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Clock Collecting Tips, Issue #005--DIY Clock Oiling
August 01, 2008

DIY- Clock Oiling

If you are like me with several antique clocks around the house, you know how expensive it can be to keep them all in tip top shape. One of the maintenance items that you can do yourself with just a little practice is clock oiling. It may sound complicated at first, but after doing it a few times, you will find it easy. Oiling your own clock will not only save you money, but it will give you a much better idea of how your clock works.

Antique clocks should be oiled about every two to five years. The reason for the large span in years is because all clocks do not live in the same environment. If your house is always climate-controlled (heated or air-conditioned) and your windows are rarely opened to the outside, then your clock should be fine with the five year interval. If you frequently have your windows open, and your clocks are subjected to either dust or dampness from the outside, then every two years is better.

Moist air, of course, causes rust to form on some areas of the movement and in time could cause your clocks to either stop running, or cause a mainspring to break. If you live in a dry, dusty area, the dust enters the clock movement and sticks to the oil. In time, the oil dries up and mixes with the dust making an abrasive paste that wears out the clock and causes it to need a very expensive overhaul.

Do not use anything but a good clock oil to oil the pivots on a clock. WD-40 is NOT a clock oil and will ruin your clock (contact me by filling out the form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to help you out). Normally, you would not use your clock oil to lubricate the mainsprings of a clock, but if you find they are dry and starting to rust, a little clock oil is better than nothing. If you have enough clocks to make it worthwhile, a good mainspring grease is better and lasts many years.

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OK, lets get started:

Step 1. The movement has to be taken from the case. If you have a mantel clock, the first thing to do is remove the hands. If they are held on with a nut, hold the minute hand while you unscrew the nut, then remove the minute hand by pulling it straight off the shaft. If the hands are held on by a pin, look to see which end is smaller, and with small pliers, push it out. The hour hand is just held on friction tight and can be removed by moving it back and forth while pulling it. Then lay the clock face down on a soft cloth and open the back. Some clocks have a back door, some have full back boards that are held on with four screws or a small clip that has to be lifted allowing the back to come off. Then you will see 4-8 screws holding the movement to the front of the case. After removing these, the movement should lift out. (If there is a gong, or chime rods in the way, remove them.)

Step 2. First, take a clean lint-free cloth and wipe the old oil and dirt off the ends of the pivots (where they poke through the plate). Now, take your clock oiler and place a very small amount in each pivot hole on the outside of the plate, If you see oil dripping down the plate, you put too much on. Clean it with a clean lint-free rag and repeat the oiling. The oil should stay right around the pivot in a little puddle. If you over oil, and it drips away from the pivot, it will soon be dry again and do no good at all. Do this for all the pivots on both sides of the plate. If the clock is powered with a mainspring or springs, and they are visible (not enclosed in brass barrels), you can put a small amount of oil on them if they look dry or rusty. Just run a small line of oil from the edge of the spring to the center shaft (you will see the oil drain into the coils and disappear). When you wind the clock the next few times, the oil will be spread around the springs evenly.

Step 3. Re-install the movement in the case by reversing the procedure used to remove it. When you put the hands back on, first take the minute hand and hold it in place with your hand while turning clockwise until the clock chimes the hour. Count how many times the clock chimes so you can place the hour hand in the proper position. Push the hour hand on the shaft until it is tight, but not so far that it touches the face. Then put the minute hand on pointing to the top and replace the washer, pin or nut.

If your clock is not a mantel clock, the steps are similar except you will have some different steps for getting the movement out of the case. Many wall clocks (such as schoolhouse) have several screws on the front bezel. You will see these when you open the glass door. Remove these screws after taking the hands off as described above. Lift the dial off the clock and you will see the movement. remove the 4 screws holding the movement in place and proceed with oiling as noted above. Some German and French clocks, such as Vienna Regulators have two thumb screws that you have to loosen under the movement. Then simply slide the entire movement out of the case. Remove the hands as noted above and remove the dial, which is usually held on with 4 pins under the dial. Then proceed with oiling. Antique kitchen, and some other mantel clocks: open the glass door, remove the hands (see above), remove the 2 or 3 screws that hold on the dial, remove the dial, remove the 4 screws holding the movement, oil as outlined above.

Good luck with keeping your clocks in tiptop shape, and if you need any help, contact me by using the form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be glad to help.

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