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How to Repair Vintage Door Chimes

If you have a set of vintage door chimes that has seen better days, here’s how to get them ringing again. By Lora Shinn

    An original Rittenhouse longbell chime graces the entrance of a 1939 house.

    An original Rittenhouse longbell chime graces the entrance of a 1939 house. (Photo: Lora Shinn)

    The electric doorbell isn’t as modern an invention as we might think—the first doorbell was invented back in 1831. In the Victorian era, the doorbell rang a simple electric bell. In the 1930s, door chime invention and refinement eliminated the harsh bzzzzt of electric doorbells or clang of the more gong-like bells, and the signature ding-dong of longbell chimes rang clear.

    Longbell chimes filled U.S. homes—from bungalows to Tudors to ranches—until about the late 1960s, when the commonplace two-, three-, or four-note devices fell out of favor. Today, most doorbells ring a purely electronic device from a big-box store. But if a plaster niche shaped like a simple rectangle or ornate cathedral window graces your house’s entry, that’s a clue that it once hosted one of biggest home booms of the 20th century.

    Chime Types

    Restoring a set of vintage longbell chimes is anything but simple, says Tim Wetzel, owner of Knock Doorbells, whose restored chimes have gone on the sets of films and into homes throughout the U.S. “Most chimes were guaranteed by the manufacturer for one year,” he says. “A half century later, it should be surprising that many still work. In the interest of functionality and safety, even the ones that more or less work are ready for some TLC.”

    If your home’s chimes aren’t sounding, the problem could stem from a malfunctioning transformer, incorrect voltage, nonfunctioning doorbell buttons, or faulty chime connections, among other problems. If you have the electrical or mechanical skills, you may be able to resolve the issue yourself; if not, call in a pro experienced in chime restoration to troubleshoot electrical or chime problems. Here’s a quick guide to getting those bells ringing once more.

    Fix #1: Cleaning the Plunger and Cylinder

    A Harmony-brand chime interior before and after restoration.A Harmony-brand chime interior before and after restoration.

    A Harmony-brand chime interior before and after restoration. (Photo: Tim Wetzel)

    A chime’s plunger can easily become sticky from corrosion, dust, and oil. The result? A lack of any sound, or only half of the intended ring (a “ding” but not a “dong”). Here’s how to remedy the problem:

    1. Take note of your chime’s inner workings (they all can be slightly different). Drawing a simple diagram is a good idea.

    2. Slide the plunger out of the cylinder, carefully placing aside the spring. Use extreme care, says Wetzel, as the wires that power solenoids are fragile like butterfly wings.

    3. Use a metal polish like Semichrome, Wenol, or Autosol, which offer a protective wax finish; apply inside the solenoid coil tube with a Q-tip. Polishing the cylinder may require elbow grease and a rag. (Note: Chimes should never be oiled, as oil’s viscosity causes the plunger to gel up, collect dust, and eventually prevent movement.)

    4. Reassemble the cylinder, plunger, and spring exactly as they looked in your diagram.

    Fix #2: Replacing Bell Hanger Loops

    Positioning the new bell hanger loop.

    Positioning the new bell hanger loop. (Photo: Lora Shinn)

    A bell’s fabric loops can break or degrade, and cause the bell to fall or offer a poor sound. Here’s how to replace your loops:

    1. Remove the old, frayed, damaged loop. You can cut off any exposed old loop cord on the existing chime, and push the remaining cord down into the tube.

    2.Tie a bowline knot out of nylon cord, making a loop about 1″ in diameter. Make sure the knot is positioned correctly so that the plunger’s strike face will hit the longbell beneath the knot (above). Once the knot is in the right spot, use a match to lightly fuse the knot and prevent fraying (you also can use a drop of super glue). The knot will secure the longbell into position.

    Pulling the new loop through the bell.

    Pulling the new loop through the bell. (Photo: Lora Shinn)

    3. Insert thin crafting wire through the chime’s end plug, and push the wire until it comes out the bottom.

    4. Twist the new loop onto the wire, then pull the wire up through the tube. Use needle-nose pliers to gently pull the wire loop and knot through the top of the bell.

    5. The bell is now ready to hang (and ring) again.

    Fix #3: Replacing a Bell

    If one or more of the bells is broken, missing, or damaged, you may want to replace those metal tubes—but doing so isn’t easy. You can’t substitute a new bell for a nonworking bell unless it’s from the exact same model of chime. “Bell tuning is a result of alloy, diameter, length, and wall thickness, and there is no standard for vintage bells,” Wetzel explains. Different chime sets feature various brass alloys with differing coloration, volume, and resonance, so it’s unlikely to find a bell that can be easily swapped in for the missing or damaged bell. Your choices, according to Wetzel:

    1. Hang a piece of brass pipe just to fill the gap, for aesthetic reasons only. Cost: About $20.

    2. Find a stray vintage bell to hang; search reuse stores or eBay. The chime may not sound the same (or even work), but the bell’s look may more closely resemble an authentic style. Cost: Price dependent upon seller, but generally $20+.

    3. Buy an inexpensive new set of bells from NuTone, modify hangers, and replace all bells. Cost: $130+.

    4. Scavenge a set of bells from a nonworking chime set. Replace all bells. Cost: Around $20 for a badly damaged or abused chime set, but can easily run into the hundreds.

    Online bonus: See Tim Wetzel’s list of the worst vintage chimes ever.

    Published in: Old-House Journal February/March 2012

    { 20 comments }

    Terry October 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I have an ‘old’ door chime with four plungers and resonant tube. It suddenly ceased to work except for one chime. When activating the door bell button, one tone is heard and then after a few seconds it sounds again. When the chime was working correctly it sounded a sequence of tone( i. westminster chimes) at the front door and another sequence at the rear door.

