How does a cuckoo clock work? All about them


Cuckoo clocks are clocks that use a pendulum to run and make a sound every hour or so. There are some cuckoo clocks that make sound in different intervals of time. But they are often not used as much as the hourly sound-making cuckoo clocks. This sound is usually made by the appearance of different bird-like creatures that pop out of a hut that is usually placed on top/bottom or sometimes even in the middle of the clock.

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Many of the Cukoo clocks that are still found in houses are over a decade old. And some even more old. But looking at a cuckoo clock often raises a question that how does it actually work. And hence is the main crux of this article

Cuckoo clocks use a pendulum which completes its oscillation in a second to count each second. This is only possible due to the weight that is put on the pendulum to make it move and work.

The Pendulum of the cuckoo clock

a GIF of the cuckoo clock to better elaborate "How does a cuckoo clock work?"

The pendulum is often in the shape of a leaf that moves and swings, completing a single of its oscillation in a one second. The pendulum is mostly made a bit heavy so that it keeps on moving by using gravity once their initial motion ( first oscillations ) is out of the way. Moreover, a singing Cukoo clock usually comes with one more leaf weight than the normal cuckoo clock. This extra weight works as a music box and completes the whole structure. These weights need to be rewound every single day, or after every 8 days for the cuckoo clock to work and for the birds to come out every hour.

But don’t worry there is also Quartz cuckoo clock that don’t need to be rewound every now and then. Subsequently, they also don’t come with weights. These Quartz clocks are usually battery powered and usually work the same way as Analog clocks do

The Escapement

One of the integral parts of the mechanical cuckoo clock is “The Escapement”. This is what transfers the energy of the gravitational force from the weights to the clock’s counting mechanism. One of the most popular escapements that were used was verge-and-foliot.

A picture of verge and foliot to better answer "How does a cuckoo clock work?"
The verge-and-foliot was the most common mechanism for controlling the descent of a weight in a weight-driven clock.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In a typical verge-and-foliot escapement, the weighted rope unwinds from the barrel, turning the toothed escape wheel. Controlling the movement of the wheel is the verge, a vertical rod with pallets at each end. When the wheel turns, the top pallet stops it and causes the foliot, with its regulating weights, to oscillate. This oscillation turns the verge and releases the top pallet. The wheel advances until it is caught again by the bottom pallet, and the process repeats itself. The actions of the escapement stabilize the power of the gravitational force and is what produces the ticktock of weight-driven clocks.

The Wheelwork

This is the series of wheels/rings or gears that would transmit motion from the original source to the hands of the clocks. Regardless, the power is first transmitted by the main, big wheel which is attached with a gear with smaller teeth and whose arbor is attached to a further second wheel, which will be passed on the movement just like gears move. The ratios of the gears involved are such that one arbor moves and most of the time the second or the third arbor completes its whole revolution in an hour and it can be used to maneuver the smaller arbor which would be in control of the minute hand. Moreover, the arbor carrying the minute hand comes with a slipping clutch that allows the hands to identify the accurate time.

The frame in this case is made up of 2 specific pivots that would carry the weight of the gears and are often aced on four pillars. The weight that has now replaced the mercury in the mechanism to make the main gear move, forms a line that is coiled around a barrel, which is raised by the turning of the winding square or in some cases by the pulling of the line. The main wheel of the frame is engaged with the center pinion on the arbor and the front pivot of this wheel is stretched. This then carries the minute hand the gears necessary to make the hour hand move. To better elaborate, down below is an elaborative picture

A picture of the main coponents to better answer "How does a cuckoo clock work?"
A Picture Of The Main Components

The central wheel also engages with the pallets fixed to the arbor. Moreover, fixed along with the pallet is also a crutch that ends at a fork that is connected with the pendulum rod.

How does the bird within the cuckoo clock work?

Well, as we mentioned before, every hour or so ( depending on the clock you bought ), a bird will come out and sign coo-coo. Along with the bird, there are two wooden pipes that are attached to the air chamber, which goes along both sides of the clock. The process starts off by the air getting filled up in those chambers. And when they do, they will start to activate the bird. The air will then squeeze out of the hole on the mouth of the bird, making the infamous “Kuku” sound. The depth of the sound being made would depend on the size of the overall clock.

Moreover, no matter what the size of the cuckoo clock is, the first sound that the cuckoo clock would make would be something in line with a linear “cu” which would be followed by a bit more screechy “co”

a picture of the inside of a cuckoo clock to better answer "How does a cuckoo clock work?"

Cuckoo clocks come with a cuckoo bird. And that in itself defines why they are called by that specific name. The overall movement of the clock would be made with the help of the movements of the weight in the case of the conventional cuckoo clock. And if the cuckoo clock works with the quartz mechanism then the clock would be powered electronically to serve its purpose

Answering a few more questions about Cuckoo Clocks

Do cuckoo clocks keep a good time?

Yes, they do, but you need to rewind them every eighth day if it is a weekly cuckoo clock. You can do the rewinding at any time of the day without disturbing the actual functionality of the clock. Just make sure that you do it before the weights actually drop to their furthest point

How often does the Cuckoo clock make a sound?

Well, the conventional cuckoo clocks make a sound every hour of the day. But there are some that even work on a half-hourly basis too. Moreover, nowadays, there are cuckoo clocks that come with light-sensors which means that they automatically don’t make any sound during the night

Can cuckoo clocks be worth a lot?

Like any antique piece cuckoo clocks can have quite some worth attached to them, this also depends on the artist/ company who made the product. And whether it is original and has a sign on it of the artist

How can you tell if a cuckoo clock is real?

The real German cuckoo clocks come with a certificate that is mostly written in German. Moreover, another indicator of the genuineness of the cuckoo clock is that they might have a round sticker inside the clock in gold, black, and white with German writing. And the letters “VDS” in the middle.

Why is a cuckoo clock called a cuckoo clock?

Well, as many of you might have guessed, a cuckoo clock is called a cuckoo called because the sound made by the bird that appears usually every hour is somewhat in line with “Kuku”

Why are some Cuckoo clocks so expensive?

The big price tag that might come along with some of the Cuckoo clocks is because some of them are quite precariously carved by master craftsmen. And the bigger the name of the craftsmen and the more intricate the work would mean a bigger price ultimately.

What is a black forest Cuckoo clock?

Well, a cuckoo clock is said to be a black forest cuckoo clock when all of the work including all of the inside work with all the details is has been handmade exclusively from the Black Forest region of Germany.

Hope this article was helpful in answering a lot of your cuckoo clocks related questions along with some other questions. Moreover, if you have any further related questions feel free to use the comment section below. And if you want to know about why pendulum clocks stop during an earthquake, we have a great article written on it, so do give it a look if you are interested “Why do Pendulum Clocks Stop During An Earthquake?Opens in a new tab.

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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