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  Reader's letter | August 2003 | Clocks Magazine

Prizewinning clock

After watching the television series Longitude, I became enthused to build something interesting. Being a lover of automaton clocks but never having enough money to purchase any, I thought that I would set out to build my own, using spare parts from other clocks.

The project started with an English key-wind fusee pocket watch movement that was lying around in one of my many spare parts drawers. The next thing was to find something to set it into. I decided on a German mainspring barrel of the exact diameter. The watch fitted like a glove. I turned the teeth off the barrel in my Cowells lathe, and then made up a hinge so that the movement could swing out of the barrel to allow for any repair to be done. After polishing the barrel and drilling a hole in the rear so the movement could be wound from the rear, I then mounted the barrel and watch on a cut down 400-day pillar.

Then I drew a blank for a few days as to what next, I was just making it up as I went along. After searching through my old copies of Clocks for some inspiration, I came across on the front cover of the June 1993 issue a French steam boiler automaton clock, and thought that was along the lines of what I wanted to build.

The next question was what to mount my pocket watch on. I needed some sort of cylinder, so it was back into the spare parts box again. I came out with a brass longcase weight shell—perfect. I cut the weight shell down and had two caps turned up for the top and bottom, the only job that I did not do myself as they were too big for my lathe.

Now I wanted things to happen, so again into the parts box. This time I came out with a German 30-hour balance wheel movement. I pulled the movement apart cleaned it, and extended the hand shaft so that it protruded from the back as well as the front, removed the balance wheel and the pin pallets, made the escape wheel into a fly, to slow the whole thing down.

Then I mounted the movement inside the weight shell so that the shafts reached to the sides of the weight shells. I then drilled the sides of the weight shell and bushed them to support the shafts. I drilled an extra hole on the left side, and screwed in an extra-long winding key to wind the movement.

After this I put a small bolt down through the top cap and screwed that to one of the movement pillars to stop it from moving. The next step was to fit an on/off switch at the back. At this stage the clock was becoming a bit of an obsession and I was letting my normal work fall behind. I had to finish it so that I could continue to earn a living.

The right-hand side of the movement I decided to make into a piston set-up. That was made by using a clock gear with the teeth turned off, linked to a piston going up and down in a cylinder. The cylinder was made out of the left-over bit of the 400-day clock pillar, barrel covers turned down and pivot wire.

For the left-hand side it was back into the parts box again. I emerged with the complete chime assembly of an English Enfield. I cut that in half and moved the hammers from the bottom to the top, then added a table that sat on turned legs robbed from an alarm clock. The idea behind this was to resemble a steam hammer. Then I linked all that via a turned rod linked to the movement by a count wheel off the back of a French clock.

This clock was turning out to be very multi-cultural. Then I decided that a steam boiler has to have a door. That was all constructed from a clock back-plate; the handle was made from a pendulum crutch. Then the finishing touch was a pressure gauge, which was made out of brass wire and the seconds dial of a fusee pocket watch.

Then came all the hard work, pulling every thing back to pieces and polishing every piece before final assembly. The whole clock was made so that everything can be stripped down and polished. All that was left to do was to find a case for the clock to live. Using a piece of Australian cedar out of an old 1850s church pew solved that. The glass dome was found in an antique shop just down the road for $35. At last it was finished and I could get back to work doing mundane clock repairs, and start dreaming about my next project. The clock was entered into our annual local show and took first prize in the metalwork section.

Graham Mulligan, Australia

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