Summer School: How To Fix A Clock

Aug 24, 2016

In the digital age, building and repairing clocks is an increasingly lost art. However, there are still those who retain a fascination with the beauty and complexity of keeping a timepiece running smoothly.

Pat Boyden is a clockmaker and owner of Green Mountain Clock Shop. In this installment of Vermont Edition's "Summer School" series, Boyden explains what keeps a clock ticking.

First steps:

"When someone brings a clock to us, we talk to them and tell them what the possibilities are and what we're likely to do. And then once we get approval or get an idea of what's going on, I'll take the clock downstairs and I'll take the movement out of the cabinet and I'll figure out what's going on.

"The way you check out a clock is you decide what the clock was supposed to do – what was it designed to do? And then you look at it and you say, 'Now why doesn't it do that?' And why doesn't it do that is what I've got to fix."

What to look for:

"Every clock is different. So you have to look at it and check the outside, check the inside, see what it is. I've done this a few times, so I have a pretty good sense of how things should be when I start, but you need to observe carefully the alignment and the synchronization of parts.

"And you have to have some kind of memory of how they should go back together. I usually can look at them and figure it out, so I don't normally draw my movements anymore, but I used to. So anything that'll help you."

Pat Boyden, owner of Green Mountain Clock Shop in Williston, holds up a movement from a clock. A movement is made up of various moving parts, like gears, that keep a clock running properly.
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

Missing pieces:

"And what I try to do now is if I need a part, I try to find one and then I make it, rather than take it from an existing movement. Because if I take it from the existing movement, it's gone. And next time if I need it, it isn't there to look at. So I use it as a model and I make a lot of parts."

Words of caution:

"The biggest challenge I have from 'home do-it-yourself-er fixers' probably starts with WD-40. That's tough. It's messy. It's hard to get rid of."

"The biggest challenge I have from 'home do-it-yourself-er fixers' probably starts with WD-40. That's tough. It's messy. It's hard to get rid of." - Pat Boyden, Green Mountain Clock Shop owner

The appeal of the craft:

"There's just a fascination of seeing things run well, seeing integrated parts function the way they're supposed to. Every one [has] got a little special part to it or little special thing that makes it unique. I learned by using my hands and doing it.

"A physicist could run circles around me as to the ability of time, but if he's asked to fix his clock, I can do it a whole lot faster than he can."

Tips to remember:

"Basically, pay attention to your clock. If it needs to be wound once a week, go ahead and do it. You should run the clock, not the clock you.

"So have fun with it, enjoy it. Think of it as an enjoyment. And when it doesn't work well, if you want some help – that's what we do."