Introduction: Mantel Clock Case

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first to…

I wanted to make a mantel clock with a battery powered movement I found on-line. The seller of the movement offers pre-sanded mantel clock cases ready for final sanding and finishing, clock kits, and plans for mantel clock cases. I decided to make my own. This Instructable is for anyone who wishes to make a similar mantel clock. This Instructable offers measurements I have already worked out. Make any changes you want in molding profiles.

Mantel clocks vary quite a lot in style. Mine is similar to some popular traditional clock styles, but still differs from them because of what tools I have available in my workshop.I looked at the images section in my browser, at Amazon, and on eBay to see what is available, both currently and historically.


  • 3/4 inch black walnut (or any wood you choose)
  • Window glass
  • Lag/machine screw hangers (3/16 inch for #10 - 24 nuts) and hex or wing nuts, washers
  • 5/16 inch dowel
  • Glue
  • Finishing supplies (varnish, sandpaper, steel wool, etc.)
  • Window glass


  • Table saw
  • Sanding drum and table for thicknessing*
  • Belt sander
  • Router and various bits (cove, round over, 1/8 inch straight,
  • Router table
  • Drill and bits
  • 90 degree corner form
  • C clamps, corner clamp, bar clamps
  • 1/8 inch bar aluminum (small piece for aligning pieces)
  • Vise-Grip pliers
  • Glass cutter

*In the USA both Lowe's and Home Depot sell planed hobby wood 1/2 inch in thickness in oak and poplar. Various widths up to six inches are offered in lengths of 3 feet. It would be possible to make a clock case with two or three pieces. Where extra thickness is needed, stack two or three pieces, according to your own design. Critical dimensions I offer would still work. You could also purchase wood from Woodcrafters or Rockler, either on-line or in a local store.

Also, if you do not have a router, router table, or the bits you need; you can buy many pre-made moldings in different woods. Just cut these and glue to the edges of your wood like edge banding. Modify the design as needed to make what you do look good to you and to others.

Step 1: The Clock Movement

This is a battery operated skeleton clock movement. The gears actually work and are part of the time keeping mechanism. It will be important to keep dust from getting into them. The clock case will have a front and back glass panel. The price for this movement is about $30 US delivered within the United States.

As noted in the link above, the dial is 4 7/8 inches in diameter. The movement stands 5 5/8 inches high. The pedestals have an additional portion 1/4 inch high that sits in a hole drilled into the wooden base under the movement.

The movement runs on one AA battery. (I have ordered three of these movements. The first one keeps accurate time. The second and third movements both ran slow. I contacted Klockit when the second ran slow and lost considerable time. Klockit said to loosen the nut on the minute hand a quarter turn. It made no difference on that movement and Klockit is replacing it at no cost. The third movement also ran too slow out of the box. I loosened the nut and it ran a bit fast. I tightened the nut just a little and now it keeps good time.)

If you would like to see other skeleton clock options, click here.

Step 2: Make Two Sides

The sides will stand vertically. All parts are from 3/4 inch stock.* You may use any wood you choose. I have some black walnut pieces I have been keeping for years. I need to use them for some projects, and this is a good one.

The two sides are 2 5/8 inches by 6 1/4 inches. Cut a little larger so you can sand away saw marks and true the pieces as needed.

Later I will need to make some grooves in these to accommodate glass to keep dust out of the clock movement.

*As mentioned in the Introduction, it would be possible to use oak or poplar hobby wood from Lowe's or Home Depot, or to buy a nice wood for your clock. Buying wood already planed saves a lot of work. See the note and links in the Introduction.

Step 3: Make a Top and a Bottom

The top and bottom each are 3 5/8 inches by 8 1/8 inches.

The bottom has rounded upper edges. The top has rounded upper and lower edges. See the second photo. The router bit spins counter-clockwise. If I simply began routing on the far end and feeding the wood into the bit, I would likely chip out the trailing corner on each side, especially on the cross grain ends. Gently kiss the spinning router bit multiple times to rout in from the "wrong" side to remove parts that might chip away. See the text boxes.

Be careful that the router bit does not cut too deeply and make lines difficult to remove. Still, there will likely be some faint lines in some places. Sand these away with fine sandpaper.

