Canadian Woodworking

Shaker wall clock

Author: Michael Kampen
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June July 2007

This Shaker wall clock is based on a series of clocks that Isaac Newton Young started in the spring of 1840.


  • Akfix

The Shaker communities reached their height during the 1800’s, but the last remaining community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, still carries on to this day. They are most well known for the enduring legacy of the Shaker furniture style. Simple and unadorned in appearance, it was built with a high degree of craftsmanship with individual craftsmen developing their own discrete ornamentation to set their pieces apart from the others. As the 1800’s drew to a close, the Shaker style started to adopt some of the ornamentation of the new Victorian era.

This Shaker wall clock is based on a series of clocks that Isaac Newton Young started in the spring of 1840. While this clock doesn’t stray too far from those built by Young in terms of its overall design, I’ve made some changes to accommodate modern woodworking methods. I’ve used dowels in this version in order to simplify construction and avoid the need to fill or plug screw holes. Instead of the traditional mitred ¼ round pieces to hold the glass, this version uses a rabbet cut on a router. I’ve chosen to use a solid panel in the lower door, veneered with mottled makore, which contrasts nicely with the black walnut in the rest of the case.

Before you begin cutting any wood, choose your clock movement. You can purchase a battery powered movement from dealers such as Craftime Clockery or Lee Valley Tools. If you use a mechanical movement you may have to modify the dimensions of the case. When Young built his clocks he painted all of the faces himself. While reproducing his clock design is easy, painting your own clock face would be quite a challenge. The alternative I chose was a commercially available Shaker clock face and hand set.

From the research I’ve done, the originals were slightly larger than this version, likely to accommodate the moments of the day and the pendulums and pulleys they required. The quartz movement in this version is quite small and it was the available clock face that set the dimensions for this project. Using historical photos I scaled the clock down while trying to maintain the proportions that make it so pleasing to the eye. To achieve this, I began with 4/4 stock and planed most of the parts of this clock to a thickness of ⅝”.

The Case

• The core of this project is the case, and although it is quite basic, most of the machining is done on the two sides. All of the pieces for the clock (with the exception of the hanger) are square and the clock is assembled using dowels. To ensure perfect alignment of the dowel holes I used my DowelMax jig, but use whatever system suits you. Dowels allow the entire clock to be constructed and then finished before being assembled. If you use screws you will need to use plugs of a similar species to cover the heads after assembly and before finishing the clock. You will also need to slightly modify the construction method described below.

• Cut the pieces for the sides (A), top/ bottom (B) and the center divider (C). Choose the best material for the sides as these are the most visible parts. Use a jointer and a thickness planer to square up the stock and dress it to a final thickness of ⅝”. Cut them to length.

• Use the doweling jig to drill three dowel holes for each corner joint. Be sure that the rear dowel is in at least 1″ from the rear edge of the case or it will disappear when you cut the rabbet for the back later. Use the front edge of the case as a reference edge for these holes.

• The center divider separates the front of the clock into two sections. The top of the divider should be 8 ⅞” down from the top of the clock (the thickness of the top plus the length of the top). Drill two dowel holes in each end of the divider to attach it to the clock body.

• Set up a spiral bit in your router table and use the center divider as a spacer to set a ⅝” gap between it and the fence. Starting at the top, rout a stopped groove 9 ½” long, ⅝” back from the front edge of the clock case. This is to accommodate the makore that forms the bezel to which the clock face is attached.

• Reset the fence on the router and rout a ¼” deep groove, ¼” down from the top edge of the center divider.

• If the movement you are using does not require a pendulum, then you can use the lower part of the case for storage. If you wish to add a few shelves, drill a series of dowel holes in the side to attach shelves.

• Sand the inside surfaces of the lower section as well as the outside of the sides only and apply a coat of Watco Natural Oil to these parts.

Watch Your Back

• On the original clocks, the back is made of one solid piece of wood. This method would require allowances to be made for seasonal expansion of the back. The back on this clock is made of plywood with solid wood attached at the top to provide the traditional Shaker hanger.

