Clock adjuster rod for measuring spring and fusee drive power

 I was presented with a clock that seemed to be low on drive power and it was proving difficult to diagnose where the fault lay. I remembered seeing articles by both William Smith and John Wilding about a device that could give a relative measure of the drive power from the fusee.  There is also a brief mention of this in Donald de Carle’s – Practical Clock Repairing.

This will be difficult to describe but in essence it is an adjustable balancing rod that is mounted on the fusee winding square.  The movement’s centre wheel and second wheel are left in place but the escapement is removed.   The rod has a sliding weight that can be adjusted to counter the drive power from the spring through the fusee chain to the fusee itself.    By winding the fusee one step at a time and resetting and noting the counter weight position it is possible to derive a graph of fusee turns against drive power.  Here is a pictorial view of the device and below that a picture of my version.

A sketch of the principle of the balance rod for fusee drive checking
A sketch of the principle of the balance rod for fusee drive checking
Image of my version of the balance rod
My version of the balance rod. The winding socket is interchangeable for different fusee square sizes.

William Smith suggested making the mass of the sliding weight equal to 1lb and measuring the weight position in inches from the balance centre to the centre of the weight.   This results in a graph of drive in lbs/inches.

In practice the balance point is a little subjective to set.   You need to move the weight back and forth such that the rod remains horizontally balanced against the drive from the fusee square.  Once a balance point is achieved the distance from the moveable weight centre to the winding axis centre is recorded.

On this particular clock I plotted the results of the each turn of the full wind range of the fusee and the balance distance seemed to be reasonably repeatable and overall fairly flat. This suggested that perhaps there was not an individual fusee positional problem but something that was common mode across the range of the winding.   To me this indicated that the drive transfer through the centre wheel and the second wheel was potentially the issue.

Checking the arbors against the plate pivots did not reveal a great deal of wear but on dismantling and checking more closely one of the centre wheel pivots had a worn curved profile.   I re-made the pivot and re-bushed the plate and reassembled the movement. On re-running the test with the rod I found I had gained an extra 1″ movement of the balance weight along the rod.  This suggested that more power was now being transmitted to the train, that is the train was not presenting such a high resistance to motion and more power was being created to drive the clock.  

This appeared to solve the problem with the clock having a much stronger beat.   This result is indicative of the value of this simple tool.

William Smith also suggests that the balance rod is useful as a temporary drive source.  Suppose you have a clock stripped down and want to quickly check the train.  Without fitting the barrel and fusee chain, the balance rod and balance weight can be mounted on the fusee square to provide quite a few minutes of drive to quickly exercise the train without having to undertake a full movement rebuild.

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An alternative Bull’s Foot file for clock plate smoothing

A Bull’s Foot file comes in various formats.  In its simplest form it is a small circular filing surface mounted at right angles to a handle.  Its common use is for making good after a clock plate has been re-bushed when there is a need to selectively finish the newly inserted bush material to be flush with the plate surface.  

The commercially made files sometimes have a curved lower surface or have a periphery ring or bordering parallel strips of metal to ensure that the filing action cannot go deeper than the existing plate surface level.  Without this the filing action would lead to unwanted scratching and disfigurement of the plate.

I have got around the commercial geometry by using a homemade flat filing surface with two protective spacing mediums.  To get quickly to somewhere near flush I use a piece of 35mm film (5 thou thickness) with a suitable hole punched in it glued or held over the bush. This protects the plate from a wider area of damage caused by my flat homemade Bull’s Foot.  There is graphical representation of the concept below.  This is a method suggested by William Smith and John Wilding in their various books.  If I want to get even closer to the plate surface I have some sticky backed shim material that is 1.2 thou thick that I stick around the bush.

Graphical representation of a Bull's Foot file in use

With the commercial items, the bush is filed until flush using an increasing finer grade abrasion on the Bull’s Foot disc.   This means having to have a number of different abrasive Bull’s Foot files.   These are unusually difficult to source and expensive to accumulate.

My solution to this is to have a few Bull’s foot metal ‘blanks’ to which I mount appropriate circles of different grades of wet and dry paper.   The chosen wet and dry is simply held in place on the ‘foot’ with double sided tape.

