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How to Make a Wooden Gear Clock

Drawing of Galileo's wooden pendulum clock. Public domain in the United States.

Drawing of Galileo's wooden pendulum clock. Public domain in the United States.

One day I will find the time and the money to sit down and make my own wooden clock. Until then, I've done all the research needed, figured out what tools to use, and learned about the different parts of a wooden clock. Here, I'll share what I've learned.

Initially, it's hard to understand how a clock and its gears all work together, but it's actually very simple. This article discusses the following:

  • How wooden-gear clocks work.
  • The tools required to make a wooden-gear clock.
  • How to build a clock, with visual aids and a video.

This article is about making a wooden-gear clock from a plan purchased online. The most popular plans are Clayton Boyer clocks. Building a wooden-gear clock entirely from scratch requires mechanical and mathematical knowledge that's beyond the scope of this article.

How do Wooden-Gear Clocks Work?

The process of making a clock work just right is a little tricky and it will take some trial and error to make it keep time, but that is part of the fun of the project. Learning as much as you can about how clocks work is the first step to building your own.

You may want to take a moment to flip through some books on the subject. You can either buy books from Amazon or your local book store, or you can do what I did and go to your local library and check out some of the books they have have on clock repair. Clocks have been around for several centuries, so there is plenty of information on the art of clockwork and its history, which I really enjoy learning about.

You can also spend some time on YouTube and watch everything possible about clocks and how they work. You will be amazed at the amount of information available on some of these websites. I know I was.

The Parts

Here is a very basic list of the different parts of a wooden clock:

  • Power source: What keeps the clock going? In the case of most homemade clocks, the momentum is created by a swinging weight, or pendulum, which moves the gears as it swings back and forth.
  • Escapement: A device that controls the energy that escapes from the movement of the weight, slowing it down and allowing the energy to be spaced out over time. The escapement is built out of an escape gear, escape lever, and the pendulum. As the pendulum swings, it moves the escapement lever in and out of the escape gear, stopping it from spinning. The escapement is what makes the tick-tock sound.
  • Gear train: When mounted on the frame, the gears for the second, minute, and hour hands interlock and roll on each other. This mechanism is called the gear train. The different gears are explained in detail below.
  • Gear: Clock gears are actually made of four parts: the wheel, the arbor, the pinion, and the pivot. The wheel is the toothed circle that turns, hooking the other wheels with its teeth. The arbor is the axel of the gear. The pinion is a small wheel held to the main wheel by the arbor, which is driven by the other gears. The pivot is a tube of polished metal at the end of the arbor which reduces friction with the plate.

How Do They Work?

The three gears of a clock.

The three gears of a clock.

As shown above, roughly, a clock usually has three gears in its gear train, each moving one of the three hands indicating seconds, minutes, and hours.

Gear Study: From Minutes to Seconds

Gear diagram of a wooden clock.

Gear diagram of a wooden clock.

The rough diagram above shows how the gears of a wooden clock interlock and move to keep time. The yellow, red, and dark blue gears aren't connected to each other, rather they interlock with each others' pinions (the green and light blue wheels), which are affixed to the main gear wheels. This changes the speed by which the driving gear moves the next and is determined by the size and teeth number of the pinion.

In the diagram above, every time the yellow gear turns one full rotation around its sixty teeth, the red gear turns a total of six rotations. The yellow gear is pushing the green pinion, making the red wheel, also with sixty gears, move faster than the yellow one. Every time the red gear turns one full rotation, the blue gear turns ten times. The gears on a wooden clock will operate under the same principles, and allow the second hand to run faster than the minute hand, which will run faster than the hour hand.

Building a Mechanical Wooden Clock: Select a Pattern

Most amateur clockmakers—also known as horologists—will want to make their wooden clock from a plan. There are many places online to purchase patterns, but the most popular seems to be Clayton Boyer clocks, and many of the YouTube tutorials about wooden clockmaking concern Clayton Boyer plans. You can also purchase books and kits from Amazon.

What You Need to Build One:

Because of the precision required in cutting and sanding the teeth of the gears, escapement wheel, and other parts, making even a simple wooden clock demands access to power tools and a woodshop.

