As Handyman Bloggers for Lowe’s Creative Ideas we were given the challenge of making a homemade woodworking gift for the holidays. Me and Marty are big fans of mid-century modern design so I decided to tackle making a George Nelson Block Clock replica.
History Lesson: George Nelson rules. He’s one of the guys who founded the whole American Moderism movement. He was also the Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company. Not only that, but most of the iconic modernist furniture you see and recognize was designed by his design studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc. The original Block Clock is to the right ».
While the cost of this project was low, the skill level is mid to high. I’m no woodworker, so I had some trial and error, and I’m sure some pro woodworkers have WAY easier ways to do some of this stuff, but I did it my way, and it turned out great.
- Scrap 2×6-inch board at least 11-inches long (cut in half you’ll have 2 5.5-inch pieces)
- 2 1×4-inch boards for large part of spokes
- 2 1/2×2-inch boards for small part of spokes
- 1/4-inch dowel (Whatever length they carry. 2 feet I think.)
- Paint (Valspar Paint + Primer spray paint)
- Shims (just in case, you’ll see later in the post)
- Drill and various sized bits
- Wood glue
- Palm router
- Clamps (I love these Irwin Clamps)
- Wood Filler
- Belt Sander
Now for the tutorial. I tried to capture all the steps, but if there is anything unclear, please email or comment and I’ll add it to the post or answer in a comment.
STEP 1: Making the Body
In real life, the round part of the Block Clock is made of aluminum (I think) so recreating it with wood was a little tricky. Especially if you don’t have a band saw or something to cut a thick piece of wood in a perfect circle.
Step 1.1: Measure and cut round discs to make the body and clock face.
Main Body: Since I couldn’t find a good chunk of wood I liked, I made the 4×6″ body from 2 2×6″ so when i assembled them I’d get the 3 inch depth I wanted. I found a paint can in the basement that was pretty close to the size I wanted, so I traced it to get the circumference. I used my jigsaw and super steady hand to cut out the circles. I clamped each block to my workbench so I could concentrate on cutting the circle and not on holding them steady.
Clock Face: I used the same can to trace the circles but this time I used 1/4″ underlayment to use as a thin face for drilling and mounting the clock parts.
Step 1.2: Center and mark where the clock mechanism needs to fit.
I had an old clock lying around. It was a bit ugly and I’m a bit of a hoarder so I had all the parts I needed to create a functional clock. If you don’t an old clock lying around to dismantle, you could buy an El Cheapo clock at Lowes and dismantle that yourself.
Step 1.3: Make room for a clock mechanism.
I marked the clock mechanism on the 2 halves of the clock body so I could route them out separately, then join them. The hand routing got a little ugly but I cleaned it up later with some sandpaper and some wood filler.
Step 1.4: Assemble clock body and face
Now is when it starts to get time consuming. Like, to glue and clamp these takes 24 hours and 5 minutes. That’s 5 minutes to glue and clamp them together, and 24 hours to wait. Don’t rush it. Take the time. Do it right. I glued the circular face cut from the 1/4″ underlayment and the 2 circles I cut from the 2×6″ making a 3-1/4″ tall hollowed out cylinder for the clock body.
Step 1.5: Fill and sand the body to get it as round as possible.
After the glue set up I slathered on the wood filler like peanut butter on sandwiches. I paid special attention to where there were mess-ups from cutting with the jigsaw. Then I let it dry another 24 hours. I wish I had a good photo of the sanding method, but I just took my belt sander, clamped it upside-down on my workbench (sanding side up, you know?) and used it like an expensive belt sander, rotating the piece gentle and carefully to make the thing as cylindrical as possible.
Step 1.6: Prepare for the arms
I wish I could say there was some mathematical equation I used or some complex system of measurements to position the clock hands, but all I did was put down masking tape on the workbench, tick a mark on the tape and the clock, then I rolled the clock down the tape for one complete revolution (until the tick hit again). Then I cut the tape at those two places, figured that was noon, then marked off 11 evenly spaced marks, wrapped the taped around the clock body, and used that to do my drilling.
To make sure the drill doesn’t drift it was easiest to use a three part process.
- Punch a hole through the tape with a nail (or a transfer punch set) to make a place for the pilot hole.
- Pre-drill a pilot hole with a tiny drill bit.
- Drill with 5/16 bit (to fit my 1/4-inch dowels you’ll see later)
Step 1.7: Paint carefully. Set aside.
Step 2: Make the Spokes
To make the spokes I had to get the various pieces I cut to all fit together. To connect the spoke pieces to each other and to the body I decided to use the 1/4-inch dowel poked right through into the body of the clock. To prepare for connecting the spoke pieces I drilled the holes into the body (step 1.6) and I have to drill holes into the large spoke pieces and all the way through the smaller spoke pieces.
Step 2.1: To make the spokes I used 1 1x4s cut into 3-inch blocks and the 1/2×2 board cut into 1-inch lengths.
To make this go faster I clamped a block at 3 inches on the mitre saw. This way I just slide the board to the stop, slice it, repeat. Then I did the same thing for the 1-inch boards.
To make sure I had everything lined up for drilling I assembled the pieces lining up the correct edges so I could mark them all and drill them like an assembly line.
Step 2.2: Line up and orient the wood for the spokes
Step 2.3: Drill for the wooden pegs
Don’t forget, mark them, punch them, pre-drill them, then drill them with the 5/16 bit.
At some point in here I also cut my dowel to around 2-inch lengths.
Step 2.4: Assemble Arms
This is where all of your preschool training comes into play. Glue everything up and put the pieces together. Simple. Then make sure everything is square, lined up, and clamp everything together for 24 hours. Go have a beer and put your feet up, you’re done for the day. Looks like one of my dowels went rogue.
Step 2.5: Prep arms for painting
Once the glue is all set up you have to fill, sand and get the spokes all nice nice.
Step 2.6: Paint arms
I made a painting/drying rack out of some scrap I had lying around by just drilling holes in it to fit each spoke so I could put each one in and hole and paint them all at once. I should have used a longer board so my pieces would have been further apart for easier spraying in between, but it still worked.
Step 2.7: LET IT DRY 24 HOURS! Resist the urge to poke at these with your finger to see if it’s dry. It’s not. Walk away, come back tomorrow, don’t rush it.
Step 3: Assemble Clock
Step 3.1: Insert and assemble clock mechanism
Follow the instructions on your clock parts, or put them in this clock the way they came out of the other clock. I can’t help you here, you’ll figure it out.
Step 3.2: Attach arms to body
This is where you might need some shims. I wanted to make sure everything was square and lined up. I know some of my holes weren’t drilled perfectly and this threw off a couple of angles. Shims to the rescue. Glue it up, shim it, and walk away for a day. (This is where it’s frustrating. This 15-minute job wasted an entire day because it has to sit and dry for 24 hours.)
Now all that’s left is to add the hanging hardware of your choice to the back and put the clock arms on.
The finished product.
It’s cool, modern, and will make a great gift for someone with a retro design aesthetic, or for my own office. Maybe I’ll send it to Marty. He never reads my posts anyway so it will be a surprise.
“In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation from Lowe’s for my time and participation in the Lowe’s Creative Ideas Influencer Network. Although we have a material connection to Lowe’s, any publicly stated opinions of Lowe’s and their products remain our own.”