• Cut a piece of Baltic birch plywood for the main portion of the back (D). Sand it to 150-grit in preparation for painting.

• Mill some walnut stock for the vertical (E) and horizontal (F) hanger pieces.

• Use a compass to draw a half circle on the top of the vertical hanger piece.

• Using a 1 ⅜” saw tooth or Forstner bit in a drill press, drill out the peg hole on the center mark left by the compass.

• Cut out the curved sections on a band saw and tidy up the edges using a sander. A 1″ drum sander mounted in the drill press will quickly clean up any roughness inside the peg hole.

• Join the vertical and horizontal sections of the hanger using a half lap joint. This can easily be cut on the table saw (with multiple passes) or on the router table.

• Glue the two hanger pieces together and clamp them. Use a small square to check that the pieces are square to each other.

• When the glue has set, remove the clamps and drill a series of dowel holes along the bottom edge of the hanger and the top edge of the plywood back.

• Sand the hanger assembly.

The Doors

Most of this project is assembled using traditional yellow carpenters glue, which has a fairly short open time. When working with veneers, (or if you prefer a more relaxed pace) during assembly, use glue such as Titebond III, which has a longer open time.

• Mill the stock for the rails (G) and stile (H) for the upper door as well as the rails (I) and stiles (J) for the lower door.

• Drill holes for two ¼” dowels for each corner joint in the doors.

• Assemble, glue and clamp the upper. Check the diagonals to be sure that it is square.

• Cut a piece of ¼” Baltic birch plywood for the lower door panel (K) and sand both sides with 150 grit paper.

• Cut a piece of veneer (L) to the same size as the door panel. Use a paint roller to apply a thin but even coat of glue to the plywood. Lay the veneer on the plywood and starting at the center, press the veneer down. It will have a tendency to curl shortly after you place it on the glue, so work without delay. Cover the veneered face with a sheet of waxed paper and then sandwich the door panel between two thicker sheets of plywood and apply sufficient clamps to press the veneer flat. Be sure there isn’t any debris on the pieces or the finished veneer will have indentations in its surface. Allow the glue to cure overnight.

• Unclamp the stack and remove the waxed paper. Then sand the surface of the veneer through to 220 grit.

• Apply a coat of Watco Natural Oil finish to bring out the colour and figure in the makore and follow this with a couple of coats of wax. Doing this now will protect the veneered surface when milk painting the back. Also, it would be virtually impossible to finish the panel properly after it is installed in the door.

• Measure the finished thickness of the door panel and use the router table to cut grooves for the panel in the doorframe members. This could be done with a slotting cutter with the pieces flat on the table, or with a spiral cutter with the pieces in a vertical position.

• Paint the panels.

• Mix up a small amount of milk paint for the back of the door panel and for both sides of the back. The colour used here is called Liberty Blue and is available from the only Canadian manufacturer of milk paint, Homestead House Paint Company in Toronto.

• Apply the paint following the instructions on the package and seal the surface with a coat of Watco Natural Oil finish.

• Follow up the Watco with a couple of coats of paste wax.

The Other Bits

• Mill the material for the top and bottom caps (M) and cut the pieces to length. Unlike the body and doors of the clock, these pieces are a full ¾” thick.

• Mount a ¾” round over bit in the router table and round over the front and sides of the two caps. Make the cut in several passes. Leaving the final pass to remove just a small amount of material will leave you with a smooth finish that should require very little sanding. By doing the ends first, the cut along the front edge will remove any tear out that happened when making the end cuts.

• Mark the cut-out for the hanger on the back of the top cap and cut it out with a band saw.

Notes: You will also need a quartz clock movement, clock face, and hand set.

• Mill a piece of walnut for the center half round trim (N) and cut it to length. I don’t have a ⅝” half round bit for my router, but achieved the same effect by rounding over each side with a 5⁄16″ round over bit. Use a belt or disc sander to curve the end inward slightly.

• Cut some strips of makore and mill these to the thickness required to fit into the grooves cut for the clock bezel. Cut a strip of walnut for the center ledge (O). Glue this into place on the back of the center divider.

