What Is the Movement of a Grandfather Clock?

Not all grandfather clocks are the same in terms of how they keep time. Not only are grandfather clocks produced in a variety of styles, but they are also created with different functions depending on your timekeeping needs. These different functions are called movements.

Grandfather clocks are created with these types of movements: one-day movement, eight-day movement, cable driven movement, chain driven movement, and quartz battery driven movement. All movements can be found in various combinations within a grandfather clock and have numerous parts that work together to keep a grandfather clock running.

Most of these movements are mechanically similar yet function differently. We’ll look at the parts of these movements as well as how this component of grandfather clocks works in this article in our series.

clock movement

What Are the Parts of a Movement?

While an older form of technology, a movement is an intricate element of grandfather clocks made up of multiple gears and parts. Both cable driven movements and chain driven movements function similarly and have comparable parts but will require different types of maintenance to keep the clock running. To gain an understanding of the parts that make up movements, we’ll first need to learn about what these types of movements are and how they differ from one another.

Most people are familiar with the weights and pendulum of a grandfather clock as those are the visible parts of a movement. A cable driven movement is wound with a crank or key to pull the weights up, and the weights fall downward from the top of the clock as the clock ticks (Source). These movements are typically found on one-day movement clocks.

A chain driven movement has a chain attached to the weights that will need to be pulled down to raise the weights, and the weights will fall from the top with this type of movement as well. A chain driven movement is typically found on clocks with an eight-day movement.

Something found in modern grandfather clocks is a quartz battery driven movement. All that’s needed for this clock to keep time is to replace the battery when the clock seems to not be accurate or stops working altogether (Source).

Depending on the manufacturer of your clock, aside from the weights and pendulum, your clock’s movement is going be a variation of what is described here. All manufacturers use variations of movements, and although they have the same components, placement will vary.

Parts of the Movement in a Grandfather Clock

Most weight driven clocks have the following parts in a movement: hour hand, minute hand, winding mechanism, pendulum rod, pendulum bob, weights, third wheel, spindle, escape wheel, pallet, pinion, drum, click, ratchet wheel, main wheel, center wheel, fork, and suspension spring (Source).

  • The hour hand and minute hand are the parts that tell time and everyone is familiar with these components.
  • The winding mechanism, as mentioned previously, is what will lift the weights so the clock can keep time.
  • The pendulum rod is a bar that the pendulum bob attaches to, which is the round disc on a pendulum.
  • The weights are another component that most people are familiar with as those are the three long tubes that lower as the clock ticks.
  • A third wheel gets its energy from the center wheel and is the wheel that drives the escape wheel.
  • The spindle is a cylinder-shaped part that keeps all of the wheels moving in rotation.
  • An escape wheel is the “last wheel of the gear train” (Source) that has teeth and controls the movement of the other wheels.
  • The pallet of the movement is shaped like an anchor and controls the teeth of the escape wheel by releasing or restricting them. This controls the pendulum moving from side to side.
  • The pinion is also a small wheel that has teeth. It helps each of the wheels to rotate in combination with one another.
  • The drum is shaped like a cylinder and winds when the clock is rewound.
  • A part called a click keeps the teeth of the ratchet wheel, which is another wheel with teeth, moving in a clockwise fashion.
  • The main wheel of a clock is the wheel that drives the weights that will turn the other wheel and is the wheel that sets the movement in motion.
  • The center wheel is the one that controls the movement of the hands.
  • A fork controls the pendulum movement and is driven by the escape wheel.
  • The last piece is a suspension spring which is a small, hard plate that the pendulum hangs from.

A diagram of all these parts is provided below as it can be complicated to picture how these different parts work together as the movement.

Example of the movement of a grandfather clock (Source).

This example of a movement is how both chain driven and cable driven weighted clocks typically operate. However, a quartz movement is what you may be most familiar with as it is the movement used in most modern clocks, even clocks that are not grandfather clocks.

Quartz Movements in Grandfather Clocks

Quartz movements became commonplace in the 1980’s when the invention of solid-state electronics allowed these movements to become small and economical (Source).  

A quartz clock keeps time by using an electric oscillator that is controlled by a quartz crystal. Clocks with quartz movements are considered the most accurate time pieces, even more so than mechanical movements.

These clocks depend on battery power which will eliminate the need for daily or weekly winding, but you will need to change the clock’s battery if it stops keeping time accurately or stops keeping time altogether.

Some grandfather clocks will still have weights and a pendulum in their cabinet, but these features are solely for appearance. The movement is still a battery powered quartz movement that doesn’t need winding.

The movement of a grandfather clock is intricate and fascinating, made up of many small parts that work together to keep the clock running. If this seems like an area of grandfather clocks you would be interested in exploring, you can consider becoming a clockmaker to learn to repair movements and/or make grandfather clocks or other types of clocks.

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