How German Cuckoo Clocks Work
While the German cuckoo clock is a beautiful piece of artwork that is unique in the world of clock making, you might be wondering exactly how it is that these handcrafted works of art manage to also keep accurate time. If you've ever owned a German cuckoo clock, you may have resisted the temptation to take it apart to see what exactly is inside. Fortunately, the inner workings of the German cuckoo clock are easily explained and won't require you to disassemble your beautifully built cuckoo clock.
While the modern clock is something that we all take for granted, most people don't realize that the technology used to make a clock work and to accurately keep time has only been around for about 350 years. In 1656, pendulum clocks were invented and all modern clocks today use this basic pendulum theory of keeping time. Before the pendulum clock other methods of timekeeping were used, such as sundials, water clocks, hourglasses, and spring-powered clocks. Until the pendulum clock, however, these methods of timekeeping were not very accurate and often needed constant maintenance to keep them running continually. While the minute hand on a clock had been introduced nearly eighty years earlier, it wasn't until the pendulum clock came into existence that truly accurate means of timekeeping were made available.
Most German cuckoo clocks are pendulum driven, so if you want to understand how the cuckoo clock works you need to understand the basic principles behind the pendulum clock. In the mid-1600s, inventors realized that a pendulum will always swing at exactly the same rate back and forth as long as the weight at the end of the pendulum remains at the same distance and the pendulum keeps swinging. With this knowledge, Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens successfully created the first pendulum powered clock in 1656. Pendulum clocks all work exactly the same way, no matter what size the clock is, from the size of a building to a grandfather clock to a cuckoo clock. The only difference is the rate at which the pendulum swings. For instance, in a grandfather clock the pendulum will swing once every two seconds, whereas in a cuckoo clock the pendulum will swing twice each second. But how does this constant swinging keep accurate time? It's all in the weights!
Because there were no batteries or electricity when pendulum clocks were first invented, clocks needed another source of energy to keep them working. This is where weights come in to play. Weights are used in pendulum clocks as a power source for keeping the clock mechanisms moving continuously. By placing a small weight on a cord or chain that is attached to a series of gears, you are creating "potential energy" that is used to drive a clock's timekeeping mechanisms. In order to cause a second hand of a clock to spin around in a circle exactly sixty seconds each minute, a pendulum must continually swing at a constant rate while a weight pulls the gear that turns the second hand continually at a constant rate. Of course, just placing a weight on a cord wrapped around a gear would send the weight falling to the ground, so you need to use a series of gears which will keep the weight from falling too rapidly.