Replacing the movement and hands on a vintage electric wall clock — 3 steps

vintage-westclox-new-movementWe’ve all come across a great looking vintage clock that would be perfect — except for the fact that it no longer tells time. When this happens we have two choices: Use the stopped clock as wall decor or try to bring it back to life by replacing the movement. After having come across just such a clock myself, I decided to take a shot at repairing it myself. While I’m no expert at DIY clock repair, in the end I did manage to get my vintage clock working again even with a few hiccups along the way. What follows is my own experience replacing the movement in a retro wall clock — in three somewhat easy steps.

vintage-westclox-no-cordMy journey into clock repair all started during my retro pink bathroom renovation project, when I purchased a vintage Westclox “nocord” from eBay to hang in my bathroom.

I bought the clock because I liked the interesting geometric white plastic edges and the fun retro swirly and starburst designs on the face of the clock. (Oops, I do not have a photo of the “before” clock.) The clock was inexpensive, and the seller said that it “worked great”, which made me think I’d only need to slap it on the wall and call it a job well done. Once I received the clock, though, I verified that it did work — though unfortunately it gained about five minutes every day, which add up fast over the course of a week.

Determined to replace the movement, I started doing research and found that it should be a relatively easy task assuming:

  • You can easily remove the old movement…
  • And, you can determine exactly which replacement movement is needed.

Unfortunately for me, both of these tasks proved difficult. As an added challenge, I wanted to reuse the original George Nelson-style clock hands — which I knew in advance might not be possible — or, to find replacement hands as close as possible to the originals.

Step 1 — Carefully remove the old hands and movement

repairing-a-vintage-clockAfter researching “clock movement replacement” on the web, I found that the first step was to remove the old movement. In most of what I read and saw on YouTube, the nut that holds the hands on the clock face should either pop off easily with a light, upward tug or unscrew from the clock hand shaft. First I tried unscrewing the nut, which got me nowhere because the mechanism turned as I tried to “unscrew” the nut. Next I tried to tug on the nut gently in an upwards motion. Still the cap nut would not budge. Getting frustrated, I held the “pull to start” knob on the back of the clock to hold the movement in place so it wouldn’t turn, then tried a combined unscrewing and pulling motion with the pliers.

Alas, I could not use these original hands — including the cool “George Nelson” style hour hand — with the new movement. Read on…

After several attempts using this method, the clock finally let go of the cap nut, which was (interestingly) connected to the minute hand. From that point the hour hand popped off easily. Then, carefully using the pliers, I was able to unscrew the hex nut from the clock face, which freed the movement from the clock body.

Step 2 — Measure the old clock movement and find a suitable replacement

hand-shaft-measurementThe next step is measuring the old clock movement to determine the size you’ll need when you look for a replacement. The most important part to measure is the overall measurement of the hand shaft — the part that goes through the clock face and holds the hands onto the clock. You’ll need to take into account the thickness of the clock face as well, to make sure the hand shaft will protrude far enough to be tightened to the clock face with a hex nut. There are many places to buy replacement clock parts online — I ordered my movement from Klockit

First movement I ordered — a Quartex push-on movement with hex nut #10051 — ended up being too short for my clock.

Once again, what should have been an easy task did not go according to plan. On my first attempt, I measured my hand shaft and ordered a Quartex push-on movement with hex nut with the same length hand shaft as my original movement. Unfortunately, the movement wouldn’t work in my clock. Why? First, the threaded portion of the hand shaft was not as tall as the threaded portion on the original movement.

clock-hanger-holeSecond, because of the plastic ridge around the new movement’s hand shaft — (the original movement was flat) — and the ridge on the back of the clock face, the hand shaft would not go far enough through the clock face to be tightened with a hex nut. Bummer. Feeling frustrated, I contacted Klockit for guidance. They replied quickly, saying I was on the right track, but just needed to order a movement with a longer hand shaft, and suggested I try their Q-80 clock movements instead of the push-on movement I first ordered.

