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Desktop Clock


Desktop Clock

It tells the time, but keeps a secret.

By Jock and Susan Holmen

This clock holds a secret—a compartment for candy—and its construction involves a few secrets as well.

Such as this: The case is made from 1/2"-thick mahogany plywood. You won’t find this material at most lumberyards, so you’ll be making your own by gluing together two layers of 1/4" plywood.

Another secret: You’ll be gluing the moldings to the plywood case first, then mitering the parts later. This simplifies the building process and sure beats mitering all the moldings individually.


Tools and materials

To build this clock, you’ll need a tablesaw, a planer, a router table and a drill press. You’ll be using a couple of special router bits: a classical bead and cove bit and a 1/8" roundover bit. You’ll also need an adjustable circle cutter to cut the round clock opening (see Sources, below).

The clock is made from Honduras mahogany plywood and lumber, with some wenge trim. Wenge (pronounced wen-gay or wenj) is a dark-brown tropical hardwood that nicely complements mahogany’s reddish-brown color.

For the clock case, you’ll need 1/4"- thick mahogany plywood. It doesn’t take much, so buy a partial sheet unless you plan to make several clocks. You’ll also need a 3/4" x 6" x 48" piece of mahogany lumber and a chunk of wenge. Buy a piece of wenge that’s at least 3" wide by 32" long. It’s more than you actually need, but it’s easier and safer to cut the parts from a piece this size, rather than from one that’s smaller.

The battery-powered clock mechanism is a one-piece insert (see Sources), which is simply friction-fit into a hole in the clock front. This makes it easy to change the batteries or the time.


Laminate the plywood

Cut two 32" x 8" pieces of 1/4" mahogany plywood (Fig. B, below). Notice that the grain runs the short dimension on these parts. Glue these together to form the 1/2" mahogany plywood needed for the clock case (Photo 1). After the glue has dried, rip the 1/2" plywood to 7-1/2" wide on the tablesaw. Take about 1/4" off both edges so they are straight and parallel. Next, cut the two 1/8" dadoes in the face of the plywood (Photo 2, Fig. A, page below).


Attach moldings and trim

Make the upper and lower flat trim pieces (C, D, E and F). Place spacer strips in the small dadoes in the panel to provide a stop for the flat trim to push up against, and glue the flat trim to the 1/2" plywood panel (Photo 3). Remove the spacer strips before the glue dries to prevent them from getting stuck.

Next cut a strip of mahogany for the top and bottom moldings (G, H, J and K). Use the bead and cove router bit to shape them (Photo 4). Note that the top molding is 1/8" thinner than the bottom molding and they are attached to the plywood so they mirror each other (Fig. A). Glue and clamp them to the plywood (Photo 5). The edges of the molding and the plywood should be flush. If they’re not, wait until the glue has dried and trim the parts flush on your tablesaw. Complete the 1/2" plywood panel by cutting a rabbet at the top and bottom on the back side (Photo 6, Fig. A).


Miter the sides

Set your tablesaw blade to 45° and miter some test boards. Then use a tablesaw sled—or a miter gauge with a fence—to miter the clock’s four sides. Start by cutting the sides about 1/4" oversize (Photo 7). It’s OK to leave the extra material on one edge; it will be cut off when you cut the parts to final width (Photo 8). Cut slowly to avoid chip-out on the moldings. Wenge is particularly prone to chip-out, but cutting at a slower rate helps avoid that problem. If the wood does chip, save the loose piece and glue it back on. Use a toothpick to apply the glue and masking tape to hold the chip in place.

Drill the opening for the clock insert into the clock case front (A, Photo 9). The clock insert is centered vertically on the case front between the two gold halfbead trim pieces (L).


Assemble the case

Apply glue to two sides first and hold them together with masking tape. Add the other two sides one at a time. Stretch the tape, so it pulls the parts tightly together (Photo 10). Then glue in the bottom and add the four feet (S, Photo 11).

Next, make the lid (N). Cut the rabbets on the bottom of the lid (Detail 1). Check that the lid fits easily into the rabbet in the top of the clock case.

Make the half-bead trim (L, M, P, Q) that goes around the case and the lid. This trim is very small, but is easy to make using our step-by-step cutting sequence (Fig. C, below). Miter the half-bead trim that goes around the lid and attach it to the underside of the lid (Photos 12 and 13). You’ll need some small spring clamps to hold these trim pieces in place while the glue dries (see Sources). Set aside the strips of half-bead trim (L, M) that go around the case. They will be used later.