The materials you need will vary by the clock plan you work with. Here is the minimum of what you need to make a mechanical wooden-gear clock:

  • Wooden-gear clock plan
  • Wood
  • Scroll saw
  • Band or Miter saw
  • Drill press or hand drill
  • Clamps
  • Spray adhesive (to adhere the plans to the wood)
  • Wood screws and washers
  • Wood glue
  • Dremel sandpaper or sanding wheel
  • Safety gear: goggles, work gloves, sturdy shoes, and a thick apron.

What Kind of Wood Should I Use?

You may be asking, what is the best kind of wood to use for a wooden-gear clock? There is no single answer, but you want to use a wood that is hard and strong enough not to split, and fine-grained for smoothness and detailing. You don't need fancy exotic wood, a good birch plywood, maple, or oak should suffice.

Clock Plans #2

Clock Plans #2

Choose and Lay Out a Plan

The image above is an example of a wooden-gear clock plan, easily available for purchase on Amazon or your local hobby shop. When you have the plans:

  • Make copies of your plans in case you mess up and need to start over.
  • Cut out each part from the plan.
  • Using a spray adhesive, carefully glue your plans to the wood, taking care there are no air bubbles.
  • Cut out the rough shape of the individual parts, which will make them easier to cut precisely with the scroll or band saw.

Cut Out Your Gears Using a Scroll Saw

  • In most wooden-gear clock plans, you need to drill holes where the arbor will slip through the gear. There will often be a set of holes in between the gear teeth and in the interior cut-outs of the gears. These holes make it easier to cut out the teeth and cut-outs by inserting the scroll saw into them and using them as a starting point.
  • Using a scroll saw, cut out the gears and their teeth. Some woodworkers prefer to use a band saw for this step. Whatever you use, be extremely careful and take your time. The precision of the gear teeth is one key to making your clock keep time.
  • Sand everything. Using a dremel or power sander, sand every cut edge of the gears as perfectly as possible.

Stain and Seal Your Gears

You could just leave your clock in it's raw wood state, and it may look lovely. However, staining it will make it look more professional and sealing with protect the wood for years to come.

Make sure you follow the directions for your wood stain. If you don't apply it evenly or wipe it off when the directions say to, you may get blotches and streaks. What you want is a nice uniform color all over the wood. Avoid staining or varnishing the insides of the teeth, which could mess up your gear train.

Think about staining the gears different colors. This will give the moving gears some added visual interest, and contrast the different parts of the clock from each other.

Assemble Your Gear Wheels

As discussed above, the gear wheels are made up of the wheel itself, a pinion, and an axel or arbor.

  • Most wooden clockmaking kits will come with a sheet of paper laying out the arbors and pivots. Use this to determine the size of the rods.
  • Use a polisher and sander to clean and polish the rods. This will reduce the amount of friction they cause.
  • Following your clock plan's instructions, assemble the wheels, pinions, and spacers using the arbors. Use wood glue and clamps to affix the pinion and spacers to the wheels around the arbors.

Assemble It

How you assemble your clock will, for the most part, depend on what type of clock you're building and from what plan.

  • Build the frame using your plan's instructions. Every frame will be different, and some are more ornate than others. The frame will have holes to house the wheel sets' arbors.
  • Insert each wheel set (the gear wheel, pinion, arbor, and possibly a spacer) and the escapement mechanism into the frame, first one at a time and then two at a time, to make sure they run freely and with each other. You should be able to make the wheels move freely just by blowing on them.
  • You may find that some of your parts do not fit very well together. That may be because of the stain and the sealer. All it takes is a bit of sanding where the joint fits and you should be back in business.
  • The pendulum and drive weight, along with the escape mechanism, are what actually make your clock keep time. Again, the specifications here will depend on what your instructions say to do. Generally, you will make the drive weight using wood and lead shot.
  • Add the hands and any other decorative elements.

How to Make It Run on Time

Getting your clock to keep the right time will take a lot of trial and error. Be patient, and follow these steps:

  • Make sure the escapement mechanism is ticking at an even speed, and if not, manually adjusting the anchor should do the trick.
  • Make your drive weight is adjustable. You can do this by weighting it with lead shot which can be easily added or removed. If the clock is running slow, the weight is probably too heavy, and too little weight can stop the clock altogether.
  • Check the pendulum bob, which should also be made adjustable. If the clock is running fast, slide the bob down the pendulum, and up if it's running slow.

