Have you ever been watching, say, a horror movie and the main character is in a quiet building. Then all of a sudden a cuckoo noise is heard scaring every person in that building or room? Well that is the work of the cuckoo clock.
They have been giving us tense shocks in horror films and scaring the bejesus out of us. But don’t associate them with bad things because they are some pretty fantastic creations.
The cuckoo clock stands as one of the finest exemplar of unmatched artistry. From the unique carvings to the lovely “cuckoo” sound, its decorativeness matches the functionality.
The history of the development of cuckoo clocks has spanned across numerous generations. And the process of making the German cuckoo clock is still regarded one of the most intricate and detailed procedures in modern art of clock manufacturing.
They are a part of Germans history and synonymous to its culture. But you may be wondering, what’s so special about them? Well I will tell you why. But first let’s begin with their history.
The History of German Cuckoo Clocks
The creator of cuckoo clocks is not known and the earliest mention of it was in 1629 when a German noble man saw that type of clock belonging to the Prince Elector-August von-Sachsen.
And in 1650, the engraving of the elements of a mechanical clock in a music handbook was documented by a scholar named Athanasius Kirche. But here is where it gets a bit fun – the first Black Forest Cuckoo Clock was made by Franz Anton-Ketterer.
Cuckoo Forest, a premium online cuckoo clock store, has published an article about the history of cuckoo clocks. The article can be found here:
He was a clock maker from a village in Schonwald and was inspired by the sound of church organs. And from there the cuckoo clock was born.
The area from the village is home to the Black Forest. It is named so because of how thick the pine growth is that even sunlight cannot penetrate into the ground. This would have been a very good place for Dracula to take a nature walk in.
From the 17th Century till now, clock makers make their clocks from the Black Forest. The tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. The makers use the same means to create good quality clocks and maintain the rich history of the region. No wonder they look so spectacular in their design.
But in those times, the main goal was for locals to make a living, especially during the winter.
Because of the cuckoo sounds, it became a toy for the rich. But during the industrial revolution, the prices went down and it became more mainstream.
If you think about it, before the industrial revolution, it seemed like time was irrelevant since they only cared about the cuckoo sounds. That seems like fun albeit risky time to live in.
Imagine if we were like that, a lot of things would definitely go wrong. So now that we know how they came about….
But how do cuckoo clocks work?
The Design of Cuckoo Clocks
Since they are an old time piece, the workings are pretty simple. For it to be even considered to be a German cuckoo clock, it has to be recognized by the Black-Forest Clock-Association.
The mechanics of the clock are driven by a pendulum that swings back and forth. The pendulum moves because of the 2 weights at the bottom of the clock that are pulled by gravity. If you were to look inside the clock, the pendulum looks like a maple leaf and the weighs look like pine cones.
Each pendulum swing is driven by the descending weighs which are held by a chain wrapped around the internal gear of the clock. This is what gives the ‘tick tock’ sound of the clocks.
There are also musical clocks that have 3 weights tied to it. And this is what makes the difference between musical and non-musical clocks. For the musical clock, the third weight powers the music box. And since the weights use gravity, they will drop to the level of the ground.
When weights reached the ground, the clock will stop functioning. To wind the clock, all you need to do is to just pull the other side of the chain and the clock will start again.
There are two variations from which to choose. There are 1 day and 8 day cycle clocks. For one day, the weights reach the ground in one day and thus need to be wound every single day.
But for 8 day, the weights take 8 days to reach the ground. Seems like a better option, doesn’t it?
Only winding it once a week?
Well the problem with the 8-day movement is that it is very complex and expensive.
The cuckoo sound is a fairly simple design. The clock has two small pipes connected to two air chambers on both sides of the chamber.
Once the movement hits the hourly mark, the air in the chamber is squeezed in and out of the whistles with the first squeeze produces the ‘cu’ and the second squeeze produces the ‘coo’.
For the one-day clock, you can manually shut it off to disable the sound at night and then enable it in the morning. For the 8-day cycle, some have the option of being turned off automatically. From 9pm to 8 am. But like I said, it doesn’t come cheap at all.
Why Are Cuckoo Clocks So Special?
We have seen the history of the clock and how it works but the thing you
keep wondering is why?
Why are the special and are loved by many people?
To tell you the truth, your smartphone can already tell you the time and a host of other things. But the beauty of this clock is the simplicity of it. It wasn’t made by a machine.
A genuine German cuckoo clock is 100% handcarved. It is special because of the intricate handiwork that goes along with it. Containing scenes of families, old time villages and hunting motifs.
Cuckoo clocks remind us of a period when things weren’t as complicated as they are now. It is the tradition that is attached to it that draws us closer to it.
