What Makes a Clock Tick?

What Makes a Clock Tick?

Updated: September 2, 2021

When people refer to ticking clocks, they are normally referring to analog or mechanical clocks. Often these are older clocks, although some are still produced today.

All clocks have an internal mechanism that keeps a clock's time accurate. Traditionally, in analog clocks, this was done through a mechanical mechanism, which ticks.

In more recent times, mechanical time-keeping mechanisms have been replaced by electronic mechanisms which don't tick.

Electronic mechanisms usually use a quartz crystal oscillator to keep an accurate flow of time. After electricity is supplied to it, the quartz crystal (silently) produces a signal every second, and this signal is fed into the clock's system and keeps the time accurate. These clocks don't usually make a sound.

Analog clocks are different. They have a mechanical way of ensuring that the time is accurate, and this does make a sound. It isn't the clock's hands that tick; it is the mechanical time-keeping mechanism inside the clock that ticks.

What Are the Insides of a Clock Called?

The inside of an analog clock has five main parts. These are the power source, the cog mechanism (gear wheels), an escapement wheel, a controller, and the display hands. The escapement wheel and controller keep a clock's time accurate, and they make ticking sounds as they do so.

Analog clocks are driven by a power source. Traditionally this was either weights or a coiled spring. The weights or spring push on the clock's cog mechanism to make it turn, and this eventually makes the hands of the clock turn.

Initially, the power source exerts force onto a main cog inside the clock. This first cog is connected to a series of further cogs which vary in size. Different sized cogs produce different movement speeds, which makes the different hands go at different speeds.

Why Do Clocks Tick?

The escapement wheel and controller, which control a clock's time, make it tick. To be accurate, analog clocks don't just tick. They actually tick-tock because they produce two different sounds as they operate.

The escapement wheel is a toothed cog, like all the other cogs in the clocks system. The attached controller allows it to move by one individual cog tooth every second. This slightly puts the brakes on the whole clock system, making it turn at a time-accurate speed. Without the escapement wheel and controller, the energy source would drive the clock too quickly.

But why does it tick and tock?

The controller and escapement wheel make sounds as they come into contact with each other. Each time the controller moves, it either ticks as it hooks over a cog on one side of the escapement wheel or tocks as it pushes against a cog on the other side of the escapement when.

A pendulum controller can be used as an example. Pendulums sway in a precise time. As it sways one way, it hooks over a cog and ticks, and as it sways the other way, it pushes against a cog and tocks.

How to Stop a Clock from Ticking

There isn't really any way to actually stop a ticking clock from ticking. If you stop the mechanism which ticks, the clock will not be able to keep time accurately.

Some people add muffling around the clock area, which houses the escapement wheel and oscillator, to dull the sound. Some people also try oiling the mechanism to provide a smoother, less sharp movement of the mechanism.


Author: Burak Özdemir

My name is Burak, and I used to have difficulties waking up in the morning due to unreliable alarm clocks. Over the past few years, I've dedicated part of my life to finding the best alarm clocks and sharing my knowledge with people through this blog. I'm also the creator of Online Alarm Clock.