Introduction: Retro Inspired Phone Dock

Hello all, and welcome to my first instructable. I have been singing the praises of this site to anyone who ever had a question about anything remotely DIY for a long time, so I though it was time to contribute.

I built one of these a little while ago. I had found an alarm clock app for my phone but it was still quite useless if I had to pick up the phone every time to see what time it was. In the end I wound up with a way to keep my phone charging overnight and also a way to see the time at a quick glance on those days when I wake up before the alarm and begging for 5 more minutes. I was pretty pleased with the results. I have since gotten a new phone with different dimensions and figured it was finally time to build a new one.

Note - The tools I use are professional woodworking tools. I realize not all of you have access to tools like this. Fear not! Provided that you can buy pre-dimensioned lumber, this project can be built with a jigsaw, a circular saw and some sandpaper.

As this is my first instructable, I am entering it in the first time authors contest. I hope that after reading this, I will have earned your vote! With that lets get started.

Step 1: Tools and Materials


  • Wood that is 8/4 (2") thick and at least 5" wide (That should be enough to cover most phones). Woodworkers, this a great project to use up some of those scrap ends you may have laying around. Since it is a project for scrap wood your length may vary, just make sure it is long enough for your planer. I myself used some cherry, about 16" long
  • a scrap of MDF at least as wide and as long as your lumber
  • White glue
  • Your favorite clear finish. I mixed up a wiping varnish for which I will give the recipe later.


  • 6" Ruler
  • Sliding T square (helpful, but not really required)
  • Engineer's square
  • Calipers (again, helpful, but not a deal breaker if you don't have them)
  • Jointer
  • Planer
  • Tablesaw
  • Bandsaw
  • Router with table
  • Sander
  • Clamps

I would be remiss if I did not mention safety at this point. I know you have heard it countless times before, but these are the big kid tools. They don't care and they don't mess around. I had an accident on a tablesaw and I consider myself EXTREMELY lucky, as the injury could have been much worse! If you pay attention to my thumb in some of the images you can see what I am talking about. Please use caution and common sense when using these tools! You don't get a do-over and the rehabilitation process sucks!

Step 2: Making a Template

You can certainly do this project without a template, and if you do not have a router you will not need one. But it is quicker and easier, and in my opinion yields the best results.

The first thing you have to do is measure your phone. I have a case on my phone that made using my ruler slightly less accurate than I like so I elected to use calipers. I measured the width and the height as well as the thickness of my phone, case included.

Next on the scrap of MDF, I drew a line that was 3/4" from the bottom edge. Then making sure I had some extra space I drew a vertical line 90° to it. I laid my phone on the MDF, lined it up with these marks and traced the rounded corner. Using a ruler, and a bit of guessing, I figured out that the radius was 5/8", which meant I needed to drill a 1 1/4" hole to get that sweep. I drilled out that hole at the drill press using an 1 1/4" forstner bit.

Then over at the tablesaw i used a crosscut fence to cut my vertical line, stopping just as the blade came through the hole. I then set my fence and cut the horizontal line, stopping it in the same way. I had my blade set to the maximum height for this so that my stopped cuts didn't go further than they needed to.

That is the template done. It looks a little rough on the inside but there is enough meat for the bearing of a router bit to ride on. Put the template aside for now.

Step 3: Dress Your Lumber

Note - If you are using pre-dressed lumber you can go ahead and skip to step 5.

Woodworking relies heavily on flat faces and 90° corners. The jointer is the machine that will give us this.

First, check to see that the fence of the machine is 90° to the bed. Next check your lumber to see if it is reasonably flat and stable on the bed of the jointer. Oftentimes, pieces are slightly warped. If this is the case, then select the face that is the most stable. Set the depth of cut to 1/32" and run the face of your lumber through. If there are areas that are still rough, go ahead and pass it again.

