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The clock maker

The gears are always turning in Gary Johnson's shop. A woodworker from Coarsegold, Calif., Johnson specializes in creating handmade custom wood clocks. Born and raised in the Mojave Desert, Johnson developed a fascination at an early age with figuring out how things worked. He started Custom Wood Clocks about 10 years ago as a retiree and continues to work in his home-based shop every day.

Gary Johnson's handmade wooden clocks include this freestanding model built with a mix of exotic wood species.

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"I like things that have components and are put together and assembled. It started 20 years ago with a plan for a clock. It has so much evolved that I can comfortably call it my own clock."

Johnson builds about six distinct clock designs, including freestanding, open-frame and wall clocks. He invites clients to customize these selections by choosing their own wood species coordinates for which he offers a mix of domestics and exotics such as cherry, walnut, wenge, cocobolo, jatoba, satinwood, zebrawood, bubinga and mahogany. The floor models average about 6' in height and the wall clocks can be about 4' tall to 2-1/2' wide.

Johnson's clocks are much more detailed than the first one he built nearly 20 years ago. He has built 45 clocks to date and has sold 35. The third clock he built won Best of Show in the Alameda (Calif.) County Fair and his fourth clock took the same award at the 1994 California State Fair. The most difficult part of building a clock, he jokes, is "everything."

"People think the gears are the most difficult to build, but actually it's the whole thing. It's time-consuming - the frame of the clock, everything. It takes me 500 hours of labor to make a single clock."

He emphasizes that patience is a virtue in this business. If one cog in a clock gear is flawed, for example, it will ruin the whole turning mechanism.

This open-frame clock is built with mahogany, quilted maple and cocobolo.

"I've done that before - you're just about completed it and you make a mistake you can't correct and it becomes scrap. That doesn't happen often, though, because I do my gears by a pin router technique using master templates."

His work can be found in high-end galleries and in residences worldwide. Clocks have been sold to clients across the United States, as well as in Japan and South Korea. The average price of each of his clocks is about $10,000.

For information, visit

- Jennifer Hicks

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.

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