In End Grain

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A lifelong dream of woodworking comes to fruition.

I stared up at the silent giant, standing twice as tall as me – polished wood, crystal-clear glass, full of brass gears and weights that seemed like gold to my young eyes. I was waiting for the top of the hour, when this sleeping giant, quiet other than the steady tick of its heartbeat, would come to life and fill the house with a cacophony of chimes and bells before returning again to its dormant state.

My fascination with grandfather clocks began at an early age. Once a month, regular as clockwork (pun intended), we would visit my grandfather’s house. These visits were almost ritualistic in nature. We would always arrive at about 11 a.m. My father and grandfather would spend time talking about Formula 1 racing, the current political issues and the latest records that my grandfather had bought. Grandfather was a stereo junkie and always seemed to have some new device every time we visited.

My brother and I had our own routine: A one-mile walk to the store with a few shillings (yes, this was back in England, long before “new pence” and the Euro) in our pockets for sweets, walking my grandmother’s dog, and with instructions to buy a block of ice cream for dessert. Of course, we had to run to get back before it melted.

Dinner was always midday on those Sundays and we had high tea in the early evening before being bundled into the back of the car to sleep on the journey home.

The highlight of the day for me was the visit to the neighbor’s house. The first visit was with my grandmother to deliver some flowers to Mrs. Wilson and it was then that I met this giant. I was totally fascinated by it; my grandmother eventually had to drag me away. The image of this wood and glass sentinel filled my head until the next visit.

Each visit after that, I would make an excuse to go next door. My grandmother would check her watch (inevitably it was five minutes or so before the top of the hour), smile and nod her approval. When Mrs. Wilson answered my knock on her door, she would check her watch, smile and invite me in, knowing exactly why I was there. After watching her clock perform its hourly duties, I would return, happy, to grandmother’s house.

Later, in high school, I had the chance to take a woodwork class once a week. We didn’t have the opportunity or the time to make anything too complex, but I remember clearly while I was using the hand and power tools, I was constantly thinking about how each of them would be used to make the parts for a grandfather clock.

College, marriage, children and international travel with my work consumed the years and woodworking was left behind, but the passion to return to it never died. And when the occasional opportunity to work with wood came along, I grasped it with both hands. The desire to one day build a “silent giant” has never gone away.

And so the dream has come full circle. As I approach the end of a working life as an engineer, spent designing and building refineries and chemical plants, I am preparing for retirement.

I can look back at the plants I have helped to create and know that I left something tangible. Now I feel the need to leave something more personal behind for my children and their children. Something that I have created with my own hands. It involves projects of a different kind. This year, I will complete my woodwork shop. I am going to design and build grandfather clocks.

It’s time.  -Mike Hudson

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

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