Throughout most of history, everything was made by hand. When manufacturing got involved, specialized details like curved wood started to die out. With new technologies like laser cutting it’s practical to add details back in, like the 1930’s influenced curves on this desk clock. This project was made with a laser cut structure that was covered in wood veneer by hand. The power tools I used included a computer and dremel (and really, the dremel was optional.)
– Wood Veneers – I used ice birch and sapele. You want the kind without a paper backing, that stuff just gets in the way.
– Wood Glue
– Masking Tape
– Clock Mechanism
– Laser Cut 1/8″ wood parts (more info in the next step)
– Wood Finish
All the clamps you can find
A dremel with a drill bit and sanding disc are nice, but not completely necessary
A very sharp utility knife with a surface to cut on
A pair of scissors you don’t care about – these easily rough cut veneer pieces
Between ponoko.com, hackerspaces, fablabs, and the general increase in availability of laser and cnc equipment you should be able to find somewhere to get this done without much trouble. I decided ahead of time to use 1/8″ thick stock. This is important because I notched together all of the wooden pieces and I needed to make the notches 1/8″ deep.
To keep my curved surfaces sturdy I put rows of ribs to support them, both in the inner clock face area and the outer curves. These also just notch in place. Because I knew I was going to glue like crazy I didn’t bother to adjust for kerf, but you may want to if you want a super tight fit.
Clock Face Recess:
The first part that needs assembling is the recess for the clock face. The row of ribs connect the front at back plate need to be glued in place, and this all needs to set in a perfect 90 degree way so that you don’t end up with a wonky clock. I glued all of the parts for this together, then dry fit the rest of the clock together and held it in place with a few tabs of masking tape until it was all dry.
Select a piece of veneer that is very flat. Cut a strip of veneer a bit wider than the opening and long enough to wrap all the way around plus half an inch. Cut it so that the long side runs with the grain – you want the grain to wrap around, if it goes the other way the wood will be more likely to crease than smoothly bend, much like with corrugated cardboard. It needs to be a bit wider so that it can be trimmed or sanded down after the glue sets, it is almost impossible to place an exact fit piece perfectly, especially in a curved opening like this.
Sand both ends of the veneer to a paper thin tapered edge. This will make it easier to blend them when you have to sand inside an awkward place.
Curl the veneer strip into a cylinder. If you do this quickly it’s prone to snapping or splitting, so do this very slowly. Wood cells have very little stretch so you need to give the inside of the strip time to compress. I personally NEVER get veneer wet, it tends to bubble up in ways that I can’t seem to reverse effectively. Once the veneer is in a cylinder that is smaller than the opening put it in place and let go of it. It will expand to the same size as what it’s going to be. I left mine for a little while to settle into the shape, I don’t know if this helped or not.
Line up one end of the veneer so it’s just past a rib. Clamp it in place, apply glue to both sides of that rib and allow to dry. Keep working this way, one rib at a time, until you’re half way around. At this point you’ll need to apply a solid coat of glue to the other end of the veneer and do the best you can to clamp the other half of the strip in place. Glue at each rib as before. This overlap needs a very solid finish so that you can sand it smooth.
Once this is all dry, and I mean really, overnight style dry, trim off the edges and sand everything down. The overlap needs sanding, as well the edges of the cylinder. If you have a lot to trim start with a sharp utility knife, otherwise just sand. While you’re at it sand any high spots or glue drops on the face of this whole setup, but leave the texture of the wood because it will be easier to glue to it that way.
Glue Up the Structure:
Glue the top and bottom to the recess area, making sure to get all of the support ribs into place. Clamp this up as much as possible, allow it to dry completely. Trim and/or sand any glue lumps, high spots, etc.
Use masking tape to tape up around the front edge of the recessed area. This will help protect it from glue, sanding and other damage.
Top and Bottom Veneers:
Trace the top/bottom of the clock onto a sheet of veneer. Cut it out somewhat larger than the traced lines. Again, leave yourself room for error and trim later.
Apply a smooth, even layer of glue over the entire surface, being sure it spreads all the way to the edges. You need well glued edges to be able to trim things up neatly.
Place the veneer, layer it up with a few pieces of board or something similar and clamp it in place. Even distribution of pressure is the key to a perfectly smooth project. Allow this to dry completely.
Flip the clock over and repeat.
Trim the extending veneer, sand it to down so it’s perfectly even.
Mask right up to the edge to protect it in the next step.
Trace the clock face, cut out the veneer with a margin.
Spread glue over the surface of the plywood, place veneer, stack with other board and clamp.
Allow to dry completely.
Trim and sand the veneer, cut out the center hole (a drill is easiest, but the knife could be used as well.)
Sand the edges until it fits into the opening.
Glue the ring onto the back of the face.
I was able to get a very secure fit without glue, so I opted to press this into place without glue. I also kind of like the idea of a kid knocking this off the desk some day and having it harmlessly pop apart!
Front of Clock:
Cut a piece of veneer to be the outer face of the clock. Put a center mark on it, and some lines at the edges to line up the clock with.
Glue the center front first. Clamp it in place, allow to dry.
Glue up the edges and side panel, wrap the veneer carefully around the curve and clamp the end. Allow to dry.
Repeat on the other side.
Trim and sand the edges.
Cut out the center window. I made some cuts through with my knife and chipped pieces out. I call this the “Kool-Aid Man” approach. Be careful not the chip the wood off the face. Keep your work area cleared so if you do chip something you have a better chance of finding the chip so you can glue it back in place.
Trim and sand this edge as well.
Remove the tape, go over the whole piece with a high grain number sandpaper.
I consider finishing a somewhat personal decision. I cleaned all of the sanded wood with mineral spirits, then covered it all in a 50/50 mineral spirits and oil based varnish coating. I used several coats, I like the mineral spirits and varnish blend because it soaks in and makes the grain look dramatic. Feel free to use whatever makes you comfortable. I also choose not to use any stain because I select for the colors I want, but if you only had one kind of veneer you could easily stain parts of it to create a dramatic effect.
Attach the clock mechanism to the face. Press and/or glue the clock face into the base and turn it on!