I have always been a very artsy-craftsy^(1) person as I thoroughly enjoy making things. I like working with my hands and creating something from nothing. I’ve made leather and steel armor for the SCA, bows and crossbows and a mandolin that actually doesn’t sound half bad. I’ve done some wood turning and created all manner of pens, peppermills and even a rolling pin and I have even tried my hand at making furniture – I’m not bad at it! For whatever reason I seem to have a knack for crafting.
So in my time, I have worked with wood, steel, leather, plastic and various resins and agates.. The thing I have noticed is that no matter what I craft, I always seem to come back to wood. There’s something about wood that I am not sure I can put to words; It’s just easy to work with in that it’s forgiving, versatile and beautiful.
The problem is no matter what I have made with wood (and there has been a lot) not any particular piece or style has ever really “grabbed me” as something I really enjoyed and wanted to do a lot of.
My father is an avid wood turner who cranks out pens, bowls and other awesome stuff that he sells at his own little shop and I have to admit, that’s really inspiring.. He’s making a living by turning a hunk of nothing, into something beautiful that other folks want! That’s cool as hell.
I tried my hand at turning for a while and it is fun but I don’t know that it’s “the thing” for me. I like putting a randomly shaped block or log of wood on the mandrel and shaping it into something new, but you’re somewhat limited in what you can make.. I thought turning pens was fun, but those pen kits are expensive and the more I think about it the more I want to create something entirely out of wood without having to rely on some pre-made mass produced (over priced) internal kit.. I think it’s one of the main reasons my father has gone to making bowls instead of the pen kits or even pepper mills.. He’s creating something entirely unique that’s 100% his own without any outside help.. (except tooling which doesn’t count!)
So I have been pondering for a while what I could make that would excite me and be that thing that I enjoyed doing in my spare time.. I did enjoy the Mandolin experiment but the more I worked on it the more I realized that it wasn’t for me.. I think it’s a good augment skill, sort of like turning, but not as a mainstay. Plus it’s really hard to be a maker of instruments, that you don’t play. I have a nice mandolin and I plink around on it sometimes but I will never be a good mando player. I don’t think I have the time or patience..
The thing that I took from the mandolin though is that I enjoy making something that is both meticulous in nature and functional. With a mandolin (or any instrument) you have to pay very close attention to minor details or the instrument will sound bad. I like that. It speaks to my special form of brain damage, but what can you do.
So I was pondering what I wanted to do craft-hobby wise and I remember having a book on wooden clocks that has been on my shelf collecting dust for a couple years. I started reading it (the first time I had actually cracked the book open) and realized that “hey I can totally do this.” I started doing some research and came across two master craftsmen who are as inspirational as they come; Clayton Boyer and David C. Roy.
Clayton makes clocks that are both functional and beautiful. He puts a lot of attention to detail in his creations and thus generates some amazing works. Of all of his clocks I very much like the workings of his marble strike clock ^(2) it’s mechanical and meticulous nature appeals to me. Being able to make something like this is one of my ultimate goals. (video)
David makes breath-taking kinetic sculptures that are mesmerizing to behold.. His style really seems unique on the internet and his wood working skills are second to none. All of his sculptures are extremely high quality and it’s clear to me that this is a labor of love for him, not just a day job. His sculptures vary in style, size, scope and ability so it’s hard to boil them down to one I like best.. but if I were pressed I’d probably say I like his shimmer sculpture ^(3) the best primarily because it was the first one I saw that turned me on to the rest of his art, so that first stunned viewing has really stuck with me.. (video)
So armed with a book of clock plans, some plans I ordered from Clayton, and with the inspirational works of Clayton, David and my father too look at – I decided I want to make clocks with an ultimate goal of combining both the functionality of clocks with the raw artful beauty of kinetic sculptures. If they can do it, so can I.
My wood working tool collection isn’t vast, but I had all the major pieces of hardware I would need to proceed except for a scroll saw. I researched a bunch of different saws and found that as with anything you can spend a little or a lot of one of these things.. I went ahead and ordered what I felt was a nice one, a Dewalt 20” variable speed scroll saw. Dewalt has always done right by me so I went for it.