Q-80 Quartex clock movement from Klockit. I ordered part #10152 for my vintage clock.

Thinking I’d give it one more shot before throwing in the towel, I ordered a Q-80 clock movement with a slightly longer hand shaft. It was apparent to me at this point that I would not be able to use the original clock hands since the holes in the original hands were much smaller than the diameter of the new movement shaft. Since Klockit offers a free set of hands with each movement they sell, I tried to find the hands that most closely resembled the originals.

retro-clock-faceOf course none of the options had a large pink arrow on the hour hand like the retro originals, but I did find a set where the minute hand was nearly identical to the original minute hand. When choosing new hands, you’ll also want to make sure the length of the new hands is as close to the length of the original hands as possible to avoid using hands that are too short or too long for the face of the clock.

Step 3 — Reassemble your clock

clock-movement-replacementFor me, reassembling the clock — once I had the proper replacement movement — was the easiest part of the whole process. All I needed to do was follow the directions that came with the movement. I made the quick sketch above to help illustrate the process.

  1. Use rubber spacer gasket between movement and dial to hold movement in position without having to over tighten it.
  2. Place a brass washer between the dial and the hex nut to prevent the nut from marring the dial as you tighten it down.
  3. Tighten the nut down only enough to hold the movement firmly in position. If the movement can rotate in your clock case, timekeeping will be affected.
  4. Temporarily place the minute hand over the “I” shaft as illustrated and rotate the hand clock-wise until it is pointing at the “12” on the dial. Lift the hand off.
  5. Choose any number on your dial to align the hour hand with. Very carefully press the hour hand straight down onto the tapered, friction-fit hour shaft until the hand is firmly in place. In the event that the hour hand is not perfectly aligned with the number on the dial that you have chosen, DO NOT try to rotate the hand hub on the tapered shaft. Lift the hand straight off. Realign the tip of the hand with the number and press the hand on correctly.
  6. When you have the hour hand mounted, carefully remount the minute hand at 12:00. While holding the tip of the minute hand between your thumb and forefinger at the 12:00 position, thread on the closed nut.

retro-clock-new-movementAfter popping in a battery and setting the clock to the correct time, it was all systems go. I’m happy to report that the clock has been keeping perfect time since I replaced the mechanism over a week ago.

What I learned — helpful tips:

  • As much as you will want to keep the clock’s original hands, it may not be possible. I was lucky to find a new minute hand that was nearly identical to the original minute hand. It may be possible for me to somehow make the hole in the clock’s original hour hand large enough to work with the new hand shaft on the movement, but I have not tried drilling or punching the hole to attempt to make it larger. Anyone with clock fixing experience want to verify if this is possible?
  • All of the nuts and washers on my original clock were silver. It seems that new nuts and washers only come in brass. I was able to use the original hex nut, but for the closed nut that holds the hands in place, I could not reuse the original. The brass nut doesn’t bother me, but it could easily be spray painted silver to match.
  • The hardest part of the whole project was trying to determine exactly which replacement movement would work with my clock. The movements were not expensive ($3-$5), but I did have to order two different movements before finding one that worked with my clock. It may be worth ordering two movements with slightly different hand shaft measurements to ensure that you get a movement that will work with your clock on the first try to avoid extra shipping charges.
  • If you have a clock repair store near you, I would take the old clock and movement in to the store and ask for professional help in selecting a replacement movement. Figuring that part out myself was a headache!

vintage-clock-bathroomEven after all of the trials and tribulations, I’m still glad that I went to the trouble of replacing the movement on my vintage clock. The clock looks perfect in my retro pink bathroom, flanked by some vintage fish and mermaid ceramic wall plaques, and has so much more character than a new clock would have.

vintage-pink-bathroomNow I can check the time from inside the shower — to make sure this so-not-a-morning person is not running too late.

