate parts. AWCI strongly advises that you call a professional clock maker to move anything of value. (See the Member Directory to find a clock maker in your area.) Why? Chime rods, chains or cables must be secured before the clock is moved. Rods, when shaken, have a tendency to break off and chains tend to scratch the case and fall off their sprockets, while cables can get tangled. Floor clocks can easily tip over, but laying them on their side or face down can cause the clock movement and dial to break away from the seat board. As a result, you might have a broken clock that needs repair.

Some grandfather clocks should be disassembled with all pieces labeled prior to packing. The delicate pendulum and suspension spring, plus the weights, must be carefully disassembled and packed. If the clock is to be shipped long distances, all pieces, along with the wood and glass, must be securely packed, preferably in a crate. Upon arrival, everything must be re-assembled and adjusted to the new location.

A wall clock, cuckoo clock or mantel clock can be easier to move. However, these still need the pendulums detached, the chime or strike rods secured, and in some cases, the movement packed separately so it doesn’t break off its seat board.

clock-level-to-runNot necessarily. A clock must be “in beat” to run, meaning the “tick” and the “tock” must be equal in duration. The “beat” of a clock refers to the sound a clock makes when it ticks. When a clock is “in beat,” the tick and tock will be evenly spaced. A crooked clock can run fine if the beat is set for that position, providing the pendulum doesn’t rub or bump anything. A clock works best when stabilized and as upright as possible. A clock repair professional will typically adjust the beat of a mantel clock while it is sitting on a level surface. They will instruct the customer to level the clock when taken home. Once the clock is set, it must tick evenly or it may not keep good time, whether you have a cuckoo clock, a grandfather clock, a mantel clock or an antique clock.

When a clock maker sets up a clock in a home, leveling may not be as important as stability. For instance, when a grandfather clock is standing near a doorway which is not square, or when the wall behind it has lined wallpaper which is not straight, a clock can look crooked even though it is not. Clock professionals may place the timepiece to match visual elements in the home and set the beat to run accurately, although it is still critical that the clock be as stable as possible.

Most modern grandfather clocks (those generally made after 1978) have a “self-adjusting beat.” In this case, as long as the clock is stable and close to level, it will run fine. You may not need a clock maker to set the beat for you. Simply pull the pendulum ball to within an inch of the side of the clock case, drop it, and let it swing back on its own. This is called “over-swinging the pendulum” which allows the clock to set itself.

Important Note: Never push a pendulum bob as this could cause damage to the movement or case. Instead, gently drop it.

Stability is important for pendulum clocks, especially weight-driven floor clocks. A clock that has a tendency to wobble, such as those free-standing on carpet, may sometimes stop for what appears to be no reason. This is called “sympathetic vibration” or “sympathetic motion.” The unstable clock case is able to pick up the motion from the swinging pendulum. This can eventually cause the weights hanging in the case to begin to swing slightly, generally occurring when the weights reach a point somewhere near the level of the pendulum bob. The weights tend to swing in a direction opposite that of the pendulum. If this occurs the clock can eventually stop. Note: Placing a board under a clock on top of carpet is not recommended. (For help with a clock that has stopped, find a qualified local AWCI repair provider through our online Member Directory.)

Mechanical ClockA mechanical clock has a gear train to turn the hands of the clock at a precise rate for accurate timekeeping. These clocks can be powered by three basic elements: a mainspring, weights or some form of electric power. The mainspring type is wound by hand with a key. As it unwinds, it causes gears to turn which move the hands. Weights serve as the power source in most floor clocks providing a consistent energy to swing the pendulum and run the clock’s other features.

Modern electric or battery-powered clocks use a circuit of electrical parts to track energy pulses and those are counted by another circuit. That, in turn, either spins a rotor which moves the hands or lights up a diode to display the time.

If there is a battery cover, carefully remove it from the clock movement using the appropriate tools. Be careful not to pry against the case. Remove the old battery, and be sure to replace it with a fresh, new battery of the exact type in the same position as the prior battery. Find and follow polarity markings inside the compartment. Make certain the hands begin to move. If not, re-check the battery polarity. Replace covers.

If you see white powder or liquid in the battery compartment, take the clock to a professional. This may be a sign of prior battery leakage which can destroy your clock works.

If you need assistance finding the correct battery, refer to crossover reference charts available online or at most electronic stores. Always recycle your old batteries as the materials in them can harm the environment.

refinish-clockLike any rare antique, a very old timepiece is often worth more if the original finish is left untouched. If your clock is not particularly rare, decide what would give you the most personal satisfaction. It’s a good idea to ask a clock maker before starting a project. Removing an old finish may not be necessary. People often used shellac to coat over an original varnish and the simple removal of shellac may help. Additionally, many old clocks were veneered, and stripper will damage veneer.

This has long been a tradition when displaying or photographing a watch or clock. The only reason is that the 10 and 2 position is considered visually pleasing. Some think this seems “welcoming,” while others say it looks like the dial is “smiling.”

Often mistaken for a brand name, these words on the clock dial of a timepiece are the Latin phrase for “time flies.”

What is the best place to put a clock?Whether it’s a mechanical mantel clock, wall clock or floor clock, they all require a secure, stable place to sit or hang. Don’t place a mantel clock on a piano that’s played often or place it on the dresser that is opened frequently.

Wall clocks need to be fastened flat to the wall and should be held by a screw or nail in a stud. Remember, mechanical clocks strike or chime frequently which vibrates the clock. This, in turn, vibrates the wall hanger. Do not use picture hangers to hang a clock. Also remember you are putting direct downward pressure on any hanger when you wind the clock.

Floor clocks work best placed flat against a wall or wedged in a corner in a stable position. These are top heavy and can easily topple over when bumped.

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