You are here:

Antique Clocks/setting up my clock to ring.


I was given a Howard Miller Ships Bell clock many years ago, but I have never been able to set it up so the bell will ring.  Can you help me set it up?

I am sorry for the delay in answering your question as I was away on a cruise for the last week. Unfortunately, the cruise ship did not sound the ship's bell sequence.

My ship's bell clock has no means of turning off the sounding of the bell. It is a Telechron self starting electric and the bell sounds faithfully every half hour the clock is plugged in. You might want to take a look and see if there is an off/on switch for the bell. Mine cannot be used as an alarm clock nor, as I said earlier, have the bell turned off.

It sounds to me like the movement has gummy oil in the rack pivot so as the rack cannot drop and initiate the bell sequence. These clocks are much like the rack and snail chime clocks except the snail has three sequences to it so the bell process repeats every four hours. The rack and snail are found behind the face of the clock. It will probably be necessary to remove the rack and possibly the rack pawl to clean the pivots so they drop readily be the force of gravity. Carburetor cleaner works well for this but must be used in a well ventilated area as it is very flammable. After the movement dries thoroughly lubricate it with household oil such as sewing machine oil.

Attached an article from Wikipedia on the Ship's Bell Clock.

Ship's bell
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (April 2008)  

Ship's bell on USS Chancellorsville
A ship's bell is used to indicate the time aboard a ship and hence to regulate the sailors' duty watches. The bell itself is usually made of brass or bronze and often has the ship's name engraved or cast on it. The ship's cook (or his staff) traditionally has the job of shining the ship's bell.

1 Timing of duty periods
2 Other uses
3 Name of the ship
4 Number of bells
5 Cook and boatswain
6 Baptizing children
7 See also
8 References
9 External links

[edit] Timing of duty periods
Unlike civil clock bells, the strikes of the bell do not accord to the number of the hour. Instead, there are eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. In the age of sailing, watches were timed with a 30-minute hourglass. Bells would be struck every time the glass was turned, and in a pattern of pairs for easier counting, with any odd bells at the end of the sequence.

The classical system was:

Ship bell Titanic
Number of bells Bell pattern Middle
watch Morning
watch Forenoon
watch Afternoon
watch First
watch Last
watch First
One bell . 0:30 4:30 8:30 12:30 16:30 18:30 20:30
Two bells .. 1:00 5:00 9:00 13:00 17:00 19:00 21:00
Three bells .. . 1:30 5:30 9:30 13:30 17:30 19:30 21:30
Four bells .. .. 2:00 6:00 10:00 14:00 18:00  22:00
Five bells .. .. . 2:30 6:30 10:30 14:30  18:30 22:30
Six bells .. .. .. 3:00 7:00 11:00 15:00  19:00 23:00
Seven bells .. .. .. . 3:30 7:30 11:30 15:30  19:30 23:30
Eight bells .. .. .. .. 4:00 8:00 12:00 16:00  20:00 0:00

British usage after the Nore mutiny[1]
Before the introduction of time zones noon was not struck by the glass, but when the captain or officer of the deck confirmed local noon by the sun, using a sextant.

An underwater archaeologist with the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in St. Augustine, Florida, recording the ship's bell discovered on the 18th century "Storm Wreck."

"Eight bells" by Winslow Homer, 1887
At midnight on New Year's Eve sixteen bells would be struck eight bells for the old year and eight bells for the new.

Most of the crew of a ship would be divided up into between two and four groups called watches. Each watch would take its turn with the essential activities of manning the helm, navigating, trimming sails, and keeping a lookout.

The hours between 16:00 and 20:00 are so arranged because that watch (the "dog watch") was divided into two. The odd number of watches aimed to give each man a different watch each day. It also allows the entire crew of a vessel to eat an evening meal, the normal time being at 1700 with First Dog watchmen eating at 1800.[1]

Some "ship's bell" clocks use a simpler system:

Number of bells Bell pattern Hour (a.m. and p.m.)
One bell . 12:30 4:30 8:30
Two bells .. 1:00 5:00 9:00
Three bells .. . 1:30 5:30 9:30
Four bells .. .. 2:00 6:00 10:00
Five bells .. .. . 2:30 6:30 10:30
Six bells .. .. .. 3:00 7:00 11:00
Seven bells .. .. .. . 3:30 7:30 11:30
Eight bells .. .. .. .. 4:00 8:00 12:00

The term eight bells can also be a way of saying that a sailor's watch is over, for instance, in his or her obituary. It is a nautical euphemism for finished.

[edit] Other uses
Ship's bells are also used for safety in foggy conditions, their most important modern use.[2] On naval vessels, bells additionally are rung as "boat gongs" for officers and dignitaries coming aboard or leaving the ship, in a number equivalent to the number of sideboys to which the visitor is entitled.

[edit] Name of the ship
The ship's name is traditionally engraved or cast onto the surface of the bell, often with the year the ship was launched as well. Occasionally (especially on more modern ships) the bell will also carry the name of the shipyard that built the ship. If a ship's name is changed, maritime tradition is that the original bell carrying the original name will remain with the vessel. A ship's bell is a prized possession when a ship is broken up[2] and often provides the only positive means of identification in the case of a shipwreck.

[edit] Number of bells
Most United States Navy ships of the post-World War II era have actually carried two ship's bells: the official bell on deck and a smaller one in the pilot house at the 1MC (public address) station, used when the ship is underway.

[edit] Cook and boatswain
According to seafaring legend, the ship's cooks and boatswain's mates had a duty arrangement to give the cooks more sleep. The boatswain's mates, who worked 24 hours a day on watches, would build the fire in the stove, so the cook could get up a little while later and the fire would be already going so he could begin preparing breakfast. In return, between meals, the cooks would shine the bell, which was traditionally the boatswain's mates' responsibility.

[edit] Baptizing children

Ship's bell as Baptismal font at chapel, Yeo Hall, Royal Military College of Canada

Baby is baptized with holy water from the ship's bell
It is a naval tradition to baptize children using the ship's bell as a baptismal font and to engrave the names of the children on the naval bell afterwards. Tracking down and searching for an individual's name on a specific bell from a ship may be a difficult and time-consuming task. Christening information from the bells held by the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Museum has been entered into a searchable data archive that is accessible to any interested web site visitors.[3]

Antique Clocks

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Tom Williams


I can not think of any questions I cannot answer in regard to repairing antique clocks or radios. However, I am sure there are a few I have not heard and may not be able to answer. If I cannot, I will say so. I have been repairing them since I was a young child.


My experience includes repairing CooKoo clocks, Westminsters, BimBam, almost all antique clocks. I do a bit of repair on battery clocks where the value is sufficient to warrant working on them. I also repair antique (tube type) radios - all makes.

Indiana Historical Radio Society, Illinois Valley Antique Car Club, Military Vehicle Preservation Association

BEE from Cleveland State University

Awards and Honors
Four patents.

Past/Present Clients
Friends and family

©2017 All rights reserved.