  1. Jeanne says:

    Thanks Kate! I had purchased a repro George Nelson Ball Clock and when I received it, the clock hands were swinging free and unable to “keep time.” Rather than return it, I took it to a clock repair place because I wanted to use the same hands (it wouldn’t be the same without them). I spent about $38 (if I remember correctly) for the repair, but to me it was worth it. I worry that they will loosen again, though. So far, so good. This tutorial is very handy for any future clock purchases. 🙂

  2. Jeff says:

    No, no, NO!!! NEVER replace the movement in an electric clock with a battery movement! If the clock doesn’t work, electric movements, for the most part, are easy to fix. The basic premise is that they work using an electro-magnetic field, and if it stops working, nine times out of ten it’s because the movement is gummed up and just needs to be cleaned.

      1. JanetCinNC says:

        My kitchen has an outlet that’s designed just for electric wall clocks. It’s mounted about 6.5 feet above the floor, at the right height for a clock. The edges of the wall plate are flush with the wall, but its single outlet is sunken into the wall. The top of the wall plate has a small hook on it, like a picture hanger that you hang the clock from, and the clock then covers up the outlet. There’s enough room behind the clock so that you could wrap up the extra cord and store it in the sunken area with the electical plug, so long as the cord isn’t too long. They have them at Amazon. Just search for 1 Gang Recessed Single Receptacle.

      2. NancyNP'59 says:

        What I had to do for my vintage Telechron 2H27 (saved from my parents’ 1951 kitchen) was buy a house that had an outlet built into the soffit. 😀

        1. Mary Elizabeth says:

          I found a schoolhouse clock (1950s) with electric cord. And, as it happened, I had the recessed outlet in my kitchen for it. DH had put a blank cover over it when we moved in. If you don’t have such an outlet, the big box stores have the recessed clock outlets for your MCM clock. I know, because ours was defective and needed to be replaced.

    1. Kate says:

      This clock was not electric (with a cord) but battery operated — That’s why it is called a Westclox Nocord. The old battery movement did not work anymore, so I replaced it for a new one. I have never tried to convert a clock with a cord to a battery operated movement.

      1. Diane in CO says:

        I have a WI friend who is an internationally-known clock expert — seriously. He deals in clocks big time, knows all the clock honchos around…

        He himself converted my Russel Wright GE electric wall clock (which originally had cord and plug) to a clock that runs on a battery, just like newer wall clocks. I had no outlet in the wall where I wanted to hang it. It has run BEAUTIFULLY for years and needs a new battery only occasionally!

        1. Lisa R says:

          Diane, I am also in CO and would the name of your friend.. I just purchased a MCM clock with a cord that I would love to convert. TIA

    2. Sam R says:

      Those old Telechron movements weren’t made to be particularly serviceable. Sometimes they’re far beyond any sort of reasonable repair, and if the frequency of the line power is at all off, they don’t tell time all that well.

      Some rare and valuable clocks, like a Jefferson Golden Hour or an original Nelson, should be left alone and/or have the original mechanism repaired, if at all possible. However, there are a lot of great-looking mid-century clocks that don’t have huge price tags attached, and some were available in either corded or battery options even back in the 60s.

      1. Jeff says:

        General Electric and Telechron electric clocks were actually very well built. I have over 100 GE/Telechron clocks in my collection ranging from 50-90 years old, both table and wall clocks, and all but maybe 2 or 3 of them work perfectly. 99% of the time if a Telechron clock isn’t working, that means the rotor has seized up because the lubricant inside has dried out over the years. Most of them can be revived, and even working replacement rotors can be found in parts clocks available all over the internet, There is even a gentleman here in Oregon who completely rebuilds Telechron rotors to where they’re better than new. He replaces worn bushings and uses modern high-performance oil to lubricate them.

