I’m becoming committed…

A month or two ago, I was involved with clocks. Now I think it is safe to say I am becoming committed. What has changed? It is a matter of degree…

Early in the year I bought a couple of clocks and started playing around with them. They fascinated me, and so I decided I wanted to learn more. As I said in my previous post, I’ve started collecting non-functional or damaged clocks with the intent of using them to learn basic repair and maintenance skills. But that is just the start… in no particular order, here is the rest:

  • I joined the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC). I could have accessed their forums and such without paying for membership, but it seemed fair to contribute. This gives me access to a community of amateur and professional horologists who can help me identify clocks, guide me in methods for restoring them, and provide a bit of camaraderie
  • I read several discussions on the topic and placed my order for my “beginner” set of repair tools. That’s $500 worth of files, clips, magnifiers, and winders
  • I ordered a workbench for clock assembly
  • I found and ordered several books on clock repair to complement my DVD set
  • I started looking at precision lathes and CNC mills for clocks and related work; I watched a series of half a dozen youtube videos on gear milling
  • I researched ultrasonic cleaners and digital microscopes… and realized I was in danger of becoming a tool collector, so I didn’t buy anything
  • … but I did order a second more general-purpose workbench, knowing that one day I’ll want those lathes and such
  • I started planning out the work for each clock in my “learning” collection, considering the order and steps for each clock
  • I read twenty or thirty threads on the NAWCC forums on such topics as tool selection, rare banjo clocks, the mysteries of reverse painted glass repair, and lengthy arguments about tung oil versus linseed or Joe Collins versus Ollie Baker winders

When I look back on the last couple of weeks I might ask myself: what’s with all the enthusiasm? Part of is undoubtedly the novelty: clock repair/restoration is new to me. I’m vastly ignorant, and I can double what I know in a matter of days. I haven’t become “smarter” at this rate in quite a long time. A few days ago, I couldn’t have told you how a gear is milled out of a chunk of brass or other metal: now I am aware of several ways it can be done. I had no clue what was meant by “curly” or “quilted” wood, but now I have a basic idea, and I can also grasp a bit about antique finishes like traditional shellac.

Another aspect of it is the largely physical nature of the work- there is math, and logic, but the result comes down to chunks of brass, steel, and wood working together in some fashion. You can’t wave off or ignore the basic fact that all the book knowledge in the world won’t make a clock suddenly start working. And as a hobby, it gives me a solid foundation of physics and mechanics along with a touch of art. I have really only completed one tiny “repair” in the past week, more of a jury rig in order to test out one my learner clocks, but it gave me a happy little thrill when the clock started ticking out the time. That is a nice feeling of joy and pride that I sometimes miss.

I still love computers and software, but clockworks are sufficiently different and yet similar that the concepts have fired off all sorts of normally dormant neural pathways. Who knows how long this will last, but I consider the money and time well spent. And as they say, it is the journey not the destination that matters.

4 thoughts on “I’m becoming committed…”

  1. What can I say? I like gadgets 🙂

    And with clock repair/restoration, there are a nearly infinite number of specialized devices. So far, by my standards, I’m being reasonably conservative. I’ve spent less on clocks, tools, and furniture than I usually spend in a year on computer upgrades. But just wait until I start getting into the power tools: then I’m in trouble 🙂

  2. Maybe it is because of our similar backgrounds in IT but I can completely understand your fascination with clocks. Spending multiple hours every day manipulating intangible bits and bytes, sometimes without anything concrete to show for it, makes the tangible really appealing. Plus the concept of a clock are pretty much universally understood. Talking to anyone outside of my industry about what I do usually bores or confuses, sometimes both, the heck out of them within 5 minutes. Being able to pick up a clock and explain that it didn’t work when you bought but it keeps proper time now is something that most people can understand and appreciate. There is added bonus of actually feeling like you accomplished something. Plus clocks have a precision about them that is lacking in a lot of hand-on work/hobbies. I am not sure if it because of 30 years of working with computers or something in my personality, probably both, but I prefer nice, neat yes or no (0 or 1) kinds of answers to my questions. Clocks, even the purely mechanical no quartz crystals in sight kind, are precise instruments. You can’t change the size of a gear to be more ascetically pleasing and still expect it to work. There is a rhyme and a reason for everything intrinsic to the function of the clock. Sure a clock can be stylish and decorative but if it doesn’t keep time then it isn’t a clock, it is art.

  3. Interesting, Jim: the things you say resonate with my thinking or “justifications” for my interest. As you say, it might be something about the kinds of minds that find IT interesting, or it might just be coincidence that you understand my interest.

    It amazes me that some of the clock mechanisms in the 18th and 19th century were made out of wood (!) I mean wood gears, wood facing plates, and so on: a few parts were usually metal, but in some of those clocks it was very few parts indeed. I guess it was because metal was expensive, but it is hard to imagine. How the heck do you make an accurate timepiece out of wood? It’s amazing to me.

    Irene pointed out another explanation: she thinks its because I admire the evil character Sylar in Heroes who starts off as a clock/watch repairer. I don’t actually “admire” him (although I think he’s a cool character), but his drive to understand “how it works” is sort of a caricature of my own interests. I suppose it is possible this character subconsciously triggered some of my old memories…

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