Dorrin K Mace, Horologost

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Setting Time

Many times when a clock comes into the shop for repair, the customer has never actual run the piece.  This is most true with antique pieces acquired from family members or estates. 
When a clock is picked up we will ask the customer if they have ever operated the clock and if not, we will explain how to wind the clock and set the time (even if they have said they operated the piece we still may go over the basics just as a refresher course)
It is often the assumption of the new owner that clocks wind "Clockwise", that is FALSE.  All models wind differently thus our reason for reviewing the procedure.
Another assumption is that you can just move the hands backwards or forwards, whipping them around until the time shown is correct, this is also FALSE.  Although some modern clocks have instruction books that state you may move the hands backwards, it is always the prudent and safest to move the hands forward.  The reasoning is that parts may be damaged if the hands are moved backwards and the "setback" mechanism may no longer work properly.  Moving forward simply removes the risk of damage. 
One other note of caution, do not move the hour hand, many hour hands are pinned into position and you WILL fracture the hand or damage the movement if you force the hour hand into position
     While setting the time it is also advised to stop when the clock is calling and let the call complete to avoid getting the chime train out of sequence.  What this means is, if the clock calls (makes a chime) at the full hour and half hour, you stop when the minute hand (the long one) is at the 6 and 12.  On a clock that plays a melody (i.e. Westminster chime) on the quarter hours, you would stop at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 position letting the clock complete its call at each stop.
One final piece of advice is that when setting the time, move the minute hand by grasping it close to the center arbor as shown below.

Often the clock owners will adjust the time by pushing the hand forward at the tip of the minute hand like this

Pushing the tip of the hand can cause damage to the hand.  Remember these hands are often finely cut mild steel, brass, or even aluminum.  Any resistance felt while adjusting the hand forward can bend or even fracture the hand.  In most instances, yes the hand can be repaired or a new one cut, however by simply adjusting the hand from the lower portion next to the arbor and stopping if resistance is felt, the chance of damage to the hand (and perhaps even the clock movement) is minimized.

And remember, should you have any questions or concerns, contact you local Horologist.  Should you not have a local clock smith, email me at or message me through this blog.


  1. Dear "Clock Man":
    Excellent advice !
    I purchased a Howard-Miller grandfather clock in 2012.
    Although I was told that I could turn the hands backwards to set the time,
    I never trusted that and continued to set the time exactly as you describe above. For cases where the hour changes to one hour less, I merely stop the
    clock for an hour and then restart. Have never had any problems.
    Looking forward to stopping by your shop this summer while on vacation. The Briggs-Rotary clock replica that I purchased from your shop some years ago is still working fine ! Best Regards, Rick from Texas