CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Time can’t be measured in hours and minutes in a small store on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
It is clocked by ratcheting gears, coil springs and swinging pendulums in a mechanical fourth dimension.
Walking the worn floors of Cleveland’s clock repair shop is like stepping back in time, as owner Michael Daniel loves.
Vintage books share shelf space with antique watches. Both are relics of bygone eras with stories to tell.
The metallic innards of the clocks shine in the precision of handmade brass, while the hum of a small lathe and muffled chimes drift from Daniel’s workshop.
Daniel, 33, is a young man in a centuries-old and declining contraption, struggling against the tide in an analog world that has become digital and disposable.
He will shamelessly admit that he is as anachronistic as the clocks he works on.
“I have a feeling that if I fell into the 1700s-1800s my lifestyle wouldn’t change that much,” said the clock repair specialist and musician who sometimes enjoys listening to an old phonograph at wax cylinder.
His customers share a similar spirit in their love of old-fashioned clocks that must be wound to achieve what Daniel calls a guiding principle of historic timepieces – “the controlled release of power”.
In ancient times, this energy was provided by the controlled drainage of sand or water from hourglasses or other vessels, or from “time candles” lit for measured periods.
Mechanical clocks operated by coil springs and balances, rotating gears, appeared around 1300 in Europe. The early watchmakers relied on a variety of precision skills including blacksmithing, engraving, casting, machining, brassworking, and tool making.
During the 1700s, clocks became more elaborate, fashioned by artisans who also made mathematical and surgical instruments, pistols, thermometers, and parts for spinning wheels and looms. Style variations included grandfather and grandmother clocks, banjo clocks, and balls.
Mass production moved clocks from civic and religious steeples to border coats, then pocket watches and wristwatches.
Daniel’s initiation into the clock repair trade came in 2007 while working part-time at a jewelry store in St. Petersburg, Florida, photographing products for catalogs, flyers, and a website. .
When the store’s clock repairer retired, Daniel was offered the job with the understanding that, as the store owner said, “20 years from now most watchmakers and repairers will probably have faded away.”
Daniel, born in Akron with several generations of mechanics in his family (and possibly a Moonshiner from Tennessee), originally wanted to be an architect. “I just liked the mix of art and math, but coincidentally, so did the clocks,” he said.
He studied the craft through an online course offered by American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) certified master watchmaker David J. LaBounty (About Time Clockmaking), of Nebraska. LaBounty said most of his students are former mechanics or engineers who started repairing clocks as a hobby and then jumped into the business when they retired.
AWCI’s membership has grown from 10,000 at its peak to 1,500, and the average age of a professional watchmaker is 62.
“There are not many of us left,” LaBounty said. “The modern generation is less and less interested in restoring something. They throw it away and get something new.
Clock repairers share a common set of skills, including dexterity, good eyesight, and an interest in history, art and micromachining, according to LaBounty.
“There is also something that cannot be taught – an ability to reason through problems to determine what the original mechanism was supposed to do,” he added.
The biggest reward of hard work is simply breathing new life into a broken watch, LaBounty said.
“Every day I stumble upon something that I have never seen before,” he noted. “I’ve been doing this for 30-35 years, and there’s a satisfaction in getting something that hasn’t worked for generations, that works like new again.”
To customers who grew up with these timepieces, LaBounty said, “Once a clock has been restored and is working properly, it’s like a member of your family has returned. It’s a link to your past.
After Daniel finished his guardianship under LaBounty, he started “Michael’s In-Home Clock Repair”, got married, and then he and his wife, Kara, moved to Shaker Heights to a more family-friendly and affordable state to raise their children. two children.
He worked for a local clock repair company for a few years, maintaining his own home repair operation outside of the company’s service area, before opening his store on Coventry Road in May this year .
The working area of his workshop is a jumble of clocks in various stages of repair, where dangling pendulums test oscillations among tools, machines and clock weights, dials and chains. An antique pendulum weighted with glass vials containing toxic liquid mercury requires special handling due to the potential health risk.
He loves the work process. “Most of them can be fun,” he said. “If you are not in a hurry, peace and quiet is like serenity. Just you and the clock.
Typical problems with broken clocks include the results of a lack of regular maintenance, such as lubricating the mechanism every two years, Daniel said. “If the oil stops lubricating, it accumulates dust and metal shavings and it acts like sandpaper and just wears out the metal,” he noted.
Sometimes parts are missing and have to be fabricated after a lot of reverse engineering.
Has the man whose slogan is “take the time seriously” ever come across the clock he couldn’t set? – Not often, said Daniel. “It’s usually just a matter of time (pun intended probably).”
One of his more unusual works involved a one-hand clock (hours only) made by an English gunsmith in 1640, using rope, iron plates, and brass rings.
Clock owner Janet Wright of Amherst purchased the broken clock in 2017 from a dealer to add it to her collection of 16th and 17th century antiques. She invited Daniel to take a look at it, thinking, “It doesn’t make sense to have a clock that won’t work.”
She recalled, “He was a little impressed by that. I don’t think he’s ever seen anything so old.
The work took a few months but Wright was satisfied with the results. “Michael really knows what he’s doing,” she said. “I think he has a real passion for it, and it really makes a difference.”
More typical of Daniel’s business was a mantel clock that Lloyd Snyder, 77, of Cleveland Heights, recently brought into the store. He said to Daniel, “It works, but it stops a lot faster than before, and it’s not very precise anymore.”
The clock was a wedding gift when Snyder and his wife got married in 1983, and he said it had a lot of sentimental value.
Daniel took a look and said the clock goes back to the 1920s. With a cleaning, oiling and repair of $ 180, “it will probably take another 100 years,” he said.
Snyder smiled and replied, “Well, I won’t be.”
He left the clock in what he believed was in good hands. Snyder later said, “I was really impressed. I know a lot of people who have old clocks like mine and they all have the same problem. So I think and hope that there is a market (for Daniel). It’s great service, and not many people are doing it anymore.
Daniel, too, hopes that future generations will always see the allure of vintage clocks.
“I really see a need for what I’m doing as long as there is an older generation that can tell their children how precious these (clocks) are and that they are worth attending, even though the lights go out, ”Daniel said.
“There is a story that comes with antiques. They all tell a story, and they’re as unique and different as the people who own them, ”he added.
Daniel hopes to expand his business to more stores and has started training his cousin Dominic Mason, 33, Elyria, in crafts.
Mason, a former diesel mechanic, said repairing clocks “fascinated me, the different parts, the gears, how a clock works.”
He described Daniel as a patient and talented instructor. “He’s very good at what he does. Sometimes he makes parts from other parts, ”Mason said. “He could build a clock from wood and metal only. “
Mason is banking on a future career in clock repair. “Who else is doing it?” It’s job security, ”he said. “We have to hope that the generation who own these clocks now will pass them on and their children will keep them as a tradition.”
Hope for the future mingled with the smell of machine oil and the metric beating of swinging clocks during a recent repair session in the workshop.
Daniel reached for a tool, exposing a tattoo on the sleeve of a fox and a red hawk scurrying through a forest.
He said it was a reminder that “no matter how hard you try, the darker side of the forest will try to bring you down. It is about overcoming the obstacles of life.
Whether this represents a harbinger or a promising sign for the future remains to be seen.
Time, as they say, will tell.
(Michael David can be contacted at the Cleveland Clock Repair shop, 1777 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118; 440-591-4208;www.clevelandclockrepair.com; [email protected].)