• Cut a piece of ¼” plywood (P) for the clock face backer and drill a hole in the center to accommodate the shaft of the clock movement. Line up the clock face so it is centered on the backer and use a pencil to trace the outline of the face. Spray the backer and the back of the clock with a coat of 3M Super77 spray adhesive and carefully align the clock face with the pencil lines and press it into place.

• Sand and finish all of the visible areas of the parts before assembly.

• Mount a ⅜” piloted rabbeting bit in the router table and rout a rabbet on the inside edge of the upper door to receive the glass (Q). You will need to either shape the corners of the glass to fit the rounded corners of the rabbet or you will need to square off the rounded corners of the rabbet. Because the material for the doors is so thin, when I cut the rabbet, I accidentally cut into one of the dowels. Therefore, I chose not to subject the edges to the hammer and chisel treatment and instead opted to round the glass. Mount the glass using a bead of silicone caulk.

Time for Assembly

• Set out all of the material you will need for each stage of the glue-up. Have enough dowels and glue on hand so that the process runs smoothly. Once the glue hits the wood, time is of the essence. Begin by gluing up the center section of the clock, the sides, top and bottom, and the center divider. After clamping it up, check the diagonals to be sure it is square.

• Assemble, glue and clamp the lower door, and check the diagonals for square.

• With both doors and the core of the clock glued up, lay out and cut the mortises for the hinges. I used two different lengths of hinges on this project, a shorter one for the smaller upper door, and a slightly longer one for the lower door. To mount the hinges you will need to cut a mortise in the door as well as a matching mortise on the cabinet. The easiest way to do this is to use a spiral bit on the router table. Set up a fence and a couple of end stops to limit the movement of the clock body and the door. Line up the hinges so that the outer edge of each hinge lines up with the inner edge of the closest rail. Use a self-centering punch to start the holes for the small #4 screws.

• Mount the center half-round trim to the center divider from the back, using some #6 wood screws. Drill pilot holes in the trim and drill a clearance hole in the divider to avoid splitting the wood or snapping the screw.

• Glue and clamp the top and bottom caps to the main case.

• Fit the makore pieces that form the bezel. Glue these in place using regular carpenters glue, or some 5-minute epoxy.

• To assure perfect 90º corners, use a 45º cross cut sled on the table saw. Cut one side of the angle on one side of the blade, the other side on the other side of the blade, and you will end up with a perfect 90º joint every time. (Assuming the two fences on your jig are 90º to each other).

• Glue the clock face to the back of the bezel with some five-minute epoxy. Alternatively, set the clock face in place behind the bezel and hold it there with a couple of strips of wood and a rubbed glue joint.

• Mount the clock movement to the back of the face and mount the hands to the movement.

• Glue the hanger to the plywood back with dowels and then affix the back to the clock case using four screws. Drive these into the back of the top and bottom pieces of the main case from the back.

• Touch up any areas where the finish needs it and give the whole clock a couple of coats of wax. If you are not using the lower half of the clock as storage then hanging it from a single peg will be more than enough. If you will be using the inside for storage, then a second screw driven through the back of the clock towards the bottom will keep it from swinging on the wall and ending up continually crooked on its hanger.

The Shaker Spinner

On most of their pieces, the Shakers used simple turned wooden knobs with a shaft that went through the door and attached to a piece of wood to form a spinner. Turning the knob a quarter turn counter clockwise caused this piece of wood to engage a hole cut in the side of the case to keep the door shut.

If you don’t have a lathe or don’t wish to make your own knobs, here is an alternative. Using the steel knobs in the material list, replace the screw that comes with the knob with one that is longer. Cut a small piece of wood for the catch and drill a hole into it and slip it over the screw. Fashion a wooden spacer out of some scrap wood to provide the proper set-back for the spinner to engage the hole in the case. Use some five-minute epoxy to fasten the wooden pieces to the screw and insert the screw into the hole from behind the door. Install the knob on the front of the cabinet and use a bit of Lock-tite on the threads to keep the screw from backing out of the knob. Cut the mortise in the case sides for the spinner before assembling the case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More Gifts/Crafts projects to consider
Username: Password: