Grandfather clocks are beautiful collectibles, but did you know that there are intricate mechanisms that allow grandfather clocks to keep time accurately? One of the mechanisms that allow grandfather clocks to keep time are the weights inside the clock cabinet found near the pendulum.
All grandfather clocks have a total of three weights that are hung inside the clock case with a cable or chain. The weights are attached to the clock’s movement by these chains. Each weight serves a different purpose and needs proper placement within the clock cabinet. Each weight also needs to be adjusted for the ability to keep time accurately.
You may be wondering how these weights contribute to timekeeping in combination with the clock’s movement and how to properly hang the three weights in your grandfather clock. We’ll explore these questions and more in this article in our series about grandfather clocks.
Why Do Grandfather Clocks Have Three Weights?
A grandfather clock must have the three weights as part of the movement, otherwise the clock would not function. The three weights control the hour strike, time, and chime melody.
The left weight controls the hour strike, which regulates the movement for the clock to recognize when to chime each hour. The middle weight keeps the time and is the weight responsible for driving the timing mechanism. The right weight controls the chime melody and without it a grandfather wouldn’t have the lovely melodies that they are known for.
The pendulum regulates the entire movement and “tells” the weights what to do and when to do it.
Where Do The Weights Go in a Grandfather Clock?
Sometimes this is easy to determine while other times it is not. To determine which weight goes where, first look at the bottom of each weight. Most weights will be labeled “L”, “R”, or “C”—“L” for Left, “R” for Right, and “C” for Center. For weights that aren’t labeled, you’ll need to weigh each weight individually. With that being said, we’ll discuss the proper weight of…the weights!
It helps to know who made the clock movement when determining how much each weight should weigh. However, it may not be possible to find this information, especially with antique clocks. Weight specifications will be easier to find for newer clocks.
If you do have this information, finding the right weight chart can be useful. These charts can be found by contacting the manufacturer or doing a quick online search for the make and model of your grandfather clock. But it may be easier to simply to make assumptions, especially for newer clocks. These are typical specifications for German-made clocks created post WWII:
- If it is square and chain driven:
- 2 weights @ 4.7 lbs (about 2 kg)
- 1 weight @ 6.6 lbs (about 3 kg)
- If the pendulum is 8 ½ inches (about 22 cm) or more:
- Change the weight to 2 @ 6.6 lbs (about 3 kg)
- 1 weight @ 4.7 lbs (about 2 kg)
- If the pendulum is 8 ½ inches (about 22 cm) or WIDER:
- Change the weight to 2 @ 7.7 lbs (about 3.5 kg)
- 1 weight @ 9.9 lbs (about 4.5 kg)
Remember that these are not a hard and fast rule for these types of grandfather clocks. Also note that the weights don’t have to be exact, just make sure they are as close to these specifications as possible. Also note that some grandfather clocks will have weights that weigh the same amount, but the majority do not have all three weights weighing the same.
Photo showing proper weight placement on a grandfather clock. (Source)
While there are many descriptions of how to place weights inside a grandfather clock, I highly recommend watching a video on YouTube as it is much easier to follow along while watching someone place the weights. The descriptions can be difficult to follow without images.
Which Side Do You Place the Heaviest Weight?
The chime melody side will always have the heaviest weight, meaning the right weight will be the heaviest. The weight on the right side helps to drive the chime mechanism that makes a clock chime every fifteen minutes. If the wrong weight is on this side, the clock will chime very slowly and may stop in the middle of a chime. Simply holding each weight can help you determine which one is the heaviest if you don’t have a chart or instructions for your clock handy.
Where Should the Lightest Weight Go?
The lightest weight needs to be placed on the left side, which is the weight that controls the striking mechanism. If this weight is on the wrong wise, the clock may chime faster than what it needs to, before the hour (Source).
Image showing parts of a grandfather clock including the placement of weights. (Source)
What is the Purpose of the Middle Weight?
The middle weight, or center weight, controls the time mechanism. If this weight is too light or too heavy, this can cause the clock to randomly stop. This is the weight responsible for making the clock keep time, which is the most important feature of any clock. If this weight is not weighted properly, the clock is not going to function the way it is intended to. This can mean having a clock that doesn’t chime, a clock that doesn’t keep time, or a clock that does neither.
Do the Weights Drop Evenly?
Grandfather clock weights do not drop evenly. The center weight will drop faster than the other two weights. If you’re having issues with the weights not dropping properly or not at all, be sure to check that all the weights are in the correct order. You’ll need to make sure that the mechanism is properly lubricated for the weights to drop in the correct order.
Whatever you do, DO NOT use a product like WD40 on your clock’s movement—find a lubrication specifically made for clock movements, such as Liberty Grandfather Clock Lubricant, otherwise you could damage the movement. Lack of lubrication can cause a clock’s movement to not function as intended and can even damage the movement. At this point, a professional clock technician needs to be consulted to dissemble the movement and clean all of the pieces.