I have never done any scroll saw work before so there was a bit of a learning curve but not too bad.. I printed out the MLT-13 Clock from the scrollsaw book I had, ordered and received some wood from woodcrafters and was off to the races.. The MLT-13 doesn’t seem overly complex as clocks go and I had the machine and plans before I got any of the plans from Clayton so I figured I’d start with it..
The first gear I cut was the escape wheel and I did so on my bandsaw. It was pretty rough and needed a lot of sanding and trimming in order to get it to look right. Here you can see the second and EW finished being cut on the scroll saw once I received it. It was much much easier to cut these things out on the scroll saw.
I tried using round blades for a while but I found they were really rough in their cut and it required a lot of time to sand and smooth the backs of gears to repair all the tear outs.. I have gone to using skiptooth blades for the bigger stuff and reverse tooth blades for the small fine work.
It got to the point where I was basically going blind trying to see what it was I was doing.. My eyes aren’t what they used to be so I went ahead and purchased a magnifier / hobby light that I mounted to my work bench so that it would sit just above the saw..
The nice thing about this setup is that it both serves to magnify and light my work, as well as being eye protection. I was concerned with vibration since that’s a heavy light and lens out on the end of a rather spindly arm, but the dewalt has virtually zero vibration so the light doesn’t move at all (except when I bump it which happens all the time..)
As of this picture you can see that I have all the major pieces cut out and am in the fitting process.. The only thing I have left to create at this point are the hands.
There is some minor binding between my gears that I need to work out, I foresee some serious time with sandpaper ahead of me, but even so they do turn nicely if not 100% smoothly.
I have yet to get the pendulum, pallet and escape wheel assembly to actually ticking though. I’m still in the process of getting the clutch working correctly..
The wife and I sat down and figured out the colors.. We are going to go for a walnut for the body pieces and a cherry for the gearing. Not sure if I want to leave any of the gears “nude” or not. Three colors might be a bit too much.
For my next trick, trying to capture the elusive tick!
Update: 17 Feb 2012
I am almost getting a constant tick!
Here you can see my recut escape wheel on the left compared to the old one on the right. I spent two days recutting this thing making sure it was as good as I could make it.
I cut out the pinion and glued on (not showed in the picture) and remounted the new wheel.. it works much better.. even though the differences are minute, it makes a huge difference.
I had to do some shaping on the pallets and I need to resand them as they are rough which is one problem, but some of my other gears are binding a tiny bit which means no constant tick.. but I get 8 to 10 “ticks” out of it before it catches or stops.
I also don’t have enough weight hanging off the bottom so I need to address that.. but I’m really excited.. it’s so close!
Update: 3 Sep 2013
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I started working on this thing.. It has hung on my wall silent for months and today I pulled it down and started investigating it further. I was so close brefore but have learned a lot since then, so I wanted to give it a nother try.
I found that I had done a lot of things wrong that I need to correct, and aim to do that over the course of the next week or two. I was really close before, but it would always grind to a halt.. I’m gonna fix that..
^(1) It’s interesting to note that neither “artsy” nor “craftsy” are words according to Merriam Webster, but together they are a word.. Weird.
^(2) A few words about Marble Strike by Clayton Boyer: There are a number of different iterations of this clock on the net if you look around. All of them are cool and I would love to eventually make one of these. To me, this clock has that almost dystopian steam punk futuristic quality to it that is just too cool. It is easily my favorite clock of all of Claytons creations and I hope to prove to him that I am worth of purchasing the plans.
Check out this version by Alaine Saintagne of France. Tell me that’s not cool as hell! Well done Alaine! I could stare at this clock all day.. It’s just a masterpiece..
^(3) A few words about Shimmer by David C. Roy: David has done a lot of different sculptures over the last 20+ years and the level of detail and precision he employs is nothing but impressive. I like quite a few of his sculptures, some more than others but they are all very cool. The thing that I like the most about shimmer though is how deceptively simple it is combined with how eye catching and even mesmerizing it is. I wasn’t kidding when I said above that it was the first one I stumbled across and that initial viewing has really stuck with me.. Many of his other works are far more complex than this one, but to me the simplicity of this one is part of it’s beauty. It’s really nothing more than a spring powered escape mechanism that powers a childs optical illusion rendered in wood. Awesome! Well done David.