My Cuckoo Has Gone Cuckoo!

Troubleshooting Common Cuckoo Clock Issues

Nothing speaks of German ingenuity like the noisy confusion of a cuckoo clock with its gears, doors, bellows, chains, music boxes and other moving parts. But while a properly functioning clock is a joy to behold, there’s a good chance an older clock will, like people, develop an eccentricity or two.

It’s always best to find a professional for seriously malfunctioning clocks, but with that in mind, there are some common problems that can be resolved at home by a skillful owner.

Stopping Pendulum

This often happens if a clock is not hanging evenly. The first test is to place a level against the clock to ensure it’s hanging flush. If it turns out that the clock is even and making a regular ticking sound, then the problem is probably inside the clock. If a clock has been moved recently, the weight chains might have become dislocated. It’s important to immobilize the weights and chains before moving a clock, since it can be tricky to put them back in position – especially if you’re not sure where they went in the first place!

A stopping pendulum can also mean that the gears are not able to move freely and may need cleaning. A can of compressed air from the office supply store can blow away any loose dirt and lint without the risk of breaking anything. Cuckoos rarely need oiling, but hot and dry environments can affect them over time. When oiling, it’s important to use a lubricant specially made for clock gears, such as sold by a clock parts store. A very dirty or corroded clock mechanism may need more intensive care or, if worst comes to worst, replacement. When cleaning a cuckoo movement, it’s important not to bend or dislocate the wires to the point that you can’t return them to their proper places.

Cuckoo Is Not in Time

Does your little bird coo-coo the wrong number of times on the hour? Or maybe he sticks his head out the door a few minutes early? Don’t blame the bird – these are indications that the hands are out of whack.

If a cuckoo is singing out the wrong hour, it means the hour hand needs re-positioning. This involves gently pulling the hand away from the clock face with pointy pliers and turning it to the correct hour, before pressing it back in place.

If the cuckoo is out of sync with the hour and half-hour then the minute hand is misaligned and must be adjusted likewise. And remember to always set the time with the big hand, not the little.

Cuckoo Stays Outside the Door

Is Mr. Cuckoo waiting for applause? More likely, the wire that moves the bird has detached from the gears or become stuck on the case. One option is to try moving it gently to see if it slips back into place. It’s also important to make sure that the end that moves the cuckoo is under the tail, not over.

Cuckoo Has Lost Its Voice

If your cuckoo is sounding odd, then one of the wires attached to the bellows may have become detached. The bellows are the little flaps that push air through the clock’s two whistles. In very old clocks, the bellows will sometimes wear out and have to be replaced. This is a straightforward task, but quite involved and best left to a clock shop.

If the cuckoo is singing but the clock has a music box that’s not playing, then the wire that runs from the movement to the box may be loose. A quick inspection can reveal if the screw that attaches to the gears needs tightening. Like the clock movement, music boxes can become dirty or worn with time, leading to slowing and stopping.

Finally, if you’re stumped, there are many clock repair shops with specialized knowledge of cuckoos. Some are listed on this page.

The video below gives a quick tour inside Mr. Cuckoo’s house and shows how all the elements work together.

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