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Cuckoo clocks are amazing examples of Germany engineering and the high-quality craftsmanship of the local carvers. Intricate and composed of many parts, Black Forest Cuckoo clocks can take anywhere from three days to three weeks to make.
Traditional Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks are hand carved from Lindenwood (also known as Basswood) from the Linden tree, which is part of the lime tree family. These trees are native to northern Europe and are perfect to whittle or carve, as their grain does not split or run.
A carpenter selects the correct timber for the shape and size clock, using power tools to cut approximate sizes needed. They then cut and assemble the main box/case and backplate that the clock movements are housed in.
The sheets of timber are passed onto the wood carvers, while the completed box is sent to the painters.
Along with small table saws and chisels, stencilled paper designs are part of the carver’s tools. These designs help keep consistency and speed up the carving process. They are laid out on the timber received from the carpenter and the designs are transferred to the timber. A table bandsaw is used to cut out the basic shape, (this is the last time a power tool is used on the timber) from there, the three-dimensional designs are carved with chisels.
On chalet designs, separate pieces of wood are carved into figurines, deer heads, waterwheels, and other scenery items.
Some specialist carvers will only carve certain features, such as the people or the leaf and deer shapes.
Once all parts are carved and completed, they are sent to the painters.
Read more about the history of the Wood Carving industry in The Black Forest.
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While most Cuckoo Clocks are a rich dark colour, natural Lindenwood is a light pine colour. This means that every part of the clock must be stained or painted before being lacquered. Some types of clocks (especially on chalet styles) show the original colour of the wood. Figurines and scenery items are painted in muted colours, usually showing the natural grain underneath, while most of the clock is stained a chocolate brown.
Once the painting and staining has been completed, it is left to dry before the scenery and decorative carvings are glued and coated with clear lacquer. Any figurines or parts that require movement are lacquered independently and given to the clockmaker separately from the assembled clock.
Once all the decorative parts have been cut, painted, glued, and lacquered it is time for the clock maker to put together the working parts that make a Cuckoo Clock, a clock.
The internals are different for modern Cuckoo clocks, which are battery operated compared to the traditional mechanical clocks and require different skills to assemble each type of clock.
Battery operated require the battery terminals, the volume/power switch, the moving Cuckoo bird, a light sensor plus all the cables to connect each part to the power. If music is involved, the extra music box and dancing terminals are added.
Mechanical clocks are a little more involved and need knowledge of how each part is connected to the main mechanism. The main plate containing all the cogs and wheels is centred in the case, with metal wires connecting to any moving parts (such as the beer drinkers or rocking horse), as well as connecting to the bird and the door. Chains are wound around the cogs that control the time, cuckoo bird, and any music box.
Cuckoo clocks are handmade with high quality materials by skilled craftsmen who take pride in their artistry. However sometimes human error occurs, that is why all Cuckoo Clocks undergo a final check and trial operation before leaving the workshop.
Clocks are packed in the workshop, using thick corrugated card and foam to pad the delicate carvings as well as wires to hold the whistle bellows and chains from moving. The clocks fit very snug into their packaging to stop any movement during the long weeks to their final destination.