Finishing touches

Sand the entire clock case and lid with 180-grit paper and stain it (Photo 14). A red mahogany stain gives the mahogany a deep rich tone and helps even out any color difference between the plywood and the lumber (see Sources).

After the stain dries thoroughly (24 to 48 hours), brush on a satin polyurethane varnish (see Sources).

While the stain and finish dry, paint the half-bead trim gold (L and M, Photo 15). Miter it to final length and glue it into the dadoes on the clock case. All that’s left now is to install the battery in the clock mechanism, set the time and insert the mechanism into the clock case (Photo 16).

Oh yeah, don’t forget to add the candy.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodworker’s Supply,, 800-645-9292, Adjustable heavy duty circle cutter, #829-757; 1" spring clamps, #125- 033.

MLCS,, 800-533-9298, 1/4" classic bead and cove router bit, #6452; 1/8" round-over router bit, #6350.

Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, rockler. com, 800-279-4441, Decorator clock face, #23995.

Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores,, 888-739-4120, Plaid liquid leaf classic gold, #5766563.

Woodworkers Source, woodworkerssource. com, 800-423-2450, 3/4"-thick wenge.

Wood & Shop Inc.,, 314-739- 0001, Mahogany plywood 1/4" x 2' x 4'.

Minwax,, 800-523-9299 (for dealer locations), Satin fast-drying polyurethane, #63000; Red mahogany stain, #70007.

Cutting List

Fig. A: Exploded View

Detail 1: Lid Rabbet

Fig. B: Plywood Cutting Diagram

Fig. C: Cutting Sequence for the Half-Bead Trim

1. Rout the corners with a 1/8" roundover bit.

2. Saw a 1/4"-deep slot down the middle of the edge.

3. Rip the trim off. Position your saw fence as shown so the trim falls away from the blade at the end of the cut. Use a zero-clearance insert.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker July 2004, issue #108.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Make your own 1/2" mahogany plywood for the clock case, because finding it at a lumberyard can be difficult. Use several bricks as clamps and a piece of cardboard to protect the plywood from getting scratched.

2. Cut two 1/8" dadoes in the face of the plywood panel. A thin molding that goes all the way around the clock will later be fit into these dadoes. Use a push block for safety and to maintain even pressure while sawing.

3. Glue and clamp the flat trim pieces onto the plywood panel. Put a 1/8" x 1/4" spacer strip into the dadoes (without glue) and push the flat trim up against it. Remove the spacer strip after you’ve attached the clamps.

4. Rout the top and bottom moldings with a classical bead and cove router bit. Use feather boards to hold the molding against the fence and table for the smoothest cut.

5. Glue and clamp the classic molding tight against the edge of the flat trim. The molding’s outer side should be flush with the plywood edge. Trim off any molding or plywood overhang with your tablesaw.

6. Cut two rabbets in the plywood panel for the lid and bottom. Put a temporary wooden auxiliary fence on your saw so you can push the fence right up to the dado blade.

7. Cut one miter on all four case sides with a shop-made sled. Cut the sides a little extra wide at this step. Pushing more slowly than normal helps reduce chip-out on the moldings.

8. Miter the sides to final width. Hold each piece in place with a toggle clamp. This ensures a straight cut and keeps your hands out of harm’s way.

9. Drill the hole for the clock with a circle cutter. Set the drill press to its slowest speed and hold the part with two toggle clamps. Secure the backer board to the drill table with a couple of clamps.

10. Assemble the sides with glue and masking tape. Pull the masking tape tight and check for gaps along the miters.

11. Glue the bottom into the rabbet that runs around the sides. Attach the feet 1/8" in from the edge of the molding.

12. Miter the half-bead trim using a small handsaw and a jig. The jig is simply two mitered boards glued to a piece of plywood.

13. Glue the half-bead trim into the small rabbet on the bottom side of the lid. Remove one of the jaw covers from the spring clamp to provided more pressure on the small trim. Leave the other jaw cover on to protect the lid’s top from getting dented.

14. Stain the clock case to even out any differences in wood color between the solid lumber and plywood parts. When the stain is dry, apply a clear finish.

15. Apply three coats of gold paint to the half-bead trim that goes around the clock case. Sand between coats to remove any roughness. Install the trim after the paint is dry.

16. Install the clock mechanism. It’s simply a pressure fit, requiring no fasteners.


ken knight wrote re: Small Clock
on 05-17-2009 1:06 PM

nice weekend project--like the candy dish(box) part of it too. nice place to stash all kinds of goodies for the grandkids.

essamzeka wrote re: Small Clock
on 05-26-2009 5:38 AM

very nice project