How to Turn a Book Into a Handsome Clock

by Jeremy Anderberg on January 23, 2014 · 20 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

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From pocket watches to grandfather clocks, men have long held a fascination with keeping time in stylish and classic ways. What better way to do so than turning a handsome hardcover book into a working clock? This project is similar to what Brett did a couple years back with turning a hardcover book into a secret safe. Instead of stashing this on a bookshelf and hoping it’s not seen, however, this project is meant to be proudly displayed in your home or workplace. Coming in at under $10 and a few hours of your time at the most, this makes for a great Saturday afternoon project and an inexpensive way to decorate your apartment or man room.

Plus, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, this would make for an inexpensive but highly romantic gift for your sweetheart. Pick a book that makes her swoon (say, Pride and Prejudice) and inscribe the inside cover with a time-related sweet-nothing, like this baby from Henry Van Dyke: “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” Better have some smelling salts handy.

Supplies

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  • Hardcover book. Hardcover is your best bet so that it can stand on its own. I used an old book that I never planned on reading, but another option is to find something with a unique design on the cover. Those are hard to come by these days (because they’re more money to produce), so you may need to look in antique stores. You could also use a favorite book of yours — I know it seems sacrilegious to some, but you can always buy another copy. And this way not only will you be reminded of your favorite work on a regular basis, it will serve as a great conversation piece that will allow you to share your love of it with those who visit.
  • Utility knife or X-Acto knife
  • Power drill
  • Clock kit (can be found at most hobby/craft stores — this one was from Hobby Lobby for $7)
  • Clock kit numbers ($2.50)
  • Optional: super glue

1. Decide where to place the clock on the book, draw your template, and get cutting.

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You can see I went with an off-center placement, just for some artsy-fartsyness. I placed the main clock hardware down on the page, drew a line around it, and started cutting with my X-Acto knife. I debated between this step or drilling first, and opted for this one. You can decide on your own after you’ve read through the process.

2. Every once in a while, check the hole you’re cutting out.

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Your cutting is bound to not be perfect, so every 50 pages or so, place the clock mechanism in the cutout to make sure it still fits nice and snug. You don’t want the cutout to be too big, or the mechanism will move around too much — it has to be stable.

3. Cut through enough pages to almost cover the entire mechanism, including the clock shaft.

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I used a fairly short book, so had to cut almost all the way to the back cover. You can see that when it’s placed in the cutout, the mechanism is almost entirely covered, with just a small portion of the clock shaft popping up.

4. Drill a hole in the cover.

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With the clock placed inside, I measured the distance from the top and left side to the center of the mechanism. Then I took the clock out, flipped the cover closed, measured, and drilled the hole. Keep in mind you’ll need a fairly large bit, but it’s better to err on the side of too small than too big. Again, it has to be snug so it doesn’t move around at all. If you don’t have a drill (which was me the first time I did this a few years ago), you can use your knife to puncture the cover and sort of just wriggle it around a bit. It’s a little crude, but it works in a pinch.

5. Place the clock mechanism through the hole in the cover.

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When I did this step, I had the book opened up and I pushed the mechanism through from the backside, then lowered it into the cutout in the pages. I left just a quarter-inch or so of the main clock shaft showing. How much you leave is really up to you.

6. Clean up the edges created from pushing the clock through the cover.

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Between the drill and pushing the clock through, the cover is bound to be just a little disfigured. Clean it up with the knife so it’s flat and even — remember, this will be showing, so it has to look good.

7. Assemble the clock according to your kit’s instructions.

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This is a fairly simple process. It’s a couple washers, the hands of the clock, a nut, and you’re set. I opted to not use the seconds hand.

8. Add numbers as desired.

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I went with the elegance of just four numbers. They are generally sticky, so you just place where desired and hold for a few seconds until they’re secure. Make sure the numbers are evenly spaced — a much easier task when doing only four. You can also opt for no numbers at all. On the first book clock I made, a couple numbers have fallen off, so super glue is optional here if you’re really going for longevity and durability. Mine went through a few moves, which certainly didn’t help matters.

9. Insert battery, set time, and enjoy for years to come!

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Aaron January 23, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Well, I’m sold!

2 Joe January 23, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I appreciate this.

3 CODavid January 23, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Brilliant! Totally doing this for my wife’s B-day in Feb…just gotta find the right book, which should be fun!

4 Luca K. January 24, 2014 at 2:11 am

Neat!

5 Adam W. January 24, 2014 at 7:23 am

What book did you use? I usually tend to hate it when people ruin a perfectly good book to make a craft project. Especially when there are so many things in craft stores, where you buy clock parts, that look like books but aren’t actually books. For those of you wanting to do this as a gift, especially for someone who reads, the recipient might just want to punch you for ruining a book, especially if you use a book they would rather just read.

6 Watts January 24, 2014 at 8:42 am

Great idea. I might have to make a few of these for gifts, but right now I’m backlogged making book safes ever since people saw the ones I gave my groomsmen.

One suggestion that will make this project faster and safer is rather than using a box knife to cut the pages out, simply trace a square to fit the clock guts, and then use your drill to drill out all 4 corners of the square. Then, use a coping saw to cut the shape out. This is much safer than using a box knife and will be a major time saver, and if you don’t already have a coping saw, you can get a decent one for around 10 bucks.

Cheers!

