It sometimes becomes impractical to find someone in a building to wind the clock on a regular basis, particularly when a clock has to be wound every few days because of an insufficient weight drop or has very heavy weights. In some cases access is difficult or hazardous but providing safer access to a clock, for example, installing a spiral staircase, is an option. Relocating the movement within the tower is another possibility, but a less satisfactory solution from a historical point of view.
An automatic winder will remove the task of manually winding a clock. The automatic winder usually comprises a small weight that is wound up at regular intervals by an electric motor. Generally the automatic winder drives the clock by a length of roller chain.
When installing automatic winders it is vital that the integrity of the turret clock is preserved. No holes should be drilled into the clock frame, no slots cut out and no parts are to be removed. The automatic winder should be attached to an external frame made of hardwood or steel. Utilising parts of the clock to attach an automatic winder, for example, securing bolts of bearing blocks and frames is not acceptable. The clock must always remain completely intact so that it is possible to reverse the process and put the clock back to its original state simply by removing the added parts without leaving any signs that automatic winding has ever been fitted. The clock case should not be drilled or cut to fit automatic winders or their electric cables.
If the clock has had automatic winders fitted many years ago and they are now being replaced it is recommended that the whole automatic winder installation is looked at again in a re-assessment to see if it can be improved and brought up to modern-day standards. The following show some things that may be found during a re-assessment which should be corrected if possible:
• If the drive sprocket is on the second arbor of a train it is a good time to move to main barrel automatic winding.
• When the going train has the drive sprocket on the second arbor but the minute arbor is separately meshed with the great wheel, the great wheel should not idle between the two.
• When the strike or quarter great wheels undertake the action of lifting the bell hammers and the automatic winder drive sprocket has been fitted on the second arbors.
• When automatic winders are fitted very closely on top of the movement by rails bolted to the top of the clock frame affecting normal operation, free access for time-setting and servicing of the clock.
The following requirements should be observed:
The drive to the clock must be to the great wheel or barrel assembly (main barrel automatic winding). This is because clock gearing is designed for a large wheel to drive a smaller pinion. To drive a large wheel by a small pinion can result in abnormal wear on pinion leaves and wheel teeth or broken great wheel teeth if a jam occurs.
Winding jacks or built-in reduction gears must never be used as part of an automatic winding installation.
The original weights and pulleys should be retained in the building, ideally at the bottom of the weight chute and clearly labelled to prevent accidental disposal. There is no need to retain old wire or rope weight lines. Weight chutes, although no longer in use, should ideally be preserved and protected so it would be possible to return the clock to manual winding to fulfil the aim of reversibility.
Some automatic winders comprise a weighted arm that is fastened to the winding square which is raised periodically by an electric motor, these are known as remontoire winders. Where a remontoire winder is employed no modification should be made to a clock case to accommodate the remontoire winder, rather it should be mounted off the clock with a chain drive to a sprocket on the great wheel or barrel assembly.
It is advisable to have the movement cleaned and overhauled when automatic winding is fitted, unless this has been done very recently.
All automatic winders must incorporate an emergency over-wind switch in case the normal switches or sensors fail to stop the winding motors.
Suitable power supplies must be provided by a qualified electrician in accordance with the relevant electrical regulations. Wiring to existing automatic winders should be checked to ensure it is still safe.
Electric direct-drives have been used in the past, their principle is to have an electric motor that drives a striking or quarter train directly by the fly arbor with the fly vanes removed. For the going train a direct-drive involves removing the escapement and installing a synchronous motor usually connected to the minute arbor by a chain. The fitting of a direct-drive is now totally unacceptable for new installations, even on a temporary basis! If electric direct-drives are found they should be re-assessed and a plan made to reverse the situation to main barrel automatic winding as soon as possible if the parts to do this are still present.
Automatic winders will normally be included in an annual maintenance contract. The presence of automatic winding does not remove the need for a regular visual inspection of the clock to ensure that all appears to be well and to regulate the time keeping. Pendulum correctors are available to regulate the time keeping of clocks but again they are not a substitute for the occasional inspection.
The addition of an automatic winder does not mean out-of-sight and out-of-mind as annual servicing is still required! A monthly visit to check the clock is strongly recommended.