Read on for more information as to why a clock’s weights won’t drop and some suggestions for what to do when this happens.
Why Would the Weights on My Clock Not Drop?
This could happen for a number of reasons. There can be issues in which no weights drop, when only the right or left weights refuse to drop, both right and left weights do not drop but the middle weight will still drop, and the middle weight only will not drop. Here is what you can do to get the weights unstuck and make your clock functional again (Source):
- No Weights Drop:
- This is caused by the middle weight not dropping. When this happens, you should first make the pendulum swing again.
- The clock may be overwound, but fortunately some clocks have a protection mechanism to keep from being overwound (Source).
- If these suggestions don’t work, you may need to look at the clock mechanism to see if any of the parts are stuck within the mechanism.
- Right and Left Weights Won’t Drop:
- This is identified by clock hands that are moving, a swinging pendulum, but no chiming.
- First, check to see if the chime lever on the dial is in a “chime off” position. If so, set it to the “on” position.
- If not, remove the right-side panel and check the steel retard bar. Make sure it has not been lowered onto the chime hammers. Not all clocks will have a steel retard bar.
- Left Weight Won’t Drop:
- This is identified by the quarter-hour and time chimes operating properly.
- First, remove the left panel of the clock and check the steel retard bar. If it has been lowered onto the chime hammers, it can cause the same issue as when both left and right weights won’t drop.
- Right Weight Won’t Drop (Source):
- This is identified by the clock not chiming.
- This issue is similar to when both weights won’t drop.
- First, check that the weight is not set to “chimes off”. If so, then turning the lever to “on” should fix the issue.
- Also, make sure that the weights are hung correctly in the right order. If not, try moving the weights to their correct position and see if this fixes the problem.
- Another reason for this issue is if someone tried to silence or change the chime tune while the chimes were in operation. This can cause the chime hammer to get caught against a tooth. Open the side panels to see if the hammers are stuck.
- If your clock has an Automatic Night Silence option, you can try moving the time forward by twelve hours to try to reset the clock to chime during the day and be silent at night.
- Middle Weight Won’t Drop (Source):
- This is the most difficult weight to fix.
- First, try to pull down on the weight a bit while swinging the pendulum.
- Watch to see if it will begin running. If not, take off the pendulum.
- This should result in the clock ticking faster than normal, and you should be able to pull down the weight to get it low enough to run the clock.
- If none of these suggestions work and you have a chain driven clock, you will need to cut the chain and remove the movement, then fix the movement itself.
If you find that you are unable to fix the weight issue, you may need to consult an expert clock repair technician to fix the clock. There may be problems within the movement itself. You can also DIY after doing some research—reading and watching videos of clock repair. However, this is not recommended unless you have a bit of knowledge in clock repair already. Clocks can be further damaged by trying to repair them if one is not a skilled professional.
How Do I Care for My Grandfather Clock?
You will need to care for your grandfather clock so it can continue to keep time and chime beautifully for decades to come. Many clock issues can be prevented by doing maintenance on your clock at specific intervals. While most maintenance is a recommended task for a clock professional, there are some steps you can take to care for your clock on your own.
It is recommended to keep your clock away from sunlight. Sunlight, extreme heat, and humidity can cause issues such as cracking the case and a fading finish. Grandfather clocks are best kept in a cool and shaded area in your home. You should also keep the door on your clock locked or shut. This can keep dust out of the movement and also protect the delicate movement from being damaged by pets or others.
You’ll also want to wind your clock each week, if it is an eight-day movement. This can prevent random stopping of the movement. You can easily set a reminder in a calendar, or use another method that works for you, to remind you to set your clock weekly. For thirty hour clock movements, those should be wound every 24 hours at the same time of day.
Additionally, you’ll want to check the weights and check that your clock is sitting level on the floor. When your clock is unbalanced, it can cause your clock to not keep time properly. An unbalanced clock is easily fixed by balancing it with wooden shims placed under the feet or adjusting the levellers on your clock (if your clock has these). Checking the weights of your clock includes making sure they are clean as well as being hung properly.
Another extremely important aspect of clock care is to ensure that your clock’s mechanism is well oiled. Make sure each part is lubricated enough to move easily—no need to lubricate each time you check the mechanism or to have a large amount of oil on all of the moving parts. It is typically recommended to oil a clock every two years. Be sure to use the correct tools and oils to do this as this can damage your clock if not done properly.
After five to ten years, a clock should be served by a professional who can do a deep cleaning of the movement and all parts. While you can do this task yourself, you can cause damage to the movement or lose parts, rendering a clock useless.
The only cleaning you should do to your clock is to clean the case and the face of the clock. A clock’s case can be cared for the same as any other fine furniture: dust and wax/polish the clock every two to three months. A clock face can be cleaned with an ostrich feather duster because it is soft and delicate enough to not damage the clock’s face and hands. If your clock has glass components, such as on the door and panel, you can use any ammonia-free cleaner to clean these parts. Use a lint free cloth and spray the solution onto the cloth only (Source)