Homemade Bull's Foot files
Homemade Bull’s Foot files and handles

The blanks (no more than 12mm diameter) are made from a disc of 3mm ground flat stock  brazed onto a 3mm silver steel shaft.  Once brazing is complete the disc is trued in the lathe by gripping the shaft.   The shaft is then heated to allow bending at right angles and then mounted in a home made handle.   

The handle is around 75mm long and is made from 15mm wooden dowel with a strengthening collar made from a 15mm length of 15mm copper water pipe.  The dowel is turned down such that the collar is a push fit and a 3mm pilot hole is drilled in the end face.   After preparation the dowel is varnished with the collar in place.  These homemade handles get used on other tools around my workshop such as needle files and gravers.

I agree the wet and dry will not last for ever but it is a cost effective and flexible option to a box full of ‘proper but not used very often’ Bull’s Foot files.  An alternative to using wet and dry is to Araldite shaped pieces of broken files onto a similar shaft and handle concept.  These would last longer but once again more handles would be needed to cover the grades of file needed.  The spacer medium would still be required to protect the plate surface.

For those of you more adventurous there is an alternative handheld solution detailed on the Sherline website.

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A church clock problem and lockdown timekeeping

Keeping the village clock going

From previous posts you will be aware that I am regarded as ‘Tech Support’ for the local church clock.   The clock is a Cooke of York design dated from 1869. It has been running very well over the past months until a few days ago when ….twang … one strand of the strike wire rope gave way and twirled back up the rope and got wedged in the strike mechanism.   The going train continued to keep time and display on the dials but no bell strikes.  An eerie silence fell over the village. 

Strike chain drum showing the errant strand in the barrel wheel
Strike chain drum showing the errant strand in the barrel wheel and also the soft eye fastening onto the strike barrel.  The going train barrel can be seen in the background.

The errant stand of wire was easily cleared but on further inspection the strike weight rope looked to be in a dangerous condition.  I resolved to replace the rope and while doing this I would also replace the cable on the going train. 

The strike chain had jammed with the weight almost at the top so this needed to be gently let down to floor level.

Strike train weight stopped almost at full wind
Strike train weight stopped almost at full wind and needed to be lowered before any work could start on replacing the cable.

New fibre cored 6 x 19 galvanised wire rope was ordered.  The strike train had 6mm diameter and the going train 5mm and both needed around 30m of cable.   The chosen supplier was RAMS Lifting Gear in London and they agreed to put a 20mm diameter soft loop at one end of each cable.   This would loop over a button on each of the two barrels to anchor the cable.   RAMS delivered the cables very quickly.

Given the social distancing restrictions in place, my normal assistants were not available to help.  Instead I persuaded my wife to climb the bell tower with me to assist with the cable changes.   It is a bit intimidating to ascend up the two ladders for the first time but she overcame her nerves and after a few up and downs became quite at home with the surroundings. 

The new cables were unreeled and laid out down the stairs from the tower into the church so they could take their own path and not twist. We had decided to use the existing cables to pull through the new ones.   This meant the soft loops and the associated crimps had to be pulled through each pulley.  This was tight on a couple of them but we managed.   

With the cables pulled through and into the clock cabinet we then pulled off the old cable from the drums and ran on the new ones.  Inspecting the old cables revealed that they were not in the best condition and could have been an accident waiting to happen had they snapped clean through.   There is no clock record to indicate when they were last changed.

The clock was soon up and running with its new shiny cables and normality was restored in the village and surrounds.

We received a number of appreciative comments from the villagers for getting the clock up and running again so quickly.  Considering these comments suggested that perhaps the chimes of the clock had taken on a new meaning in COVID lockdown.   Time precision had recalibrated.   Watches and clocks in and around the home had ceased to be the reference in the slow world of lockdown.  Nowhere to go or to be, meant watches lay on bedside tables unworn and unwanted.  Instead people had moved from watching minutes to referencing life by hours.   The village clock now subconsciously marked the passage of time with its hourly chimes.   Everything in between had become a slowed down lifestyle.   When to come or go into the garden or to the shops, when to think about a meal – all now seemed more likely to be triggered by the hourly chimes of the village clock.

