Dorrin K Mace, Horologost

Dorrin K Mace, Horologost
The Clock Man in a pensive moment

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wood Works Clocks

I truly enjoy wooden movement clocks.  But why would anyone create a wood movement for a clock and how difficult are they to build?
Shelf clocks of the pillar and scroll type were made by a number of American clock makers in the early 1800s.Prior to that long case grandfather clocks were quite commonly made in the 1700s.The long case allowed for a greater drop distance for the weights which drove the clock movement.  Shelf clock and wall clock with wooden works were also made and were more popular in the 1800s.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s there was a shortage of metals due to the British embargo.  This led to the production of wood gear clocks by some makers.  Wooden works clocks of this period are now prized antiques and command high prices when they come on the market.  Several thousand dollars is commonly the asking price which is beyond the means of many clock fanciers.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has on display a very fine wood gear clock which was made in the early 1800s.This clock is still in good running order after 200 years.  Detailed drawings and plans have been made from this clock and these are available for those who would like to build a reproduction of these interesting old time pieces.

You can build your own version of an antique wood works clock in your own wood; with careful work you can turn out a wooden gear clock.  The builder will have a wonderful clock which will keep excellent time. To build a wooden works clock is not difficult but it does take time and careful workmanship.
Wooden clocks of more primitive design were made hundreds of years before those on display at The Museum of Science and Industry. You can also build a fifteenth century wooden gear clock from available plans.  This is a wall clock and is weight driven and has only one hand, the hour hand.  It is a much simpler project with fewer moving parts.  The clock will however keep time and looks great on your wall.
Building wooden works clocks involves craftsmanship and wood working skills. You do not however need an array of power tools. The original makers of these clocks used only simple hand tools and the modern craftsman can do so also. The individual parts of the clock are of simple design and quite easy to make. The skill comes in finishing the parts accurately and fitting them together properly so that the clock will run smoothly and keep good time.
Today there are a few makers of wooden gear clocks which are mostly sold in the form of kits and plans. The average home workshop can quite readily turn out a beautiful wooden clock from a plan. With attention to detail and careful workmanship the end product is a fine time piece which will be a center of attention in any home.  The tick tock of your own wooden gear clock which you yourself created is a symphony to the senses. 

I repair wooden works clocks often and really enjoy bringing these back to life.   Many of these movements were called “groaners” as they creaked and groaned as they ran.  When I repair a wooden works clock I use aged apple or pear wood (I have an old farm with many trees that have died over the 150 plus years the farm was active.  These trees have dried and aged in the orchards and work very well for replacement wood)
The biggest problem I have with wooden works clocks is when someone has oiled them in the past.  These clocks were not made to be oiled, oil causes the wood to swell and the piece will not run.  If a wooden movement has been oiled and the wood has swollen, this swelling must be reduced to have the movement operate again. 
There are some examples of wood movements that have iron pivots and brass bushings and these can be oiled.  Other makers used bone bushings or no bushings at all, these cannot be oiled.  I have used powdered Teflon to ease the running of the movements that cannot be oiled, but nothing else.

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