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Cuckoo Clocks

People either love or hate cuckoo clocks. Made traditionally, and still primarily, in the Black Forest region of Germany. The creativity in designs of these clocks is astounding. A clock with two weights, will cuckoo on the hour and half hour, while three weights indicate some type of music box often accompanied with dancers going in a circle. Clocks have either one day or eight day movements. These weights power the clock, while the pendulum regulates the timing of the clock. Many cuckoos came to this country by U.S. solders stationed in Germany. Clocks that were once bought at an military base store for $15 after WWII, now have a replacement cost of over $200. That is just for the simple clocks. One can easily spend over $500 for a relatively small clock that has a music box. However, a clock with intricate hand carving can indeed be a treasure to own. With a little care, these charming clocks can bring years of enjoyment.


  • Beat: The most important step in having your cuckoo run properly, is in getting it in the correct "beat," or tic toc. This is accomplished by moving the base of the case to the left or right. Hang the clock on a screw that is in a stud on the wall. (I can't tell you the number of clocks that have come to our shop, because they have fallen off the wall.) Place the clock position so it looks straight to you, then start the clock by moving the pendulum to one side and releasing it. Listen carefully to the tic and the toc. They need to be evenly spaced with equal emphasis on each. If you hear a strong tic and weak toc or vise versa, move the bottom of the case to the left or right an 1/8." If it sounds better, but not even yet, move it a little further in that direction. If it sounds worse, go back to your original spot, then go an 1/8" in the opposite direction. Continue in this way, until the tic and toc are evenly spaced with equal emphasis. After achieving a good beat, mark the wall along the side of the case with pencil very lightly. You will be the only one who sees it, but it will save you the steps of having to find that spot again because will move. If the clock is out of beat enough, it will not run!

  • Winding: This entails putting one hand on the case straddling the hands and pushing towards the wall, while with the other hand, you pull down the side of the chain without the weight. Bring the weight up to about 1/2" from the bottom of the case. Don't jam it into the case! When pulling a weight up, you have to "reset" for another pull. When doing this, gently ease the pressure off of your pull, until you don't feel any pressure on your hand and the weight has "caught." Then move your hand down the chain and pull up again, repeating this process until the weight is up to the case. By winding gently, you prevent wearing out the winding mechanism.

  • Timing: Getting the clock to run accurately is achieved by adjusting the pendulum, which consists of two parts, a stick and a leaf or other object that slides up and down the stick. You lower the leaf, to slow down the clock. Raising it speeds the clock up. I like to mark the back of the stick with a pencil when adjusting the timing, so I can see how far I've moved it. If it has moved too much, I can go back in the direction I started without going all the way back to the starting point. Cuckoo clocks are notorious for the timing changing with the seasons, without even adjusting the pendulum. Heat and humidity effect the timing. Some people constantly are tweaking the timing, while others, just adjust the time when winding. 

  • Setting The Time:, Always go clockwise with the minute hand, stopping whenever it wants to cuckoo and do anything else, until it is finished before continuing on. Never move the minute hand counterclockwise. The nut holding the minute on, has a tendency to loosen up. Occasionally, check to make sure it is tight. The hour hand is held in place by friction as it is mounted on a tapered shaft which is wider closer to the clock face. If the hour hand "flops," work the minute hand around until it is on the "12." Whatever hour is cuckoo-ed, move the hour hand to that number, then push it in towards the clock face, to secure it.

  • Hanging Height: The winding of the clock depends on if it's a one or eight day movement AND how high you hang the clock. Everyone has a different preference for the height. Just remember if the weights are getting close to the floor, the clock needs to be wound. That might mean twice a day for a one day clock and more often than weekly for an eight day, if the clock is hung lower on the wall. 

  • Caution: As with any clock, never move it with the weights and pendulum on. Don't spray WD-40 into your movement. It may get it to run for a while longer, but it will cost you more in the long run, when it is serviced. WD-40 will collect dust, and form an abrasive paste that will damage your movement. 

  • Maintenance: The oils used in clocks should hold their viscosity for at least 10 years, but if dirt or animal fur collects in the movement, it can cause enough friction to stop a clock from running. If you cuckoo starts slowing down or the clock keeps stopping, it's an indication that it needs servicing. 

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