Making Time: Local Hobbyist Builds Wooden Clocks

first_imgGlenn Leming is standing in his home office explaining a German clock in front of him when a chime rings in the kitchen. His attention is diverted in an almost Pavlovian way, and his eyes light up as he approaches the electric clock from 1934 sitting on the counter. With the face removed, he can watch the gears churn within. It’s not set to the right time, Leming says, and the chimes are out of tune. He’s fixing it for his sister. “I think I’ve almost got it,” Leming says. It quickly becomes apparent that there is a clock or two in almost every room of the house. Most of the timepieces are either being refurbished or rebuilt; it’s a pastime Leming picked up in 1990 after he retired from working in the telephone industry. It is precise work that takes hours of trial and error and observation, but for Leming, 77, it’s plain fun. “I wanted to play with something, so I did,” he said. A hobby that began with rebuilding discarded clocks grew into more as Leming began creating his own pieces from the ground up. The crown jewel of these creations stands in the doorway between the main entry and the living room. The full-size grandfather clock is made of solid oak, without plywood or veneer. The glass that houses the internal workings was locally crafted by another artisan, Leming said, and the clock’s insides, which were only handled using gloves, are from Germany. Leming left no surface unfinished, inside or out. The back of the clock is three-quarters of an inch of sturdy wood. Inserts near the top and bottom are the only wood that is not oak, Leming said. Instead, these inserts are made from bird’s eye pine from Columbia Falls, hand chosen by his son-in-law. It’s just one of the little personal flourishes he added to the pattern when building the clock, which started in 1989 and wrapped up in 2001. “I like to know where the wood came from,” Leming said. Leming’s woodworking skills were refined at an early age, growing up in Hysham, and influenced by his father, a carpenter. He remembers his first toy as a hammer and a nail his father provided, and he bought a lathe in third or fourth grade with money he earned from selling fish he caught. A neighbor provided a jigsaw that Leming also used at that age, and one of his first projects was a lamp made of walnut wood, which still sits in one of the cabinets in his workshop. The lamp, along with a wooden puzzle he made of all the counties in Montana, won prizes at the state fair that year, Leming said. A passion for carpentry gave way to a career in telephone electronics in Kalispell. But once he retired, the old hobby returned; along with clocks, Leming also built a dresser for his wife Rexine’s birthday and a guitar for his son. Leming’s latest timepiece project diverged from the classic clock shape, such as the grandfather clock. In a different room, a skeleton clock hangs on the wall. It consists of a hand-carved, minimalist face and clockworks made entirely of ironwood he pulled out of the Arizona desert. A five-pound weight made of a hunk of varnished ironwood hangs from the base of the clock, giving it a unique and interesting shape. The gears and escape mechanism are cut out of the hardwood, and must be within 1/1000 of an inch for the clock to run correctly. Leming used jeweler files to achieve this level of precision, and went through a couple of saw blades trying to shape the tough wood. He’s made three of them so far, two as gifts. “It’s kind of amazing that it worked out, but it did,” he said. When he hits a conundrum in a project, Leming consults local clock expert Ed Clum, owner of Glacier Precision Clockworks. Clum said he gave Leming some how-to books several years ago, and the novice took it from there. Leming also comes in to help out on Clum’s projects, and brings in each of his new clocks as they are built. “They’re pretty awesome,” Clum said of the skeleton clocks. There aren’t many hobbyists pursuing clock making in the Flathead, Clum said, and it takes a mechanically inclined personality to do so. And as a professional clockmaker, Clum said he would not offer pointers to just anyone. “I wouldn’t actually help anyone else except him; he’s a friend,” Clum said. “He’s just a sweetheart.” Leming said he only works on clocks for family and friends, and would not take on a project that took business away from Clum. In fact, Clum is one of the only people Leming would consider making a clock for in the future. “He doesn’t even know how much he is appreciated,” Leming said. As for his upcoming projects, Leming is fixing up a grandfather clock from his relative in Portland, and his wife will probably want a piece of furniture. Whatever it is, Leming is excited to get to work in his shop. “It’s been a ball,” he said. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Emaillast_img read more