Letter from Clockster: Clock Design, Run Times and Recommended Reading

Here's an interesting letter thread that covers a few topics you might find interesting.  Builder Neil writes:

"Howdy Clayton,

I'm currently at uni finishing up my masters in Architecture, and in the past I've worked on a few different clocks just as a hobby.

I got most from garage sales that didn't work, and really enjoyed getting them running again...although not all work accurately. but you get that when your learning.

I'm really interested in trying to match my ideas about architecture and my hobby for clocks into one and design a few grandfather clocks for particular buildings and architects.

My big question for you would be, what books did you pick up to learn the art of what you do, or where you trained in clock repairs and then added your love of wood work. If you can think of any good books that might show how the design of clocks is done, do you mind forwarding me the names and authors so that I could have a look through.

Thanks heaps for the time and love the work you do.


Neil Brown
Ba. Design (Architecture), UON
Undertaking Ma. Architecture, UON"
My response:
"Aloha Neil, sounds like you've gotten the 'bug' too. It's a wonderful malady.

You can check out my recommended reading section for books. The very best for clock mechanics is Modern Clock. The others there are great, too.

About design, I had two instructors - friends of mine that made a difference in my design. Marc Tovar, (check out his site in my links) said "simply bend a line until it is pleasant," and the other friend, a fabric artist told me once when I was stuck "you are trying to design 'beautiful.'  Design 'ugly.'"  She was giving me freedom from my own constraints.

Good luck in your career and in designing these most wonderful mechanisms.

Aloha. Clayton"
The thread continues from Neil:
"Aloha Clayton,

I've ordered the books you recommended, and I've been instructed that I'm getting them for my birthday so I can't start anything until then.

One question I havent been able to find either on your site, on in any of the others that I've been looking at, is how often do these clocks need to be wound up? Is it everyday, every week, a month. I'm interested in making one for my In-laws, but dont think they would appreciate it as much if they needed to wind it up every morning. It would most likely stop and only be started when they knew I was coming over.

Alternative: what are the designs that yourve made that last longer between winds, or can this be altered easy enough from a beginers point of view.

Thanks again for the advice on the books. Cant wait to get these bad boys started.

Neil Brown"
Last word fom me:
"Aloha Neil, I think you are gonna enjoy those books, especially Modern Clock. It will explain everything about clocks and how they work. Although it is mainly about metal clocks, much of what he writes about will apply just as well to wooden mechanisms.

The length of time between winds, and how long a clock will run on a wind depends upon a lot of things.

The easiest way to make a clock run longer, since it is weight driven, is to hang it higher on the wall. This may sound facetious, but it is exactly what Thomas Jefferson did in his home in Monticello. In his dining room Jefferson designed a clock that mounted at the ceiling, and I believe he wound it each Sunday. As the weights dropped, they would align with the days that were marked on the wall of his dining room. Unfortunately, Jefferson calculated his wind barrel radians incorrectly and a hole in the floor had to be drilled for the weight to drop through and into the cellar to get a full weeks run time. Saturday was in the cellar.

A pulley on the weight cord will double the run time of a clock. A set of pulleys will treble or quadruple the run time, and extra gearing will also make the clock run longer.

Most of the clocks you see on my main page run for a full day on a wind. To get two days run time is not difficult, but getting a clock to run a full week on a wind takes some doing and is generally not for the beginning clockster.

I believe that the only clocks in that 'week run time' genre that I offer are the Medieval Astronomical Calendar Clock and Attempt.

Of course there's always Electra and Toucan that NEVER need winding.

Aloha, Clayton"
Toucan, an electromagnetic clock, built by Jeff Hecht