Custom Woodworking

Intrigued by all those gears and encouraged by the experience gained in making the various gear projects last winter, I found myself busy the last couple of months designing and making a wooden CLOCK …the following describes but a part of the process…


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And then it was time to assemble the clock, knowing full well that it is not nearly finished or ready to run. Even though the finish added another dimension to all the parts the clock basically “fell together” and the gears still operated just as smoothly as they did before the finish was applied. The total unit is really quite awesome to look at!

The finish accentuated the differences between the various woods and the various colors blend together as expected. There’s Brazilian Tiger wood, cherry, walnut, hard rock maple, poplar, ash, birch and pecan. The overall design adheres to one of the “Golden Rules” of measurements and relationship of parts: It is twice as tall (37”) and half as deep (8 1/4”) as it is wide (16 ½”).

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The most difficult part of the the whole project is to get the crutch and the  escape arm located on their shared axle just the right way  so that the escape gear rotates clockwise with every swing of the pendulum.  The pendulum “rod”, in this case a flat bar, has to be fitted to the crutch fork so that there is a minimum of play between fork and bar.

In order for the escape arm to operate properly a pendulum swing left of vertical center will advance the escape gear, a pendulum right  of vertical center will continue that movement.  Since the escape arm is a-symmetrical some very careful “eye-balling “ and measuring of the pendulum bar has to take place.

All in all the whole adjustment effort  is a time consuming “trial and error” exercise.  Three hours and a new axle (the first one did not work out) later it is thought that the escape arm has been properly fixed on the axle. Time will tell if the thought is correct!  To get to this point  a total of 85 hours has been invested in this endeavor. Some more “fiddle-farting” needs to be done before the clock can be called “finished” !

Since I’m busy with other things, the clock just hangs on the wall in the shop until such time that the Spirit moves me and I’ll work on it again. In the meantime visitors admire it and marvel at the complexity of it all.

Somewhere along the line the cork numbers don’t seem to be in line with the character and time frame of the clock. Since I purchased them I did not really think they were the right numbers, but at the time  nothing better presented itself. So cork numbers it was even though I really would have rather had some nice fancy Roman numerals…

All along I had a feeling it would come to this eventually: Four and a half hours , a pile of sawdust,bits and pieces and Roman numerals of my own desgn, sawn out of Brazilian Tiger wood are now complementing the dial.

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When Ellen and I were married more than forty-two years ago, her favorite piece of furniture was an old walnut ladies rocking chair. Ellen’s Mom had purchased it back in the sixties from an antique store in Zionsville. At the time the rocker was some seventy years old already and had been repaired. The repairs that had been done were done without removing the original upholstery. The broken pieces of the framework wood were not exactly lined up properly but were glued nonetheless.

So the rocker was used for many years. Ellen sat in it while nursing Elias and it was definitely her very favorite piece of furniture. Somewhere along the line the chair was bumped sideways and broke at crucial joints. At the time I thought for sure it was the end of the chair as I did not think it could be fixed. Not ready just yet to part with the chair it was delegated to the attic.

Fast forward to this winter: while cleaning out the attic a decision had to be made concerning the chair… Burn it? Nah! We’ve got thirty some years more experience in the wood working department and surely I could tackle the difficult repair. Practically every part of the chair had something wrong with it. One rocker was split, the other broken at the front joint, one arm was split and the other split in another (crucial) location. The crown piece had been broken into three pieces years earlier and had not been properly repaired. A plastic back taped to the chair contained a bunch of splinters and little pieces of walnut that all had had a place on the chair somewhere…

Having been in the attic for as long as it had the joints by now were really dried up. Once the rotten upholstery was removed it was relatively easy to completely knock the chair apart and reduce it to a pile of “tooth picks and splinters”…  Then came the task of gluing pieces back together, cleaning out dowel holes replacing dowel pins and reassembling sub parts. Phew! What a job!



Made up of several pieces, the sides of the chair are basically flat so gluing them back together was “easy”…  Not so fast! Where to place the clamps on the curved surfaces without putting undue stress on the delicate curves? It took a while, but finally I was able to think like the original craftsman who made the chair back in the 1880’s and the chair practically “fell” together. I even had to pry the sides apart in order to install the crown piece! Awesome! Talk about instilling a feeling of pride!


Once back together, machine- and hand sanding followed and it became evident that the chair was once again going to be a favorite piece of furniture. A few coats of lacquer, a visit to Jim, my friend the upholsterer and Voila!