Which is probably how life was in 1869 when the clock first broadcast its notes over the village.   

Did we perhaps lose something somewhere along the way ?

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Further 3D printed soft jaws for the Thwaites clock escape wheel

More use of 3D printed Soft Jaws

A few posts ago I talked about using 3D printed soft jaws for work holding in CNC operations.   This method does not replace conventional aluminium soft jaws where high accuracy machining operations are to take place.  Instead it is intended to allow second side ‘decking’ of what would have been excess stock on the material blank that had been used for work holding.

I am currently creating missing components for a Thwaites turret clock.  I had finished the pallets and I now moved onto the new escape wheel.   The design was created in Fusion 360 and integrated the pallets and the escape wheel together so the critical geometry was compatible.

The brass blank for the escape wheel was a 1/4″ brass block which I managed to hold tightly in the machine vice with a 1mm thickness of gripping stock.  (I don’t have Tallon grips or similar so I have to be generous).  I machined the wheel and was left with this 1mm to skim off the reverse side of the wheel.

I did not want the teeth on the new wheel to get damaged when gripped in the vice so the 3D printed soft jaw concept appealed.   The PLA would provide grip.   The teeth on the wheel could bite into the PLA without suffering any damage.

I had already created a single blank soft jaw In Fusion 360 for the previous pallet holding job.   This like it would be fine to accommodate the wheel dimensions.   I simply had to import two of these into the new soft jaw design (not forgetting to ‘Break the Link’ so the jaw models could be edited). I projected the wheel onto the soft jaw’s face and added a 0.2mm positive offset border.   I almost made the mistake of forgetting to invert the wheel as the soft jaw image must be a mirror of the Fusion top side view of the design to be gripped.

Fusion 360 view of the Thwaites wheel projected onto the PLA 3D printed soft jaws
Fusion 360 view of the Thwaites wheel projected onto the PLA 3D printed soft jaws.

The finished brass wheel did not accurately reflect the geometry of the Fusion design.  This is because the resolution of the tight corner CNC operations were limited to tool sizes.   I added fillets to all the ‘sharp’ edges in the soft jaw image to accommodate this.   I also had to do some tweaking of the inter jaw spacing 3D joint to reflect the wheel diameter and the amount of grip I judged might be needed.

Close up view of the fillet modifications to the sharp corners of the wheel outline
Close up view of the fillet modifications to the projected sharp corners of the wheel outline into the soft jaws.
Soft jaws and wheel ready to be skimmed
Soft jaws and the brass wheel ready to be skimmed.   The residual original square stock has been roughly trimmed around the wheel circumference.
The jaws were printed and I have to say were somewhat cosy tight around the wheel geometry.   When the jaws were mounted in the machine vice, the wheel was not going anywhere and the excess backing brass was skimmed off quickly and easily with no apparent movement of the wheel in the jaws.
Finished wheel mounted in the jaws after excess stock had been skimmed off
Finished wheel mounted in the jaws after the excess work holding stock had been skimmed off.
The finished escape wheel and pallets mounted in the Thwaites clock
The finished escape wheel and pallets mounted in the Thwaites clock

I am really warming to this technique.   It is quick and easy to implement and any mistakes can be quickly rectified with a new 3D print without having to remake aluminium versions.  I like it and recommend it.

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Vice soft jaws and then soft soft vice jaws

A Different Approach to Soft Jaws

A comment that I often make is about how having varied resources available to do a job creates on the one hand a quandary as to what route to take but on the other hand it can lead to a light bulb moment. Having a 3D printer available along side a CNC machine often creates this dilemma and often to advantage. 

Stick with me on this.

I am currently immersed in creating parts for an old turret (church) clock as pictured below.   My wife put it down as a JSN job but once again the challenge it presented won the day.  

view of the church clock as delivered to me to work on
Not a pretty sight but things do seem to move and things are certainly missing.

