Why Does a Clock Tick – Associate Professor Explains

You may have wondered why your wall clock is making a ticking sound. Does it have something to do with the second hand? You used to find the sound to be soothing, but now you wish to lower its intensity so that you can get a nice night’s sleep.

Why does a clock tick? A clock ticks because of the escapement, that controls motion, allowing the internal wheel to turn just the distance of one wheel tooth. The hitting of the wheel tooth by the escapement creates a ticking sound.

Bob West, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences at EPFL, stated that this release of power from the escapement marked the start of the true mechanical clock. Modern mechanical watches have an escapement that is controlled by a balance and balance spring that acts like a pendulum.

A Rolex watch (click to see pricing) on Walmart for a preowned Rolex) does not tick like most mechanical watches because the transfer of power is more fluid due to the high precision of the gears.

How do you stop a clock from making a ticking noise?

To stop a clock from making a ticking noise, you need to change the clock mechanism to one that does not have a ticking noise. Most clocks that run by a battery can be easily changed over to a non-clicking clock.

Here are the steps (is the for the popular battery-operated wall clock):

  1. Purchase the clock mechanism that creates the smooth sweeping of the second hand.
  2. Remove the screws that are in the back of the clock so that you can remove the clock face.
  3. Now pull straight up on the hands of the clock and set them aside.
  4. Flip the clock over and remove the clock mechanism.
  5. Replace the clock mechanism with your new mechanism that does not tick.
  6. Screw back on the clock face.

If you have an electric clock that ticks, you can convert it over to a battery-operated clock by the following means.

  1. Remove the clock from the wall. Remove the screws that are in the back of the clock so that you can take over the clock face. Put it aside.
  2. Now take off the hands of the clock. Be careful when doing so because they are made from thin strips of metal.
  3. Remove the clock mechanism by pulling on it from the back of the clock.
  4. Buy a clock conversion kit that does not tick. Make sure that it matches the size of the present clock mechanism.
  5. Purchase clock hands that will fix with your conversion kit and that are short enough to fit your clock face.
  6. Install the new battery tick free clock mechanism that is part of the kit that you had purchased.
  7. Install the hands. Have them all facing at 12 so that they will be correctly aligned.
  8. Screw on the clock face.

What Kind of Watches Go Tick?

Here is a table that was derived from various watch forums. It illustrates the types of watches that watch owners have that make a ticking sound. Most of these owners loved the ticking sound that their watches make.

Types of Watch that Makes a Ticking Sound
Swatch (see at Amazon)
Seiko (my recommendation)

How do you stop a click from ticking so loudly?

To stop a clock from ticking so loudly you need to insulate its glass front. To dull the vibrations, place a glass case over the glass or exchange the glass face with laminated glass. Laminated glass will reduce the sound waves better than normal tempered glass.

According to the clock makers at Bramwell Brown in London, England, you can also insulate the sound of ticking by using acoustic dampening foam. Nevertheless, you will not be able to read the clock if you cover it with a case that is made from this foam.

Here are other methods to reduce the ticking sound:

  1. You can also oil the internal gears if you use clock oil. Some people have tried WD-40 only to realize that they were damaging the internal gears.
  2. Another way to dampen the sound of ticking from a wall clock is to add a quilt over the clock. Tape the quilt using masking tape to hold it in place. During the day, just remove the quilt so that the ticking can be heard again.
  3. If your clock is new, there is a chance that you can simply change the clock mechanism. Source the mechanism online. A lot of the Chinese retailers sell non-ticking mechanisms that are easy to install.
  4. Replace your clock if you are not able to deal with the ticking. This might seem extreme, but you may be able to find a quartz type or a wall clock of the same style that does not tick.
  5. If you have a noisy quartz wall clock, it can try to remove the second hand since that seems to reduce the sound of the tick.
  6. For a table clock, add a felt covering to the table portion where the clock sits. The best type is the felt that can be found on pool tables.

Why does a clock make a tick tock sound and not a tick tick sound?

A clock may seem to make a tick tock sound, but it is repeating the same tick tick noise. Your brain is fighting to form a pattern and you will believe that you are hearing a tick tock instead of only ticks.

The British company Kef that manufactures sound equipment states that the human brain likes to turn sounds into patterns to understand the overall picture and reasoning for sounds. According to Trevor R Agus, a sound researcher at Queen’s University in Belfast, to remember sounds, your brain will create a pattern that can then be memorized.

