Where can I buy an alarm clock
made in the USA?
Sadly, when Westclox closed it's doors in Norcross, Georgia,
in 1999, it was the end of alarm clock manufacturing in the
United States. Most other manufacturers moved their
plant overseas by the 1970s. Westclox was the last
holdout. The majority of our restored clocks
were made in the US, and we can sometimes offer
new-old-stock clocks when we can find them and they are
What does it mean when a clock is overwound?
That is an interesting question.
Often, one sees clocks advertised on eBay and
elsewhere as “not running, probably over-wound.”
The fact is, there is no way to over-wind a clock.
Specifically, if a clock is wound fully, eventually
the winding key will no longer turn.
At this point, the spring is tight and capable of
delivering the most power to the clock.
This will not cause the clock to stop.
the condition of a clock is described as “over-wound,”
there is always another underlying cause for why the clock
will not run. The
clock ends up fully wound because winding is the first thing
we try when a clock has stopped.
It is difficult to determine the cause without
inspecting the movement.
My alarm clock winds, but not very tight.
The clock only seems to run for about a half day.
What can be done?
When a clock winds but the spring does not become
significantly tighter, the cause is usually a broken
often the mainspring will break near the inside of its coil.
If this happens, no power can be delivered to the
if the spring has broken on the outside of its coil, it will
sometimes partially wind, then “slip.”
If it is wound to just before this slip occurs, there
may be enough power available from the spring to run the
clock for a short time.
In either case, the spring will need to be replaced
or (in rare cases) repaired.
My clock is running slow (or fast). How can I adjust
A: This is
a very common question. It is so common, that
clock manufacturers have tried many methods to make
adjusting their clocks self-explanatory. Typically, on
the back of an alarm clock, you will see a crescent shaped
opening. Just inside the opening there is a lever that
can be moved to different positions within the opening.
In one direction, moving the lever will shorten the
effective length of the hairspring and speed the clock up.
The other direction will slow the clock. Here is the
rule: To make your clock run faster, move the lever to
F. (or +, or "Faster"). To make it run
slower, move the lever to S. (or -, or "Slower")
Move the lever in small increments and move it slowly.
A movement of the lever by only 1/8" should make your
clock run 5 minutes faster or slower. Some
clocks do not have the crescent -shaped opening, but have a
"screw head" adjustment. (The "Clock of
Tomorrow" and some later style 8 Big Bens have this
feature.) The same rules apply with this type of
adjustment. Point the slot to "F" to make
your clock run faster, etc.
Hey Doc, I've tried your instructions for adjusting the
speed, but no matter what I do, my clock runs 2 minutes fast
(or slow). What's wrong?
In their repair manuals, Westclox often points out that
alarm clocks are not precision timepieces. Their
accuracy will vary during the day, but as an
overall average, you may be able to make your clock
accurate to only 2-3 minutes/day. There are
exceptions, but you can wear yourself out trying to improve
their timekeeping. Remember, a peg leg Big Ben from
1915 only cost $2.50 when it was new. In
1915, you could also spend $300.00 or more to purchase
a jeweler's regulator that would be accurate to seconds a
day. There is a trade-off here. While a Big Ben
is very dependable (and fun!), it was not intended to be a
precision instrument. A Big Ben can also wake you up,
while a jeweler's regulator can only put you to sleep.
How often should I have my alarm clock collection oiled?
We recommend that an alarm clock be inspected and re-oiled
every 2-3 years, especially if the clock is wound on a
Can I oil an alarm clock with WD-40 or sewing machine oil to
get it to run again?
One of the worst enemies of clock movements is WD-40.
While it is an awesome lubricant meant to be used for
general household uses (like door latches, hinges, rusted
bolts and power tools), it is NOT suitable for clock repair.
Clocks oiled with WD-40 may run for a short time, but
will soon gum up again—and this time for the worst.
WD-40 is a natural enemy to clocks.
It gums up the fine movements, runs out onto dials
and stains them, and contaminates clock-cleaning solutions
when it inevitably becomes necessary to properly clean the
avoid this material, even as a temporary fix.
