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  Reader's letter | August 2004 | Clocks Magazine

Fumbling to failure

This letter is aimed at Clocks readers in their 50s and 60s who may have spent their spare time doing one diy project after another and who are now thinking of adding clock repairing (or making) to their list of accomplishments. Think again!

I have spent a lot of my time since taking early retirement trying to make clocks with ever clumsier hands and fast failing eyesight and it’s been a complete folly.

My advice is to think of more enjoyable and constructive ways to spend the many hours and the small fortune you might spend on clockmaking. Here are some suggestions.

Antique clocks remain a real bargain and if you had ever tried to make a clock you would realise how true that is. The reason for this is that we don’t pay enough for them or for the skills and experience of those desperadoes in the clockmaking trade who restore them.

While our fathers and grandfathers would not have dreamed of doing another man’s job we have tended to become diy fanatics and the once-proud clockmaking trade is just one example of a trend which has seen us become a nation of bodgers and cheapskates—to nobody’s advantage.

So why not buy a nice antique clock from a professional restorer and go to a cricket match and drink beer. You will be much nicer to live with and you will be contributing to a beleaguered industry that needs your help.

By the clockmaking industry, however, I do not mean that Dad’s Army of malodorous bodgers who surround themselves with 50s mantel clocks and ‘mend’ them by dunking them in petrol and spraying them with wd40!

You may have been unmoved by my advice so far but at least consider these additional points.

If you want to repair or make clocks there is an endless supply of written advice and instruction but you will search high and low to find local tuition from an expert because they are too busy trying to squeeze a living from their craft and have not got the time to advise you.

Many of the books are excellent but you will not know a good book from a bad one until you have invested a lot of time finding out.

Neither are the authors of these books beginners like yourself. They have spend an adult lifetime around machine tools, have vast experience of using them and of doing a host of ‘little’ things like filing, reaming, drilling, milling, turning and so on. Do you seriously imagine that you can learn all this at your age?

As to setting up a suitable workshop, let me assure you it will take years and cost a very substantial amount of money.

And there are the domestic implications of it all too!

How well will your nearest and dearest cope with sight and sound of machine tools—or those little sequins of swarf which magically insinuate themselves into the carpet pile however much you sweep the workshop floor?

Frankly, it’s all rather daft. During the last few years I’ve met a lot of older men engaged in making machines to make clock wheels or clock movements themselves and it’s my guess that very few will ever reach completion—but then few clockmakers made clocks all by themselves anyway.

There were wheel and pinion makers, plate makers and a whole host of others as well. Often whole movements were bought-in and ‘dressed’ into a case made by a cabinetmaker with a dial and hands made by yet more individual craftsmen.

So if you want to ‘make’ a clock to leave to your descendants, here’s a much better idea.

Buy a movement from a person who makes them for a living and then find yourself a young graduate in art and design or furniture making and get them to design and make a modern case which will show off the movement rather than obscure it and then get an engraver to put your name on the dial.

You will be a famous clockmaker and you will be contributing to the future of clockmaking rather than a bodging codger fumbling his way to failure in a back bedroom.

Jim Evans, UK

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