All posts by stevecraigwebb

A journal of clock making.

Me

Food for thought.

I have always found it interesting that of all the ways available to him to make a living during his first 30 years on earth, Jesus chose to be a carpenter. He was known as the Carpenter from Nazareth. As a Christian and a follower of his I wonder why he did not choose to be a shepherd but have come to understand the satisfaction he would have enjoyed as he worked with his hands to make stuff that people needed or wanted. Working with your hands always has and always will be an honorable activity.

Introduction.

This webpage was created and named by my son Stephen who thinks I have a bit of information that is worth sharing. I have come to describe myself as a woodturner who, in his search of his next project, stumbled onto the idea of making machines that resemble clocks. Some of them keep good time but others less so and part of my journey is about improving the accuracy of my completed machines.

I am not a tradesman, a technician, an engineer or scientist. I mention that simply because people with that sort of training have a pretty good idea of what they are doing and what the outcome is likely to be. I start my projects with a rough idea of what I want to do but do not have drawing skills so I plan by making.

My first real job was as a learner shearer and I then went on to join the RAAF at age 17 because it seemed like a good idea at the time.They trained me as a telegraphist (Morse code specialist) which ultimately led to a career in what was then the Department of Civil Aviation. My working life was spent as a flight service officer. FSOs were responsible for providing an information and communications services in uncontrolled airspace to help pilots avoid collisions and lousy weather and to initiate the search and rescue service if they got into strife or got lost. In the early 1960s most of the Australian mainland and international airspace was designated uncontrolled with most communications occurring on high frequencies (HF). This required FSOs to have a sound understanding of ionospheric changes affecting the HF frequency spectrum. Keeping pilots on the right frequency was thought to be pretty important.

FSOs or Aeradio as they were formerly known, were highly skilled communicators whose role in Australian aviation history has been largely unrecognised. They spent about half of their lives in Flight Service Units (FSUs) located in the more remote parts of Australia like the Kimberly, Pilbara and Goldfields regions of WA. Long before the term multi-tasking came into common usage, they were living exemplars of what it meant. In many FSUs there was only one FSO on duty who could be required to listen out on up to ten frequencies at a time (analogous to having ten radios going simultaneously on different channels) through a single loudspeaker, brief pilots, do their own runway inspections, organise runway lighting, open and close remote airstrips on cattle and sheep stations during the Wet and make hourly weather observations which they distributed to other locations using Morse code circuits. FSOs at one unit also provided the Coastal Radio Service (CRS) with its own call sign VIW. During their spare time they provided back up for the flying doctor service and pedal radio service out of hours. Occasionally they even provided a PMG telegram transmission service  (using Morse) during the wet season when the telegraph lines were under water. They were the transparent and unsung link in early aviation because if a pilot had a problem, pretty well any problem, they were the first person they called. There was at least one occasion where the local knowledge of experienced FSOs averted what would have been another major Australian aviation disaster.  

It all came to an abrupt halt in the early 1990s. We knew when we moved from being a government department to become a self-funded corporation (CAA) that we were facing changes we had never faced before. It was obvious that emerging technologies were going to impact on all of our systems, facilities, procedures and people. By now I was HR Manager of the ATS Division and was fully committed to a  program called IMAS – Integration and Modernisation of  the Airways System that was being developed to provide an orderly transitional process. Central to the change was a  conviction at senior levels of management that we needed to take our people with us. We were determined to progress at a measured pace with transitional plans to deal with those staff members who were likely to be adversely affected by the inevitable change. We saw our people as part of the solution not part of the problem.

Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the government made key changes to CAA senior management. It introduced a completely different agenda and one which was inconsistent with its previous commitments to industrial democracy in the workplace. It was, however, a pretty good indication of the sincerity of its commitment to its own program. The message was clear, get on board or get out of the way. I was philosophically opposed to this new management style choosing instead to get out the way by retiring early. I wanted to be able to start and finish projects that people, for whom I had absolutely no respect, had no power to cancel

At this point the only thing I was clear about was that I never going to work for another employer. With no woodworking skills of any kind I decided to try my hand at wood turning. To my surprise it clicked and as my skills developed I began see other possibilities and looked for other challenges. Ultimately it led me into the my present obsession which is trying to integrate a woodturner’s craft with an horological science, making machines that look and behave like clocks.

What I hope this webpage will be able to do is to illustrate what an ordinary individual with limited technical skills, ability and background can do if he or she refuses to accept that past has any relevance to the future. I am a passionate believer in the health benefits that flow from remaining engaged and active when you retire. I will not be trying to sell you something and if I can help with advice, guidance or information then I will do so at no cost.

What follows is a record some of the projects I have tackled on my wood lathe, metal lathes and metal mill. You need no formal training to do this, all you need is an itch you are trying to scratch. There are no exams and no right or wrong answers, it is simply about allowing yourself the luxury of giving expression to unexplored talent. All the information you are ever likely to need is available on the net and the only person you need to satisfy is yourself. The one cautionary note I would include is to say that you will need a lot of patience and an understanding that you usually learn more from your failures that your successes.

When I began to run out of wood turning projects than interested me I started to hunt for different but related projects and after stumbling into the world of the horologist made my first clock that didn’t work very well. Despite this setback I continued on to the next clock and as my skills developed I was able to improve my designs by retrofitting ideas that developed after I started and even re-modelling several of them completely. Any success I have had is the result of trial and error and a never ending quest for information. This involves doing research on the net and picking the brains of people much smarter than me.

Where To Start.

If you want to take up woodturning look for a club to join. If you are interested in making wooden geared clocks there are no clubs that I have found that I would recommend to a beginner but internet sites like ML Horology are an invaluable resource. If you live in or near Sydney you might think about making contact with the Sydney Clockmakers Society.

I started by downloading a clock plan from Brian Law Clocks, printing the gear outlines and then pasting them onto bits of wood which I then attacked with a bandsaw. This was followed by a lot of sanding to make the teeth surface smooth. Other options to consider (you will see a few pictures of my approach) include using a scroll saw or even a router. If you have no experience with this equipment or working with wood generally and you are unable to find a club, don’t bother buying a book but have a look for U Tube videos.

Initially I tried using solid timber for wheel blanks but after a lot of experimentation I settled on 6mm marine ply which I veneered and then coated with a 4 to 1 epoxy resin made by Hemple. This soaks into the surface of the ply and hardens it changing the wood fibers into something resembling a polymer which can be sawn or routed leaving a reasonably smooth surface. This overcomes the issue of grain complications and simplifies the whole process.