Introduction: Wooden Faced Wristwatch

I have a thing for watches, and nicely figured wood, sadly I've only been able to find a couple of wood based watches. It sounded like a lovely weekend project to fab up a new face for a regular watch, so I went for it.

Flickr set of the whole process

You'll need:
a) Some wood stock with a figure that you like. I went with Cocobolo from InternetLumber, their samples are dirt cheap and the perfect size for this project.

b) A donor watch to mercilessly shred to pieces. A bigger face certainly helps to show off your work later, so keep this in mind when shopping. I would also tip any watch you are considering to use at an angle and make sure there is a little room between the hands an the face (the less space now, the more sanding later to make everything fit back together). I settled on a Zane from Fossil.

c) A few common and specialized tools. Outlined within, don't worry, you can fake most of the uncommon tools.

Step 1: A Bit of Prep Work

First a little shopping list:

Things you'll need to buy/dig out of your junk drawer
  • Base watch (see intro for my source)
  • Wood stock - 2"x2" (see intro for my source)
  • Sandpaper (100, 200, 400, 800 grits)
  • Masking tape
  • Spray high gloss lacquer
  • Fine toothed saw
  • Double sided tape
  • Cardstock for face template
  • Clean work surface with a bright light so you can track down tiny piece when then spring from your hands and clatter to your bench

Specialty tools you can fake
  • .75mm center punch I chocked a hardened nail up in my drillpress - read: ghetto lathe - and filed it to size
  • Watch hand setting tool Taking the guts out of a mechanical pencil and sanding the lead guide off the tip will open a hole the perfect size
  • Movement pad A soda bottle cap with a hole drilled in it served well enough for me, but something with a little more grip would be ideal

Specialty tools you are better off buying
Disclaimer - There are easily sourced 'proper' tools for everything listed above, but in the spirit of DIY I picked the roll your own route. Just keep in mind that your cobbled together toolkit has a higher than average chance of causing a little damage to your work in progress. I narrowly missed putting deep gouges into the finish of my more than once of twice when a tool slipped

Rough Prep
I couldn't find a saw with fine teeth or most of the sandpaper I would need, so I ran out to Home Depot. The sandpaper was no problem, but they didn't have a saw at a price I was willing to pay, then I remembered that they had a station set up for people to cut their own molding. A few minutes and improvised jigs later I had my stock cut to rough size.

Step 2: Disassembly

Taking the band apart(photos 1 & 2)
On the inside of your watch band some of the links should be marked with a directional arrow. Pick the links closet to the face with these markings and use your center punch and 'bench rest' to drive out the link pins in the direction of the arrows.

Removing the back of the case
If the back of your watch has slots cut into it at regular intervals you have a screw off backer and will need some extra tools or a trip to a jeweler to get the sucker open. Check for tools and some more info at the Poor Man's Watch Forum Mine was, thankfully, a snap off back so those are the details I can outline.

Take either a fine screwdriver or dull knife blade and insert it either in between the case and backer (in the opening slot, if you have one). Then its just a matter of twisting the blade towards the watch face to remove the back (think shucking an oyster).

Taking out the movement(photos 3 & 4)
First we need to remove the stem to free the guts. There are two types of connecting systems between stems and movements, pushers and screws, again reference Poor Man's if you are unsure which you have.

I have a pusher style, so take a dull pin and press down in the release hole (dark hole to the left of the stem in photo 3) while pulling gently on the stem. You may have to pull a little harder than you think, but you only have to press in with the pin gently to release. With the stem out, the movement, face and any spacers should come out freely.

Removing the hands
Follow the manufacturer's directions on your tool to remove the hands from face. Start with the outermost hand first (second) and work towards the face (hour).

About face
The final step of disassembly is to remove the old face from the movement. Mine was held on with two tiny friction-fit pins pressing into the movement. I slid the thinnest knife blade I had on hand inbeween the back of the face and front of the movement and they parted ways easily.

Once the face is off, you need to be VERY careful to not rough up the movement too much. There is a good chance that one or more of the drive gears where being held in place by the face. They will now actively try to escape.

Paranoia (optional step)(photos 8 & 9)
Since I had little faith in my ability to take apart the movement and get it back together in working order, I decided to reattach the minute hand and let it run for a few minutes to make sure everything still worked. Thankfully, it did.

Step 3: I Hope You Like Sanding

The time consuming part
Now that you have the face off you can see what you are really up against. Since the goal is to replace the stock watch face with a new wooden one, the face you make will have to be as close in spec to the original one as possible. In my case, that meant I had to take my wood stock down to a little under 1mm in thickness.

You can go a little thicker if you want, but make sure you do a good deal of dry fitting along the way to make sure that the hour gear in your movement will extend past the thickness of the wood so you can reattach the hands later (see photo 5 for diagram of the hour gear).

This process will take longer than you think it will, and thats ok. Go slow or you run a real chance of raising the grain on your wood and having to start over. Periodically you can take a look at how the grain of the wood is coming through by wiping the sawdust away with a moist cloth (or a little spit on your thumb), try to avoid getting the wood too wet though as this will also work against you in raising the grain.

Once you get the piece down to size and run through all grits up to 800 (almost all of the sanding lines were gone by the time I moved to 400 grit), its time for a finish. I went with a high gloss lacquer in a rattlecan and made 7 or 8 light passes to build up a nice deep shine (and to glue the fibers back together since the wood itself was getting a little thin for my comfort).

Step 4: Fitting the Face

Admiring your work (in progress)(photos 1 & 2)
Now that you have the wood to the right thickness, its time to find exactly where your face will come from on the stock. Since I am indecisive and finicky, I went through the last step with two different types of wood (Chocobolo and Lacewood), just so I could make the final choice when I saw everything together.

Measure twice (or three times), cut once(photos 3 - 5)
Make a template from the old face out of cardstock, transfer it to your face and cut slowly around the outline. I brought it within about 3mm and hand sanded to get a snug fit inside of the case.

Once you are happy with the fit, find the center of the new face and drill a hole just large enough for the hour gear to protrude through.

Step 5: Final Assembly

Attaching the face(photos 1 & 2)
Since I made two different faces, I knew at some point I would want to swap them up, so I went with heavy duty double sided tape to attach the movement to the face. It may not sound like it is strong enough, but in my case there was also an internal plastic spacer to provide most of the support. Double check that when you attach the tape to the movement that you aren't restricting movement of any of the internals.

Just line everything up very carefully to ensure that 12 noon remains in a true vertical and press the face into place.

Second hands are for quitters(photos 3 & 4)
I've never been a fan of second hands, so I elected to leave mine off during reassembly. When you put the hands back on, do it so the watch reads 12:00, this will ensure that the hands pass the proper marks at the right time.

Using the hollow part of the hand setter (pencil) to press the hands firmly in place starting from the face and working out. Make sure each hand is on level before adding the next one, or else there is a good chance that they will bind up on each other while sweeping the dial.

Just in case(photo 5)
Closing up the case should be a simple matter of placing the new movement/face assembly back into the case (along with any spacers), sliding the stem back in place (my pusher type one just clicks back with a little pressure) and snapping the back of the case on. It takes a little finagling to get tabs on the back to hold in place, but that satisfying "snap" that follows lets you know you are on the homestretch.

The only thing left now is to put the band back together by driving the pins gently back into place.

Step 6: Strut

Go on, you've earned it