When you hear the tick tick of a clock, you will remember that the second tick is lighter than the first so that a pattern is formed. It is as if your brain is trying to create a melody out of sound that on the surface does not have a pattern.

If you like the ticking of a clock, I recommend the musical cuckoo clock that is available on Walmart.com. Click here for current pricing.

This pattern forming has been proved by various EEG tests that were performed on a group of participants. It was proven that we try to group together repeating sounds into pairs to make sense. For instance, the participants claimed that the first and third sounds were louder than the second and third sounds whereas the sound had simply been repeated four times.

Besides just trying to form a pattern out of the ticking of a clock, you may have already heard that the sound will be a tick tock tick tock sound. You have conditioned your mind to hear that sound even though the volume and tone of the ticks is the same each time.

To prove this analysis to yourself do the following:

  1. Assume that that sound will be in a pattern that is reversed, tock tick.
  2. After a minute or so, you will believe that the sound is now tock tick instead of tick tock.

Why does a quartz clock tick?

A quartz clock ticks because its stepper motor forces the second hand to move to its next position causing the ticking sound. The stepper motor is put into motion by the regular pulse created by the frequency created in the crystals.

Chua Meng Shuen, a scientist that graduated from Caltech in physics states that that pulse that is created within a quartz watch is due to a voltage that oscillates at 32, 768 Hz. Humans are not able to hear at this frequency which explains why we do not have the vibrations that are made within a quartz watch. Nevertheless, we can hear the tick that is created once the second hand is forced up to the next position.

Not all quartz clocks make the ticking sound according to the German Quartz Clock Manufacturer called Clokk. Just the quartz clocks that use a stepper motor will cause the second hand to tick each time that it moves. There are quartz clocks that use a different type of motor called the synchronous motor. This motor causes the second hand to move in a continuous fashion. A second hand that moves this way is called a sweeping second.

Besides just wanting to know the reason for the ticking that we can hear in the typical quartz watch or clock that does not use a synchronous motor to move the second hand, many of us wonder whether electric clocks tick.

Do electric clocks tick?

Electric clocks do not tick because they are not mechanical clocks that are powered by a mainspring or a hanging weight that can contribute to the creation of the ticking sound.

Marshall Brain founder of howstuffworks.com, states that the functions that track time need electricity, The electric or digital clock does not keep time mechanically. There are electronic circuits that track time accurately using an output of voltage waveform that changes due to time. No sound is created when time is recorded since there is not a conventional gear system. In a sense, the changes of the digitals that represent the present time act like a silent gear system. The digits are displayed in liquid crystal or light emitted diodes.

Even though typical electric clocks are digital, there are models that are called electromagnetic clocks that track time using a balance wheel or pendulum. These first electric clocks were a hybrid of a mechanical clock and the more modern electric clock. Still these clocks do not tick because they did not have a escapement linkage or mechanical system.

Another type of electric clock that resembles a mechanical clock was the synchronous clock. These clocks had gears that were controlled by a synchronous motor. This caused that second hand to make a sweeping motion instead of a quick leap to the next second marker on the clock. In other words, the smooth patch did not create a ticking sound.

Why does a clock tick every second?

A clock ticks every second to mark the smallest unit of time that society is concerned about. You can track microseconds, but most situations dictate that this is not necessary. Minutes and hours do not tick because of the long length of time that occurs between each of them.

Stephen Foskett, an IT/Business consultant, states that the second hand ticks to mark the simplest unit of time that is applicable in everyday life. Of course, fractions of second are important in rare situations such as in sporting events or the timing of electrical functions. However, the necessity of hearing the passing of each unit of time diminishes with units that are greater than or less than one second.

Nevertheless, some clocks or watches do emit a high frequency sound within less than one second. These devices use a stepper motor that creates the movement of the second hand that could be as high as 8 short movements of the second hand per second. The vibrations created by such watches are not easily heard by most of us because of the short length of time that exists between each movement of the second hand.

With respect to quartz clocks and watches, the frequency is at 32,768 hertz, which is 2 to the power of 15. Humans cannot hear a frequency that is more than 20,000 hertz so it is not possible to hear the ticking each second even if it were to happen.

Aron Blake

I am the lead copywriter on Homezesty and the Webmaster. I have a lot of experience in home renovations and the creation of style. I enjoy writing and sharing my tips on how to create the best living environment. My Linkedin Profile, My Twitter Account

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