Sewing machine oils are generally highly viscous in nature,
and won’t stay put on the small pivots found in clock
they don’t do anywhere near the damage that WD-40 does,
they will also tend to run out and stain dials.
There are some very good clock oils available on the
market today and, when applied to a properly repaired and
adjusted movement, will provide excellent protection from
wear—and tend to stay where put.
Also remember that proper oiling of a movement often
involves more than one type of clock oil or grease.
There are also some moving parts within a clock that
are not oiled. The
trick is knowing which are which.
When should a clock movement be cleaned?
When new, the moving parts, friction areas, pivots and
bearings within the clock are oiled to minimize
metal-to-metal resistance (called friction) that is ever
present in any machine.
Over time, these metal parts rub or roll against each
other and, even in the presence of fresh oil, rub off small
metal particles. These
tiny particles are held in suspension by the oil and are
generally not a cause of great concern.
However, with time, dust and dirt from the outside
get into these friction areas and cause the oil to dry out.
Also, over time, oils tend to thicken.
All of these factors combined result in a pasty
abrasive gunk where there was once oil.
This gunk often acts as a grinding medium and causes
the movement to wear out.
If left alone without oil, most clocks will wear
themselves out. If
you’re lucky, the oil will dry to the point where it stops
the clock before more serious damage is done.
long this takes depends on the oil, the environment, and of
course, the design of the clock.
A clock oiled every 2-3 years has an infinitely
better chance of lasting than a clock that is never cared
for, oiled with the wrong lubricant, or even over-oiled.
Over-oiling attracts more dirt and drags oil out of
critical areas leaving friction areas dry of oil.
Over-oiling also stains dials, ruins paint, and leaks
out on you.
Even clocks that are meticulously oiled on a regular
interval cannot escape an eventual cleaning.
It’s very difficult to say how long the interval
between cleanings should be.
It largely depends on the quality of the previous
cleaning and repairing, how well the clock has been cared
for, and its degree of use and wear.
These factors are best evaluated with a movement
inspection by the Doc.
What does “luminous dial” mean on an old alarm clock?
With respect to vintage clocks, “Luminous dial” refers
to hands, numbers, dots, etc. that are painted with a
material that continues to glow after the ambient light in
the room is turned off.
It does NOT refer to an electric backlight behind the
dial, as we see in newer electric clocks.
These are usually referred to as “Lighted dials.”
little known fact is that the old luminous paint was mildly
radioactive--actually, a form of radioactive cobalt and/or
radium, mixed with phosphorescent paint. Everyone is
familiar with the concept of phosphorescents, as they are
used to coat the inside of TV picture tubes. When electrons
strike the material, it glows. It is similar with luminous
course, it has been a long time since radium was used in
luminous clock dials. The
newer material is an acrylic material consisting of a
long-persistence phosphorescent material, sensitive to
In the old days workers who would use their mouths to point
up the brushes to paint luminous material on aviation
indicators and clocks ended up with tongue, throat, and lip
are not aware of any recorded health hazard with these dials
installed on the clock in normal use.
Remember, however, that the half life on the old
radium paint is in the many hundreds of years.
It is advisable to avoid scraping it off the hands
and touching it. The phosphorescent material dies off, but
the radium remains alive and well for a long time.
Please read on.
How can I repair the luminous paint on the hands of my old
One point of view holds that it's possible to do this job
for best results, the hands must be carefully removed and
the old luminous material stripped.
There are problems with this.
First, safely removing the old hands will require
special hand pullers. We
have seen hands that were removed by untrained personnel
with pliers or screwdrivers.
It’s a shame to see these clocks because the hands
are often permanently damaged and the dials badly marred.
other problem is that many vintage clocks used a
radium-based luminous paint, which must be disposed of
must not be scraped off on the kitchen table and left laying
material is at least mildly radioactive, with a half-life
into the many hundreds of years.
The fact that it doesn’t glow anymore simply means
that the phosphor-based additive is “dead.”
However, the radium is still alive and well.
recommend you send the clock to us.
