Make A Custom Shaped Wall Clock – A Timeless Project

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Remember how clever some people thought they were; with that predictable howler, “Time to buy a watch!”, every time someone asked the time of day? Yes, I’ve been that guy and I’m not proud of it. Fast forward to cell phones, however, and that old passé zinger’s done gone slack in the mainspring. But there is a timepiece that will never fall out of favor: the wall clock. And with a few simple tools, wood, glue and a cheap clock movement you can make your own custom wall clock in just about any shape or theme you’d like. This weekend project will be ticking in style for many years. Who’s laughing now, funny guy? That’s right; still no one.

Two Hairs Past A Freckle

Clock pattern
I printed my pattern over 4 sheets of 8-1/2” x 11” and taped the seams.

Sure, trends evolve over time. Grandfather clocks and cuckoos aren’t nearly as hot as they used to be. And the once ubiquitous wrist watch is now fewer and farther between. Pocket watches? Forget about it. But clocks themselves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Especially when it’s a super cool one you made yourself!

Trimming the fat
Trim the excess paper, but leave a margin around the pattern.

The process begins by overlaying a clock face template onto an outline of your choosing. In my case, both the clock face and the Africa line drawing were found online as clip art. I combined the two with image manipulation software, but you could just as easily print them separately and glue them together.

Prepare The Material For Your Clock

Joint one edge
The first thing I did was joint one edge of each slat.

This clock was made from some of the pallet slats harvested in an earlier post. But there’s no reason why you couldn’t make yours from sheet goods (such as plywood, tempered hardboard or MDF) or even a single board if you really wanted to. But I was going for a particular look and these spalted pallet boards spoke to me.

Cutting second edge
After jointing or planing the first edge, square up the other at the table saw.

Make sure the long edges of your boards are glue-up ready. If you’re using pre-surfaced material from the home center, you’re probably good to go. Pallet slats, however, are pretty rough. I prepared the edges by jointing (planing, essentially) the first edge. Then I ran that fresh edge against my table saw fence and cut the opposite edge. Now the two long edges of my boards are straight, smooth, square-ish to the faces and parallel to each other. Ready for glue-up. Absent a jointer or hand plane, you may be able to cut both edges at the table saw.

How Long Should I Cut My Boards? – The Fabric Of Time

Boards cut and ready for glue
You can sometimes save wood by roughly shaping your blank to the pattern (but slightly over sized).

You should cut your boards long enough to get all the way through, of course! [insert rimshot here] But the real question is where you should cut. And that depends on the project. In woodworking, we’re used to starting with square or rectangular blanks and whittling away from there. But in cases like this, we can conserve material by only using what we need.

Table saw with miter gauge
Cutting the pieces to length.

I used shorter pieces where I could, letting me work around cracks and other problem areas while having more of this cool wood left for future projects.

Indexing line for alignment
Lay out the pieces as you like, then use a pencil or chalk to draw an indexing line across all of them. That way you can realign them during the glue-up process.

Got A Minute? – Time For A Glue-Up

Glue the shorter piece
When mating boards of different lengths, apply glue to the shorter piece.

You may find it easiest to glue your boards in pairs, then join the pairs together into the larger assembly. Spread wood glue along the edge of whichever board has the shorter mating surface and align your index marks.

Edge gluing
Rub the edges back and forth a bit to spread glue to the other piece.

The Big Squeeze – Clamping Your Clock

The first two boards glued and clamped.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of clamping pressure. Just enough to bring the two surfaces together.

For ease of assembly, I first glued the boards into three pairs.

Use bar clamps to pull the boards together and set it aside to dry. Alternating the clamps between top and bottom equalizes lateral forces to minimize bowing.

Edge alignment
These one-handed clamps keep the edges aligned. You can also use C clamps; just be careful not to dent the wood.
Final glue-up
Final glue-up: the assembled blank.

Attach The Clock Pattern

Assembled blank
The blank is assembled, but there are some raised glue lines to take care of.

Sand or plane away any high spots that might cause voids underneath the pattern.

Knocking down the high spots
Removing glue squeeze out so the pattern will sit flat on the surface. This will easily scrape away if you catch it before it’s fully hardened.

Coat the back of the pattern with spray glue then press it onto the front of the clock blank.

Spray glue
Medium tack spray glue.

Let’s Face It – We Need To Carve Out A Little Time For Ourselves

Carving bit
This thin tapered bit worked quite well.

This step is easier than it sounds. All you need is a rotary tool – such as those made by Dremel or Foredom – and a tiny carving bit (not a diamond bit). Experienced carvers may opt for chisels or chip carving knives. And for the weary faces in the crowd, you can always go with a stick-on clock numbers or a pre-made dial.

Carving out a little time
When using a rotary bit, make a shallow pass that just cuts through and removes the paper. Then come back and deepen the cut. This keeps the pattern intact.

Whatever tool you choose, the objective is to remove wood within each number to a depth of around 1/16” – 1/8”. Take your time and stay within the lines the best you can.

Cut It Out – No Time Like The Present

Cutting the shape
Here, I’m cutting the outline with a scroll saw and a spiral blade.

Define the shape of your clock with a scroll saw or whatever works best for you. The lines may be overly thick – since you’ve probably enlarged smaller artwork – but just try to stay centered. No one will have a clue your cuts were a tiny bit off once the pattern is removed.

Or, if you’re fortunate enough to own a CNC machine, you can do this step (and carve the dial) with that instead. This is a no shame zone.

Drill A Hole For The Clock Movement Shaft

Center hole
Drilling a center hole for the clock movement

You will, of course, need a clock movement and hands for this project. They can be purchased from many woodworking and specialty dealers, including our sponsor, Rockler Woodworking & Hardware.