The left piece in the first photo is the base or bottom piece. The clock mounting holes are 2 23/32 inch apart on center, but compare against the pedestals on the clock movement. See the third and fourth photos. Although the recommended hole is to be 3/32 inch, I found it better to make those holes 7/64 inch. The screws fit better. (Although I was very, very careful; one of my two holes was out of line with the other just a little. The dial did not appear to be parallel to the sides of the wooden base. I was able to make the mounting holes a little oval shaped and make it look straight.

See the fourth image for details on the holes. The "A" portion shows one of the holes 7/64 inch in diameter. The "B" portion shows the next part of the drilling process. The solid green portion is 9/64 inch in diameter and 9/32 inch deep. In the "C" portion the solid green area is just a little larger in diameter than the heads of the supplied brass screws and deep enough that a sufficient amount of screw thread is available in the solid green area from the "B" portion of the image. How deep to drill the "C" hole depends on the actual thickness of the wood you use.

Step 4: Make the Upper Top

This piece is decorative. It is 2 5/8 inches by 7 1/8 inches. The upper edge is a Roman Ogee with a bead.

Step 5: Make Base Pieces

The base molding pieces I used are 3/4 inch thick and 1 1/4 inches wide. The shorter pieces are 5 11/16 inches long. Make two. The longer pieces are 10 3/16 inches long each. Make two.

The profile on the molding is a Roman Ogee with a bead. I do not have a Roman Ogee bit that large. I made my Roman Ogee profile by using two bits to make two separate cuts. One was made with a cove bit (second photo) cutting into the edge of the board while the board rode against a tall fence. Many shallow cuts were involved. Then I used a round over beading bit with the board top side down. See the third photo. When I was finished I had a surprisingly nice Roman Ogee with a bead. See the fourth photo for a silhouette of the finished profile. Finally, I sawed the molding away from the board.

Step 6: Make Recesses for the Glass in the Sides

I used a 1/8 inch router bit on my router table to make recesses in the sides for the front and back glass. The distance between the inner edges of the slots needs to be almost exactly 2 inches.

Step 7: Drill for Dowels

The sides will be pegged to the lower top piece at a 90 degree angle using 5/16 inch dowels. Position a side 1/2 inch from the end of the lower top piece and 1/2 inch inward from both the front and back edges of the lower top piece.

I have a 90 degree fixture I made for situations like this. It will hold the sides at a right angle to the lower top piece for drilling to fit dowels. I was very careful to make the bit go down through the vertical side and not too close to a side surface, lest the bit exit the wood and ruin a nice piece of wood. I made holes for two dowels. I did not measure carefully to position them. That means the holes are asymmetrical and the pieces will fit only one way. It was a way of making certain the right piece gets back to the right position later.

See the second photo with dowels in place, but without glue at this point. The second side will be attached with dowels after recesses have been made for the glass. The second side will need to be aligned with the recesses before drilling for dowels. Step 10 gives details on doing that easily.

Step 8: Mark the Underside of the Larger Top Piece

The slots in the sides are used to mark the underside of the lower top piece for cutting recesses for the glass.

I held a side in place and positioned it 1/2 inch in from the front and back edges as well as from the end edge of the upper top piece. I marked a reference line across the upper top piece with a square and a pencil.

I used a drill with a 1/8 inch bit to mark the position of the recess. This works well if the end does not move in the slightest in the process. It is perhaps safer to mark the position of the recesses with pencil marks. Then carefully drill a shallow 1/8 inch hole

Step 9: Rout the First Recess

Turn the lower top piece so the 1/8 inch holes are facing downward. Catch the 1/8 inch router bit with the 1/8 inch hole nearer the fence. (It is tedious and requires a couple of attempts.) Bring the fence snugly against the edge of the lower top piece and lock it down. Set stops so the recess will be long enough, but short enough that it does not show beyond the outer surface of the sides. Cut the first recess so it is at least 1/8 inch deep.

Do not simply flip the lower top side-for-side and rout the second recess. The location of the recesses is not likely to be exactly symmetrical. Rather, drop the other 1/8 inch hole over the router bit and set the fence in place. Cut the second recess.

Step 10: Prepare to Drill for Dowels

I used a piece of 1/8 inch aluminum bar in the recesses to align the second side with the lower top while clamping to the 90 degree fixture. Check everything for square front to back and side to side. Drill for two dowels as earlier.