Once the face is flat and smooth we need to joint and edge. Turn the lumber on its side and using firm pressure push the freshly jointed face against the fence. Run the piece through. You should now have a flat face and a flat edge and a perfect 90° corner. Check to see that it is 90° using an engineer's square.

Next we will go over to the tablesaw and rip the lumber parallel. Set the height of you blade so that just the teeth protrude over the thickness of your stock. Set the fence so that you are only taking 1/16" off your width. Flat face down and flat edge against the fence, run your piece through (sometimes you need to do this more than once, readjusting the fence as you go). You should now have a piece of lumber that has two parallel sides.

Step 4: Resawing Your Lumber.

Re-sawing lumber is generally done at the band saw but that can take a while and unless you have a good blade it is never as accurate as you would hope. The solution it to remove the bulk of the material at the tablesaw.

I started off by setting my fence to 1 1/8". Next I set the blade height to 1". This sort of thing is better to do in multiple passes as it is safer and easier on the blade and offers more control.

Stand the piece up on its edge and flat face against the fence. Run the piece through the blade. Flip it end over end and run it through again. Raise the blade another inch and repeat. In the end you want to be left with a half inch or so strip that is still intact. It is at this point that i drew a couple of lines across the end of my piece. I should have done this before, but forgot. These marks will let you know which ends match up together.

At the band saw, cut through the remaining half inch, keeping the blade inside the kerf made by the tablesaw blade. You should now have two pieces of wood, one thicker than the other.

My thicker piece already had a flat face so I just passed it through the planer to clean up the marks from re-sawing. The final thickness is not super important, as it is really up to you how bulky or sleek you like your design, but i would not go thinner than 7/8" or else it may not be stable enough to stand. I left mine at about 1"

The thinner piece needs to be jointed first. Run the freshly sawed face over the jointer a couple of times until it is flat. Then you can plane it to final thickness. The measurement for your final size is dependent on how thick your phone is. Mine was roughly 9/16" so i planed my piece down to 5/8".

Step 5: Cutting Space for Your Phone.

Next we will cut out the space for the phone. You will need the template we made earlier. If you are one of the folks without a router, you can do this with a jigsaw or band saw and some sandpaper to refine the fit.

Place the template on the thinner piece of wood and line up the bottom edges and the edges on the right. Trace your shape with a pencil. Go over to the bandsaw and cut it out leaving an 1/8" or so extra.

Stick the template to the piece of wood using some double sided tape. Take care to make sure your edges are nicely aligned.

Using a pattern bit in your router set the height so that the bearing rides in the cleanest part of the template. Taking light passes, route away the material until it is all gone and the bearing rides unobstructed around the entire pattern. Light passes will help to avoid burning, especially on the end grain. The thinner section can be tricky to hold safely. A bird's mouth style push stick (pictured above) comes in mighty handy.

Got a router but no router table? Me neither. No problem! Affix the router to a piece of scrap and plunge the bit through to the other side. Turn it over and clamp the scrap to your work surface and bam! instant router table. I wouldn't want to use this set up forever, but works well for small projects like this. Just be certain it is securely mounted!

Step 6: Cutting a Path for Your Charging Cable

So this wouldn't be much of a charging station without a place for your cable, so we are tackling that next. This step also involves the use of a router, but all you non router people, a good SHARP chisel should do you nicely.

Place your phone in the space we just cut out and using a pencil, make a couple of marks where the charging port is. It is ok to go a little bigger.

Measure from the bottom edge to each line. We will use these measurements to set our fence. My measurements ended up being 2" from the bottom and just over 3" from the bottom. I decided on making a 1-1/8" wide grove.

So first things first: I chucked a 3/4 straight cut bit into my router. I then set my fence (a straight, smooth piece of mdf) so that is was 3 1/8" to the outside of my bit. I then used a small scrap of 1/2" mdf as a spacer and double checked that this give me a gap of 2" between my fence and the inside of my router bit. This setup makes it possible to run the piece twice to get my 1 1/8" groove without having to move the fence. Next, I butted the piece up against the fence and the bit. On the end I measured out 2 1/2" and screwed down a stop block. This makes sure I stop the piece accurately each time. Lastly I set the height of the bit to 3/16". My final height will be 3/8" but i decided to do it in two passes.

