In this project I took an old DIY electronic clock kit, and built a sleek "solid wood" housing for it. The LED display shines through wood veneer for a very nice effect.
I was inspired to build this clock by Bob at ILikeToMakeStuff.com. After seeing his version and realizing I had the perfect clock in my basement, I got to work. Keep reading to see how it was done.
Step 1: Preparing the Clock
Reworking The Clock
The main driver for me was that I already has the most important part... a barebones clock. A few years ago I bought the ClockIt kit from Sparkfun when I was first getting into microcontrollers. I soldered it up, and then it sat on my workbench, mostly unused and ignored ever since. So I figured, why not retrofit this into a wood clock and put it up on my desk at work so it can actually get used?
The clock itself had a few issues that would make it difficult to place behind a sheet of veneer. There were a number of components on the circuit board that were too tall to make it work. I was able to remove a couple items completely. I wasn't planning on using the alarm feature, so I removed the buzzer and the alarm on/off switch. Both were easily de-soldered. I just replaced the switch with a wire jumper to simulate the alarm being in the off position. I could have bypassed this in code too, but this was simple enough.There were also some buttons, a capacitor, and some programming headers on the front of the board that were a bit too tall. I was able to move the buttons and capacitor to the back of the board without much issue. I didn't get the buttons pushed back through the holes all the way, so they're a little ugly, but for my purposes it was fine. I decided to keep the programming headers, but just clip them shorter. In the end, my LED display was the tallest item on the front, and everything left on that side was short enough that I could fit a 1/8" board over them.
To preserve the clean look of the clock's exterior, I didn't want the power wire just fed out of a hole in the back. The better looking option was to use a DC barrel connector (power jack). I soldered the power jack to a couple wires, and soldered those wires to a male power plug. This little DC extension cord can then run from the back of the enclosure to the jack mounted on the circuit board. The power jack will get mounted to the wooden enclosure later, where I can easily plug in my AC adapter.
I won't get into too much detail here, but I also tweaked the programming on the clock a bit. I dug out my AVR programmer, downloaded the source code from Sparkfun's website, made some changes, and used WinAVR to reprogram the clock. The main thing I did was disable the am/pm indicator "dot" on the clock, purely for aesthetic reasons. I also increased the brightness a bit since it would be behind a sheet of veneer. Their code is fairly straightforward, so making these changes didn't take much effort. I've made my version available at GitHub: https://github.com/benbrandt22/TimeBox
Step 2: Building the Faceplate
The front face was the most complicated part of the build, but wasn't too bad. I measured up the clock and used CAD to draw up some cutouts that I could use that would hold the clock kit. I printed those templates to paper, transferred them to my 1/8" boards, and cut them out with a jigsaw. I also ended up cutting a couple sheets of veneer to give me the height that I wanted (the same height as the LED display).
Since it is a 12-hour clock, not all the display elements will be lit, so it's shifted slightly to the left so the time will appear mostly centered.
The two 1/8" MDF boards and the veneer spacers were glued together to form the faceplate.
Step 3: Building the Box
The rest of the box was cut out of various sheets of plywood and MDF, and glued together with wood glue. A hole was cut in the back piece for a power plug.
I left the bottom open so I can set the time and remove the clock kit if necessary. I figure it's fun for people to be able to see what's inside to see how it was done, and knowing me, I'll probably want to make future changes, so it's nice having it accessible. I could add a removable base in the future, but for now I like the simplicity of the box in its current form.
Once the glued-up box was dry, I cleaned up the outside edges on the table saw to make each side smooth and ready for the veneer.
Step 4: Applying the Veneer & Finishing
At this point it wasn't much of a show piece (yet), just a bunch of plywood glued together. I hadn't worked with veneer before, so this was a fun new (and relatively easy) experience. I picked up a pack of maple veneer from the local woodworking store, and a small bottle of contact cement from Home Depot.
Each sheet of veneer was glued on with the contact cement. After drying, I used a power sander to knock down the edges to make them flush with the sides of the box. Once I had all the veneer applied, I gave the whole thing a couple coats of water-based polyurethane for a nice finish. The polyurethane caused one minor issue I hadn't expected; it caused the veneer to warp slightly. This wasn't a problem where it was glued down, but the small rectangular area for the display ended up slightly indented. Eventually it flattened out a little bit, so it's not too noticeable anymore, but it's still not nice and flat like I was going for. Regardless, I think it turned out pretty nice.
Step 5: Assembly
With the box completed, the clock can be inserted from the bottom, and fits nicely into the designed-to-fit faceplate. To keep the clock pressed up against the faceplate, I put a piece of foam in behind the clock. This will keep it from moving, but will also allow easy removal if necessary.
The power jack was mounted in the hole in the back, and all that was left was to plug it in and set the time.
Step 6: Done!
Sit back and enjoy the warm glow of your back-lit maple wood clock.