Step 11: Drill for a Hanger

If you are not sure what a hanger is, see the photo. It has lag threads on one end and machine screw threads on the other end. The hangers will allow the bottom to be removed while the clock is inverted. Then the bottom can be pulled out of the clock case for changing the battery or resetting the time shown by the clock.

Loosen the clamps. Drill a larger hole for the screw threads so they will pass easily.

I drilled freehand through both the bottom and into the side for installing the first hanger. Next time I will drill a guide hole in a block of 2 x 4 for more consistency. Use a Vise-Grip to turn the lag end of the hanger into the side piece.

You can see the hangers in place by looking at the photo in step 13.

Step 12: Drill for the Second Hanger

Position clamps so the two sides are parallel. I measured the space between the sides at the lower top piece. Then I clamped the sides so their spacing at the bottom piece is the same. Notice that a piece of 1/8 inch aluminum bar aligns the recesses before drilling so the glass will fit in the recesses afterward.

Step 13: Cut and Fit Glass

I got my first glass cutter when I was in junior high school. But, I never could make it work. All of these years later, I finally learned how to do it.

Gently clamp down a straight edge. Do not make it so tight that the glass cracks. Score the glass once with the glass cutter. Be sure to keep the glass cutter against the straight edge while scoring the glass.

Remove the straight edge. Turn the glass over. (That is what made glass cutting finally work for me.) Use the ball on the end of the glass cutter to tap along the scored line from the back side. Tap hard enough that fissures begin to appear.

An abrasive wheel on a grinder can be used to remove small amounts of glass or to smooth edges so no one is cut later. Touch the spinning wheel very lightly. To avoid edge chipping, grind in line with the edge of the glass. Work gloves and safety glasses are good precautions.

In the photo I have cut the glass to width, but not to length.

Step 14: Prepare the Base

Fit the pieces of the base and check the miters. Just to be sure, I used what I published in this Instructable about taking out minor variations in miters.

Glue the pieces together so the final assembly is flat on a table top and the whole assembly is square.. Remove any excess glue. Sand smooth.

Step 15: Preparing to Glue

On this project I used some black walnut I acquired over the years. Some of those pieces are warped and twisted. I do not have a planer for surfacing lumber.

See the first photo. A project that uses short pieces, like this project, means warps and twists are not quite as big a problem as would otherwise be the case. Still, pieces need to fit reasonably well, and that means flattening them. Place a part on a flat surface. In the photo the upper top piece is on the lower top piece. Place a light pressure on alternate corners. If you can feel some rocking, something is not flat.

See the second photo. I clamped a piece of wood on a work table to act as a stop so my belt sander cannot throw the piece of wood. It is fairly easy to get an idea of which corners are too high. I began sanding the piece flat.

When I was sure my piece was close to flat, I placed a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface and pushed the surface I wanted to flatten over it. Go back to the first photo to check your progress. Or, make zig-zag marks across the face of the piece with a pencil. Sand a little and see where the pencil marks remain. Those are the low spots.

If thicknessing is necessary, see steps 2 and 3 of this Instructable where I used a sanding drum and a small table on my radial arm saw.

Step 16: Glue Parts

The first photo shows the base and the bottom piece (to which the clock movement mounts) clamped together so glue can dry. Before the glue was totally dry I removed the clamps and scraped away glue marks with a sharp chisel.

The second photo shows one of the sides with glue applied and ready to be pushed into place. I removed one side at a time and one dowel at a time. My dowels are not uniform in length and the holes are not symmetrical. Preparing each dowel one at a time helps insure the parts go back together right where they belong. I cut glue slots in the dowels by hand with a vise and a fine tooth saw. Scrape glue from the parts before it has hardened.

To change the batteries or adjust the time, turn the clock over and remove the 10-24 machine screw nuts from the hangers. Lift the base and the clock movement out of the top portion of the case.

I purposely drilled the base holes for the hangers so they are not symmetrical. That means the base and movement can only fit into the rest of the case in one way, if the pieces of glass are to align with their recesses.

Finish--The finish you use will depend on the wood you use and the effect you want. I have been looking at videos on YouTube. One I like involves a four step process: dye, sand and seal, stain, and coats of lacquer.