Wood Block LED Clock

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About: Geek, Developer, Maker, Tinkerer, Dad

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.

Power

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.

Reprogramming

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.

Leftovers Challenge

Runner Up in the
Leftovers Challenge

Make It Glow! Contest

Runner Up in the
Make It Glow! Contest

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    35 Discussions

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    Fathomlis

    2 years ago

    !!!. Love this! Awesome clock!

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    JasonR23

    2 years ago

    Awesome instructable. This would be a perfect gift for my fathers new log cabin. One question. Do you know the thickness of the veneer? I started shopping and found that they come in many thicknesses. I dont want to go any thicker than yours to keep the light diffused as little as possible. Thanks for the instructable. I cant wait to start it.

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    benbrandt22JasonR23

    Reply 2 years ago

    My veneer was roughly 0.020" thick. I got a small 3-square-foot hobby pack of maple veneer from my local Rockler store. It was this brand: http://sveneers.com/hobby-packs/

    If you can shop in a retail store (versus online), bring a small LED keychain flashlight and you can shine it through the product to get a better feel for how light passes through it.

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    ethicaloffence

    2 years ago

    This looks awesome. Problem is my wife is not a fan of unpainted wood. So if I had to try something like this it would have to get a coat of paint. Would I still get the effect of the LED shining through?

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    benbrandt22ethicaloffence

    Reply 2 years ago

    You might have better luck with stain, or using veneer made from different-colored woods (walnut, etc)

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    benbrandt22ethicaloffence

    Reply 2 years ago

    My suspicion is that the paint wouldn't let as much light through. You'd have to experiment before building to be sure. Though if you leave it unpainted, nobody says you have to keep it where your wife would use it... I keep mine on my desk at work, mainly to keep it safe from my small children.

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    ILykMakin

    2 years ago

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Shortcut:

    Block of wood. Shave 1/8" off "back". Route to within 1/8" of face. Put LED display against that surface-run jumpers if LED is attached to board. Put guts of clock in a shallower recess.

    Glue 1/8" piece to back.

    done.

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    Blue Wren

    2 years ago

    I love this. I live in a mountain cabin and this clock would look perfect beside the bed. I'm a woodworker and so building the box would be no issue...no so sure about the clock part, though.

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    schabanow

    2 years ago

    Cooool minimalism... Love it. Thank you for idea! Cheers!

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    benbrandt22schabanow

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you, I'm a big fan of the minimalist look as well.

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    bigbigdave

    2 years ago

    Very cool! That gets the wheels turning in my brain...

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    BikeHacker

    2 years ago

    I love the simple design. I think I'll make this soon!

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    2097742

    2 years ago

    I didn't make the clock but on the picture it is awesome!!!?

    1 reply