Schoolhouse Regulator Clock

Build a classic with timeless good looks.

Designer/Builder/Writer: Robert J. Settich

The Schoolhouse Regulator Clock is an icon of American design that looks every bit as good hanging in your home as it does in a learning institution. To make quick and accurate work cutting part angles, we designed a set of accurate and easy-to-build mitering and splining jigs. You’ll find these plenty useful for dozens of other projects once you’ve built the clock and put it into service.

Though red oak is the traditional favorite wood for a schoolhouse clock, I made this one from cherry. But let’s not forget walnut or maple. The important thing, regardless of wood choice, lies in selecting stock with a straight and subdued grain pattern. Wildly figured wood could overpower the architecture of the clock’s design. 

One more thing, the quartz calendar movement indicates the day of the month with its third hand pointing to the outer ring. Finally, it’s worth noting that all of the components are reasonably priced.

Note: See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for project supplies. You’ll want the clock components on hand for test-fitting as you move toward case assembly.

First, make the case 

1 Joint and plane enough lineal feet of 4/4 stock (7' will work) to 3/4" thick. Rip and joint the stock to 3½" wide.

2 Crosscut three oversized blanks to 24" long. Two blanks will be the case sides (A) and the other will yield three case bottoms (B). Also cut an 8"-long oversized blank for the case top (C). Set the top piece aside. (See Figure 1.)

3 Put a 3/4" dado head in your table saw. Referring to the detail in Figure 1, cut the groove along the front inner face of the blanks for the sides and bottoms (A, B). 

4 Partially bury the dado head into a sacrificial plywood fence on your table saw to cut the rabbet along the rear inside edge of the three blanks as well as the case top (C). (The depth of the rabbet is shown as 3/8" from the face. The width should be the thickness of the plywood back [N].)

5 Chuck a ¼" round-over bit into your table-mounted router. Referring to the detail, rout the profile along the front edges of the three blanks.

6 Cut the beveled bottom end of the two case sides (A) at 22½°. Make sure that the parts are mirror images, not identical.

7 Using a stop, cut the case sides (A) to final length with a square cut at the top ends. 

8 Mark the 45° angled cut along the front edge of the case sides (A) in pencil (refer to Figure 1). Continue the line around the edges of the sides. With a fine-toothed handsaw, carefully cut ¼"-deep along the angled cutline. With a standard blade in your table saw, cut along the front edge of the groove, as shown in Photo A. Cut one side face up and the other side face down. Finish the cuts with a handsaw and chisel. With this same saw setup, trim the case top (C) to final width.

Don’t cut too far with the table saw. Shut off the saw and wait for the blade to stop before backing out of the cut.

9 Bevel-cut the case bottoms (B) to length. To do this, position the blank with its inner face against the mitersaw’s fence. Swing the blade to 22½° left, and cut three pieces to 5". Swing the blade 22½° to the right, clamp a stopblock to your mitersaw, and bevel-cut the parts to 3¾".

10 Hinge together the case sides (A) and bottoms (B) with tape. Check that the joints fit tightly, and that the groove on the inside of the pieces runs in a smooth line. Number the bottoms (with a pencil mark in the groove) to ensure that you’ll reassemble them in the same sequence. Now check the length of the case top (C), as shown in Photo B, and cut this part to fit. 

11 Cut slots with your biscuit joiner to assemble the case parts. Use #10 biscuits to attach the case sides (A) and case bottoms (B), and #0 biscuits to join the case sides to the top (C). Clamp each part firmly to your workbench, so it can’t move when you cut the slots. To help position the joiner for the angled cuts, attach a block to the base of the jointer with double-faced tape, as shown in Photo C and Inset.

12 Dry-assemble (no glue) the case to ensure that the biscuits seat deeply enough for the joints to close. Apply glue and clamp the assembly with a strap clamp. Inspect the groove for continuity and ensure that the assembly is square and flat.


Temporarily assemble the case to inspect the joints and double-check the length of the top. A hardboard spacer helps you square the assembly.

Plunge the cutter square to the joint’s surface. An angled block attached to the joiner’s base (Inset) holds the tool rock-steady. 

Make the door frame

1 Prepare stock for the door frame components: top (D), sides (E), and bottoms (F). (Note that the top is wider than the other parts.) Referring to the Cut List and Figure 2, cut the angled ends of the parts. For accurate results, build the “Two-Station Angle Sled” as shown in Figure 3 below. Use a stopblock setup to ensure identical parts, as shown in Photo D. 

2 Install a 3/4" dado set in your table saw, screw on a miter-gauge extension, and cut the hinge mortises into the right frame side (E) where shown in Figure 2 at right. 

