For years I built furniture for customers. Along with those pieces, I occasionally built something from my bucket list – we call that speculative because you hope you can sell it somewhere in the future. But in business, even when you’re choosing what pieces to build on speculation, you need to be mindful of your customer base and select furniture you think you can sell. There’s no sense building a piece that your customers won’t appreciate, or would deem the cost too high. As a result, I passed on building a shelf clock.
There’s been more than a few non-tall-case clocks that garnered my attention, especially those built by David Wood in Massachusetts at the beginning of the 19th century (Fig. 1). Something about those shelf clocks that left me wanting more. I couldn’t put my finger on it until one day when I imagined a shelf clock built by Pennsylvania Quakers with line-and-berry designs – a piece that never existed, to the best of my knowledge, or has yet to be discovered. That’s when the shelf-clock bug bit me – and it bit hard.
It was with that image in mind that I sat down and drew up plans for my shelf clock. I began with the overall dimensions of a known clock, dropped the arched top but kept the tombstone door and eliminated some of the physical gingerbread only to pump-up the decoration with scratched-in designs of tiger maple stringing and red and white berries. The construction techniques, and the methods employed to add in the decoration are not difficult, but the time spent adorning the exterior surfaces is lengthy.
Also, most of the period clocks were built using a mechanical movement. Today, it’s my opinion that most of these clocks would never include such a movement. Therefore, I’m building this without a few important parts that would need to be added if one chose to use a more costly movement. Those parts primarily focus around the now-absent seat board and its support structure. Additionally, if you are sure you will never install anything but a quartz movement, you could eliminate the base face frame and door in favor of a solid panel because you would not need access to weights used to drive the movement. My project, however, may at a future date have a mechanical movement in place.
Quick Step of Prep
From the cut list prepare the base and hood sides and the base bottom. Milling the parts that get much of the inlay work, the door excluded, is completed in short order. It’s probably best to include the four pieces that make up the door frame and the two rails that connect the hood sides. But remember that the hood rails are 7/8″ thick.
With these select parts milled to thickness, width and length, grab the base sides and base bottom for dovetailing. Make the bottom the pin board. Layout and cut your pins. The bottom fits a 1/2″ behind the front edge of the base sides – that area, found only on the base sides, is rabbeted to extend into the edge of the face-frame assembly that is the front of the clock base. In addition, the base sides are rabbeted along the top edge to house a support structure, and there are rabbets for the back. Layout the locations for the rabbets, but don’t make them as of yet.
Align your pin board to the base sides to transfer and cut the matching tails in the base sides (Fig. 2). With only three pin-waste areas to remove, I do the work at my bandsaw by nibbling away the waste. It’s easy and the completed joinery is covered by a molding, so looks are not the main focus. When you’ve knocked out the dovetails, turn your attention to the line-and-berry work on the four sides.
Inlay work of the base and hood sides is not a pattern you’ll find on period clocks, or on any line-and-berry furniture for that matter. It’s my design, but you are welcome to use it. If develop a design of your own, be creative. Each of the four panels is surrounded by tiger maple stringing. Inside the frames is a curvy stem that runs diagonally from top to bottom, topped with a three-berry set. Each stem also has three offshoots, each with a set of berries at the end. Patterns are found elsewhere in this presentation.
A mix of power-tool and hand-tool woodworking is used to cut the recesses to demonstrate both techniques. Choose whichever method you want based on the tools you have available. To go power, you’ll need a router with a plunge base, 1/16″-diameter router bit with a long enough cutting length to reach beyond a pattern, a small-diameter guide bushing and a plywood template to guide your router setup.