Turn on the router and run the piece until you hit the stop block. Turn off the router and wait till the bit stops spinning. Remove the spacer and run it again until you hit the stop block. Turn off the router. Once the bit stops spinning raise the height to your final depth of cut. Run the piece again, with and without the spacer. That is the thin piece done.

Place your two pieces together and transcribe the lines from the thin piece to the thick one. Using a sliding T- square extend those lines. Then draw one in the exact center between those two lines. I was using an 1 1/4" forstner bit for the next step so i drew line 5/8" + 1/4" from the edge. The 1/4" is so that the hole is somewhat hidden when it is all together.

At the drill press i used those center lines to drill the first hole. I then moved the piece over slightly and drilled another hole that was partially staggered with the previous one. This next step is purely optional but i happened to have the tool. I place the piece on my oscillating spindle sander and smoothed the two holes into a slot. That is the thick piece finished.

Step 7: Glue Up

We are in the home stretch! The next step is to glue it all back together. If you are lucky (a darker wood helps), you won't be able to tell that it was ever cut in half to begin with. It's fun when people have to scratch their heads a bit to figure out how you did something.

It is at this point that you will want to sand some pieces that will be difficult to reach later. Namely the good edge of your thick piece and the phone edge of your thin piece. I sanded with 120 grit using a machine wherever i could and 150 grit by hand. It was also at this stage that I chose to carve out a little notch to accommodate a button on the side of my phone.

Once you are done sanding, place the pieces together and scribe an extremely light line on the thick piece. This will help you know where to spread your glue and won't be seen in the final product.

Now just lay out your pieces and spread a thin layer of white glue. Stick the pieces together and add as many clamps as you can fit. Make sure not to over-tighten them or you may leave pock marks in your piece. This glue-up can be temperamental. The glue will make the pieces want to slide around. In order to combat this I left my piece extra long. After i had the glue on and everything lined up, I fired two brad nails into the end that I knew was going to be cut off so that the pieces wouldn't slide. I then applied my clamps. If you don't have a brad nailer you can achieve the same thing using a couple of screws. Pre drill and place in the the screws before you add the glue, that will help guide the screws back in place after the glue has been applied.

Using a damp rag, or possibly even a toothbrush and water, clean up all of your squeeze out. I usually do not clean up the squeeze out where the phone will sit. Using the damp cloth method runs the risk of pushing glue into the grain of the wood which will show up in finishing if not properly sanded out. I pre-sanded because it is difficult to get sandpaper in there without leaving unwanted crossgrain sanding mark. Instead i chose to let it dry and then cut it out with a good sharp chisel.

Let it dry for at least an hour, but overnight is best.

Step 8: Cleanup and Cutting to Final Size.

Once the glue has dried, you can remove the clamps. Generally, try as you might, the pieces will slip a touch out of line. One quick, shallow pass on the bottom edge should get it nice and flat again. You will then want to chisel, scrape or sand any glue residue in the spot where your phone will sit.

Next we will cut it to final size. Using the measurements of the width and height of your phone give yourself some lines to follow. At the table saw rip your top edge first. Sneak up on the line if you have to by taking a test cut first and then slowly readjusting your fence until it is perfect. Then do the same with the crosscut cut, using a crosscut guide.

Now we need to decide final size. It can be as long or as short as you like, but you have to make it at least 1/4" wider than the length of the groove you cut for your charging cable. I made mine 4", i like the slight bit of asymmetry it gives.

That is the basics of it. If you like things a bit more modern, you are pretty much there.You can skip the next step and go straight to finishing. If you want to add the retro flair, click on to the next step.

