TWICE-BUILT TALL CLOCK
Two craftsmen breathe new life into their cherry timepiece after disaster strikes.
SHOP OWNER: George Dart
LOCATION: Havertown, PA
My best friend and I decided to make him a tall clock in my shop. Charlie had an old movement already. He decided to build it from cherry after considering all available options. His inspiration was The Governor's Palace Tall Case Clock from the 70th Anniversary Williamsburg Catalog.
The original clock, as pictured, was made of mahogany. We borrowed a lot of design elements, shrunk the overall height of the clock from 90 inches tall to 77 inches. We also varied the width of the base and waist, but retained the profile/shape of the bottom molding of the base. We also retained the slight chamfer on the waist corners, as well as the shape and edge profile of the solid waist door. The transition molding between the base, waist, and bonnet were all done in my shop, and as close to the model as we could, given we worked from a relatively small picture. The pictures of the Williamsburg clock overlooked our work area, and we referred to it frequently, although we did freely and frequently depart from the original design.
We began fabrication of the base first. We retained the shape of the bottom base/floor molding as shown in the original, using a bandsaw for all radii. The panels are all of glued-up 3/4 cherry stock. We re-sawed nearly all the cherry used in the project from rough 5/4 and 6/4 lumber, which we had surfaced on all sides in the shop. The fall off, subsequently milled to ¼”, was retained and used for assembly backs, bottoms, and the hood top. We ripped 45-degree chamfers along the fronts of the mating pieces; rabbetted the rear to inset the ¼” backs and joined everything with glue and biscuits. We used spacers to insure each assembly remained square during clamping. The picture shows the squaring process. The finished base is 17 7/8” wide and 10 ¼” deep. The respective measurements of the waist are 14'” and 8 ¾”. We developed the molding profile, and shaped them on the router table, and then applied the moldings with pin nails and white glue. The solid partial overlap waist door was made from the cherry that had the prettiest color and grain. Charlie installed the hinges and mated the door to the waist cabinet.
We had lots of fun designing the top of the clock. We made three different pediments before we were satisfied with the look. The first was of poplar, and the picture shows us playing with that prototype, getting a mental idea of what it would look like, and how the other pediment boards and S moldings would interrelate. The front and side pediment boards are mitered and aligned with biscuits. The S moldings were shaped in house and attached by glue and screwed from the back of the front pediment.
Note the detail of the central pediment column. Charlie is a wood carver and hand made that carved feature. He also hand made the smaller outboard columns. The miters turned out to be almost perfect. The bonnet's design permits it to slide off the waist top molding for access to the clock works. During its fabrication, we wanted to insure a clear passage for the weights' decent rather than risk interference from interior framing of the base top molding. We decided to move the clock's face and movement well back within the bonnet hood, and this resulted in a visual appeal. The hood's interior arch and enclosed face framing provide depth, which we could not have achieved otherwise. We also guaranteed ample weight clearance into the clock base interior.
Once we had the clock ready for finishing, I attempted to attach the piston-fitted waist back. In doing so, I pushed over the clock. Charlie tried to arrest its fall, but he only interrupted the crash onto my tile shop floor. The hood was designed to slip off the upper waist molding so the movement could be accessed and serviced when necessary. The design worked very well. When Charlie arrested the clock's fall, the bonnet kept coming, and crashed into the floor. The waist, its fall only temporarily interrupted, fell on top of it. Oh NO! I cracked off one of the pediments, taking the left S molding with it. Moldings for the waist and pediments were all broken at the corners. No break was clean because the glue did its job very well. Clamps could not close everything up, or put the pieces back in original register. To make matters worse, the bonnet door was mounted at the time of the fall, and it was damaged also along with the mounting hinges. This was a classic Humpty Dumpty effort. It took us another month to replace/repair/hide the damage. The pictures show some of the repair effort on the S moldings.
My #3 son felt that scarf joints should be employed, since they would be almost invisible under the finish. We approached each repair element with significant caution, recognizing we had a lot of time invested and didn't need to screw it up further. Fortunately it worked out fine, and the repairs made are almost invisible in the finished project. Charlie was able to locate all the brass finials, hinges, escutcheons, and bonnet column ends on the web. The four columns aside the bonnet were also turned in the shop, and their tops and bottoms fitted before the bonnet's bottom molding was glued in place. We decided to use a brass face instead of the paper face used in the Williamsburg model. Lastly, the movement, which Charlie had on hand, didn't work well, and he has subsequently replaced it with a modern Hermle movement purchased from Woodcraft.
This is the finished clock showing the waist door open. Charlie finished all exposed and non-exposed exterior facings including the back of the bonnet, bonnet top, waist, and base to the same schedule. First, he sanded the surfaces progressively thru 120, 220, and 340 grits, thoroughly tacking after each grit. Once he was satisfied, he applied black walnut flavored Watco oil by brush and let it stand no more than two minutes before thoroughly wiping it off. He worked individual clock sections, just a few square feet at a time to control penetration. He let the oiled clock sit overnight, and repeated the oil application as before, wiping it off almost immediately. After the second application, the clock "rested" for 72 hours.
Next, he applied two thin coats of Seal Coat dewaxed shellac. After the shellac was completely dry, he mixed BLO and naphtha 50/50 and applied that with 4/0 steel wool, rubbing it in. He removed all residual liquid with a soft cloth, taking care not to leave anything lodged in crevices or corners. The clock was again set aside to dry completely. Another coat of Seal Coat was applied as before, followed by another application of BLO and naphtha, and again rubbed out with 4/0 steel wool. He used wiping poly for six topcoats, and the steel wooled BLO/naphtha mix was applied after each of them, and after the final topcoat.
All the repeated applications provided exceptional depth, smoothness, and mellow glow. The finish must be seen and felt in person to be fully appreciated. Charlie's technique isn't rushed, and requires more patience than I could give it, but his results speak for themselves. The color shown in the picture is just about what the eye sees in Charlie's hallway. We paid special attention to grain selection, especially in the waist section and waist door. The extra care and time he took in finishing the clock brought forth all the mellowness of wood color and grain pattern.
For something I dumped and shattered on my shop floor, it doesn't look too bad!
. . . George Dart