Interview with Norwegian clockmaker, Johannes by Eternal Tools

1. When did your interest in horology begin, and who or what inspired you?

It started with clocks 20-25 years ago. I liked to work with lathes in a motorcycle shop, and then I told myself that it would be funny to make a clock. It looks so easy. (How wrong can a man be?) So I bought “Making an Eight Day Longcase Clock” by Alan Timmins. I started reading, converted all inches to mm and had a lot of fun.

I bought a Russian lathe from an English company; they had rebuilt it with variable speed control. The lathe is very stable and nice to work with.

Education is important, so I went to the BHI for my first seminar, and Alan Timmins was the teacher, a very clever man.

I joined many BHI seminars, and start looking around in Bergen for big clocks.

I got my first total restoration object, and it was interesting to learn about the clocks dramatic history and to get the clock to tick again.

At the BHI I learned how to gold plate metal, and I did it with the hands to this clock.

Later I used a gold spray method on the numbers and parts of the face, it is very expensive work. But this method gave a very reflective light, and it looks very nice in the dark with a spotlight. Later I have restored 2 more of these C.F.Rochlizt (Berlin) clocks, they are from 1890.

You can see and listen to one here:

My company name is “Klokkemakeren Lavoll”. (Clockmaker) therefore I have people call me to put up a new wall/tower clock. I contacted Smith of Derby, and we have sold 10 electric clocks around Norway.

A funny story: in Norway we have the same word for clock and bell, so one day I got a phone call from an architect company that wanted some bells for a new church.

I contacted an old bell foundry in Holland, and got the best price, but the job went to a Norwegian bell foundry.

A big and interesting project was a decimal clock. It was a part of an exhibition, and it works very well with specially made Smith of Derby motors and electronics. The “problem” was to teach students to read this clock. 10 hours a day is difficult to learn, but it is very practical in time calculation.

A very funny project was an exhibition clock. It was made of an old train station clock from Holland. I made some gear-motor, a company put in a controller, and a man made a program that analyzed the internet activity. So the clock runs fast with high internet activity!

2. Do you have a shop or home workshop that you work from, tell me about it?

My workshop is ok in size and warm enough in the winter time. I have this Russian lathe with a lot of equipment. I have made a tool so I can cut pinions in this lathe.

And I have made a wheel teeth cutting machine also: a good tool with a kitchen ventilator motor etc etc. But it cuts very nice and accurate.

My milling machine is from “Chester machine tools”, but they called it a “drill with milling facility”. They don’t sell it anymore.

In addition I have lots of tools and grinders, saws, manual and electric files etc etc etc.

And also an old clockmaker lathe with lots of equipment.

My clock work is a hobby, and it is very badly paid. But I enjoy the work and it gives me a lot of challenges in design and execution.

3. What do you find the most frustrating or difficult repair job or task?

A problematic job is to grind the pallets on the escapement, but with a lathe and some homemade tools it is easy.

I have learnt the hard way that it takes 10 times more work hours to make a good tool/jig than to make the clock parts.

4. What are your favourite timepieces and why?

My favorite timepiece is a very small tower clock. This was one of the first clocks I started with, so when (after many years) I was ready; the new owner of the building did not want to pay or take it back. So now I have a big job to find a buyer, the market for old tower clocks is not so big.

clockmaker Johannes and some of his restored clocks.

5. What tools could you not live without?

I cannot live without my lathe!!

We had a thunderstorm this summer that killed the frequency controller, and those 2-3 weeks without a lathe were terrible.

6. Do you feel concerned about the future of the watch and clock industry and if so why?

The mechanical clock has been out of the market for some years now, but I think people want it back. They have the ipad to give correct time, but a nice mechanical clock will give status and admiration.

The big indoor clocks are different, the load tick-tock make people crazy. The architects don’t learn how to draw a nice tower clock in to the building.

But people in town like the outdoor clocks. Many times people call the newspapers and complain if one stops or shows the wrong time.

I am now moving from Norway to Mexico City. They don’t have so many tower clocks, so the business will be difficult. So maybe I have to fix the indoors clocks?

The Mexicans don’t go to a shop to buy something that broke down, they try to fix it. So maybe I can make some parts with my lathe?

7. What’s next? Any interesting projects or dreams you wish to fulfil?

My dream now is to continue my hobby in Mexico. I will retire in 2 months, so I have to do something. But this was planned 25 years ago.