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  1. #1

    Default Owner built precision regulator

    Hi Everyone,

    Thank you Allan for your invitation to post & discuss my clock on this forum.

    I have a brief description of the prototype clock on my web site at:


    But here are a few better photos:

    This clock is a prototype that I built for the purpose of trying ideas that I had been kicking around. I was/am hoping to market some type of precision clocks and I needed to learn where my time would be most productive.

    There was plenty of opinion, but I was unable to find precise evaluations of many of the accepted practices. I.E statements were common that hard pivots had less friction than soft ones, but just HOW much less were the type of details I was looking for.

    The lessons I have been learning have resulted in my designing the movement pictured below - still awaiting completion.

    As I developed the prototype, an idea occurred to me to fix the great wheel firmly on it's arbor (rather than have it float) and wind the drum w/teeth cut into one of the flanges. I rigged up the prototype this way, but I don't have a photo handy. This method of winding shows up in the photo above.

    The winding arbor is spring loaded to keep it from adding friction to the train. To wind, you just push the key/crank in to engage the gear w/the drum teeth and wind the weight up. Release the key/crank & the arbor pops back out of engagement.

    I've never seen this method before or since but it allows the great wheel to be as concentric as possible to the arbor rather than 'kicked' off to the side by the action of a ratchet pawl on one side.

    There are a number of other breaks I made w/tradition (that I feel are improvements) but I will just have to keep posting additions to this thread as I get time.

    If there is enough interest, I promise to post more details w/photos explaining the entire process I have been going through.

    But for now this is my start.

    Best wishes to ya'll.



  2. #2
    Registered User bkerr's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Canal Fulton,OH

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: jhe.1973)

    Very interesting, keep the information comming. Someday I too would like to build one from scratch. How did you go about making the gears. I have a couple of lathes and a Bridgeport but I am not fully tooled up with a dividing head ect. At least not yet!

    Great stuff

  3. #3

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: bkerr)

    Jim -- I'm curious about what appear to be bi-metal wheels. Are they, in fact, made of two materials? If so, what are the inner rim, spoke, and hub assemblies made of, and is there a reason for this, other than aesthetics?

    Thanks for posting these pics.



  4. #4

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: John MacArthur)

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for your interest & kind words!


    The gears are some type of bronze w/aluminum centers. Hows that for being specific?

    When I did this clock I was waiting for a job to arrive so I scrounged around the shop to use whatever I could in a hurry while I had the down time.

    The bronze was from some tube ends my brother-in-law gave me & was rather tough cutting.

    I did thin the wheels down a few times to see what effect each thinning had on the power loss within the movement. Thats when I had to pin the hour hand wheel rim to prevent slipping.


    If you already have a B-port & lathes you are miles ahead of some of craftsmen of a couple of centuries ago that still built fantastic clocks.

    Not having a dividing head only changes how you cut gears, it doesnt mean you cant. All you really need is an index fixture and a flycutter. Fly cutter bits can be ground by hand.

    Here is an index fixture that my Dad made years ago & it works just fine. All simple lathe & mill work to make it.

    As far as the index plate on the end, you should be design it to substitute a gear that has enough teeth for your wheels & if you design the train for it, the pinions can be an even number taken from the same gear.

    I did use a dividing head & B-port for the prototype pictured here. But for the second movement above I made a different setup for a bench model horizontal mill & indexed the same way as my Dads fixture.

    Have you read, "The Modern Clock" by Goodrich? Written in the early 1900s it has a lot of good suggestions about building your own regulator. Some so/so opinions too, but overall inspiring.

    For all of you that are viewing this thread:

    The dial started out as the lid to a 55 gal. drum, the pendulum tubes were kitchen sink drain tubes, the pendulum shaft was a curtain rod & the wood came from maple door trim I salvaged from a house torn down across the street from where I was living.

    Oh yeah, I just remembered, the plates for the movement arent brass. I used aluminum there too. I polished it, installed Bergeon bronze bushings & painted them w/tinted lacquer to look like brass. Has fooled everyone so far!

    Im saying all of this to help shake up anyone who wants to build their own clock into realizing that you dont have to wait for the right equipment, or even the right material. This isn't meant to be critical, just helpful prodding.

    Get creative & see where it leads.

    Best wishes to ya'll.


    Last edited by jhe.1973; 05-12-2011 at 02:43 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: jhe.1973)

    Hi Everyone,

    I need to apologize for not posting for awhile. Besides being rather busy, I didn't see new posts here & never thought to check the views this thread received.