The client found me from my blog entry about creating the Brocot wheel in CNC.   His clock as you can see is missing the pallet arbor, pallets, crutch and arbor suspension bracket.  If that wasn’t enough it also needs a new escape wheel.  This is very similar to the aforementioned Brocot wheel but smaller in size.  Fortunately the old escape wheel was still in place but in poor shape with the teeth ends fairly battered and one tooth partially missing.

I created the CAM for the new escape wheel in Fusion 360 and then from the wheel design created the geometry for the pallets.  (There is a great document created by the BHI as part of their DLC called ‘Drawing Clock and Watch Escapements’ that helped on this as did W.J. Gazeley’s book ‘Clock and Watch Escapements’). In order to check the pallet design I decided to first of all print a 3D model.   The printed part looked like it would work when tried against the original battered escape wheel.

Next step in my evolutionary process was to make an aluminium version on the Tormach CNC.   I used a superglue mounting block and cut the pallet profile for the full 10mm stock depth and down to the blue mounting masking tape.   Because the aluminium was so soft and I kept the DOC gentle this turned out well.

Although the aluminium version worked very well and helped me prove the working of the clock,  aluminium is too soft for clock pallets.   A steel set would now needed and I opted for 20mm ground flat stock as the ideal material.  

Side #1 was cut while being held in the machine vice on parallels.  A 2mm thickness of stock was left as the gripping layer.   All went to plan.

running side 1 of the clock pallets designed in fusion 360 and running on the Tormach 440 CNC mill
Side one machining of the clock pallet. An 8mm 3D Adaptive has completed and a 4mm follow on is now being run to clean up the finish.  Note the newly installed second Fogbuster nozzle.
Side one of the clock pallets completed showing the residual stock to leave as a side two operation
Finished side 1 operations and ready to invert to remove the residual stock used to grip in the vice jaws

Side #2 now became the headache.   I could have used the super glue bonding of the stock as per the aluminium version. My twitch was that this would leave very little of the pallet material remaining to act as a secure bonding face with the superglue.  Given I was cutting steel there was every chance of things parting company.  I could hold the model inverted in the vice but there was a real danger of the nib tips getting crushed.   Not a good idea.

Clearly the right solution was to make a pair of soft jaws to grip the pallet shape while I was decking off the side #2 residual 2mm.

Now here is the light bulb moment.   I designed the soft jaws in Fusion so they would swap out the existing steel jaws on my machine vice.   This is a straightforward process using the Project function.   The best demo of this that I have seen is by Cough42 and is worth a watch.

pictorial view of the pallet soft jaws to allow side #2 material to be removed
The jazzed up Fusion view of the soft jaws (red and green) and the finished pallet shape that gets gripped in them.

I was about to order some aluminium stock to make the soft jaws when the 3D printer winked at me from the corner of the workshop.  Could I print the soft jaws on the printer and get enough grip to allow the last 2mm to be decked off ?  This had to be worth a try and had the advantage that I could be getting on with another of the clock components while they were printing.

Taking this route I decided I would need to modify the design in Fusion.   The 3D printer always leaves cavities a bit under size.  I used Fusion’s Offset Faces to increase the profile shape by 0.2mm all around.  I set the gap between the two jaws at 1mm.

Print time was around 2.5 hours for each each jaw.   With CAM and setup time, running them in aluminium would have been similar.   I gained the 5 hours to do something else.  (i.e. Drink tea watching the mill ….)

The idea worked.   The PLA tightly gripped the inverted Side #1 profile while I decked off the 2mm residual stock.  I didn’t go too aggressive on DOC.

finished pallets with PLA soft jaws
View of the finished pallets with the PLA soft jaws in the background mounted in the machine vice

 A set of PLA soft jaws – not a radical idea but food for thought.   

Aluminium soft jaws are essential if you are going to be undertaking detailed feature machining of Side #2 but if it is a simple decking skim then PLA would seem more than adequate.  Soft jaws are 1 off items dedicated to a particular part.   They are consumable as is the PLA but the PLA versions are overall quicker to produce.

This has been another situation where what would have been a no brainer ‘this is how we normally do this’ turned into a ‘how else could I do this with the resources at my disposal and make life easier ? ‘.  It is that lazy side of me shining through yet again …..   

Onwards to the next phase of the clock activity.

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