Wooden Art Deco Clock | Popular Woodworking Magazine

Wooden Art Deco Clock | Popular Woodworking Magazine

wooden art deco clock

With just a few offcuts and store-bought clock parts, you can build this elegant design.

Skill Level: Intermediate
Time: 2 Days
Cost: $75

At the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, Paris (1925), the world was introduced to the Art Deco movement. Repeating geometric patterns, parallel angles, bold colors and superb craftsmanship in expensive and exotic materials define the style. Art Deco proved popular, and pervasive, in all areas of design—from clothing to furniture and architecture to automobiles. As an automotive enthusiast, it’s the latter, the Art Deco automobiles of the pre-WWII era that first drew me in.

art deco car interior

The view that started it all: the dashboard of my 1939 Packard 120.

This clock is loosely patterned on a much smaller enameled metal and gold Cartier clock, circa 1935. The design works as both a mantel or wall clock without any modification needed. The material choices—walnut, padauk and curly maple—are directly inspired by my 1939 Packard, which has ivory plastic knobs, a grained walnut dash and red accents to match the color of the body paint. The clock calls for a small amount of wood and uses off-the-shelf components, including a high-quality Seiko high torque quartz movement with a sweep second hand.


wooden art deco clock diagram


Building the Clock Frame

Building the clock begins with the central walnut frame. All the other parts are fitted to this frame. This piece requires accuracy in stock preparation and joinery; there’s no room to hide mistakes or to fudge anything. Each piece must be square, straight and true. Luckily it calls for minimal material so stock preparation, even by hand, is quick and easy. Mill a 40″ length of walnut to 1 1/2″ square.

By crosscutting this longer piece into the four you need to make the frame, you ensure consistent coloration and grain patterns on the face of the clock. Once milled, crosscut the piece in half.

Cut a 1/2″ deep by 1 1/8″ wide rabbet along one face. The rabbeted face will ultimately house the glass, with the pane being trapped between the tongue and glued-in bushing strips around the face.

Crosscut the rabbeted blank and then, using a shooting board, produce a piece that’s precisely 7″ long with perfectly square ends. Using this piece, mark out and plane the second piece to match.

Take the remaining piece of the 1 1/2″-long blank and cut two, precisely 10″ pieces following the same procedure outlined above. Due to the nature of the design, the glazing rabbet in these longer pieces cannot extend the full length of the pieces. They must stop at each end. When working with hand tools, this requires some additional work, namely the use of a center bit or other auger to remove the waste wood. First, clamp the four frame pieces into a square. Mark out both ends of each rabbet by running a pencil along two side pieces using the bottom of the glazing rabbet in the top and bottom frame pieces as a guide.

marking the ends of each rabbet

clamping the frame

Unclamp the frame and then, using the same marking gauge setting used on the top and bottom glazing rabbet, establish the 3/8″ wide tongue on the left and right pieces. Next, using a center bit of appropriate width, bore overlapping holes down to a depth of 1/2″, beginning with the two ends of the rabbet. Then use a sharp chisel to remove the remaining waste down to the layout lines.

Pare the corners square to complete the rabbet. Clamp the four pieces together again to check and fine-tune the glazing rabbet, ensuring that it’s flat and of a consistent depth. This is also your last chance to ensure that the frame is square, both inside and outside. Any deviations here will be highly noticeable in the finished piece so take your time now to ensure it’s dead-on.

making the glazing rabbet

Once you’re satisfied with the fit of the frame, it’s time to dowel it together. I used 1/4″ dowels, two at each of the bottom corners and one at the top due to clearance issues with the angled cuts that’ll be done on the top in the next step. I like to use a marking gauge to lay out the drilled holes in each piece. There are dowel center points available commercially, but I personally get much better results if I lay out each hole with scribed lines and carefully drill them.


Two dowels in each of the two bottom corners; just one in the top.

The final step before gluing the frame is to cut opposing 30° angles on the top. You want the angles to begin precisely at the top-most inside corner on each side of the assembled joint. Use a protractor to lay out the line on the dry-fit joint before taking it back apart to saw the angles. I use a finely set crosscut backsaw.

With those cuts made and cleaned up as needed, it’s time to glue up the frame. Put glue into each dowel hole and lightly coat the dowels themselves with glue. Clamp the frame and set it aside to dry. Once the glue has cured, plane and sand the frame so that each corner is level, smooth and ready for finish.

final frame

The frame glued up and ready for final sanding.


Making the Decorative Sides

With the frame completed, it’s time to turn the padauk. Mill the blank to 7/8″ thick, finishing with a finely set smooth plane. Square up one end of the padauk board on a shooting board.

shooting board

A shooting board is a vital fixture for precision work.

Using a marking gauge, mark out a strip that’s twice the width of the larger side pieces plus a little extra, as much as 1/8″ depending on your confidence in your sawing ability. Rip the strip from the larger board, then crosscut the strip into two pieces. Rip the strip down the middle and plane to the finished width. Crosscut each piece to the finished length (per the cut list) and then, follow the same procedure used on the frame, trimming the top ends to opposing 30° angles. Repeat these steps on the smaller decorative pieces, which are both narrower and shorter than the larger pieces. When trimmed, dowel and glue them together with their back faces aligned so that there’s a decorative ledge in each.

laying out a cross cut

Lay out a cross cut with a square.

decorative side pieces

The position of the dowel holes in the side decorative pieces.

attaching the side pieces

Two pieces on each side are made; they’re dowelled and glued together first.

Once the glue has dried, remove them from the clamps and align the angled top edges, then trim the ends so that they’re uniform and square. To complete the main frame, dowel and glue the side pieces onto the walnut frame, ensuring that the back faces of each piece are flush with each other. With this completed, the main frame is finished and ready to install the glass, dial and movement.

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