Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clock Builder Turns Back Time...

This article was published about my father, Lee Doyle, during the time that he was building grandmother and granddaughter clocks. My mother clipped the article but did not write the name of the newspaper or date of publication. However, my brother came to the rescue with newspaper and date. It was published in the weekly Austintown Leader on Thursday, December 5, 1968. I'm not going to transcribe the article because you'll be able to read it easily if you click on the images. The image will open in this window; clicking on it again will enlarge it. To return to this post, click the back arrow on your browser.

I can't remember how Dad became interested in building clocks. It happened after he'd been a jeweler and clock and watch repairman for many years, but working with wood to build cases for grandmother clocks was a new interest. Perhaps he started with a kit and realized it was something he could do from a pattern. I remember he bought cherry lumber at an auction. And then he started accumulating the tools, a radial arm saw, chisels, clamps, a lathe, perhaps a planer, etc. The garage became his workshop.

The first clock he built was a grandmother clock, a shorter version of a grandfather clock. He also built granddaughter clocks, a petite version of a grandmother clock. He decided it wasn't worth the effort to build the granddaughter clocks and built more grandmother clocks.

He tried his hand at cherry, maple, and walnut lumber (and the article says fruitwood, too, though I didn't remember that). He didn't like maple because it was so hard. He built a bracket clock but set it aside unfinished. When my husband and I asked if he would build us a small clock, he though we wanted a granddaughter clock. We told him we wanted something to put on a table or mantle. He finished the maple bracket clock and gave it to us. It shows small evidences of the maple's unwillingness to conform to his desires but we treasure it just the same.

Dad used a radial arm saw to cut the lumber. He was able to rip boards and make cross cuts by adjusting the saw. As careful as Dad was, he once - no, twice - had accidents. Once he cut off the tip of his finger. I think he said he'd reached back for some reason. The second time we think he blacked out. He had had a heart attack and had high blood pressure. The damage was worse and he cut off two fingers just past the first knuckle on his right hand. They took a while to heal but I think he continued to build clocks for several more years. When Mom was selling and passing on some of his things after he died, she refused for any of us children to have the saw. It had already done too much damage and she felt it was too dangerous.

When cutting the wood Dad was very careful to make sure the saw was squared so that the pieces aligned properly. He was meticulous in all aspects of his clock building. After cutting the pieces, he assembled them to become the clock case. Again, he was careful about how the joints aligned, arranging the clamps just so, and took great care to prevent or remove glue from the outside of the case.

He once paid me to sand several clocks. He showed me exactly what he wanted me to do, watched me at work for a while, then left me to it. I thought it was helpful to know the process and would have liked to learn more, but that as the extent of my help. Assistants can only do so much.

He took over the care of staining and finishing himself. He knew that the beauty of the clock was at least partially determined by the beauty of the case. While I was taking a woodworking course I asked him about how he finished the clocks. He wrote out his recipe for me: "Have surface clean, smooth and dust free. All glue on the surface should be removed. (It doesn't take stain.) I use oil rubbing stain. There are many good stains. You can apply with brush or cloth pad (the brush is not so messy). Allow it to get a frosty appearance, then rub with clean dry cloth. Make [it] shine. The longer you leave the stain on before rubbing the darker the finish it will be. If you wipe it off too soon you can apply again. But if you make it too dark the first time it is nearly impossible to remove. When you get the color you want let it dry at least 24 hours. It may be varnished. I don't use varnish because it takes too long to set up. (It will collect dust particles.) I use 7 coats of spray lacquer (clear)."

The inner workings of the clocks were screwed into a frame which was either glued or screwed into place inside the upper part of the clock behind the windowed doors where the face shows. I think the clock works were Swiss, arguably the best-made works at the time. The pendulum and weights were brass.

The clocks were 8-day clocks. Dad usually wound our clock every Sunday. It would run until Monday, but it was easier to get into the habit of winding it on the same day every week. The process of winding the clock included using a key to wind in three different slots: one for the chimes, and two for the gears. And not too tight. The other part of winding was pulling the weights up. During the week they would gradually lower themselves as the clock ticked away.

The clocks sounded wonderful, clear, and melodious with their Westminster chimes. (Listen to the melody of the Westminster chime on a small clock.) All of the clocks chimed on the quarter hour. I remember napping on the couch or waking in the night wondering what time it was. The clock eventually chimed and I knew whether I had a while longer to sleep or I needed to get up. Dad always said he couldn't sing, and rarely did, but he knew if the chimes of the clock were off-key. He carefully remedied the problem.

After the clocks were completely finished, he moved them inside, wound them, and watched them to make sure they kept time accurately. If they didn't he carefully adjusted them and watched some more. Only after he felt sure of the accuracy of the time-keeping did he offer them for sale.

Dad advertised only once, though the ad may have run more than one day. Mom clipped the ad, again without date or name of paper.

I think my father carefully chose what he wanted to do, then pursued the effort to a successful outcome. He was a very talented man.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I brought back memories of our neighbor who used to make beautiful grandfather clocks.

  2. You're welcome, Theresa. Thanks for coming to visit.

  3. What a great post! I love this about Grandpa. Too bad we don't have any more clocks that he made.


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