    Inspection of the circuit board provided me with no clues as to the cause of the problem

    Any ideas as to where I could find a replacement board?

    A tag on the chime says ” MODEL C8848″ Rittenhouse division Spartan Electric Co, Fayetteville, N.C.

    RJ November 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    We were able to use a nice looking, hollow, metal curtain rod. It looks nice and the sound is fabulous. We hung it with nylon string through a hole which we drilled in each piece of the curtain rod. Very happy with the results….and it was cheap!

    Stewart Johnson October 9, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I have a model C8846R Rittenhouse
    It is connected to three doors
    The kitchen door works, the front door chimes on one note only and the library door does not work at all.
    Can I get it fixed
    Thank
    Stewart Johnson
    580-678-6579

    Cathy Stroud October 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    We have “inherited” an antique Edwards doorbell and can’t seem to get it to work in our house. It is over 60 years old. I can send a photo of the insides to see if you have any ideas why it won’t work. It did work before it was unhooked at my husband’s parent’s home. We contacted Edwards but they said anyone who had any information on this old of a doorbell has long retired from the company and they couldn’t help us.
    We would love to hear from you and if you can offer any help it would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

    Old House Journal admin October 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Cathy:

    Please contact Tim Wetzel, at http://www.knockdoorbells.com. He’s the go-to door chime/bell guy, and is located in Portland, Oregon.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    Demetra
    Editor, Old House Journal

    Mary Van Beck June 30, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I have an Emerson-Rittenhouse 4 bell Doorbell Chime, Model RC 577, 16 volts, Motor by General Electric, purchased by me in 1970 which I am trying to restore. Only two of the chimes work. I sent it and my Nutone Intercom for repair to Space Age Electronics in Canton, OH, which services Nutone products. They fixed the intercom but couldn’t fix the chimes. They said that two of the plastic plungers are warped and are sticking, and they were unable to get the parts to fix it. Do I have any options? I am really attached to these chimes and it seems a waste when everything is in A-One condition except two plungers.
    Thanks for any help you can offer.

    Marianne Alden September 28, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    I have a perfectly working four (4) pipe chime that I wish to replace the cover. The original cover was broken…I found a “clock” cover for temporary use, but the clock is unreliable and too large. Where can I get a new cover? Thank you.

    Gary January 11, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I have a NuTone K44 Majestic Westminster door chime. Recently it has stopped ringing all of the notes except for two. I want to get it working perfectly again, any advice? I am willing to ship it to you, for repairs, if that is your advice.
    Thanks

    Mike Askew January 28, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    I have a Rittenhouse Emerson 16 volt model C8362 two bell chime.The unit has a dual solenoid two plunger with the single chime signaled by the rear button switch and the double chime signaled by the front button switch. The rear works OK. The front will not energize the solenoid to pull and release the plunger to signal front door. I have changed the front door button switch. The front plunger operates smoothly, no power. Would the solenoid be bad or a possible open in the front circuit?

    Matthew Ptasienski February 7, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    My dad has an Edwards & Company 4 – chime doorbell that works just fine with one problem…in order for it to chime, the doorbell outside has to be held for 3-5 seconds or it doesn’t ring. Any shorter hold doesn’t keep the motor running in the unit long enough to engage the ringers. Suggestions?

    Christine March 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Need to replace or repair chime for Rittenhouse Music Intercom System Model # 9000-111
    Tried other avenues, any suggestions?

    Barry Minnick May 22, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I have an 1930′s vintage Westminster door chime clock and need a transformer. Can anyone direct me to where I might buy one?

    Anio June 20, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    I am having to leave our family estate in tucson az. due to eminant domain. The house was built in 1947, however, there was a remodel 1972-74 in which my grandfather hung a four chime doorbell unit with each door having its own sequence of chimes. I would like to remove it and take it with me. My grandmother was a Sears employee in the hardware dept for 40 years and that was the only place we shopped (for nonfood) I don’t even know how doorbells work. Do wires run thru the house walls, over the roof, (there isn’t any attic space) or what? I don’t want to just yank it out. It would be nice to be able to rehang in the future. How do I take it down and what do I need to be careful of? (Besides falling off a ladder). Thank you
    ANIO

    Ethel Jacobs October 29, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    We inherited a lovely old time chime bell. It’s Model C8633-2. Volts 16, Spartan Electric Co, Ritten-house division, Fayetville,NC
    We need to know how to wire it properly.
    Thanks The Jacobs

    Bryon November 28, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I have an old Nutone Doorbell Chime with 4 chimes. The plastic eyelet hangers are all broken. They are the insert and twist to lock type. Where can I find replacements?

    Thank you in advance.

    FreemanTurner December 3, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Working on a model C8845 door chimes system I am looking for a wiring diagram or schematic.

    Chris December 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I have a Emerson rittenhouse model c8577 4 chime doorbell. One chime keeps sounding a ding every so often. Very annoying. What’s wrong and can it easily be fixed.

    James January 2, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    I have an old doorbell and have lost one of the springs for the plunger. Is there anyplace replacement springs can be purchased?

    Ralph P. DeVitto March 1, 2016 at 8:52 am

    I just purchased a Nutone LD49 in mint condition and perfect working order. I paid $115 for it. Please let me know what year was this bell made and did I over pay?
    Thanks for your support.

    james hollins March 10, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    hello i have a Morphy Richards clydon two chime door bell and it is missing the striker also i am not sure if it needs a transformer or not. How can i get this fixed or at least speak to an expert who could guide me.
    if you can help please reply to my email above.
    thank you.



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