Maintaining It

Wooden-gear clocks, when kept indoors, require very little upkeep. However, there are some things you can do to keep it running well:

  • Unlike metal clocks, wooden-gear clocks need very little cosmetic upkeep or oiling. Since most wooden-gear clocks are exposed, treating the wood with oil will just attract dirt and dust into the clock and gum up the moving parts.
  • Instead of using oil, use a dust rag, fine steel wool, or sand paper to wipe dust and debris. If it's extremely dirty, wash it with an old toothbrush and warm water and clean out any exposed holes with a toothpick.
  • If you must, use a small amount of graphite grease on the pivot only.
  • Of all the moving parts, the escapement wheel will wear out the fastest. You might even want to make an extra wheel for replacement.

More About Wooden Clock Gears and Gear Ratios

"Gear ratio" denotes the ratio of the speed of one gear (the input gear) to the speed of the second, or output, gear. Not just clocks, but motors, pulley systems, and other simple and complex machines are built to optimize gear ratios. If you make a wooden-gear clock from a plan, the gear ratio will have been figured out for you by whoever drew up the plan. The number of teeth on the wheels and the pinions has been optimized so that the hour, minute, and second hands move at different speeds, but on the same rhythm, all synchronized to the tick tock of the escapement wheel.

However, if you want to build a clock from scratch, you'll need to optimize the gear ratio yourself. The escapement gear, pushing the pendulum, counts the seconds, and there are 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour, or 3,600 seconds in an hour. The minute hand gear, therefore, should rotate once every 3,600 seconds. The axle indicating hours will rotate once every 43,200 seconds (or every 12 hours).

Here's a very good source for calculating the gear ratios for a wooden-gear clock:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

What Do You Think of Wooden Gear Clocks? - I bet there are a bunch of different opinions

Fred heideman on November 02, 2018:

Great job

Karemali on June 16, 2018:

What is the size of the three gears

Grant on November 08, 2017:

Just ordered plans for Clayton Boyer clock and after reading your article i cannot wait to get started

Jordan on October 24, 2017:

wow this is intricate, thanks for sharing Robert don't think im that skilled yet, all im building are some project from this online plans bundle https://tinyurl.com/y9ydf3sa and just learning through trial and error.

JAGADISHA P on September 10, 2017:

VERY INTERESTING

Livio on November 14, 2014:

Thanks for this useful page. I will try with paperboard. Bye :)

Jim from Campbell, CA on November 03, 2014:

well it's certainly a pretty complex process, but making your very own (and fully functional) wooden clock must be highly rewarding... Also, thanks for the extremely comprehensive post!

aperkins lm on July 08, 2014:

Great lens! Thanks for the info and the plans. Didn't realize you should to re-treat the wood so much, and like the point about the escapement mechanism wearing out (sometimes the obvious needs a big shiny arrow pointing at it - or maybe just a tentacle).

claborde05 on June 30, 2014:

i would love to make a car that was like a clock its all weights and makes gasoline not worth the use and would be like we need really good breaks. i would be like this car is really light and has little maintenance.

amandascloset0 on April 10, 2014:

Very nice lens! I've always been fascinated by clocks.

QuizSquid on February 20, 2014:

Thanks for this great lens. I've always been intrigued by clocks and gears, and maybe I'll give this a try!

tomasokalno on February 20, 2014:

Nice lens! Wooden gear clocks looks so amazing. I hope I will make one some day...

M. Victor Kilgore on February 19, 2014:

Wow...awesome lens, I need a scroll saw now that I have room for it.

Tricia Deed from Orlando, Florida on January 25, 2014:

This is a wonderful lens; very informative and interesting.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 24, 2014:

@unicornblogger: Thank You

unicornblogger on January 23, 2014:

Super in-depth! Great job on this lens. I like the Kaleidogears suggestion too; Quercetti makes awesome toys :)

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 21, 2014:

@bluelily lm: I have also been thinking about a CNC machine where I can let the computer burn them for me out of plywood.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 21, 2014:

@ChronosR: Thank you for the explanation. Like I said, these gear ratios are difficult.