Drill the center hole for your clock movement. I prefer to use a drill press and brad point bit. It’s easier to keep the hole centered and straight. A standard twist bit in a hand drill will work, but take it slow so it doesn’t wander.

Accommodating The Clockworks

Time to inset
We need to hollow out a cavity to inset the clock movement.

In many cases, the base material is going to be thicker than the length of the threaded shaft. No worries though; this is easy to fix.

Culling the chaf
I removed this hang tab with a coping saw to prevent anyone from ever trying to use it. It also gives the back of the clock a cleaner look.

My clock movement had a plastic tab for hanging. I cut it off because the asymmetric shape of the clock shifts the center of gravity over to one side. And it’s top heavy. So if you hang it from there it’s likely off of the wall. I’m using a sawtooth hanger instead.

Traced the gear box
Insert the threaded shaft from the back side of the clock and trace the outline.

Hour You Bore(d) At A Time Like This?

Forstner bit
Use a Forstner bit to hog out the offending wood.

Select a Forstner bit that approximates the radius of the clockwork’s corners. Determine how deep you need to go for the threaded shaft to protrude sufficiently then set your depth stop (or mark the bit) accordingly. Alternatively, use a plunge router and an upcut spiral bit to clear the material.

Drill the corners to the required depth.
Join the corners with overlapping holes.
Hollowed out
Continue removing wood until the entire area is cleared.
Cleaning up the edges
Drill away what you can, then clean up the perimeter with a chisel.
Peek a boo
This is plenty of thread for me to work with.

Face Paint For Your Wall Clock

Painted black
Clock face spray painted black.

Back to the front of the clock, paint the numbers as you see fit. I used black spray paint. If needed, shield the outer edges of the clock from overspray. Wait until the paint has dried to remove the paper pattern.

Removing the pattern
A heat gun softens the adhesive and makes removal easier.

Sand the face of the clock to smooth the surface and remove any paint that may have gotten under the paper.

Sanding the face
If you don’t own a random orbital sander, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Breaking the edges
Hand sand to gently soften the top and bottom edges.

Space-Time – Spacers For The Back Of The Clock

Proud movement
The movement sits proud from the rear of the clock. To make sure the clock doesn’t rock against the wall, I’m going to add some spacers.

Depending on your situation, this step may or may not apply. In my case, the clock movement protrudes a bit from the back of the clock body, so I decided to add two scrapwood spacers.

The top one is where I’ll attach the sawtooth hanger. It’s not as tall as the bottom spacer, which sticks out slightly beyond the movement. I determined approximately where the hanger should be located and made the top spacer long enough that I have a little side to side wiggle room for final placement.

The lower spacer protrudes a bit farther than the clock movement. The top one is shorter, leaving room for the sawtooth hanger.

A Finish In Time Saves Nine – Or Something Like That

A decent foam brush works great with polyurethane.

Use compressed air or a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust. I applied two coats of polyurethane for a beautiful, protective finish. The base coat of polyurethane always comes out a little rough to the touch. Between coats, use a 320 grit sanding sponge until it feels silky smooth (it doesn’t take much) and the next coat will be just right.

Sand between coats
After the first coat has dried, sand it lightly with an extra fine sanding sponge. Remove the dust and re-coat.

To prevent streaks, use a fresh, clean brush for each coat.

Clear coated
If the wood is thirsty, you may need a third coat, especially on the end grain.
The finished finish.
The finished finish.

Finding Balance

There are more precise ways of locating the balancing point, but this simple “Goldilocks” method gets me there every time. Grasp the clock near the top edge, hard enough not to drop it, but loose enough to let it lean to one side or the other.

Too far right
The clock tilts to the right. I need to move farther left.

I purposely start too far to one side – then the other – and zero in on the balancing point.

Too far left
And now I’m too far to the left.
Perfect porridge
And this looks just right.

When I find the point at which the clock hangs straight, I know where to center the sawtooth hanger.

Sawtooth hanger
Avoid smashing your fingers by holding the tiny nails with needle nose pliers. The wood was left bare here because I originally planned to epoxy the hanger in place.

Final Assembly Of Your Clock

Just in time!
The assembled wall clock.

You probably don’t need much guidance here. But a few things are worth noting.

1) If the threaded post protrudes too far, put a nut and/or washer(s) on the shaft before feeding it through the hole. Adjust that nut to get the depth you want, then install the face washer and nut to fasten the gear box in place.

2) Don’t put a battery in until after you install the hands.

3) When putting on the hands, point them all straight up, towards “12”. That way you know they’re in proper alignment. Then use the adjustment wheel to set the time.

Hickory Dickory Dock – You’re Sure To Love Your Clock

What time is it?
Know someone who’s perpetually late? Try a little passive aggressive clock making/gift giving.

So you’ve seen my continental clock, but what yours will be? Your home state? A muscle car? Your kid’s favorite cartoon character? Whatever you decide, it’ll become a timeless way for you or that special someone to appreciate the fourth dimension.

As a bonus, twice a day you’ll get to explain to those around you that 6:30 is the best time ever: hands down! Because you’re funny like that. Oh yeah.

Gotta hand it to ya'
10 and 2. It’s not just a driving technique.
From pallet to clock
Whoever built that pallet had no idea what it would someday grow up to become. They would be proud. And so should you.
No time for boring.
Do you have time for the same boring clock as everyone else? No. No you don’t.

Clock movements starting around $6:

Buy Now - via Rockler

Hands for above movements starting around $4:

Buy Now - via Rockler

Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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