Wooden Gear Clock #2: Making Plywood - Wooden Gear clocks

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Blog entry by avgjay posted 02-28-2012 11:39 PM 4788 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: On with the Show Part 2 of Wooden Gear Clock series Part 3: Cutting the Wooden Gears Part 1 »

In the last post I mentioned I had decided to make my own plywood. I initially had two reasons; one was that I had a fairly large pile of Red Oak and Ash in my shop, and the second was that the thicknesses called for in the article, mostly 3/8” plywood, was not readily available locally.

So I started by making a couple of test pieces. To see how easy the process was and if I was going to have enough time to complete all six clocks.

First I cut a board to about 3’ in length,

flattened one face,

and then one edge.

After I had a square edge from which to work, I then went to the band saw to start re-sawing these boards into 1/8” thick veneers.

Then back to the bench to re-flatten the sawn face. Back to band saw to cut another piece, back to the bench… I think you get the picture. It was about this time that I realised the Ash I was working with an absolute pain in the butt to work with hand tools, the grain was switching back and forth most of the time and I would have to plane one half of the board in one direction and the other half the other. When you are trying to get everything to a consistent thickness, this is… frustrating.

Any way, eventually I had enough pieces for one test piece in Oak and one in Ash, neither was much fun and took a lot longer than I had anticipated. Just to get the veneers!

Since I was aiming for a 3/8” thickness I was going to use 3 veneers for each piece, alternating the grain perpendicular to each other for each ply. I was not sure what the best glue would be for this application so I tried the two kinds I had in my shop. Standard yellow glue and West Systems epoxy.

Doing a mock-up of the first 3 plys I came to the conclusion that there was no way I had enough nor deep enough clamps to really get good pressure across the entire surface. So I made a press of sorts, I took two 2×6’s and cut them in roughly thirds, I also had some small pieces of 3/4” mdf lying around so I ripped them to about 12” wide and cut them to 30” long. On the bottom piece I screwed 3 2×6’s to one side with one on each edge and one in the middle, the middle one being the longer of the three. For the piece that was to become the top I planed a slight arc to one edge of all three 2×6’s and screwed the bowed side to the mdf. What this gave me was one really flat surface and one surface that had a bow in the middle allowing me to clamp my plywood in the middle using a total of six clamps and getting perfect pressure from the center out.

So I set my first ply down on the bottom platform and covered it in glue, also covering one side of the perpendicular pieces.
Then laying the glued faces together and tapping a small brad in each of the four corners and snipping it off just above the second ply, I applied glue to the other side of the perpendicular pieces and the bottom of the remaining veneer. Setting the top ply in place and pressing it into the brads, keeping it from sliding around.

I then set the top platform on top of the stack and starting clamping the center 2×6’s together, trying to ensure that the pressure started at the center and pushed any excess glue out to the sides, not trapped in the middle. I then put the outer clamps on.

After letting it percolate for twenty-four hours I took it out of the clamps and made my second test piece with yellow glue and Ash. The epoxy seemed to work better and was a lot easier to spread, making less of a mess and a better bond. I then proceeded to flatten both faces and edges bringing it to a consistent thickness and size.

This whole process took a total of about three days when all said and done, and I came to the conclusion that it would take me too long to complete all of the plywood for the six clocks I was planning on making. It also was REALLY work intensive without a thickness planer or drum Sander. Had I had either of those, I probably would have continued to make plywood for all of the clocks. Instead I made enough for one clock, so it would look consistent. My plywood could not be mistaken for the box store stuff I ended up purchasing. That is also something I came to regret, poor glue bonds between plys, but we will get to that later.

I hope this was informative and in our next post we will start to look at the various ways I came up with for cutting out the gears.

5 comments so far

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2886 days

#1 posted 02-29-2012 12:29 AM

I would have used 1/4 Baltic birch ply and veneered it to the needed thickness.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3563 days

#2 posted 02-29-2012 12:39 AM

Quite ambitious to say the least. How did you glue joint come out? It will interesting to see what differences (if any) the gears have home made vs. purchased ply.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View sras's profile


4797 posts in 3127 days

#3 posted 02-29-2012 02:06 AM

Should be some really attractive gears!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Michael1's profile


403 posts in 2658 days

#4 posted 02-29-2012 02:50 AM

Really great blog!! It will be interesting to see the entire build. I admire your drive to make your own plywood but I am sure it is extremely labor intensive. I will be eagerly waiting for your follow up posts on your build process.

-- Michael Mills, North Carolina,

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3332 days

#5 posted 03-01-2012 04:25 PM

You sound slightly obsessed. I like that in a woodworker! I’ve seen a lot of wooden clocks on the web made out of solid wood, but I suppose you would need a really stable wood for that?

It sounded to me like you did everything you could to get a success in making the ply. My guess is that you might not have used the optimal glue or spread it in the right way or some other mundane reason. On the other hand I can imagine that commercial ply is glued in massive hydraulic clamps under many tons of pressure and maybe that is the difference. I do admire your ‘can do’ spirit in giving this a go.

I hope you will be blogging your clock making. I’ve been wanting to make one for years, but I never seem to get around to actually doing it. Maybe the fear factor, or worrying that I might not like to hear the ticking sound.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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