Grandfather clock

My clock story its long. More Pictures soon

I started working with wood in my early 20’s. While I had a natural ability for woodworking, I lacked the attention and skill to deal with the finer details. I learned enormous amounts by subscribing to and reading Fine Woodworking from cover to cover every few months. I have now been a woodworker for over 25 years and have created a variety of products, big and small, for sale and personal use. I am very proud of my work and have enjoyed creating all my projects. The following project is the pinnacle of all my experience and learning.

I prefer the craftsman style of woodwork, so I am not a big fan the ornate details in most grandfather clocks. However in August 2001, I found a grandfather clock at a bed and breakfast in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I immediately fell in love. I took reference photos of the clock and promised myself that I would someday reproduce that clock.

The pictures (included with project pictures) hung in my shop for 9 years. It was dream constantly put on the back burner due to other, more pressing projects. By the time I was able to begin work on the clock, the bed and breakfast had sold to new owners and the clock was gone. I could not measure it or get more pictures. I had no plans or dimensions to work from; only the photos of that clock I found so many years ago. I worked on and off for 4 years attempting to duplicate the clock. I soon found this was not possible, and so I began to add my own flourishes and touches, turning the clock into something I created.

Changes I made from the original:

The scroll work on top right side of the original had straight vertical slots, artistically I did not think it fit so I redesigned it to match the scroll work in the front.

For the base cabinet, I had to make lots of assumptions as the photographs did not clearly show this section. The most enjoyable part of this challenge was creating the coved wood corners. Fine Woodworking has several articles about cutting coves with a table saw and this was my opportunity to apply what I had read. I cut the cove at 90 degrees to the normal cutting path using the full arc of the saw blade.

Next was the door, which again was not clear in the picture with exception of the 3/4 wood strips. I matched the door as best I could and despised the look and feel in relation to the rest of the clock. Four days and six redesigns later I came up with a final door that I felt matched the scroll work.

On the clock section, the original support columns had a decorative “capitol”. I tried and tried, fussed and fussed for three days but was unable to create a design I liked. My clock is very similar, but dimensionally different and it just didn’t work. I removed the capitol from the top.

Next was the clock face. I scoured the internet to find a metal clock face that matched the photos. I was unable to find any that satisfied me, so I began to create my own. I designed the clock face on my computer and printed it onto cardboard which I then burned to give it an old look. I liked the style, but it was not elegant enough for the clock. Plan B: researched embossing metal foil to make a metal face. Hobby Lobby has the metal and tools to emboss so I bought it and gave it a shot. Within ten minutes, I figured out I had no idea what I was doing and it was a total bust. I had to regroup. Plan C: I have experience with fiberglass and bondo so I thought I would form the face and paint it to look like metal. I made the fiberglass face and sprayed it with brass metal spray paint, then wet sanded and buffed for an old look. I added custom stencil I had created, and the final clock face fit my vision perfectly.

I could not find the decorative weights I wanted on the internet. I was able to find decorative metal caps that fit the clock and had the idea to use stained wood cylinders with the end caps to create a unique and interesting weight system.

Finally, after the woodwork was complete, I sanded for a week and worked constantly to pick the perfect stain. It took me two weeks to find a a combination that worked. I did not like any of the stains I bought due the darkness, so I mixed two stains to create the proper color tone. I then researched how to dilute the color with mineral spirits. The color I liked came down to one part English Chestnut / one part Early Chestnut mix to two parts mineral spirits.

The grandfather clock was a dream project, a pleasure to build and uncharacteristically I took my time. If something did not work or fit right i reworked it till it was right. Also with no plans or dimensions from the original I had little to go on proportionally and I have struggled with proportions on projects in the past. Looking at the finished clock with a critical eye I can’t see anything I would change, its almost like the clock wanted to be built.

The Clock Mechanism is another story:

My intention again was to make a “real" grandfather clock. I got to the point where I needed the mechanism so that I could make woodworking decisions to make it fit. I thought the best way to tackle this issue was to buy the clock mechanism form a local clock shop/expert. I went to a Clock Shop and showed him the pictures of what I was going to make. We agreed on $350 for him to get a complete Westminster Clock Mechanism ready. My construction was at a stand still, I could not move forward till I had the clock mechanism.

I called after 2 weeks and was told it would be ready the following week. The week passed, I called again and it wasn’t quite ready it would be another week. The week passed, he finally said I could come and get it. I went to pick it up and he was still locating parts for the clock while I was in the shop. I was suspicious but I paid the money in good faith so I could start working on the clock again.

When I got it home I made a temporary clock stand for testing. That's when I first started to notice issues. The chains did not match and they did not have all the correct decorative ends. I had to jerry-rig some hooks to attach the weights. The top connection hook for the pendulum was not secure, I tried to fix it and it broke. So I jerry-rigged it and finally got it running. The next flaw was the the clock was not even close to accurate. Yet another problem was that it was loud, at night I would take off the chime weight to keep it from chiming at night. This worked fairly well but after a month the clock quit working. Its all mechanical but I had no instruction manual or understanding of how it worked. I tried and tried but could not figure it out.

I loaded up the whole temporary set up and took it to the clock shop. We set it up in the shop and the owner quickly got it running. He said you just flip this, turn this other thing, hook up that, start the pendulum and it’s running - easy. What! He made it look easy and I somewhat understood but it was very complicated. Then I asked about it not Keeping time and he said all you have to do is lengthen or shorten the pendulum to speed up or slow down the time. I don’t know to do that! I thought thats what I paid $350 for? He assured me he would help me through it. I then asked about all the missed - match pieces he looked around but couldn't find any and said he would check his other shop the next day. Im thinking what the hell did I give him $350 and 4 weeks of time for?

I took the clock back home, set it up and got it running. After 2 weeks it stopped again and I could not remember all the “easy steps” he had taught me. Again I could not get it started back up.

This is where the story takes a turn:

When I had unpacked the clock weights, the box had a receipt in it. Upon looking closely at the receipt it was an order for clock parts placed in 1971 by a friend of the family. Talk about a small world.

Two things about this:

One, I was shocked that a receipt that old was still in the box and that I happened to randomly buy the parts from the same shop the friend sold it to. Secondlly, It also meant that the clock shop did absolutely noting besides go to the back and grab random dust covered boxes to sell to me, what a sucker I was.

Upon finding out more information from the friend, similar to me he started a clock project back in the 70’s and also wanted to make it authentic as possible. He also had frustrations making the clock work, he sold the clock parts to the Clock Shop and abandoned his clock project for over 30 years! In the time since, battery operated technology greatly advanced. He eventually finished the clock with an electronic mechanism. I wanted a ‘real’ grandfather clock but after hearing his story and having my own frustrations I started investigating an electronic mechanism.

I settled on one that has a speaker, volume control, several different chime settings and it keeps perfect time. It's so much easier and I can just enjoy the clock instead of battling a mechanical clock to keep it running. It was the way to go and it even allowed me to put in a switch that easily shuts off the speaker at night.

I called the clock shop and told the owner I had clock parts to sell. He said he wasn’t interested because he had to many mechanisms already in the back. I eventually told him who I was and that I was switching to electronic. He got mad and said that once the mechanical is fine tuned it will will work as easily and accurately as electronic. Maybe, he had his chance, dropped the ball and lost another customer for life.

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