How to Set a Grandfather Clock: Basic Grandfather Clock Maintenance

At a glance, grandfather clocks look extremely complicated. That’s honestly part of their appeal; they often have detailed cases, gorgeous dials, and pendulums covered in inlays.

This same sophisticated appeal can be a repelling factor, however, when it comes time to maintain the clock. When you first set it up in your home or when you find it failing to keep time accurately, it’s probably time to set it. But how do you do it?

In this simple guide, we’ll explain to you how to set a grandfather clock. Furthermore, we’ll answer some additional questions you may have about clock maintenance that could arise.

Setting a Battery-Operated Grandfather Clock

There’s a vital difference between electric grandfather clocks and their mechanical counterparts. Setting either one varies, so we’ve divided our guide into two sections for either type of clock.

If you have a battery-powered grandfather clock, let’s look at how you would set it up…

Level your clock.

The first step with either type of clock is to ensure it’s totally level on your floor.

The first step with either type of clock is to ensure it’s totally level on your floor. If it’s slanted to either side or leaning forward, the pendulum will have a difficult time keeping its momentum. In a battery-powered clock, this may not be as big of a deal, but in a mechanical one, the pendulum failing to move can prevent the clock from ticking.

If you know your floor is even and the clock is still tilted at an angle, be sure to check beneath the clock’s legs. Most grandfather clocks have small levelers under each leg that you can twist to alter the height of that particular leg. You may need to tinker with levelers to get the clock perfectly even.

Push the pendulum gently to the side to get it started.

Once the clock is level, you should be able to push the pendulum lightly to either side to get it moving. Ideally, it should keep moving on its own at this point.

Should the pendulum only move for several seconds, then stop, it may be because the clock isn’t level. In that case, you may need to adjust the levelers underneath the clocks legs some more to correct any slanting.

For many battery-powered clocks, the pendulum may not be able to swing indefinitely prior to inserting batteries. This is because there’s an electric component that helps the pendulum swing.

Nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea to push the pendulum before inserting the batteries just to see how it swings and determine if there’s a level issue.

Read Also: Grandfather Clock History: The Story of Grandfather Clocks

Install the correct batteries into the battery compartment.

The next step is to add the batteries to the necessary battery compartment. Your battery-powered clock may have up to three separate battery compartments: one for the hands, one for the sound of the chimes, and another for moving the pendulum.

Your clock should have come with a manual indicating exactly which batteries go where. Be sure to check the manual so you know which batteries to use and how to install them correctly.

Adjust the time as necessary by moving the minute hand or by twisting the time set knob.

With the batteries installed, it’s time to actually set the time. There are a couple different ways you can do this.

Chances are, your battery-powered clock has a time set knob inside it. You can turn this knob to move the hands on the clock clockwise into the correct position.

Sometimes, if necessary, you can move the minute hand yourself manually. Be careful prior to doing this, however – check the manual to see if it has any warnings about the hands. Some may say, for instance, that you shouldn’t move the minute hand counterclockwise because it may interrupt the chime sequence and cause harm to the clock.

Setting a Mechanical Grandfather Clock

A mechanical clock is slightly different from your standard battery-operated one. There are some similarities, and some vital differences.

Here is what you’ll need to do…

Make sure the clock is level.

The first step to setting your mechanical grandfather clock is the same as setting your battery-operated one: ensure the clock is resting evenly on your floor. As we mentioned before, there are probably levelers beneath the base of your clock that you can use to adjust how it stands.

If you’re struggling with this, consider using a level to confirm whether your clock is perfectly straight. We have used a small leveler, resting it on the base of the clock or even on top, to be absolutely certain it’s even.

Pull the chains located near the top of the case.

Most modern mechanical grandfather clocks use pull chains and cables these days. However, some old clocks may have a winding key that you’ll use instead. We’ll briefly describe both methods here.

Assuming your clock has chains to pull, this is the next step in setting it. Open the front panel containing the pendulum. You should see a few chains hanging in front of the pendulum.

Follow those chains visually. Near the top of the case, you should be able to find a couple small tabs attached to chains of their own. When you pull them, the weights on either side of the clock should rise towards the top of the case. As the clock works, the gradual descent of the weights will power it.

If you’ve got a winding grandfather clock, you may need to open the panel in front of the dial. There may be a series of holes in the face into which you will insert your key and turn it to wind.

You can read more about winding grandfather clocks in this handy guide. 

Read Also: Parts of a Grandfather Clock: What Makes a Grandfather Clock Tick?

Push the pendulum to one side to get it started.

Like with the battery-powered clock, there isn’t much you need to do to get your pendulum moving. Simply push it to the side of the case, then let go to get it started.

Manually move the minute hand counterclockwise as necessary to the correct time.

Setting the time on a mechanical grandfather clock is simple. All you need to do is push the minute hand until the clock is indicating the correct time.

You should move the minute hand counterclockwise (to the right if you are facing the clock) until it is positioned at the right time. Avoid moving the hour hand at all, since it will move along with the minute hand on its own.

If you’re a visual learner, be sure to check out the video above for guidance on how to set your grandfather clock.

Clock Setting FAQs

How do I get my grandfather clock to chime correctly?

Even if you seemingly set your grandfather clock perfectly, you might notice an issue with its chimes. A common issue, for example, is chiming the wrong hour.

If your clock is chiming an hour behind, the solution is simple: just push the minute hand one hour so the clock reflects the hour it is chiming. You can then set the time to the correct hour once the chime and the timing have synced. This is a solution you may occasionally have to resort to with some battery-powered clocks.

What if your clock is chiming a vastly different hour from the actual time? Listen to the number of chimes and move the hour hand to that time. Once the hour hand reflects the hour being chimed, move the minute hand until the time is correct.

There’s a lovely detailed guide to correcting wrong chiming here if you want to read more about the topic. 

Why does my grandfather clock chime every 15 minutes?

If you’re not very familiar with grandfather clocks, you may be confused when yours possibly chimes every quarter hour as opposed to simply tolling at the top of every hour. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean that your grandfather clock is broken.

Many grandfather clocks, especially higher-end ones, chime multiple times an hour. Your grandfather clock may chime every quarter hour, every half hour, and of course, at the beginning of every hour. If it chimes on a quarter-hour basis, it will usually play a shorter version of the full chime melody.

Read Also: Best Antique Grandfather Clocks for Sale

Can you turn the chimes off on a grandfather clock?

We personally think the chiming of a grandfather clock can wonderfully fill the silence of a home. It can make your space feel more welcoming and warmer. 

Occasionally, however, you may not want your grandfather clock to chime. For example, if you’re trying to sleep or concentrate, the sound of a clock’s chime could be disruptive to you.

Whether you can silence the chiming depends on your specific clock. Some will have volume controls built-in, and some battery-powered clocks may have batteries added specifically for chiming. In that case, you can usually remove the chime batteries to stop the chiming.

Many clocks will come with an automatic nighttime shutoff function. In these clocks, the chimes will automatically be muted between certain hours of the night.

Wrap Up

Setting up a grandfather clock isn’t as intimidating as it looks. Don’t let the setup be the reason you choose not to get one in your home. Even if that is a huge concern for you, the good news is that many high-end grandfather clocks come with free installation, saving you the effort of setting up your clock in the first place.

We have some examples of clocks that come with free installation in our list of the best grandfather clocks for sale. Take a look at it to see a selection of some of our favorite timepieces.

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