What Makes You Tick? Part 1: Balance Wheel Escapements and Regulator Clocks

A friend recently told me that mechanical clock repair is “a lost art”. I hope to find it, but whether or not I do I can definitely tell you guys a little bit about clocks and de-mystify them somewhat. One of the key words used when talking about clocks is “escapement”.

There are as many types of escapements as there are stars in the sky. Okay, slight exaggeration, but there are indeed quite a few. I’ve only encountered 2 or 3 types so far, so I’ll keep myself to a brief overview of the types of escapements that I’ve personally dealt with. “Aha, escapement! There is that word again,” you say. Or perhaps you skip straight past it because clocks are “confusing”. Not so!

Escapement; (n) (1) The name for a basement in which one is trapped and successfully escapes (1) The time-keeping part of the clock that is connected via gears to the potential energy source. As the energy source drives the gears, this gear has special teeth whose passage is blocked by a trap, or anchor, that relies on time, e.g. a pendulum swinging. With each swing of the pendulum the trap allows the gear to move forward by one tooth, thus the time in-between teeth movement is measured by the swinging of the pendulum.

There are various types of escapements, and perhaps you’ve heard of the category called regulator clocks (also known as pendulum clocks) or the type called balance wheel escapements.

Why would I call a pendulum clock a regulator clock? It’s just the lingo. The swing of the pendulum regulates the ticking of the clock, hence the name. It’s equally correct to call it a pendulum clock. Clocks are typically described with some of the following adjectives: wall, mantle, grandfather, grandmother, regulator, pendulum, pendulette, shelf, carriage, sharp gothic, steeple, pillar and scroll, cottage, and too many more for me to name.

For now let’s focus on balance wheels. The Minxie, Narco, and Ansonia clocks all use them which makes me think that they’re popular in small clocks where you don’t want to leave room for a pendulum. “Think” is the key word here because remember, this is all self-taught. Below is a picture of the Ansonia clock with the balance wheel in the bottom right. Note how scrambled the wire, unfortunately, is.

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The wire acts like a spring and is wound with minimal tension and the axis of the wheel free to spin. Here is a picture of a clock with the balance wheel wire stretched out (Narco clock).


And below, top, is the type of winding you would really like to see (Narco clock).


Balanced with the wheel is an escapement gear. A middle piece, called an anchor, is show below, with the left side what would hook onto a swinging balance wheel and the center pins stopping the escapement gear from moving every second. The right side is a weight to balance the motion of the wheel. This escapement piece is from the Ansonia clock.

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Now I am no expert, though I would love to be one. But tonight I dealt with two similar escapements, one Ansonia and one Narco, and both of them had the same problem. Can you see it below?

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That’s the Narco balance piece. Maybe you can see it in an updated picture of the Ansonia balance piece?

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Okay, kudos to anyone who noticed it because it’s a tinu detail. The gosh darn pins stopping the escapement gear have fallen out. Again, here is the original picture of the Ansonia balance piece. See those itty bitty pins close to the central axis?

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I failed to see the warning sign: that the left pin was slipping in the above picture. Soon after this picture was taken it fell out. Both pins fell out of the Narco balance piece while I was reassembling that clock half an hour later. Unless I have a specific and unusual voodoo curse on me, I would venture that this is a weak point of the balance wheel style of escapement.

In future posts I’ll talk about dead beat escapements, types of balance wheel anchors, and what on earth I’m going to do about these very important missing pieces! I may not care much about the Narco movement, but the Ansonia clock is gorgeous and I’d love to get it working. I already checked – none of the other balance wheel escapement axles that I currently have fit in the Ansonia clock. 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned! Below, a picture that I’m extremely proud of – my new business card, complete with blog website. aah!! so exciting!!

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3 thoughts on “What Makes You Tick? Part 1: Balance Wheel Escapements and Regulator Clocks

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