15 January 2011

Project "Westclox Big Ben Alarm Clock, Style 6" (1/3)

EDIT: PLEASE READ!!!! Before attempting any sorts of repairs to any sort of antique clock be aware that the luminous paint used on the face might contain radium which is extremely risky if it is ingested and/or inhaled. this can happen when you open the clock and the dust from inside gets out. If it glows regardless of whether you charged the face with an external light source or not then it surely contains radium or other radioactive substances and must be treated with care!

There was no visible glow whatsoever when I obtained this clock, whether in the dark or light. It only glows when I shine an external light source on to the face but it fades away after a few minutes and I have been informed that this behavior means that it is unlikely to be radium. Nevertheless I will continue to treat this clock as mildly radioactive and keep it a distance away until I can confirm it is indeed not radioactive. For more information please read the comments below.

obtained this antique alarm clock recently but haven't had the time to do much work on it yet, but i managed to take it apart and snap some photos. i personally think that it is an absolutely gorgeous looking clock and will not be touching up on its exterior because the beauty of this clock is the ruggedness that comes with its aged look.

a few problems, to name a few:

1. the face is OBVIOUSLY seriously fogged up, i don't know if it's due to age or due to exposure to the elements.

2. the mechanism doesn't run for more than a few seconds before stopping. the gears require my coaxing to run but it will just seize up on its own after maybe 30 seconds, could be a problem with the spring, or perhaps the gears need oiling.

3. the alarm setting is off by about an hour and requires calibration. meaning if i set the alarm at 5pm, it will ring at 4pm instead and that is NOT a reliable clock!

4. the luminous paint on the minute hand is flaking off even as i'm handling it (carefully) but i don't think anything can be done about that.

i managed to identify the make and model of the clock from this website

Big Ben Westclox history at www.clockhistory.com

from the examples on the website, this clock should be a style 6 model 211 alarm clock built between 1949 - 1956 so it is at least 50 years old. they sell modern replicas of this clock online, but those are powered by batteries which are nowhere as classic as this particular one i have which needs daily windings to keep it going.

i managed to take it apart right down to the gearings without much difficulty, but i am a little daunted by the complexity of this clock. granted, it is not a grandfather clock or something very complex but this is my first experience with a clockwork mechanism of any kind.

that's a lot of gears for a first timer like me to handle but i will work at it and hope that my gamble in purchasing this clock will pay off if i can repair it.

if i am unable to fix it...then...well it'll still make a nice display piece on a cupboard, but it'd be 500% nicer if it worked. i can't think of anything to clear up the fog on the face, no rubbing or cleaning would get it off...that'll be a huge problem as well if it works but you can't see the face!

(link to page 2/3)


  1. I have a very similar clock (Style 6 but a different colour. My father and I were able to get it working and it runs beautifully. The one problem is that the glass is the wrong size so I am hoping to find one. Have you tried toothpaste to clean the glass? My dad swears by it and did a really nice restore on another clock face for me. It will take some elbow grease and patience but it might work.

    1. hey hello i have managed to clean up this clock and made a post about it here:


      i didn't use toothpaste but instead i used a very fine grade sandpaper before using a plastic (not glass) polisher called Novus on the lens. you can see the result in the post above, its great stuff for cleaning up plastics!

  2. I'm sorry to tell you that taking apart this clock may have been a dangerous thing to do, and I'd strongly discourage anyone else from doing a similar project. The comment you made about the luminous paint flaking off is a big deal, because this clock used radium paint. Apparently it's a health risk now because of the chalkiness of the paint after so much time, so some of it is fine particles and can be breathed in. Also if some flakes of the paint remained around it would contaminate the area it was worked in.


    (especially look at E-5)
    Given that you are saying some material came off, you might want to have your premises checked by a health authority


    1. thank you for your comment, I have done some research on my own and found that there is truth to this especially in the way I have handled it. Unfortunately it has been quite awhile since this post was made and there's nothing i can do to change any actions I have already done. Though I don't think I will resort to calling the health authorities, I will consider taking down this blog post on this clock to prevent others from doing this and also disposing of this clock if I conclude it is indeed a risk to keep it around since I have opened it.


    2. Thanks for caring! I'd encourage you to leave this blog post up, but maybe edit it to put a big warning on the beginning about why it shouldn't be attempted. I only know about this because I have a similar clock, and I only didn't do the exact same thing you did because I couldn't get the darn thing open- I sure tried.

      It was years after I tried opening it when I checked it with a geiger counter (I was playing around prepping a lab for my physics class and was wandering around the house looking for anything radioactive.) Thats when I found out about all this. I feel like there's just not enough info out there and if you changed the blog post into a discussion of these issues it could be a good thing.

      You might want to consider asking your state's radiation officer about it- they can give good advice and are happy to help. They also might be able to (at no cost) figure out if there is any residual danger in your home today. They could also help you figure out how to dispose of it legally if that's what you want to do.

    3. Ok i'm going to dial this back a notch with some new found knowledge. First of all I will definitely put a warning at the start of the blog post.

      I put the clock into a cupboard drawer for a few hours and switched off the lights. I let my eyes adjust to the dark for a few minutes and I took the clock out of the drawer and I couldn't spot any visible glow.

      I then took a torch and shined it on the clock face for 10 seconds and turned off the light. The clock now glows brightly but slowly fades to nothing after a few minutes.

      With this result I believed that it isn't radium but just a non radioactive phosphor painted on the face. If there was radium present then the paint shouldn't react to an external light source. Also it should keep glowing all the time whether day or night. I never noticed any glow from it when I was restoring it and I would've definitely do a check online first if it was.

      I still had my doubts and I will not deny I was genuinely freaked out by this incident and I sent out a few emails asking for information and I got a rather strong reply from David Boettcher who wrote the article at www.vintagewatchstraps.com/luminous.htm saying that it is not radium from the experiment I did above.

      There is still the risk that this clock still contains traces of it because the old radium paint could have been repainted with modern luminous paint by the previous owner. This is all assuming the clock was painted with radium paint in the first place.

      I guess the only way to find out is if I get a geiger counter but I think I will be holding on to this clock until then, just that I will leave it in an enclosed box where the alpha and beta rays can't get to me.

    4. Just playing around with an old pick clock from a yard sale. I took shell casing off but can't get to inside without taking hands off. Does the back come off with the back middle knob that controls the hand movements? TIC TOCK

    5. from my experience with the other clock i have restored:


      the back for that clock does come off after I take out the knobs on the back. The knobs can be screwed off the shaft but you have to use a pair of pliers to grip the shaft. you have to take off the back of the clock slightly in order to get your pliers in though.

      once you can grip the shaft it will be just a matter of twisting the knob and it should screw right off, enabling you to take off the back casing.

  3. Great post! I just bought a model 8 and although it doesn't need any repairs, I do have a parts question for you. On the back, like in the image above, my clock has a semicircle marked F at one end and S at the other. Mine however has a toggle switch and I assume F stands for fast and S for slow. Is that correct or is it something else?

    1. Yes, it is to adjust the regulator so you can make fine adjustments to the clock if needed.. mechanical clocks tend to require readjustment every now and then so just push the pin towards fast or slow if needed