7 Jeremy Anderberg January 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

@Adam – I used Saving Faith by David Baldacci. I’ve never read it, but it was the perfect size. I understand the hesitation to use a book; I’m very protective of the books I love. The reality, however, is that used books cost a couple bucks. If it’s a favorite book, say Moby Dick, find a used copy on Amazon for a dollar and make a clock out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are more printed books in this world than will ever be used/read, and many of them just get recycled anyway. Why not repurpose and make something that will stand out and not just sit gathering dust on a bookshelf? Way more meaningful, in my opinion, than buying something at a craftstore that just looks like a book.

8 Kyle Boureston January 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

Great project!

Now if only we combined the book clock and the book safe… Your stuff would be hidden in plain sight!

9 James A. Brown January 24, 2014 at 6:10 pm

An interesting twist would be to used a book with a time theme: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells; The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew Mystery) by Carolyn Keane; A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess…

Or, in the case of the book I bought for this project, Four Past Midnight, by Stephen King. That way, once per day, my ClockBook will be in perfect sync with itself.

Also, I concur with Watts that a coping saw is an easier and safer method to make your cutout.

10 James A. Brown January 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

Okay, I finished my clock book this morning, and I learned some things:

1. Despite my earlier claim, a coping saw was not the easier choice. I had to disassemble the saw, insert the blade into the drill hole, reassemble the saw, make the cut, disassemble the saw to remove the blade, check the fit of the clock mechanism, decide the hole needs more off of one edge, disassemble the saw, etc. Repeat about a thousand times. Next time I do this, an xacto knife will be fine, plus a rasp to smooth out the rough corners.

2. Measure where your clock will go based on how long the hands are. I drilled the hole first, then discovered my minute hand was longer than I estimated, so it protrudes beyond the book spine a bit. Not a big deal; I just have to be careful when handling the book that the minute hand tip doesn’t get bent.

All in all, I spent about four hours on it. Looks nice on my shelf. Great idea!

11 Cameron January 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm

I made this today, it turned out great! I was excited to see something that I could afford, since I’m a pretty poor college student, but this ended up right in my budget. I bought the Odyssey at Deseret Industries and then made it. I don’t have a drill so I rotated the knife a and used it like a drill, it didn’t turn out as precise but it did turn out pretty well I think. I’m really happy with it, and now it is sitting on my bookshelf for everyone to see. Thanks for the idea!

12 Troy January 26, 2014 at 11:19 am

Awesome. I am going to do this with a copy of Four Hour Work Week.

13 Watts January 27, 2014 at 11:10 am

James, I’m sorry to hear you had troubles with the coping saw method. I built 4 book safes this summer using one and it was quite fast and easy (for me).

I found the following steps helpful:

1) Trace an outline of a box onto the book, making sure the outline is slightly larger (1/4″ or so) than the object you intend to put inside

2) Drill 4 holes in the book, one at each corner of the box you traced. The larger the hole the better, as it will make it easier to turn the coping saw.

3) Feed the coping saw blade through one of the holes and cut along the lines you drew in step 1. When you reach a corner you should be able to simply turn the blade of the saw and continue cutting to the next corner. Depending on the size of the holes you drilled and the size of the book/position of the box you’re cutting, you might be able to simply rotate the coping saw and continue cutting.

Sorry it didn’t work out for you, please be safe when using a box cutter. I used to work in the construction industry and box cutters were the #1 cause of first aid incidents at all of our job sites.

14 Troy January 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Now that I think about this, I wonder if drilling the hole first might be a better idea to ensure the shaft protrudes exactly where you want it to?

15 James A. Brown January 28, 2014 at 7:07 am

Watts, Re: the coping saw. You give some interesting tips. My outline was not slightly larger than the clock mechanism. With all the warnings in the article about not wanting the hole to be too big, I erred on the small side.

I did indeed drill the four holes. My two biggest problems using the coping saw: 1) my saw’s blade didn’t seem sharp enough for the job of sawing through 500 pages of paper. I had to grind and grind for each millimeter, and as a result my first cut was jagged. 2) With the saw blade fully inside the hole, I found it difficult to measure if the clock mech would properly fit.

Dunno. Could be pilot error. I do agree that a coping saw is a safer tool than an Xacto knife. I just didn’t have the initial success that I envisioned.

Troy: See my previous comment. I agree. The first thing to do is measure where you want the clock hands to lay against the book cover. From there, mark the pivot hole and drill down, even down into the pages. Then you’ll have a better idea of where to cut the hole for the clock mechanism.

16 Thiago January 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

@ Cameron

Did they have a lot of suitable books at the DI, Cameron? That’s exactly where was considering getting a book. At the time, I’d like to go with that time James A. Brown mentioned, and use the The Time Machine.

17 WillMac February 2, 2014 at 1:34 am

I used a favorite book by James Joyce because its widely available, and this hardcover has his initials on the front. I also had two copies, both of which were $1. One thing that I realized I could have done easier, and wished that I had, was to count 30-50 pages and draw the square on each page, then cut those individually. I noticed that as I cut the square became more and more narrow, and I had to widen my square every 50 pages once I had reached the depth that I wanted. Also, I used a box cutter instead of an exacto knife, and I felt that was easier.

18 Matthew February 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

At HobbyLobby there are three different clock model sizes: 1/4″, 3/8″ and 3/4″. Is there a certain size that would be recommended?

19 HenryLP February 20, 2014 at 7:58 am

I just bought a cheap quartz wall clock for 2$ at the dollar store, then I popped the motor and hands out of that.

20 Kyle March 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

I’m going to do this as a wedding gift for a couple of really good friends who love stuff like this so I’m excited about it. But I’m confused as to why would you write on the inside cover of the book if the functionality of the clock requires the book to be closed?

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