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About Clock Escapements

Clock escapements are one of those little things that have had a tremendous impact on the world yet not a lot of people realize it or even know what they are.

The escapements themselves are after all usually hidden inside a clock!

Here I will give you a summary of what they are, how they work and the history of them.

Oh and I also made one out of foamboard. That is a complete project tutorial that you can also make. That tutorial on making a wizard's clock is here

Will has a youtube channel with over 700 videos on projects you can make. Check it out right here



What is a clock escapement?

In short it is what makes the tick-tock sound in a clock. It is a mechanical device that regulates the swing of a pendulum or the relaxing of a spring. And it does it very accurately so we can measure time with it.

These diagrams will help you visualize what an escapement does and how it works.

There are three critical parts to a mechanical clock. They are the Counterweights, the pendulum and the escapement.

The Counterweight gives the clock it's power. A weight on a string is pulled by gravity. This pulling turns a wheel.

The Pendulum gives the clock its accurate beating. A pendulum swings at a very accurate rate, every swing, every time. This property was discovered by Galileo. He noted that no matter whether a pendulum had a wide swing or a narrow swing it still took the same amount of time to swing! As long as the two pendulum lengths are the same. This property is called "isochronism". And it makes for a great way to measure and regulate time very accurately.

Galileos pendulum discovery


But, you probably know that if you get a pendulum started it will quickly run down, using up it's energy until it comes to a stop.

So how do we keep the pendulum going? We need to continuously give it a little push. And we do this with a weight on a string and with something called an escapement.

The escapement has two functions. It transfers energy in rhythmic pulses to the timekeeping elements of a clock and it pushes on the pendulum to keep it going!


Notes and Timeline Notes:

  • Galileo: noted the behavior of pendulums in 1637. His son attempted to build a pendulum clock after Galileo died.
  • Huygens: Make the first working pendulum clock in 1656
  • The single pin escapement (we use in this clock) was patented by Charles MacDowell in 1851


Now let's take a look at Galileo's escapement. This is how he solved the problem of giving the pendulum a little push with every cycle.

Drive wheel drawing

Here is the process that happens with the escapement.

1. The drive wheel has a string and weight on it. So it wants to turn in a clockwise direction.

2. As that wheel turns the pin on it pushes on lever A, this pushes the pendulum in a swing to the right.

3. The pendulum finishes its swing to the right then begins its swing back to the left.

4. As the pendulum swings to the left lever B picks lever C up off the gear, releasing it. Now the gear, because of the string and weight is free again to rotate clockwise.

5. This means that a new pin now pushes lever A. The whole cycle continues.

3. As the pendulum swings to the right lever B releases lever C. Lever C catches the gear tooth on the wheel stopping it from moving forward.

The video here shows you the process in action:



Want to make a simple pendulum clock out of foam board? It is a basic setup but will show you how an escapement and pendulum work

Make a Wizard's Pendulum clock






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