      2. Mr.Evette says:

        Years ago, my wife inherited a lovely Sessions electric mantle chime clock, handed down from her grandfather. Her father had tried to repair the motor windings several times as the lacquer was falling off the coil wires but the clock kept stopping. I considered replacing the mechanism with a battery movement Not what purists would do but I couldn’t find a repair person who could fix. I saved the original movement, of course. In time, while in a surplus store, I noticed an industrial timer which had what looked like the same Telechron motor. I bought it for cheap and verified it had the same 3.6rpm and 60C specs and form factor as the original motor. Did the swap and the original movement is back in the clock and keeping perfect time. I didn’t know much about Telechron motors then (still don’t really) but was lucky the output gear had the correct number of teeth. Found this site that lists Telechron motor specs. http://www.atmosman.com/m-rotor.html . Maybe my experience and learnings can help others in restoring their favourite clocks.

  3. Janet in CT says:

    Good job, Kate! My father repaired clocks and the problem you had is one he often mentioned as very annoying. New England Clock made beautiful wall clocks with fancy black hands that, along with the painted face, were their signature. Unfortunately, the new movements did not accomodate the hands and it was a shame when they were replaced with plain ones. He is gone now, as are the two men we used for clock repair after him. Around here there are just no clock repairmen any more; that occupation is a dying breed, literally! Most people now will just scrap the clock. I have three clocks here that no longer run properly. Thanks to your info, I must figure out how to fix them myself now!

  4. Nate says:

    Klockit is a fine source. I’ve used them before for my clock repair needs.

    One thing that I’ve had to do in the past to keep the original hands was to use my jewelers files to adjust the openings in the hands. Can be very trying and labor intensive but in the end, it was worth it to keep the original look. What are you going to do with the original hands? Need someone to take them off your hands? Pun intended. 😀

    1. Kate says:

      hahaha nice pun Nate. 🙂

      I’m keeping them in the hopes that someday I can get them back on my clock. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

    2. Sandra says:

      I was just about to suggest going to a jeweler. They work with small tools on valuable decorative materials, and may well have exactly the right skills and tools if you’re willing to take the risk.

      1. John Cirillo says:

        Ronell Clock Company is another good source. They have many battery and plug-in clock movements and lots of hands. I have used them for about 20 years. They have a website.

  5. David says:

    Being pretty mechanical I have had good luck getting a used battery operated clock at a thrift store with battery in hand to see if it works. You need to eyeball the clock mechanism you are going to replace to see if the shaft is long enough on the new one and do the clock hands just press on or are they held on with a nut. A small round file and small drill bit help to make the clock hand fit. Just make sure you do not go too far be because it it hard to correct. I have bought even used electric clocks with damaged faces knowing that the motor may fit in another clock that has died. Many times with clocks that are half a century old the motor just dies completely and no lubrication will bring it back to life.

  6. Robin, NV says:

    This is a very timely post. I’m having my kitchen counters replaced next week but before the old “autumn breeze” counters get tossed out (so sad), I’m going to have my contractor cut out a 7″ circle so I can make a clock out of it. I’m really sad to see the old counters go but this way I can keep a little bit of them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Robin, while your contractor is cutting your clock face from your old countertops, you may want another piece cut to use as a cutting board.
      I have a few pig shaped cutting boards cut from older formica, and just LOVE them!

    1. Kate says:

      I had that thought, but I also wondered if that would have cause any ill effects for the mechanism — from the extra weight — so I didn’t attempt it.

  7. Paula Webb says:

    We had to do this with a corded clock that started screetching like a banshee. It was about 50% less to replace the works with battery than to clean and adjust it. It solves so many problems because now I can put it anywhere.

  8. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Anyway, nice job, Kate, as usual. You remind me of my 20-something self going to the appliance part places and, with model number and removed mechanism in hand, asking for the. . . “Do you have the starter for this vacuum cleaner? Do you have the right burner for my vintage range?” It is amazing how helpful these people can be.

    Bottom line, keep taking stuff apart and there is always someone to help you put it back together. 🙂

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