Trickytricks on January 21, 2014:

Wonderful, I rarely see such comprehensive guides.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on January 16, 2014:

@joanzueway: Your Welcome

joanzueway on January 16, 2014:

Thank you for this wonderful lens

chrisilouwho on November 18, 2013:

Wow, this is such a cool idea, thanks for all of the details, I know a few people I'll have to refer to this site who would love to try this sometime. Thanks again!

Belva Boggs on November 04, 2013:

I am horrible at making stuff out of wood, but my husband will love this! Thanks!

Boyd Carter on October 29, 2013:

I never knew "time" could be so well-represented in so many different ways. I'll have to visit this lens again when I have more time and absorb some more of your wisdom. Well done!

Steve Dizmon from Nashville, TN on October 17, 2013:

This is a really cool Lens. I had fun. The idea of building a wooden clock is appealing although I doubt I would ever have the patience to do so.

Aladdins Cave from Melbourne, Australia on September 16, 2013:

Your clock stopped new years day. Still not sure how to make a clock from your lens. Did I miss the spring windup section ? Thanks and cheers from DOWNUNDER

janey126 on September 12, 2013:

Great lens. It was a pleasure visiting it.

PatrickHayes76 on August 26, 2013:

Awesome work on this lens. Great detail.

cwilson360 on August 16, 2013:

I like wooden gears they look so beautiful. Good lens!

jura on August 14, 2013:

Now this is great lens .

SusanAston on July 28, 2013:

Very interesting lens - fantastic workmanship in these time pieces.

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on July 24, 2013:

This was a very interesting and informative clock lens, rgasperson! It will make an interesting project to create one's own wooden clock.

bluelily lm on July 08, 2013:

Using 3D Printer can simplify the process for making wooden gear easily but it will a bit costly affair.

yikwei-ang on June 27, 2013:

So many different clocks! This is so interesting. I can see you put a lot of effort into this. Great Job Mate!

Jordan on April 12, 2013:

They are cool! Where would we be without time? Nice lens!

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on March 30, 2013:

@EricKnight: Thank you and your welcome

EricKnight on March 28, 2013:

Remarkable lens! Thanks for sharing...

wyzeguru on March 21, 2013:

I just wish I had the time! Fascinating stuff, roll on retirement!

MusicMadness LM on March 19, 2013:

Terrific idea . . . I never would have thought about building a totally wooded clock . . . gears and all.

JeffGilbert on March 15, 2013:

This is definitely one of the more unique and invoived how to's I've seen here. A great lens!!

bilder on March 11, 2013:

Great Idea! I just lowe wood, and this len open up a whole new perspective!

wiyadase on March 05, 2013:

wow, thanks for sharing this lens

anonymous on March 03, 2013:

I love to see this lens

anonymous on March 01, 2013:

I'd love to be able to have the talent to do something like this. I don't even have a scroll saw (yet).

anonymous on March 01, 2013:

I am a sort of woodworker and these look hard.

racingdatabase on February 21, 2013:

What a fantastic lens! The amount of detail you've gone into is incredible!

ghebert on January 30, 2013:

Just talking about making our own clock and I came across your lens. Perfect timing! haha

mjb13815 on January 28, 2013:

a wooden gear clock...now that is interesting.

rwhite10 on December 26, 2012:

Very interesting project. Great conversation piece.

mecheshier on December 24, 2012:

What a fabulous lens. Thanks for sharing

Merry Christmas!

jcalbon lm on December 13, 2012:

What a cool project! I would have expected the insides of a clock to be a lot more complicated but the way you've presented this makes it seem quite do-able.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on December 09, 2012:

@HairBowHanna: What. You don't want to take on the project Yourself?

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on December 09, 2012:

@guitaristguild: No Problem

guitaristguild on December 09, 2012:

What a great project. That should keep someone busy for a while. Thanks for posting it.

HairBowHanna on December 08, 2012:

How cool... Great future project for my kids. Nice lens!

Bob from Kansas City on December 05, 2012:

Now this looks like a fun project! Thanks for sharing, well done!

ChronosR on December 05, 2012:

You have a great web site! But I see a problem. I agree with your statement that the ratios between gears can be easily confused. It looks like you you may have been thinking of one revolution on the clock face covering a full day of 24 hours rather than a half of a day of 12 hours in the section called "What Do I Need My Gears To Do?"