And by the number of homes that have the clocks shows that it is an attachment that is felt by many.
Cuckoo Forest has put together a guide that will help you in buying your first cuckoo clock. You can find the article here. Cuckoo Clock Buying Guide.
Understanding the process of making cuckoo clock
Cuckoo clock comes from the Black Forest region of Germany which is regarded as the clock-manufacturing capital of the world. This particular region is also famous for the lush forest which forms the foundation of the clock manufacturing process.
The style of clock determines the working of a cuckoo clock, the required materials and the manufacturing process.
- Designing the clock
When it comes to designing the black forest cuckoo clock, sky is perhaps the limit. The style and moving parts should be considered in the first place in order to determine which things will go into its making. Wood is definitely the prime raw material that is often purchased in advanced and preserved for years to give an unmatched finish.
- Making the clock
Linden wood is the prime choice of making cuckoo clock case which is a hardwood grown in abundance in Europe. The clock master selects the wood and sometimes, walnut is also chosen for the same. Depending on the requirements, it may also be fetched in block-like lengths or in logs without the bark.
- Hand carving the individual items
The design and intricacy of the cuckoo clock will determine which elements will be required in the process. You would need everything from the axe for carving the clock design to designing the cuckoo to the dancers who will be twirling at every hour.
- Hand carving the clock dial and hands
Everything in the cuckoo clock is handmade right from the weight to the hands to the outer case. It may take even days together to carve out the house where everything can fit together snugly and coherently. One can also make use of the laser cutters for carving the clock dial and its hands.
- Painting the clock
Once the carving is complete, it is now time for painting the clock that can instill liveliness to the clock. The clock is usually given a natural staining which brings out the authentic detail in the clock.
- Assembling the clock
The mechanical movement of the cuckoo clock varies and therefore it is important to consider the type before assembling it. If it is an eight-day clock then the movement will be comparatively larger than a one-day clock.
- Manufacturing the copper chain
The copper chain of the black forest clock adds to its beauty and also aids in keeping the time. It is traditionally added by hand by experienced craftsmen who have been creating timeless pieces for generations. That is why it comes out as so good.
- Making the pine cone shaped weight
Depending on the size of the entire frame of cuckoo clock, the cone must be chosen with a lot of consideration. A cone can weigh between 275 grams to 1750 grams and there are several choices available to select them.
- Staining the weight
Each and every part of the cuckoo clock is designed with perfection and accuracy. The weight is stained in golden colour in order to add to the aesthetics of the clock.
- Selecting the songs for the clock
The music box is typically the only clock element which is not prepared in Germany but they come from Switzerland. Some of the most favored songs of the cuckoo clock include Der Froehliche Wanderer or “The Happy Wanderer” and Edelweiss. Both these variants are available in plenty and can be chosen as per preferences.
- Selecting the tones for the clock
There are two variants of tones when it comes to the music box: 22 and 36 tones. Needless to say, the more tones consisting within the music box, the smoother will be the music. If someone is looking for super-smooth music then he should go for the maximum tones available. As a matter of fact, the music box comprising the higher number of tones will automatically cost more. After all, if money can make the music smoother then let it be.
- Crafting the sound
The coo-coo sound which stands as a signature component of the German cuckoo clock comes from the two wooden pipes linked to two cloth bellows. The iconic sound is created by squeezing the air in and out of the pieces of bellows.
- Creating the gong sound
There will be a gong sound accompanying the cuckoo sound which is created by striking a hammer activated with the aid of mechanical movement on a piece of spiral metal situated on the top of the blackboard.
- Hand carving the pendulum
The pendulum of the cuckoo clock is made of the linden wood and is crafted with passion and dexterity. The pendulum plays an important role in running the clock since it regulates the running speed of the clock.
- Wiring it up
Wiring up the clock is perhaps the most critical step of manufacturing the cuckoo clock since it brings the clock to life. For any maker, this is definitely the most challenging step since it calls for a lot of experience and skillfulness for assembling the mechanical components that form the insides of the cuckoo clock.
There are numerous pieces of metal wires that go into the making of the black forest cuckoo clock and need to be adjusted minutely.
- Calibrating the clock and final adjustment
A newly assembled clock is set and kept on rest for some time before it is tested. The clock is then set for testing for at least 72 hours to make sure that it keeps on functioning without giving way to any problem. Once the manufacturer is absolutely contented with the new timepiece, it will be made ready to be taken to its well-deserved new home.
When it comes to making the cuckoo clock, quality is the key. The best cuckoo clock, which has been considered a priceless possession for the intricately beautiful designs, will continue to be a timeless charm for many years to come.