We have the equipment and processes to safely and
properly repair the luminous hands.
Doc, I see that you list a manufacture date on most of the
clocks you sell. How do you know these dates?
The way I date these clocks is simple. These are NOT
patent dates. Whenever I give a manufacture date on a
Westclox product, it is actually a date stamped on the
movement that gives the month, day and year. Sometimes,
especially in the later years, it was only the month and
year. Westclox did not do this for historical purposes,
but to identify a movement for the purpose of supplying
repair parts. Slight variations in the movement design,
noted by the date, would help identify the exact part
needed. The only way to see this date is to dismantle the
clock and movement. Gilbert and Ingraham also dated many
of their clocks, but not in the same manner as Westclox.
The plating on my Big Ben has worn to where I can see a
brassy color. How
can the shiny silver color be restored?
Can I buy something to do this myself?
Actually, the shiny “brassy” color you are seeing is
actually a copper plating that is underneath the nickel
plating, which is what gives the Big Ben its silvery color.
Over the years, from repeated polishings, wear and
tear, the nickel is eventually worn off, revealing this
copper plating underneath.
be honest, I wish there were a simple way to replace this
lost nickel. There
are brush plating kits available from Caswell Plating (www.caswellplating.com).
You will have to be very careful with handling the
supplied chemicals, and will have to buy some very strong
acids to “pickle” the surface before doing the work.
These chemicals are hazardous if used by an untrained
plating will sometimes yield ok results; sometimes the
results aren’t very good.
It depends on the degree of wear, the condition of
the remaining nickel, and, of course, whether or not the
surface is corroded or rusted.
real trick with replating, however, lies in the surface
properly restore an antique clock case, the old plating must
be removed. The
substrate must be very carefully cleaned and then rebuilt.
Layers upon layers of copper must be applied, then
buffed, and finally, the nickel plating done.
The equipment and chemicals that are needed to
accomplish this are out of the reach of most clock
My metal-cased clock has a dent in the top, apparently it
took a pretty nasty fall at one point. Can this be repaired?
In many cases, minor dents can be repaired in a metal clock
case, to almost as-new condition.
This is done with a variety of tools, punches, and
dies, much like doing autobody work in the miniature.
In the hands of our trained curators, damage can
often be repaired and the clock case replated or repainted,
depending upon the original finish.
Are there any books that will help me identify and date some
alarm clocks in my collection?
I would highly recommend the Tran Duy Ly series of books on
antique clocks. Tran
Duy Ly has written books for collectors of Ingraham,
Sessions, Waterbury, New Haven, etc.
There are always sections on vintage alarm clocks.
The information is very useful from the standpoint of
the collector and the repairman.
Often movements are listed complete with parts lists
and pictorials. They
are great for identification.
very good book for the collector is 20th Century
Modern Clocks by Mark V. Stein.
aware that for alarm clocks, the current values listed in
these books may be misleading, and are periodically not
current, prices are often average, and in no way represent
the value to a collector for a particular style, year of
manufacture, or condition.
We have seen clocks sold at prices from 1/10 to 10x
the values listed in these guides.
It all depends on what you are looking for.
I want to get into clock collecting and perhaps at some
point repair. Can
you recommend some good books and organizations to help me
Yes. There are
several very good books.
Here is a short list:
Repair Skills by Steven Conover
Clock Repair by Donald DeCarle
of Watch and Clock Repairs by H. G. Harris
Repairing as a Hobby by Harold C. Kelly
Cleaning and Repairing by Bernard E. Jones
also recommend you subscribe to Clockmakers Newsletter. Steven
Conover is the editor.
You will find him to be pragmatic and very much an
authority on clock movement repair as well as clockmaking.
He is also a prolific writer and has published many
books on clock repair, which you would find very
can get more info (and even subscribe on line) at www.clockmakersnewsletter.com
course the organization of choice is the National
Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC).
The membership rates are very reasonable and it gives
you access to regular Marts in your area where you can get
great deals on old clocks for your collection.
You can get all the information you need at their
impressive website at www.nawcc.org.