    I just came across a rough draft of an article I was going to send to the NAWCC Bulletin about the winding method I came up with and as I was trying to adapt it for this thread I decided to start at the beginning:

    In 1979 I owned an R&D machine shop and was doing clock repair as a sideline. Precision clocks have always interested me but were beyond my reach financially so I was considering building my own.

    As I studied more literature, it became apparent that I would have to build my own prototype movement to answer questions I had concerning traditional methods and designs. Most of my questions had to do with reducing friction and loads that contribute to friction.

    So in January I started with a concept and developed it into the completed prototype the following March. I have been making and evaluating numerous changes periodically ever since.

    I took a flying guess as to how wide to make the 120 teeth on all of the wheels. Starting with a cutter for woodruff keys I ground the tooth form I had come up and used the same cutter to make the pinions which have 15 and 16 teeth.

    First mistake/surprise, but also a lesson.

    Not only are the pinions supposed to have quite a bit of backlash i.e. thinner teeth, wider spaces, but the thin shank of the cutter right behind the head allowed it to flex as it entered and left the wheel blank. The result was a very slight curve to each tooth.

    In order to get the movement to even run, I ended up filing all 360 teeth of the wheels to get them to mesh smoothly. It wasn’t a lot of material because I was only taking the high spots off the curve, but it was still time consuming.

    The lesson was quite valuable though in that it taught me the importance of rigidity in the milling operation of precision teeth.

    At first I wasn’t going to build a case, just run the movement on a test stand. It quickly became apparent that I would need a cabinet to keep the air movement in the room from disturbing the pendulum.

    This was my second surprise because I had been running movements I repaired on my stand for years. However, I was now trying to accurately track a precision clock’s performance and it was a whole new ball game.

    Once the case was finished I was in for another surprise.

    Comparing my clock to a 110 volt AC electric clock with a sweep second hand I was quite taken back at how much my clock varied during the day. That was until I bought a Timekube from Radio Shack that picked up the WWV time signals.

    SURPRISE! My clock was within a few seconds per day right off the bat but the 110 volt clock varied as much as 20 or 30 seconds in a few hours.

    New lesson for me, the electrical grid’s voltage varies a lot during the day although it averages out more or less it sure isn’t a regulator.

    Next, I’ll discuss the details of my winding method and the surprises that led to.
    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

  6. #6

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: jhe.1973)

    This is agreat post.I am very interested in this work. Congratulations!
    Last edited by Lourival; 01-20-2012 at 06:19 AM.

  7. #7
    Registered user. kdf's Avatar
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    Aug 2011

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: Lourival)

    Very interesting, very nice!

    Btw., electric clock depends on frequency rather then the voltage.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: kdf)

    Hi Everyone,

    kdf: Thanks for pointing out the frequency issue. I should have remembered that, especially with VFDs being all the rage these days.

    I should have mentioned a detail that led to another mistake in my last post.

    I had still had to make the escapement when I took the movement to the person I learned clock repair from. He let me borrow “The Modern Clock” by Ward Goodrich until I could purchase my own copy. I hadn’t seen the book before.

    This allowed me to accurately design the escapement, rather than take another flying guess as I did with the gear teeth.

    Once the clock was running in the cabinet, I made a beat plate to track the amplitude of the pendulum. This led to the discovery of the next mistake.

    I had laid out the escapement just as Goodrich suggested, starting with 4 degrees pendulum swing and dividing it by 2 to give 2 degrees lift to each pallet. But I was only getting a little over 2 degrees total swing.

    I recalculated my divisions on the beat plate using both the length of the pendulum as the radius of a circle then dividing the circumference by 360 and using trigonometry to figure the distance of the angular displacement. Both methods came out the same.

    Couldn’t figure out where I had gone wrong until I watched the escapement while I slowly moved the pendulum by hand.

    While one pin is wiping across the 2 degree lifting surface of the first pallet, the second pallet is moving into engagement to catch the next pin. Therefore each pallet only reverses the same 2 degrees of travel – they are not added as Goodrich suggested.

    Bingo! It wasn’t my mistake, it was his!

    I have run into this repeatedly during my R&D career. People state opinions as though they are facts and often don’t even realize it.

    Now why do you suppose I felt I had to build my own movement?

