Care of Period Longcase Clocks


Introduction

This leaflet is to assist you in the care of your recently purchased longcase (or Tallcase) clock, it contains a few pointers that will help get the maximum life between overhauls or cleans. Most clocks we sell are between 170 and over 300 years old, you must admit that the quality of construction and materials must be exemplary for a clock to function for so long. Remember they will never keep as good time as a modern timepiece, but with care and regulation will be accurate to within 1 minute a week. Please read the pointers below to get the best from your clock.

Setting Time

Move the minute hand clockwise only till your clock indicates the correct time. This may only be a few minutes or you may have to go forward several hours. Pause each time the minute hand passes twelve and allow the clock to strike fully for the particular hour that you are passing, this will stop any damage to the striking mechanism. Never move the hour hand as this could un-synchronise the striking mechanism (the clock may strike 2 when it is actually 3!), most importantly never move the hands anticlockwise (backwards) this could seriously damage your clock. If the clock is fast and you want to move back a few minutes or even an hour, it is better to stop the pendulum and wait for real time to catch up with the clock then start the pendulum again, or go forward 11 to 12 hours. Remember never go backwards!

Regulation

Your clock will keep accurate time if the pendulum is set at the correct length. If your clock appears to be running slow, then the pendulum needs to be shortened. Turn the adjustment nut at the bottom of the pendulum clockwise (as though you are screwing a nut on a bolt) to shorten the pendulum. Obviously the amount turned will give a different degree of regulation change, if your clock is running a minute or so slow over a few days then ½ to 1 turn should be enough. Like wise if your clock is running fast the same applies except that this time “unscrew” the nut (turn anticlockwise) in the same proportions as above. As temperature changes in the room where your clock is living, the pendulum’s length will alter as the rod expands with a warmer room and contracts with a colder room, this will also affect the timekeeping slightly. Adjust again as described above. When you first get your clock it may take a couple of weeks for it to settle down into its new environment and will most likely need “regulating” as described here. When you move your clock from room to room or house to house, it will most likely need adjustment again, a fact of life with old clocks! Other typical dry air problems include cracking, loosening joints (where animal glues dry out), drawers sticking, and doors warping and no longer closing properly. Prevention is always better than cure and it is possible to safeguard antique furniture from dry air damage by investing in a good humidifier which will help maintain a constant level of relative humidity in the air during the winter heating season. For a normal comfortable, indoor temperature you should aim to maintain 50-55% relative humidity. A cheaper alternative, but much less efficient, is a hang-on radiator humidifier, or even a bowl of water nearby, with a simple hygrometer to monitor the humidity in the room.

Date adjustment

Some longcase clocks have a date indicator. Those with a date aperture can be adjusted quite easily. Every 2 revolutions of the hour hand (24 hours) at or near 12, a little arm in the movement will make contact with the date ring behind the dial. At this point you will not be able to adjust the date as effectively this is the clock’s midnight and it will be trying to change the date to the next day. Once the clock’s time has moved away from the “midnight sector” (normally between about 9pm and 3am) then you can easily move the date wheel by hand to the correct date. If actual time is only midday then you will need to move the clock forward 12 hours or so (see “adjusting the time keeping” above) so it’s midnight is in sync with actual midnight.

If your clock has a date pointer, then basically the same as above applies, except that this time you can open the front of the clock a move the pointer (clockwise only) one click at a time till you have set the correct date.

Caring for the Case

If you have a mahogany, walnut satinwood or ebony case, then all that is basically needed is a gentle dust when performing normal household chores. Every 6 weeks to a month use a good beeswax and turpentine furniture wax not a modern aerosol furniture polish) very sparingly. Rub into the case till it virtually disappears, then leave for approximately 30 minutes then buff quickly and lightly with a soft cloth.

Servicing

All clocks that we sell are fully cleaned and overhauled by expert clockmakers. Depending on the environment it is kept in, a longcase clock will need cleaning and oiling approximately every 5 to 10 years and a full overhaul every 25-35 years. Despite the case being closed, dust still gets in and over period of time will mix with the oil and form a grinding paste that will eventually wear pinions and bushes. Your clock is a handmade piece of precision engineering, if you look after it well it will give good service for very many years to come.

Information on care of longcase clocks written by Millington Adams Ltd