Antique Clocks – Types & Care


Almost everyone – that loves antiques, that is – has an antique clock of some sort. By antique clock we’re referring to a clock that has a mechanical mechanism that requires winding. This might be a mantel clock, wall clock or one of the larger floor, i.e, grandfather or grandmother clocks. When talking about antique clocks, there are four (4) basic types of clocks:

  1. Time only – obviously these only tell time and have only one winding hole
  2. Time and strike – this type of clock will tell time as well as strike on the hour with some striking a single strike on the half-hour
  3. Chiming – this type of clock tells time, strikes the hour and will also play a melody – most typically the Westminster chimes – on the quarter hours. There are others that play other melodies such as Whittingham and St. Michael’s chimes. They will play one-quarter of the melody on the quarter hour; one-half of the melody on the half hour; three-quarters of the melody on the three quarter hour and the full melody on the hour – with the hour then striking. These clocks may have 2 or 3 winding holes.
  4. Alarm – There are some early mantel clocks that had an alarm feature allowing the owner to set the alarm to go off at the same hour twice a day.

For these old clocks, you will typically find two main types of movements:

1.  Balance wheel – similar to the type of movement found in a watch – this type of movement is usually found in less expensive clocks

2.  Pendulum – in these clocks the pendulum was set to move back and forth a set number of times in a minute with the action regulating the speed of movement for the internal workings. The speed of the clock could be adjusted by setting the pendulum’s length. (Always remove the pendulum or pendulum bob before moving the clock – not doing so may cause damage to the suspension spring.)

Antique Clock Care Tips

Not only are antique clocks are lovely to look at but also provide a service. However, their care requires special attention to extend their life. Following the simple rules below will help keep your antique clock in good running order for many years:


Never use force to wind a clock. If there is resistance, stop – not all clocks wind in the same direction so make sure you are winding in the correct direction. Do not over wind, once you begin to feel effort when winding or hear the spring coils rubbing against each other – stop. If you find winding your clock using this method does not allow it to run for a full 8-days then you may want to have your clock serviced by a clock specialist.

Level –

For your clock to provide accurate time, it needs to be level side to side. If your clock sits on a mantel or table, having it level front to back is not as critical unless the degree of tilt is to great as to cause the pendulum to rub on the case or movement.

Beat –

Once you have the clock leveled, you should hear a perfect beat or cadence to the tick-tock. The sound should be consistent with even spacing between each ‘tick’ and ‘tock’.

Adjusting the timekeeping

If your clock has a pendulum, you can lengthen the effective lenght of the pendulum to slow down the clock; if you shorten the effective length of the pendulum the clock will run faster. How much you adjust the pendulum will depend on each individual clock.


just like your car, for clocks in continuous use, they should be serviced every 2 years; the movement should be overhauled every 10 years. (Never use WD-40 on an antique clock for any reason.)

Setting Time

if you need to re-set the time, move the minute hand forward (clockwise) slowing down as you approach the 55 minute mark. Once there you will hear a click or some other sound indicating your are close to the hour, continue moving the minute hand slowly forward allowing the strike or chime to run its course naturally. When the chime/strike is finished, continue to move the minute hand forward as necessary to achieve the correct time.

Caring for the case (wood)

unless the finish is totally ruined, do not refinish the case – as this can have an impact on the clock’s value. There are products designed specifically for cleaning clock cases so if you feel you must clean the case, get the correct product – available from a clock store.

Dial care

do not attempt to polish the metal dial with any metal polish. While most metal dials are ‘silvered’ – the layer is so thin that any attempt to polish will most likely result in wearing the finish off. This is also true for bezels. So resist the urge to polish.

Cleaning –

all clocks need cleaning and oiling periodically.  Cleaning can be done using a small dry brush to remove any dust or dirt from both the outside and inside.  Clocks also need oiling – however, if you do not know where to oil – it is better to have a professional do this.   (Again, never use WD-40 on any clock)

An antique clock is a good investment so take the time to correctly care for your clock and if you find yourself not knowing what to do or how to do it – invest in having it professionally done.

And for those that would like more information on antique watches and clocks, visit The National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, Inc.


4 comments to Antique Clocks – Types & Care

  • I have is disassembled to the frame but don’t want to disconnect it further as the spring is wound moderately tight. An experienced clock guy wouldn’t have any trouble with the springs, but I surely don’t want to lose a finger.

  • I have an antique mantle clock that needs cleaning. Do you clean clocks? If yes, what price and what is your location?

    • David

      Hello Jim –

      We we could help – but we don’t clean clocks. Might recommend that when looking for someone, get an estimate (or two) and find someone local. It is very difficult to ship a mantle clock without it getting damaged.


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