Step 9: Adding the Retro Flair

Nothing against all you lovely people who like clean modern lines, but i hate 'em! One well placed curve can definitely change the tone of the piece for the better and this one is mine.

It is really quite simple. I use a roll of masking tape to give myself a guideline on the top edge. Then i cut out the shape on the bandsaw, staying proud of the line. Then using a palm sander, I sanded it until it was smooth and even. I also eased a few of the corners to make it more interesting and to match the style of the phone.

Next is the grooves. Fair warning, it looks and sounds a bit sketchy but is actually quite easy and safe due to the minimal height of the blade. If, however, you look at my technique and you say " are crazy!", then DO NOT try it. If you are nervous you could at least ruin your piece and at worst cut yourself. Please refer to the gif for a visualization. Here we go.

Decide where you want your grooves to start. I decided that i didn't want them running at the bottom at all so i started them 1 1/4 from the bottom. Set you fence to this measurement and the height of your blade to 1/8". Standing the piece up on end and keeping light pressure to keep the bottom edge against the fence, push the piece until you engage the blade. Begin rolling the piece toward you, following the curve we made until it is flat against the table. push it through to complete your cut. Check your groove. If it is a bit choppy you can run it through again until it is smooth and even all the way around. Once you are happy with it, move your fence a quarter inch to the right (1 1/2") This leaves a 1/8" gap and cuts another 1/8" groove. As long as you keep moving the fence 1/4" at a time your spacing should be uniform. Cut as many grooves as you like. I chose to do it with a bit of asymmetry again and i only did 5. On my older one i did many more.

That's it. That is the retro flair. Really changes it up, no?

Step 10: Finishing

This next bit should have been in a previous step but i am putting it here in case anyone did skip the retro part. We need to make one final cut; a tapered cut on the bottom so that our clock sits slightly back (the retro part would not have been possible with this taper already cut). I will save you some trouble of trial and error and tell you that an 8° angle seems to be right in the sweet spot. Tilt the blade on your table saw and run the piece through so that you are tapering the bottom. Again, it is best to do this in a couple of passes so that you can sneak up on the edge and get a good clean cut. If you have been following along so far, making due with a chopsaw or a circular saw, I would suggest doing this part with a hand plane. You should be able to get a nice taper in fewer strokes than you would think.

OK! Finishing! I sanded my piece using 120 grit on a palm sander to remove any machine marks from the tablesaw or the planer and then 150 grit by hand.

For the actual finish you can use anything you like, or have on hand. There are a variety of oils, and clear finishes available to you. I mixed up what i call 333. It is usually known as the Krenov finish or a cabinet maker's finish. I was taught to make it using 3 parts each of the 3 ingredients, hence my name for it. All you need is some oil based varnish, some varsol and some boiled linseed oil. The easiest was to do this, in my opinion, is to get an 8 oz can of varnish and an empty quart can. Open the varnish, stir it up and dump it in the quart can. Next fill the 8 oz can with varsol and add it to the quart can, and lastly do it again with the boiled linseed oil. Stir to combine and you are done. It can be applied with a brush but i like to wipe it on. It offers the beauty and feel of an oiled piece, but the varnish offers some protection as well.

Apply a coat of finish and let it dry (the 333 was pretty quick in the warm weather, about 5 minutes). Using some 320 grit sandpaper scuff and smooth the surface. Add coats until you are happy with the result, 2-3 should be plenty.

Step 11: Enjoy!

I like this project as an entry level woodworking project. It teaches a lot of basics and there are a myriad of ways it can be customized to suit people's tastes. I decided to try my hand at a solvent transfer. In a nod to the Simpsons, I designed a Radiation King logo. It didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped because the solvent was messing with my finish. However, I like it, it lends some vintage value. If you decide to give it a shot, I would say to do it on the bare wood.

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and that I have earned your vote. Any comments or questions are welcome. Thanks for reading!

First Time Author Contest 2016

Participated in the
First Time Author Contest 2016