Every time the Second hand rotates a full revolution, the Minute hand needs to turn 1/60 of a revolution. 360/60 = 6 degrees, not 12. Every time the Minute Hand Turns a full revolution, the Hour hand turns 1/12 of a revolution. 360/12 = 30 degrees, not 60.

XenasDeals on December 02, 2012:

What a superb informational lens! Love the step by step guide.

kshongmo on November 23, 2012:

So nice. Gonna love gears now

golfgpswatch lm on November 22, 2012:

Very interesting lens rgasperson

pinoyrecipe on November 21, 2012:

i love those wooden clocks, hope i could get one for myself

robertzimmerman2 on November 20, 2012:

Very informative, thanks!

mistaben on November 20, 2012:

Brilliant ideas! Thanks!

anonymous on November 19, 2012:

It's a great lens. Very interesting and informative.I will use that method in the last video to teach my daughter how to tell the time.

chas65 on November 19, 2012:

I have seen some antique wooden gears that were cleaned up and they are wonderful. Would look great as wall decorations.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on November 19, 2012:

Wow! Great details - I've never wanted to make a clock but I may be rethinking that! *blessed

Melody Lassalle from California on November 18, 2012:

A very informative lens! Great job you've done here!

anonymous on November 17, 2012:

Very nice lens...

vaishu786 on November 16, 2012:

it,s too good

RetroMom on November 16, 2012:

Your lens is so interesting and you executed a detailed step by step guide. Great job!

dellgirl on November 16, 2012:

Thanks for sharing these tips on How to Make a Wooden Gear Clock. Very interesting.

Mr-Panda LM on November 15, 2012:

That is awesome. Very cool =)

JoshK47 on November 15, 2012:

Popping back in with blessings for this really cool lens!

games_rush on November 15, 2012:

amazing..:)

wattyan on November 14, 2012:

Very interesting lens. I have to try to make it soon.

myspace9 on November 14, 2012:

Very nice and interesting lens.

Monette from Dubai on November 14, 2012:

wow! That looks sophisticated and brain buster lens

FrancissMichael on November 14, 2012:

this is what i have been searching from few days and now i got it thanks for sharing

Essentially Ind on November 13, 2012:

wowwwwww, lovely lens. :)

Alessandro Zamboni from Italy on November 13, 2012:

They are too difficult for me, I will finish for doing a disaster.

But I strongly appreciate this art and your lens, so beautiful and illustrative.

SteveKaye on November 13, 2012:

A wooden clock would be a woodworking masterpiece. Fascinating article. Thank you for publishing it.

Riesling on November 13, 2012:

My father made such a clock when I was a kid. It was always fun to watch it. A really great lens, thanks.

sweetstickyrainbo on November 13, 2012:

cool project

sageinacage lm on November 13, 2012:

Fascinating lens!

sageinacage lm on November 13, 2012:

Fascinating lens!

Judith Nazarewicz from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2012:

Such a cool lens, thanks so much!

MichaelDubrovnik on November 12, 2012:

Wow for real? I wish.

Bubbajuju on November 12, 2012:

Watch and clockmakers have always blown me away at how patient you must be. Great lens!

jadapotata on November 12, 2012:

Very unique lens! Thanks for posting!

AayBee on November 12, 2012:

Beautiful and splendid lens.

Thanks to it, now i can make my own clock.

YaY !

shovonpk on November 12, 2012:

good lens

shauna1934 on November 12, 2012:

What a cool lens. Thank you for sharing.

getmoreinfo on November 11, 2012:

This is such a cool idea, I love it. I like all the information you provided for how to make a Wooden Gear Clock

Freestuffer LM on November 11, 2012:

Very interesting lens! Thanks for sharing. This is uber awesome :)

anonymous on November 11, 2012:

I've loved this before and I'm pleased to return with angel dust and congratulations on your purple star and home page honors!

anonymous on October 21, 2012:

Challenging thing to do but doable. This lens sparked my interest in creating useful gadgets.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on October 18, 2012:

@anonymous: cool. There is something about working with wood. It is one of man's oldest crafts.

Robert T Gasperson (author) from South Carolina on October 18, 2012:

@anonymous: Thank You

anonymous on October 18, 2012:

Awesome lens.

anonymous on October 18, 2012:

You've made a really great lens. My husband did a wooden boat and he'll teach our son when he's old enough. Keep up the good work.