This summer (2016) my wife and I were travelling through the striking beauty of the Muskoka area in the province of Ontario and stopped at a quaint village called Halliburton where we happened upon the only antique shop in town. There were a fair number of clocks in the store that the proprietor has brought over from Ireland and though there were plenty to choose from we settled on a Smiths Enfield Art Deco style oak mantel clock that you see pictured above.
It was sold as-is (not working). The clerk told us that it was missing the pendulum bob, hence the low price. I later found it wrapped with the key in brown paper and stuffed inside the clock. When I attached the pendulum bob to the rod to start the clock I discovered that the verge was way out of adjustment and it took all of a minute or two to get the clock running and in beat.
Since I am at my summer place I do not have the necessary tools to service the clocks I pick up in my travels but decided to take the movement out to oil it until I have the chance to properly disassemble and clean the movement later on. My goal was to see if the clock would run reliably for a couple of weeks. Once I took it out of the case I discovered that someone had “lubricated” the clock by spraying it with “something”. Not good I thought but not a complete mess. Fortunately the pivot holes looked quite clean and despite the telltale oily sheen there was a noticeable absence of grime on the clock generally. Luckily I had brought pivot oil with me just in case so I oiled it. It happily ran.
Lubrication is essential to the good running of any clock movement. It is normally a bad practice to oil a movement without first dissembling and cleaning as the addition of new lubricant will simply mix with the dirt and grime to form a paste which acts as an abrasive which will hasten pivot and pivot hole wear. Needless to say the purpose of lubrication is to minimize wear and the proper application of oil is vitally important. I have one piece of advice when it comes to oiling clocks and it is simply this; “less is more” meaning one should apply only as much oil as required which means that a tiny drop goes a long way.
There are plenty of articles on the science of clock lubrication and if one wants to investigate further I suggest the forum site at the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors where you can find many expert opinions (and, well just opinions).
However, I can provide a few brief pointers for clock lubrication.
Lubricant: clock oil has the correct viscosity and has a low tendency to evaporate, spread or react adversely to various metals. Correct oil is important. To state the obvious, pivot oil is for pivots and spring oil is for springs; there is a difference! Clock parts sites such as Timesavers or Perrins will sell the proper oil for your clock. At all costs avoid household lubricants and especially WD 40 which is not a lubricant at all. Some say synthetic oil is preferred since it retains its properties for a longer period but I work with mineral oil which is cheaper and almost as effective.
When to oil: This is debatable: Some say that one should apply oil only after disassembling and cleaning. Others say that a clock’s service cycle might be an average of 5 years or more and oiling every year or two without a thorough cleaning is acceptable. In any event if there is a visible build-up of black, contaminated oily sludge in the pivot holes, a disassembly and thorough cleaning is in order prior to oiling. Obviously the environment a clock is in will play a significant role in it’s deterioration since dusty, smoky environments contribute greatly to accelerated wear. A well sealed case will also keep out dust and lengthen the cycles between oiling.
How much oil: After oiling there should be a visible presence of oil in the oil sinks / pivot holes. Evidence of oil running down the plates is a indication that too much oil has been applied. I use a clock oiler which looks similar to a thin wire approximately .6mm thick attached to a plastic grip. Oil cup reservoirs are very helpful as they prevent any foreign material from getting into the oil bottle when dipping. Keep in mind that long case clocks with larger pivot holes will require more oil than a small carriage clock.
What to oil: While looking at a clock plate (front or back) I generally work from the top to the bottom. First and foremost are the pivot holes in the plate, then the points of contact between the pendulum and the crutch, hammer levers, escapement pallets faces and centre and other (motion / strike /chime) arbours. There are obviously other areas of lubrication but this short list will get you started. I generally do not apply lubricant to the mainsprings unless I have unwind them once out of the clock and conduct a thorough assessment as to their condition. It is not a good practice to oil the gear teeth as this will only result in attracting dirt and dust.
I have given you a short primer on oiling your clock and advise that it is not meant to be the ultimate definitive guide. If you have any ideas or clock oiling experiences good or bad please let me know. I always love the WD 40 stories!
A properly oiled clock is a clock that will give you many years of reliable service.