English bell strike servicing Part I – the assessment

In February 2020 my wife was perusing an online auction house looking for interesting bargains and noticed a 170-year-old Scottish tall case offered for bidding.

Over the past couple of years we had talked about acquiring an antique tall case clock but those we liked were either well beyond our reach or required extensive repairs so, here was a unique opportunity.

Though we had only auction photos to go by, the clock looked intriguing and was very much what we had in mind. We began our bidding low and managed to win the bid with a decent and acceptable (to us) price.

Tall case clocks have dropped dramatically in price over the past few years; nobody wants them and they do not fit the modern minimalist lifestyle of the young today. Besides, where would you put it?

Tucked into the corner of the auction house

The clock was not without issues nor did I expect it to be problem-free. The case required some structural work and the overall finish was dull and lifeless.

This article concerns my initial impressions and assessment of the movement prior to cleaning and dis-assembly.

Movement as found

What was I up against in terms of servicing the movement? What kind of issues would I find and did I have the skills to address those issues?

My preliminary assessment involved setting up the movement, connecting the weights, and performing some tests. After putting the clock in beat I managed to have it running for about a day.

while the time side ran well the strike side was another matter. Attaching the weight to the strike side produced a run-on strike until the power was depleted. Hmm, something serious or simply a minor adjustment?

Back of clock showing the crutch, bell, and hammer

While I have worked on dozens of English, German and American time and strike movements, this was my first attempt at an English bell strike. They are relatively easy to dis-assemble and re-assemble but are notorious for being temperamental. The greatest challenge is not the cleaning of the components or the reassembly, it is achieving long term reliability as a dozen parts threaten to hang up, split, or fall apart. Wear combined with scars from old repairs challenge any clockmaker.

First impressions

It is a very heavy movement with 3mm plates and large well-engineered components. These movements were designed to run reliably for years but 170 years and a history of cumulative repairs leaves one with a movement that can fail in many unexpected ways.

Looking at the escapement from above

Problem areas/issues

  • Enlarged pivot holes: I am reluctant to bush every pivot hole but upon inspection at least 3 bushings are required and possibly a fourth.
  • Repaired rack tail: The rack tail takes quite a beating. Once the rack is released during the strike sequence it drops with a bang on the snail. Years of banging ultimately results in a damaged and often repaired tail. The fix on this movement is ugly but the question is, is it robust enough to continue doing its job?
  • Homemade rack tail spring: Made from copper wire; there is too much tension causing the rack tail to strike the snail with too much force. A new rack spring has been ordered. In the meantime, I am using a thinner spring wire.
  • Worn gathering pallet: Assess and determine functionality.
  • Loose clicks: Loose clicks are a common issue with English bell strike clocks. The clicks on this movement are loose though the strike side is a little tighter than the time side. Both are functional. Should they be replaced or will they continue to function reliably as-is?
  • Loose crutch The crutch rod connecting to the escape wheel arbour has been adjusted too many times. It is loose and must be addressed.
  • Stiff Suspension spring: The suspension spring is the incorrect thickness and fashioned from a piece of a metal ruler! There is little amplitude. A new suspension spring assembly, pendulum rod, spike and hex nut have been ordered.
  • Bent rack: If it is soft steel it can be bent back to its original position. If it is hardened steel it could break if I tried to bend it.
  • Loose bell connection: Bell has been removed many times and the thread for the bell rod end where it connects to the cast iron bell, is stripped.
  • Missing seconds hand: Ordered
  • Calendar hand not connected: The movement has no calendar function. The face has a calendar hand and while the movement has no calendar wheel the movement is period correct. Was the movement replaced early in the clock’s life or was the clock originally built and assembled without a calendar function? That will remain one of the clock’s mysteries.
  • The cables are brass and they look old: I will make decision whether or not they should be replaced.
Side view showing the main wheel and the time train

And this ends part I. In the next part, dis-assembly and re-assembling the movement will be covered so, stay with me as we explore this movement further in Part II.

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