Five essential tools for antique and vintage clock repairers on a budget

Thinking about clock repair? Does the high cost of tools keep you from diving deeper into the hobby? Here are a few basic tools to get you started on clock repair.

These are also the five tools that I use almost every day in clock repair. The tools together are well under $100 and are essential when working on antique and vintage mechanical clocks. The most expensive is a letdown set which can cost anywhere from about $45 for a 4-piece set or approximately $65 for a 6-piece set. The other tools are less than $10 each.

So let’s begin.

The let-down set

The letdown set’s main use is to wind or release mainsprings in clock movements. It can be used on its own or in combination with a spring winder. It can also be used as a key gauge The 4-piece set includes a plastic handle and 3 chucks in sizes: #5-6, #7-8, and #10-12.

Broom handle let down tool

If you don’t mind sweeping the kitchen floor with a shorter broom handle you can make one of these and save even more money.

Letdown set
Four-piece letdown set

The safe release of powerful springs on any clock will save you from broken and bruised fingers, trust me!

The letdown key
The letdown key in action: letting mainsprings down on a German movement

The pivot locator

This tool is 8″ long with a knurled handle. The business end is the pivot locator which is used to gently push and pull pivots into their holes lining up wheel pivots between the plates when assembling clocks. It is long enough to go deep between the movement plates and is useful when working on either small or large movements.

Never try to muscle pivots into their bushing holes since it will lead to disastrous results such as broken and bent pivots. This tool is designed to allow you to carefully position pivots into their holes without the risk of damage to the wheels and gears. Every clockmaker I know has this tool.

Pivot locator

Flat nose smooth pliers

Below is an assortment of pliers, always good to have but the green handle one (center) has a spring action, a flat nose, and smooth jaws to prevent the marring of surfaces and is the first one you should buy. Smooth jaw pliers are also useful for releasing taper pins on clock minute hands. Others include needle-nose and wire clippers.

Assorted pliers
Assorted pliers but the flat nose type (centre) are the ones used the most

Box wrench

The photo below shows the small size of the box wrench among other tools. It is used for releasing nuts on movements. It grips better than pliers and spares the nuts from unnecessary abuse.

Screwdrivers and box wrench
Screwdrivers and box wrench; the blue handle slotted screwdriver is one of my top tools


The blue handle screwdriver is of the slotted type. Before the days of the Robertson or Phillips screw, flat head or slotted screws were used in clock making, especially case construction. Begin with the small size and gradually acquire an assortment for all your clock needs.

Beyond the basic tools, it all depends on how far you want to pursue clock repair as a hobby or a vocation. Obviously, the costs begin to escalate as you acquire more complex tools but follow my advice; determine the need for the tool first before you put down your money, establish a budget, avoid buying everything at once, and become an expert on each tool you acquire and shop on the used market when possible.


3 thoughts on “Five essential tools for antique and vintage clock repairers on a budget

  1. Ron – hi

    Excellent piece, as always. So reassuring to see those familiar tools, even down to the self-same colour of the let-down key handle I have on my workbench!

    A couple of things I would add – one an adaptation; the other, for me, a vital addition.

    An old hand at the British Horological Society gave me this tip. On your flat nosed pliers, cut a fine groove in one of the faces – see picture attached. It helps locate the pliers tightly when removing those stubborn taper pins which hold the hands in place.

    The second, some would say a luxury – but for those working on English Smith Enfield mantel clocks it’s vital – is the self-gripping screwdriver which has a sliding sleeve which enables you to hold the screw on the end of the driver as you locate it in the darkest recesses of the case.

    My favoured make is the Quickwedge, pictured. Not sure if the range is available in Canada but it is widely available in the US and there are UK stockists. Not cheap, but saves hours of frustrating fumbling!

    Thanks again for the article. Brilliant stuff.



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