A Clock-Making Hobby - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Community London: There’s a new challenge every day for this nonagenarian clock maker. Knowledge is just the beginning. 

A Clock-Making Hobby

A Clock-Making Hobby

Photos by Mark Spowart

Ten years after retiring from his career with Veteran Affairs, Len Churcher, 93, of London, Ontario was looking for a hobby to fill his days so he began collecting and fixing old clocks. “I was repairing clocks as a hobby. I was buying them [old clocks] at flea markets and so forth, repairing them and then giving them away. At one time I had over 200 clocks in my basement,” said Mr. Churcher.

Slowly, a new goal started to appear: build a grandfather clock for himself. At that point in his late seventies, he learned some woodworking skills. “I always wanted to build myself a grandfather clock. Now I’ve built 70, and still haven’t built one for myself,” said Mr. Churcher. “I get up every morning, and I give thanks to my saviour that I am 93, going on 94 and I have another day. I go out to my workshop, I am by myself, no tension, and when the clock is finished I look at it and say ‘that was just a bunch of wood when I started,’” he said. “I know there is going to be an anniversary somewhere, or there is going to be somebody who has worked within our church and it goes as their memorial.”

The clocks Mr. Churcher builds follow a design which dates back to the 1700s. Each clock is built, assembled, stained and lacquered all by hand. “I am creating something that was built 300 years ago and I’m trying to do it in a way similar to how they did it 300 years ago,” he said. He uses half-inch oak sheetstock for the panels, along with solid oak for the frame and trim. “I build them, everything is glued. All the nail holes are drilled and I do that for two reasons. Oak is hard wood and with the carpel-tunnel syndrome it is hard for me to hold the nail, so I pre-drill the hole to make sure the nail goes in straight,” said Mr. Churcher. “I nor­mally apply one coat of stain. Once the stain has dried I use five or six coats of lacquer.”

Once the cases are complete, the German-made clock mechanism and face is installed and another one of Len Churcher’s grandfather clocks is ready for delivery. All of his clocks are donated to local churches to commemorate a special anniversary or to acknowledge the contribution of an individual.

“My clocks are the only thing keeping me alive. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to build clocks. When I cannot I will do some missionary work. I am lim­ited [mobility and sight] and other than church I have no social life. Most people, they get a lot of pleasure in receiv­ing something, but if they only knew the pleasure is really tenfold if they gave.”

Lots of Fun – Every minute in his basement shop is enjoyable for Churcher, but the realization that he’s once again turned a bunch of rough lumber into a beautiful clock gives him the most satisfaction of all.

Giving Back – Well into his 90s, Churcher doesn’t rush through many projects. Enjoying the day-to-day process, and supporting his local community is what keeps him building clocks.

Mark Spowart

Mark is a journalist in London Ontario who spends as much time looking through the viewfinder of his camer­as as he does typing on his laptop. When not working, he unwinds with a good book and a strong coffee. 

Related Articles

Production for Box Making

Shop Skills: Making one box is much different than making 100 boxes. In order for the process to be smooth and successful, a different approach needs to be used. Jigs need to be used to their full potential and a careful, long-term...

Making the Most of a Basement Workspace

Basement Shops: Although low ceilings, difficult access and limited space may pose problems, the basement is the only option for many woodworkers. Learn how one woodworker has managed to make the most of a tight situation.

Mantel Clock

Décor Project:  This easy-to-make clock uses wooden molding to add a special touch of elegance.