How to Set the Time & the Chime on A Grandfather Clock

Grandfather clocks appeal to collectors and homeowners for a number of reasons. They offer the sense of an historical connection to the past – perhaps even to your own past if it's a family heirloom. The gentle tick-tock and reliable soft chimes can be soothing – and even meditative – in the right space. And there's the intrinsic value and elegant, yet comfortable aesthetic. If the clock has recently been repaired after a period of inoperability or is no longer keeping accurate time, you may need to reset the time, the clock's chimes or both. You'll also need to reset it twice a year if you live in a geographic area that follows daylight saving time.

Vintage grandfather clock
credit: eugenesergeev/iStock/GettyImages
How to Set the Time & the Chime on A Grandfather Clock

Balancing Your Clock on the Floor

It's important to ensure your clock is sitting in a level position on the floor. Otherwise, its ability to keep accurate time could be affected.

Verify this by placing a carpenter's level on the clock's top. If the level does not show that the clock is evenly positioned, you'll need to make a few adjustments to remedy this.

Often, the culprit behind an uneven clock is a discrepancy in the thickness of the underlying carpet, particularly if the clock is positioned against a wall. If there is a hem or grip rods beneath the clock's surface, this can throw off the clock's inner works. Adjust for this by placing an additional piece of matching carpet or wood beneath the front feet, so that the clock sits flat and level.

Setting the Time on Your Grandfather Clock

In the majority of cases, a grandfather clock plays a part of the entire melody as a chime every 15 minutes in an hour. Then, at the top of the hour, the clock plays the entire melody, followed by a set of chimes that counts the hour. If it is 4 o'clock, as an example, the clock will chime four times following the completion of the melody.

To set the time without having to wait for the clock to chime on each quarter hour, move the minute hand only in a counterclockwise direction until both the hour and the minute are correct. There is no need to move the hour hand, as it will automatically move with the minute hand. Use a cell phone time reading for a precise setting.

It's also possible to change your clock's time by moving the minute hand in a clockwise direction. However, if you take this approach, you'll need to stop at each quarter-hour point to allow the chime to sound. You'll probably hear a clicking noise as the hand passes each quarter hour. Once the chime has ended, you can advance to the next quarter hour point where you'll once again need to allow the chime to play out. Depending on how "off" the clock's current time is from the correct time, it could therefore take quite awhile to get to the correct time.

When you have set the clock to the current, accurate time, wind the clock with its key or weights, depending on the model, then restart the pendulum.

Synchronizing and Double-Checking the Clock's Time After Reset

Most clocks will self-correct to synchronize the chimes with the new time. If that doesn't happen after resetting your clock, try letting it operate without impediment for two hours. Giving the clock's mechanism time to correct itself may be all that is required.

You'll also want to keep an eye on the clock periodically for a day or two after you reset the time to make sure it isn't gaining or losing time. If you need to make adjustments, you can do so by way of a small screw located under the pendulum. Turn it left to slow the clock down or right to speed it up.

Use tiny adjustments over time. Wait at least a day after each adjustment to evaluate the clock's performance before making further change.

To Silence Your Clock’s Chimes

If you'd rather not hear your clock's chimes at all, you don't have to lose the clock function in the process. Fortunately, most grandfather clocks include a small manual lever that will quiet your chimes until you decide to flip that level again.

To see if your clock has this lever, you'll need to open your clock's access door to reach the clock dial. Look for a protruding lever somewhere near either the 3 or 9 o'clock positions. Around the slot, you might find labels indicating names of the chimes as well as something like "silent" or "silence."