    Let me make something clear here. I still highly recommend ‘The Modern Clock” for it’s wealth of information. It just shows that we all make mistakes and advice should be considered a guide, not the last word.

    Including mine.

    Now for the promised details of the winding method I developed. I had never seen this method before or since so I think it is unique. If so, this is an opportunity to be recognized as its creator.

    I was/am concerned with the smooth, accurate transfer of force at each step in the gear train but particularly at the early stages.

    With conventional winding arbors, the winding drum is firmly fixed to the arbor requiring the great wheel to be a slip fit on the arbor. The small clearance at the shaft will allow the wheel to move slightly sideways when the click locks the drum from unwinding. This clearance at the arbor will be magnified out at the wheel teeth creating an eccentricity.

    In my prototype, the great wheel turns once in 8 hours giving a long opportunity for any eccentricity to affect the force transmitted into the train.

    It struck me as odd that so much attention has been paid to gearing in precision clocks, but so often a method is used that can introduce an error right at the start.

    To avoid the possibility of this error, I mounted the great wheel firmly on the arbor but then had to come up with a way of winding the drum. That’s when the idea hit me of cutting teeth in one of the flanges and use a gear mounted on another arbor to turn the drum.

    The next idea, to spring load the winding arbor so that it would have no drag on the train, quickly followed the first.

    The following photos show this setup in the prototype:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    You can see that it was an afterthought as the bronze bearing blocks are cut through the sides of the plates that had already been made. But that’s what prototype is for.

    I am reminded of the following:

    "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
    - Albert Einstein

    Once I completed this winding method three more advantages became apparent.

    First: The great wheel pivot holes in the plates will have half the wear. In 8 days this great wheel turns 24 times. If wound conventionally, the arbor would be turned backwards the same 24 turns. Instead, only the drum is turned 24 times, not the entire arbor.

    Second: Partly due to less wear, but largely due to no winding square, both pivots can be the same size and only large enough to supply an adequate bearing. By being the same size they have the same frictional drag. This eliminates a slight twisting moment or force as the arbor winds down due to unequal friction at the ends.

    Third: It is now possible to fit endstones to both ends of the winding arbor. This led to a big surprise for me. When I fit glass endplates to the winding arbor, I picked up over ˝ inch of travel in the seconds pendulum weighing over 30 lbs. and already traveling over 2 ˝ inches.

    No other refinement before or since yielded as much. In the second clock movement I am using sapphire endstones because of their increased hardness.

    Still more to come along with more surprises.
    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

  9. #9
    Registered user. neighmond's Avatar
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    Jan 2003
    Rural Iowa

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: jhe.1973)

    Where do you get your jewels?
    Every man must have a purpose to strive for, A cause to fight for, A dream to live for, Because A Man without a Dream is Dead

  10. #10
    Registered user.
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: neighmond)

    Wonderful project. I too would like to someday build a clock from scratch.

    A question regarding dividing heads: On every lathe I've ever seen there is a backplate to the chuck. Why hasn't anyone put worm-drive teeth on the edge of the backplate so that a wormdrive screw/handle can be fitted to the lathe bed? If the chuck also had degrees etched on the outer surface, you could just turn the crank on the worm and (using a pointer) get perfect degree divisions for ANY tooth count. Or am I missing something here?

    I don't have a lathe of my own and I use a friend's Southbend Heavy 10 (Yep, even for making teeny tiny bushings, arbors, and other stuff) whenever I need to machine something so I can't experiment with hobbing a backplate. But from what little I know, it should work and would be a ton less expensive than a dividing head. And, since the teeth are cut into the center of the backplate rim, there isn't anything sticking out to catch/bite you.

    So, like I said, what am I missing here?

  11. #11

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: Rob P.)

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for the interest in this thread.


    Regarding my purchase of the jewels, I bought them from Bird Precision back in 1983. They had a minimum purchase price back then IIRC was $150.00. An engineer I talked with was interested in my project and he agreed to send just a small sample of the 7 different sizes/styles I needed for the purchase minimum. Otherwise I would have had to spend the minimum price for each size/style.

    If you do an internet search you will find several different suppliers and perhaps someone will be more willing to deal with selling just a few that an individual might need.

    Rob P:

    I don't think you are missing anything. I am sure that your idea would work just fine. Are you aware of the dividing attachments that individuals & companies have made that fit the opposite end of the lathe spindle from the chuck?

