In the late 1700s and early 1800s there was a shortage of brass in the American Colonies (later the United States) due to the British embargo on brass shipments. It would appear the British were afraid of an uprising that would threaten their strangle hold on the Colonial people. It was thought that preventing brass from being imported to the Americas would decrease the ability of arms and ammunition manufacture. (we all know how that turned out)
This embargo led to the production of wood gear clocks by some American clock makers. Wooden works clocks of this period are now prized antiques and command high prices when they come on the market. Several thousand dollars is commonly the asking price, which is beyond the means of many novice clock fanciers.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has on display a very fine wood gear clock which was made in the early 1800s. This clock is still in good running order after 200 years. Detailed drawings and plans have been made from this clock and these are available for those who would like to build a reproduction of this fine old time piece.
Wooden clocks of more primitive design were made hundreds of years before this period. One can also build a fifteenth century wooden gear clock from plans available on the internet or in many books. These are typically a wall clocks and weight driven. Any of these wall clocks can be converted to a long case clock with a little ingenuity on how to mount the movement, taking into account the needed width of the pendulum swing, and paying close attention to the depth of the case so that is not in danger of falling forward when it is wound or operating. These early version clocks are a much simpler project with fewer moving parts. These clocks will however keep time and look great.
Building wooden works clocks can be a wonderful accomplishment. It involves craftsmanship and wood working skills; you do not however need an array of power tools. The original makers of these clocks used only simple hand tools and the modern craftsman can do so also. The individual parts of the clock are of simple design and quite easy to make. The skill comes in finishing the parts accurately and fitting them together properly so that the clock will run smoothly and keep good time.
Today there are a few makers of wooden gear clocks which are mostly sold in the form of kits and plans. The average home wood worker can quite readily build a really beautiful wooden clock from a plan. With attention to detail and careful workmanship the end product is a fine time piece which will be a center of attention in any home. The tick tock of your own wooden gear clock which you yourself created is a sweet symphony to the ears.