3 Glue and clamp the frame components (D, E, and F) as shown in Photo E. 

4 Sand the face of the door frame assembly. If necessary, trim the edge with a hand plane until it fits into the grooves of the case. Glue the frame into the clock case, carefully aligning the corners. Also make sure that the frame fits snugly along the front edge of the case’s groove. 

Figure 3:

Two-Station Angle Sled

Build the jig as shown, using a protractor or digital angle gauge to attach the fences. Cut a test square and octagon (use stopblocks to keep the lengths consistent) and adjust the fences as necessary.

Push the sled past the blade to make the cut and then shut off the saw. Unclamp the part after the blade coasts to a stop. 

Apply glue and assemble the door frame. Use two 1/2 × 1 × 10" clamping cauls to keep the pieces from collapsing inward as you snug up the band clamp.

Make the door 

1 Prepare a strip for the door parts: stiles (G), top rail (H), and bottom rails (I), milling it to ¾ × ¾ × 36". Using a 3/16" bit, rout round-overs along the top two edges, referring to the door part profile in Figure 4.

2 Put a 3/8"-wide dado head in your table saw and partially bury it in a sacrificial plywood rip fence to make a 1/4 × 7/16" rabbet along only one edge of the door-parts strip. Refer to the door part profile in Figure 4. 

3 Cut the door parts (G, H, and I) with your two-station angle sled. Cut the parts so that the rabbetted edge runs along the inside of the frame. As before, use a stopblock to ensure identical lengths. 

4 Check the fit of the door assembly with the masking tape “clamping” procedure you used with the case. Glue up the door using a strap clamp and a pair of cauls. Recycle the door frame cauls for this task by trimming them to 8" long. 

5 Make the spline slot jig as shown in Figure 5. Put one outer cutter of a stack dado set in your table saw to cut 1/8"-wide flat-bottomed spline slots. Referring to the spline detail in Figure 4 and Photo F, set up the jig for a ½"-deep slot at the corners with the 22½° miters. Screw two more 22½° angled wedges to the jig to support the 90° corners of the door when you cut those slots, as shown in the Inset photo. Those two slots are 5/8" deep. 

6 Cut spline stock slightly thicker than the slot, then sand or hand-plane the spline stock for a smooth-sliding fit. Cut the splines into oversized triangles and glue them in place. After the glue dries, remove waste with a flush-cut saw and block plane. 

7 Duplicate the rabbeting setup you used in Step 2 to cut the rabbet along the outside perimeter of the door. Use an angled pushblock to support the door when cutting along the bottom rails (I). 

The door has two sets of angled corners, so you’ll need to use different setups when cutting the spline slots.

Folding the hinge backward on itself helps ensure square installation.

Hang the door

1 Drill a hole centered in the rear edge of the door’s left (knob) stile for the washer of the magnetic catch. Drill a pilot hole and drive a screw to hold the washer. 

2 Make a pair of hinge blocks (J), referring to the Cut List and Figure 4. To position these perfectly, tape the door to the frame, aligning the corners. Turn the case assembly face down on your workbench. Center the hinge blocks in the clock case mortises, and carefully mark their location with a knife. Remove the door to glue the hinge blocks in place.

3 Drill pilot holes for the hinges in the clock case mortises and drive the screws, as shown in Photo G. 

4 Hold the door on edge, aligning the hinges with the hinge blocks. Put a 1/16" spacer under the door’s edge. Drill pilot holes then drive the screws. 

5 Make the latch block (K), referring to the Cut List and Figure 2, and push in the magnetic latch body. Put the case face down on your workbench with the door closed. Glue the latch block to the door frame. Inspect the fit and then remove the hinges.

Begin the octagonal frame

1 Plane, joint, and rip enough stock for the dial segments (L). With a dado set in your table saw, cut the rabbet along one edge. (The rabbet’s depth is shown at ¼", but should be the actual thickness of the dial mount [M].) 

2 Crosscut eight blanks 7" long for the dial segments (L). Number each of the blanks with chalk so that you can assemble the frame parts in the same sequence in order to be able to maintain grain continuity. 

3 Cut the angles on both ends of the segments numbered 2, 3, 6, and 7. Referring to Figure 6, you’ll see that one end of the other pieces retain a square-cut end.

4 Cut biscuit slots into all of the angled ends of the dial segments (L), and dry-assemble each joint to check the fit.

5 Assemble the dial segments (L) into two four-piece halves shown in Figure 6. Apply woodworker’s glue only to the biscuits and their slots to provide the moisture needed for the biscuits to swell. On the flat portions of the joint, use instant bond adhesive and accelerator to eliminate a tricky clamping setup.