    My basic workhorse lathe is a 16in Southbend & I used that to turn a balance staff for a French clock I was repairing. I did however use a watchmakers lathe to finish the .005 dia. pivots. THE SB is just too slow for that small a diameter.

    Check out Jay Fortner's posts #s 11, 13 &15 on this page. He very cleverly 'indexed' the lathe spindle and used the carriage assembly as a shaper to cut gears.

    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

  12. #12
    Registered user. tok-tokkie's Avatar
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    Nov 2010
    Cape Town, South Africa

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: jhe.1973)

    Congratulations on a fine looking clock. The precision required in the gears to get low power and consistent running is something that really distinguishes regulators from ordinary clocks. The less the required drive weight the better the clock. To get one to run 30 days with not much weight falling not very far is the mark of exceptional work. Vienna regulators really impress me.

    I like the look of your wide composite gears.

    The endstones are on the Great Wheel arbor are they not. The winding arbor is spring loaded so it can slide out of mesh when the clock is not being wound.

    I look forward to the next episode. I too am making a clock but with Hygens endless loop drive as i wanted to sidestep the maintaining power complications but it has not worked well & I am busy with something else so have not progressed it for a while. Hence my particular interest in what you are doing.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator (By: tok-tokkie)

    Hi Everyone,


    Thanks for your kind words.

    The endstones age indeed on the great wheel arbor & the winding arbor does slide out of mesh once the winging crank is released.

    It is great to hear that other builders are following/interested in my experiences.

    I've had some setbacks over the years (one serious), which I will be describing as I can find the time to post more of this story. So, I can understand when you mention that something might not have worked as well as anticipated, but I hope that you don't let that affect your enthusiasm.
    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

  14. #14

    Smile Re: Owner built precision regulator - the beat goes on - pun intended! (By: jhe.1973)

    Hi Everyone,

    I spent a few hours cleaning my prototype movement so that I could run a test of the Nano oil I bought recently. This gave me the opportunity to get a few photos of details that I want to discuss.

    Before I get to that though, I want to mention my next big surprise that I found back in the early days of my project.

    I had planned to use brass cable for the weight because I have always liked the looks of brass cable in the various clocks that have crossed my bench. Because the movement was apart as often as it was together, I just grabbed some braided nylon chalk line I had handy and used that in the beginning.

    After a few weeks, once initial bugs were worked out and the movement was running well, I pulled it apart to put in the brass cable.

    I couldn't get it to run again!

    Apart & together a few times to try and find the problem and I was coming up empty handed. That was until I tried only one turn of cable on the drum.

    What you say? Me too!

    I found that as I wound more turns on the drum of the brass cable, the movement would lose power in proportion to the number of turns on the drum.

    Pulling it apart once again, I found that the cable had a fairly fine steel (perhaps music wire) core and it was acting the same as winding a spring and robbing the drum of torque.


    I also considered that if it acts as a spring, it could be creating a side thrust on the winding arbor creating more friction that way. This was before I had installed the endstones, by the way.

    Whatever the reason, I figured that it was a variable I didn't need and went back the the nylon line.

    Tonight, as I took the movement apart, I realized that I have another break from the movements I have seen so far. Rather than use small pins to locate the bridge for the verge, I intentionally made the movement narrow at the top so I could have the same hollow dowels in the top posts, locate the bridge.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Because the verge arbor is a fulcrum for the impulse I felt that this was a more reliable way to, not only locate the bridge, but to more rigidly tie movement together.

    I have taken this approach further with my second movement as I will show when I get to discussing that one.
    Last edited by jhe.1973; 01-28-2012 at 11:44 PM. Reason: Made spelling and grammer betterer.
    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

  15. #15

    Default Re: Owner built precision regulator -oops! I meant to include this in the last post. (By: jhe.1973)

    This is a photo of the movement as I was assembling it tonight.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I wanted to show the white timing dots I have at each meshing.

    Remember I said I had to file the teeth? This is to show that for all these years I that I have run the clock, I have always had to assemble it in this manner to assure smooth meshing.

    This wouldn't have been necessary if I had cut the teeth correctly in the first place!

    I'm trying to encourage ya'll to not be afraid of making mistakes. That's why I won't try to hide any of mine.

    I also get a laugh from the thought that, someday, someone will take this movement apart and cuss me out until they figure out how to get it running!
    "To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." - Thomas Edison
    Best wishes to Ya'll. Sincerely, Jim

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