Have you ever been warned by a family member, friend, or a clock repairman to “never turn the hands backwards on a clock”? Did you ever wonder if that’s true? Or wondered what would happen if you did it accidentally? Many people are a little nervous anytime they have to move the hands of their clock, especially if it is an antique or a fragile timepiece. We want to help you learn how to set a mechanical clock safely and without worry!

The history of turning back time

The truth is, some mechanical clocks cannot be set backwards, but most actually can! So why is this such a common misconception? Many of the American clocks made around the turn of the century were the kind that you can’t turn backwards. The movements were very basic, mass produced to make them affordable for the common man. Around the year 1900, a simple eight-day, spring wind clock was sold for $1 or $1.25 with an alarm included.

Because of the popularity of these affordable clocks, it became common practice to only go forward with the delicate hands. Our great grandparents bought these clocks, and they’ve handed them down over the years with the warning, “never turn the hands backwards!” People have assumed that this is a universal rule for any mechanical clock. Even many clockmakers around today are afraid to tell their customers any different, in fear that they might turn the wrong clock backwards.

So how can you tell if your clock is the kind that can be turned backwards? I would recommend that if you’ve only ever turned the hands forwards, continue to do so until you’ve had the clock looked at by an experienced clockmaker. They will be able to give you detailed instructions on how to operate your clock safely. If you have accidentally turned the hands backwards and are afraid your clock is damaged, don’t be too worried. Your clock will probably need to be readjusted or possibly repaired. It is not usually a major or expensive problem.

How to set a mechanical clock back (without turning the hands!)

If you’re still wondering how to set a mechanical clock back for daylight savings time, there’s a great alternative to moving the hands forward 11 hours: simply stop the pendulum for one hour, and then restart it! When the pendulum is still, the hands won’t move. So if you set a timer for an hour before restarting it, you don’t even have to move the hands!

Don’t forget about the chimes!

This common practice of pausing the pendulum is especially helpful if your clock chimes and strikes. Don’t forget that you should always stop at every quarter hour and let the chimes finish before going further. If you don’t want to wait around to wait around for 11 hours of quarterly chimes, use the pendulum stopping method! If your clock is time-only (meaning it doesn’t strike or chime), it’s very likely that you can turn the hands forward or backwards to set the time.