Thursday, December 11, 2014

How often should I have my clock oiled ?

When I was in my store and more involved in retail, I sold many new, and modern clocks. One question that always came up during, or after, the sale was " How often should we get it oiled " ?  Everyone was always surprised with my answer which was "Never".  Of course this was only for modern clocks, not antiques.

It's not that oil is a bad thing for clocks, it's just money that doesn't need to be spent. A clock is a machine with a hundred parts.  They all move up and down or rotate around. Most of them are a metal against metal contact.  The ends of the gear arbors (pivots) are steel.  The plates with the holes that the pivots rotate in are brass. Even with oil these will eventually wear out especially when a little dust sticks to the oil.  Now you have an abrasive. A typical wall clock has a pendulum that swings back and forth about 120,000 times a day.  That's not a typo.  So why would anyone think it will not eventually wear out.

Here's the math for a typical Howard Miller mantle or wall clock. Never touching the thing you could expect 18 years or so.  The owner of the largest movement manufacturer says 15 years, but that might be underestimated a bit. Oiling the clock every 2 years could extend the 18 years to maybe 20 - 22 years, but it's still gonna wear out.  Go back and read the last paragraph.  You could change the oil in your car every week, but at some point it's gonna wear out.

Removing the clock movement from the case, oiling, minor adjusting, re-installing in the case, putting the hands back on, and testing could be anywhere from $100 to $120.  Over 18 years, that would total $900 - $1080 just in maintenance.  A new, identical movement, from the same manufacturer as the original, possibly with some improvements over the original, could be installed in the clock for an average of $500.  Then you are basically starting over with a new clock and possibly another 18 years. That's $400 - $580 you just saved.  These numbers are actually low, because to properly maintain the clock, the industry recommends a full tear down and cleaning of the movements after 4 - 5 oilings to get rid of all of the old oil  (now gunk) which has either been used up or evaporated and cleanings are much more expensive than a simple oiling.

There are some repair shops that recommend oiling the clock every year, so double all of the numbers above. That is some serious wasted money.

Once again, this is my opinion  regarding modern clocks, not vintage or antiques.