Fortunately for woodworkers, the ready availability and variety of electronic movements, clock faces, plastic or glass lenses, and bezels, has greatly simplified the process of clock building. Gone are the days of installing finicky mechanical movements. For those who can’t be bothered sourcing the various bits and pieces needed, kits containing everything, including the wood, are available. If you elect to purchase a clock face that’s different in size from the one used here you will need to modify the plan to make sure the face fits properly. It looks best if the bezel is centered within the face panel (E).
The mantle clocks I build have three defining features: first, they are sized for today’s down-sized furnishings and fireplace mantles. Second, they are made of quality cabinet-grade wood and components. Lastly, they sound terrific when they are chiming. A heritage style clock, such as the one described in this article, is simple to make, yet elegant. It can be embellished with the addition of mouldings or different hardware than what I have used. Indeed this is an area where you can let your creativity shine.
Begin by jointing and planing all the project pieces to their final thickness. I like to rip the base (A), top (B) and sides (D) to the same width (in this case about 6″) and then trim them to their final length. Starting with these pieces the same width greatly simplifies marking and machining the joinery.
Small mortises are easily done with Domino joiner
Rear of clock with back in place
Movements installed inside clock
There are a number of options for joining the top and bottom to the sides, including dovetails and dowel joinery. I find mortise and tenon joinery to be both accurate and efficient. Mark the locations for the bottom and top mortises. Because I use floating tenons, I also mark the top and bottom of both sides for mortises. Go ahead and cut these mortises now. With these important joints out of the way, rip the two sides (D) to their final width and, using the router table, cut ¼” x ¼” slots in their front inside edges to receive the face panel. Note that if you elect to use ¼” plywood for the face you’ll have to adjust the width of these slots to correspond to the actual thickness of the plywood, which will often be 6 mm. The inner side of these slots should be 3 ½” from the back of these pieces, so if you’re planning to use your router table for these joints, set the fence up accordingly. Insert the loose tenons and trial fit the joinery you have made thus far.
Using the actual location of the slots in the two sides as a reference, mark the location for the grooves you need to cut in both the base (A) and top (B) to receive the face panel (E), and then go ahead and make these joints. Like the slots in the sides, these need to match the thickness of the plywood, and be ¼” in depth.
With the joints cut in the top (B), you can now cut it to its final width. A decorative edge can really enhance the appearance of any project. On this clock I used an ogee bit on the edges of the sides and front of the base (A), top (B) and cap (C). Machine the face to its final dimensions and then drill a ⅜” diameter hole in the dead center. This size is just right for the movement I’ve recommended, but if you’re using another movement you’ll have to size this hole accordingly.
The back panel is held in place with magnets. Two are inset into each door stile (G) fastened to the sides and another two in the back (F) panel. A Forstner bit will cut a clean hole for the magnets, and cyanoacrylate glue will hold them firmly in place.
Drilling Handle Holes
Set the cap (C) on the top (B) then clamp them together so you can accurately drill the handle holes. Using a ⅛” drill bit, drill the two holes into the cap (C) and top (B). Because standard sized handle bolts are usually only ⅞” long you won’t be able to go through both the cap and the top. You have one of two choices: replace the bolts with ones long enough to go through both boards, or countersink the bolt heads deeply enough to allow the bolt heads to go through. I usually follow the latter route and drill the countersink holes using a ⅝” diameter drill bit. You also need to drill some pilot holes in the top to use in fastening the cap into place when the time comes.
Sand everything to 320 grit in preparation for finishing. If you’re using solid wood for the face (E), apply the finish to it now so there won’t be any unsightly unfinished areas showing whenever the weather causes the panel to shrink. Once done, go ahead and glue the loose tenons into the sides. Don’t go overboard with the glue, as any excess will only have to be wiped off with a wet cloth before it dries. Put a small dab of glue in the middle of the slots in the top and bottom, and then set the face panel into the slot in the bottom. Put glue into all mortises, and then go ahead and set the two sides into place. The top (B) comes next, after which you can clamp everything together and set it aside for at least six hours to allow the glue to set. Check the assembly for square and make any necessary adjustments. Before you move on make sure you clean off any glue that may ooze out with a water-dampened cloth.
Once the case has dried, glue the two stiles (G) for the back into position, ensuring you have the right side up, otherwise your magnets may not line up properly. The cap (C) can now be fastened into position. Carefully line up the holes in the cap and top (B) so you’ll be able to get the handle bolts through the top when the time comes to fasten it. Check the back (F) panel to ensure it will fit properly into position, and then make the holes for the two magnets. Before you glue the magnets into position, set the back (F) into place and mark where you’ll need to gouge out the relief hole needed to get your finger under the door to remove it. Make the hole and then once you’ve checked the magnets’ polarity, epoxy them all into position. If you use five-minute epoxy, you’ll be able to start finishing the piece very soon.
I normally spray my clocks using one coat of Target Coating’s water-based shellac, woodessence.com, followed by three coats of their lacquer. The first two coats are gloss and the last one is semi-gloss, which I find gives the finish good depth without appearing cloudy. For optimal results, lightly sand with 320 grit sandpaper between each coat. If you’re planning to use water-based finishes, remember to wet the bare wood with water to raise the grain. Follow that up with a light sanding of 320 grit sandpaper to get rid of the raised grain, then apply your first coats of finish.
Once the finish has cured properly, go ahead and fasten the handle into position. Then, install the clock face and bezel. The set I recommend is held in place with very small nails that are supplied with the bezel. Take great care in aligning the clock face, as you only get one crack at it. To ensure I don’t split the face when nailing the bezel into place, I usually place a short piece of 2 x 2 into my vise to nail against. Insert the movement’s hand stub through the hole in the face panel using the supplied washers as shown in the directions that came with your movement. I usually glue the movement into place using CA glue, as it sets up very quickly and surely. Whether you are making this clock for your own home, or as a gift, it’s bound to be admired by all.