How to Set Mechanical Clocks

Written by jerry garner
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How to Set Mechanical Clocks
Mechanical clocks often use a pendulum to keep the movement consistent. (Wall Clock image by Wimbledon from

Old-style mechanical clocks are constructed differently than modern quartz and digital clocks. Mechanical clocks require complex combinations of gears and leverage to keep time accurately. This requires special care and consideration with regard to how mechanical clocks are handled. It also means keeping key tips in mind when performing routine functions with the clock, such as how to properly set the time on a mechanical clock.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Winding key

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  1. 1

    Check to make sure that the clock is sitting in a level position. Mechanical clocks are a delicate balance of gears and other moving parts, and the time they keep can be affected by being placed in a tilted position. Use a carpenter's level to make sure the surface where the clock will be placed is level. Adjust the shelves as necessary, or place shims under the edges of the clock to adjust its position, if necessary.

  2. 2

    Wind the clock. Mechanical clocks operate on a spring-loaded winder, which provides power to the clock. Wind the clock each day by inserting the key into the winding arbor and turning it in a clockwise motion. Give the key a few turns until you feel tension start to build, then stop. Do not overwind, as this may break the springs. If you have hanging mechanical clocks, the winding may utilise a chain and weight mechanism. In this case, simply pull on the chain to raise the weight until it is several inches from the bottom of the clock. The weight will slowly drop over the course of the day, using gravity to power the clock's mechanics.

  3. 3

    Start the clock. Mechanical clocks use a pendulum to keep everything moving at a steady pace. To start the clock, pull the pendulum to one side and let it go. It will swing freely in a back-and-forth, or side-to-side, motion. Listen for a slight clicking sound as the pendulum reaches the high point of each swing. If no click is heard, the pendulum is not swinging far enough to keep motion and will eventually slow to a halt. Restart the pendulum with a slight bit more force so that it will swing to the proper level.

  4. 4

    Set the time on the clock. Slightly touch the minute hand of the clock with your finger. Rotate the minute hand in a clockwise motion, allowing the hour hand to move freely as the minutes wind by. Continue rotating the minute hand until you have reached the desired time, then stop. If you pass the time, do not move the hand backward. Instead, either stop the clock to allow the current time to "catch up" to the set time, or continue moving the hand in a clockwise motion until you reach the desired time again.

Tips and warnings

  • Mechanical clocks can gain or lose a few seconds per day. This is normal and does not mean there is a problem with the clock. Adjusting the time every few weeks may be necessary to compensate for the cumulative effects of these small discrepancies.

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