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One happy Ellen!


Since before Christmas I’ve been “playing” with wooden gears. Gears were cut out on the scroll saw using walnut, maple, poplar and cherry woods and then mounted into a gear box of sorts. It was a fun project! Turn the crank and the pinion bar rises – the thing is so “loose” that the pinion bar drops back down under it’s own weight. All the gears turn – it is fun to do and fun to watch! Talk about a conversation piece! It “only” took about nine side plates before I had all the axle locations right… What a nice way to kill a few hours….



Now that things are slowed down in the house building department, there’s a bit more time to “play” in the wood shop. Below left a countertop wine rack out of beech, right a bank of banks out of walnut. Should you have a small (or LARGE!) project please do not hesitate to call on me. 812-394-2289

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Off to the cabinet shop – finally! 🙂

Regular visitors to this site will no doubt recall   that I started Ellen’s walnut desk before the flood of 2005. The desk project got shoved on the back burner so that we could build and complete our new house.  It was not until the winter of 2011 that I finally had some time to work on the desk   again.   “I really should finish Ellen’s desk that was moved around the shop “forever”… “,  it was thought…

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Spring/end-of-semester  found me busy doing kiln repairs all over and after doing just a little bit on the desk, the project was shoved aside again…  Summer 2012 was busy with annual school kiln inspections/repairs, mowing and generally doing summer things.  When Fall arrived I was still busy doing kiln repairs, but after a trip to , almost, the Ohio-West Virginia border to repair a kiln, things slowed down a bit.

“This is it!” I proclaimed and went to the cabinet shop to FINISH THE DESK! In time for Christmas, almost eight years after the project was started!  It took the better part of the day to wrap and re-organize my brain around the project, but once I started work it did not take long or I realized that I was only a week or so away from having the thing finished!  Like with so many projects “things” have to be done in order:  “have to do this, before that can be done, which cannot be done until this is done” and so on…

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The hardware was installed on all the drawers to make it easier to fit them in their openings – “in ‘n out” – several times before they properly fitted their respective openings. Once all the drawers could be operated smoothly, the support rest for the writing surface was made, but that could not be done until the lid was properly fitted and hinged to the casework.

“Headache after headache” – are you sure this is fun? It took a couple of days to get everything working the way I intended it to work and then the casework was ready for sanding. Sanding the desk is an all day affaire, first the belt sander, then the orbital sander and finally the finish sander.

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Sanding is sort of a lazy job, all one has to do is guide the sander around the project and let it do its thing, while one’s mind roams elsewhere. Seems like every time I am sanding, I am remembering what my father said some sixty years ago: I had just finished my first wooden toy gun. It was a replica of a Colt revolver and was made of laminated ¼ “ thick plywood pieces that I had cut out with my hand operated figure/scroll saw. What a job that was! I only broke one blade, quite an accomplishment at the time!

All the pieces had been glued and clamped and now was the time to sand it all nice and smooth. This of course before I had access to the wonderful tools (uh… 😉 toys) I now have. Hand sanding was the rule of the day. First a hand held rasp, then very coarse sand paper until Piet (Dad) approved, then coarse sand paper, then medium sand paper and finally fine sand paper.

After each grade of sandpaper Piet would inspect my job and encourage me to go on.  All by hand, it took “forever”. When finally I was done Piet would tell me to close my eyes, spread my fingers over the wood and feel for discrepancies, there were none. Then Piet would say: “Slick and smooth as a newborn’s baby’s butt!” Funny how memories like that stick with you even sixty years later.

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It took most of a day to sand and “fiddle-fart” with the casework, but finally it was ready to receive the top. In order to install the top the blade had to be removed (again!) so the case could be placed on the worktable to accommodate the large furniture clamps. Once the top was installed it is time to walk away from the thing, let the glue set up and dry, tomorrow is another day!


…And then “tomorrow” arrived and it was time for the first coat of oil…A hand-rubbed oil finish does not come easy. No instant gratification here. As the old-timers who taught me used to say:  two initial coats of thinned-down oil, then once a day for a week, followed by once a week for a month, that in turn is followed by once a month for a year and then once a year thereafter…All the while “quad odd” steel wool, a cotton rag plus a hefty portion of elbow grease are the tools of the trade. It will be awhile before this desk will have the deep shine that Ellen’s thirty-nine year old armoire has!

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Almost eight years since it was started, but Ellen thought it was worth the wait. So you want to be a cabinetmaker?

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