clock & barometer repairs
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some clock repair horrors

Every horologist has a list of horror stories. I try to avoid commenting on the quality of previous repair work; it's not that I seek to defend these people because sharks exist in all trades but I have come to learn that clock owners on a very tight budget simply cannot afford to have a clock repaired properly so in order to keep the customer satisfied, a repairer will occasionally take short cuts. Whether it's always a good idea, I'll leave you to decide:

Image 1 shows the going barrel from a German 2-train factory-made clock by Junghans. As sometimes happens, the hook in the barrel had evidently worked loose so there was no anchor for the mainspring. That's just bad luck. If riveting it back was not an option, the appropriate repair would be to drill a new hole and rivet a new steel hook in place. But here the repairer took a hacksaw to the barrel and made two (almost) parallel cuts in it, connecting them at one end before peeling the brass back to form a hook inside the barrel to hold the spring. The repairer's luck must have been really down on this clock because he then did exactly the same thing to the strike barrel!

Image 2 shows another barrel with a mainspring that has oxidised. Years ago, clockmakers might have thrown an old movement into a bucket of paraffin or petrol without dismantling it first to clean off the worst of the dirt. This repairer carried out a similar quick-fix solution. But instead of a spirit or petroleum-based cleaner that evaporates quickly, he used a modern, ammoniated solution and the water-based cleaner found its way into the barrels and lay there for months to come, gradually causing the spring to rust.

In Image 3 you can see an example of "punching up" where instead of re-bushing a worn pivot hole, the repairer has used a centre punch to close the worn hole up a bit. It's a little unfair to include this because a hundred years ago punching up was a common way to 'fix' a worn hole and you see it quite often in very old longcase clocks. But there's no excuse for it today when reamers and ready-made bushes can be bought off the shelf.

Image 4 shows how not to fix a fractured lifting lever on a French striking clock. Given the lightness of the part, it's a little difficult to explain why it fractured in the first place and my suspicion is that someone tried to close the angle by using a vice. The lesson here seems to be that in order to make a good joint, the more solder the better! If that were true, it wouldn't have come to me for repair. In fact, once all the solder was removed and the surfaces cleaned up, a thin strip of steel soldered to both parts across the fracture made for a much stronger repair that hasn't come back.

The final picture, Image 5, shows a piece of wire bent round the pivot of a pallet arbor, acting like a washer or more accurately, a spacer. What the repairer has done here is seek to move the position of the pallets relative to the 'scape wheel because the pallets were severely worn by the teeth of the wheel. (The wear, which takes the form of ruts, are just visible in the picture.) That way, the teeth would fall onto a new, unworn, part of the pallets. He has done it by shifting the whole pallet arbor back a millimetre or two using the spacer. The proper approach would be to redress the pallets to form a new flat surface but that then creates a depth of engagement issue to overcome. This quick solution is therefore not uncommon, but it is usually achieved by fitting a long bush in the pivot hole so that it extends on the inner side and then doing the same with the opposite hole in the back cock. Instead, this repairer used more wire to make another two spacers for the back cock, which then sat off the backplate.

I tend not to get irritated when I find these sorts of repair because they show some kind of creativity and in many cases the correct solution is still achievable at little greater cost than it would have been. But these examples do serve to show what to expect if you get several quotes and then run to the cheapest repairer. Always listen to the repairer as he explains what he will do and then make your own informed judgement.


  • A barrel sliced to form an integral hook for the mainspring
  • A barrel in which the mainspring has rusted
  • An example of the old clock maker's technique of punching up
  • A poorly repaired French lifting lever with an overdose of solder
  • A bodge to shift the position of the pallet arbor to avoid having to redress worn pallets