Ensure that the cutlines stay aligned with the plywood’s edge as you tighten the clamps. Screw positioning blocks to the plywood.

Maintain consistent pressure of the jig against the rip fence to ensure a straight cut that’s exactly where you want it. Also, use a smooth feed rate.

A band clamp applies the pressure to complete the octagon. Elevate the assembly on scrapwood strips to center the strap’s pressure.

Complete the octagonal frame

1 Make a trimming jig by cutting a piece of scrap plywood to 10 × 20". Turn off the saw. Don’t move the table saw’s rip fence after cutting the plywood to width. 

2 Measure and mark the cuts on the square-end segments for a finished segment length of 6 3/16". Referring to Photo H, align the marked cutlines with the edge of the plywood; then clamp one half-frame to the plywood. Choose the one with segments 1 through 4, and have the chalked numbers facing upward. 

3 Trim the ends of the dial segments (L) by pushing the trimming jig past the table saw’s blade as shown in Photo I.

4 Trim the other half-frame, using a similar procedure. This time, though, place the chalked numbers facing downward. Doing that will cancel any error in the first cut if your saw’s blade is not square to the table. 

5 Join the two half-frames with glue and biscuits, clamping them on a flat surface as shown in Photo J and Figure 6. Then sand to final smoothness.

6 Chuck a ½" round-over bit into your table-mounted router, and use a series of passes to shape the outer perimeter of the octagon.

Install the dial frame and back 

1 Lay the dial frame on the case, centering it side to side. Inspect the joint between the angled cuts on the front of the case and the frame. If necessary, correct the fit with a chisel.

2 Drill countersunk pilot holes through the rabbet in the frame, and drive the screws to attach the frame to the case. Locate screws where they will center on case parts. Also drill a centered pilot hole through the back of the door frame top (D) to secure the bottom of the frame for the screw shown in Figure 2. Remove the frame to simplify finishing.

3 Lay out the dial mount (M), and cut it to shape. Drill countersunk pilot holes for #6 × ½"  flathead  screws that attach it to the octagonal frame, but don’t drive them yet. Also, don’t yet drill the center hole for the clock movement’s shaft.

4 Cut the back (N) to shape, and scrollsaw the circular movement-access hole where shown. Drill countersunk pilot holes for the ½" screws, but don’t drive them yet. 

Make sure to center the bezel when you mark the location of the mounting holes on the octagonal frame.  

Ready for the finish and final assembly

1 Sand all the parts to 220 grit, and remove dust with a vacuum or compressed air.

2 Lay on a protective finish. I used three coats of aerosol shellac. After it dried, I lightly sanded with 320-grit sandpaper to remove dust nibs. Then I rubbed it with a gray, nonwoven, abrasive pad for an even low-luster result, followed with two thin coats of dark brown wax. Do not wax the inner rabbet of the door.

3 Take the door to a glass shop for single-strength glass or buy a piece at a home center and cut it yourself. Secure it to the inside of the door with a dot of clear silicone at each corner.

4 Screw the back (N) to the case. Glue the support block (O) to the inside face of the case top (C) to create a solid target for the wall hanger (Figure 1). Drive screws attaching the hanger to the case top and support block.

5 Screw the octagonal dial frame to the case and then add the dial mount (M). Reattach the door to the case. Center the bezel on the frame, marking the mounting holes as shown in Photo K. Drill the holes and attach the bezel with nuts. Remove excess machine screw lengths with a hacksaw. Drill a pilot hole, and attach the knob to the door stile (G) so it aligns with the magnetic catch.

6 Glue the dial face to the dial mount (M) with spray adhesive, ensuring that it is square and that the 12 is centered at the top. Finally, drill the hole for the clock movement’s shaft. Install the movement according to the directions supplied. Glue the pendulum block (P) to the dial mount (M) and against the inside bottom edge of the octagonal dial frame. Referring to Photo L, mount the pendulum movement to the pendulum block as shown.

7 Hang the clock on the wall and add the pendulum.

Screw the pendulum movement to the pendulum block, being careful not to crack the plastic housing. (Back removed for clarity.)

About Our Builder/Designer

Robert J. Settich is a seasoned writer and photographer whose work has appeared in many leading woodworking magazines. He has authored a half-dozen books, including The Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Installing Hardware and Built-Ins (his latest), both published by The Taunton Press. Bob lives and works in Gladstone, Missouri, and writes on a wide range of home-improvement topics.

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