Westclox Big Ben and Baby Ben Repair Tips

This page gives some hints about Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clock repair. For the names of some excellent clock repair books, see the recommended reading page.

Don't use ammonia based cleaner on hairsprings. Use waterless non-ammoniated watch cleaning solution, or use alcohol. Ammoniated cleaners tend to eat away the hairspring material, changing the rate.

Terminology

I number wheels starting at the main wheel. F and B refer to front or back, and T and A refer to time train and alarm train. For example, T2F refers to the front pivot of the second wheel in the time train (which is the center wheel in a Big Ben or Baby Ben).

Cleaning Pivots

After disassembly and cleaning the movement, use a narrow srtip of crocus cloth to clean each of the wire pivots (fold the strip around the pivot and rotate the pivot by hand). This will remove oxidation.

The center wheel pivots usually need to be put in a lathe and smoothed with a pivot file, then polished or burnished.

Lubrication

These are my preferred lubricants. There has been controversy about using synthetic motor oil for clocks. My experience, and that of others has show that synthetic motor oil works extremely well for clocks. (References Stephen Nelson and Ken Reindel).

Synthetic motor oil types I use:

Oiling Locations for Big Ben Style 1, 1a, 2 and Loud Alarm Movement:

Balance

Bushings

Use KWM sized bushings, DON'T use Bergeon bushings! Bergeon bushings require a large hole to be reamed, and it looks bad.

I recommend "American System" bushings in KWM sizes (available from the major clock parts suppliers), for the larger bushings such as #13, #21 and #26. I use KWM brand bushings for the small sizes such as #59, #5 and #6.

Many pivot holes in Big and Baby Bens have a curved recess inside the front plate. Especially on a Baby Ben, you will need to recess the inside of the bushings similarly to the original recess, or the endshake may be too little when the movement is cased. I put each bushing in the lathe, and, turning the lathe by hand, first start the recess with a chamferring tool, then finish it with an oil sink cutter. Then I install the bushing in the plate.

Big Ben Loud Alarm: Baby Ben: Big Ben Chime Alarm:

Parts to smooth while clock is apart

  1. Repeat lever where it is pushed by trip spring (Loud Alarm movement)
  2. Trip spring edge which pushes repeat lever aside (Loud Alarm movement)
  3. Trip staff cam where it pushes down on trip wheel
  4. Burnish slot of pallet fork (lever). A sewing needle works well.

Do Before Assembly

  1. Make sure center friction is tight enough.
  2. Oil front center pivot (T2F) if cannon (shuck) pinion is in place.

Check after assembly

Big Ben style 1 case front screws

Originals are 1-56 thread, 1-64 will work as a replacement.

Don't bend the dial tabs on Big Ben or Baby Ben clocks!

Bending them isn't necessary, will cause them to break off if done repeatedly, and makes it a pain for the next repair shop.

Polishing Nickel Cases

Use "Rubin-Brite" metal polish. Produces best polish on nickel that I've seen.

Take the movement out of the case before using metal polish. Thoroughly wash off all metal polish when done.

Removing Time Set Knob on model Big Ben model 75 movement (single key wind introduced in 1956).

Remove movement from case. Bend a brass strip in half and put it over the center arbor between the knob and the back plate. Firmly grasp the center arbor (on top of the brass strip) with Vice-grip pliers. Lever the knob off using 7" diagonal cutters, using the vice grips at the fulcrum.

The regular way of prying off the knob will compress the tension spring, as there is no shoulder on the center arbor. Also, if the movement has an aluminum back plate, it may bend.

Alarm Trip Assembly

The later alarm trip assemblies - the one in which the cam on the trip staff is a steel disc with a cutout, and the trip wheel is steel with a stamped out projection - can be troublesome. I had so much trouble with these parts on a 1970 Big Ben leg model reproduction that I replaced them with the old style trip assembly having the brass finger on the trip staff and a brass trip wheel. This solved the problem of the trip staff being carried around with the trip wheel.

I'm still trying to find a way to make the trip wheel move up and down easier on these steel trip assemblies - please tell me if you have any hints! I've tried polishing the lifting surfaces,and chamfering and smoothing the hole on the trip wheel. You can hold these parts in your hand and tell that the old style works much better than the new style.

Dealing with Glued Hairsprings (Red cement used starting in the 1960's)

The red cement may be dissolved with lacquer thinner to remove the hairspring from the stud. A convenient way to refasten the hairspring to the stud when reassembling the clock is to use orange shellac (in liquid form from a can). This can be removed with denatured alcohol the next time the clock is taken apart.

Jim Galazka has suggested using fingernail polish to glue the hairspring, which is an excellent idea. It is easily available, can be removed easily, and you could probably match the original red color if desired!

Removing the Small Alarm Hand

Removing the small alarm hand on Big Ben and Baby Ben styles 1 and 2 without damage is difficult, as the alarm hand's hub is below the dial and you cannot get the jaws of the hand puller beneath it to pull it off. Using the puller results in the hand coming off its hub. Here is one way to proceed without the hand coming off its hub:

Remove the alarm set knob, remove the bezel and glass. Remove the minute hand and, optionally, the hour hand. Put a dial protector between the alarm and and the dial. Pull off the dial and the alarm hand together. (if the alarm set shaft won't come all the way out, remove the movement and pull off the washer that goes between the set shaft and the back plate; the dial with alarm hand and alarm set shaft can now be removed). Set the dial on a split stake and drive the set shaft out of the alarm hand with a small punch.

Use the Bergeon Presto No. 4 hand remover (part number 30669) for the small alarm hand on styles 3 through 6 Bens.

Removing the Staked Alarm Set Knob of a Big Ben Style 6

While the clock is still in the case, remove the winding keys. Use a pair of side cutters (about 7 inches long) as a puller. Put a piece of cardboard on the case back, put a strip of wood about 1/8 inch thick as a fulcrum on top of the piece of paper about 3/4 to 1 inch away from the knob, set the side cutters with the jaws below the knurled part of the knob, and press the handles down to make the jaws pull the knob upward. It may take a few tries to get the positioning just right.

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