Aptitude and early training made clock making a perfect vocation for Jim Dailey, who holds degrees in sculpture and painting and has always liked to make things. In his 25th year as a clockmaker, he can visualize each new design: “I draw the clock exactly the way I see it in three dimensions,” he says. “Then I figure out how to make it.”
Dailey made his first clock in 1992. He’d been working with a friend who made custom furniture, giving Dailey access to plenty of quality scrap wood. “I had a couple of antique Arts & Crafts clocks that looked homemade, so I thought, why not try making my own?”
The clocks were so well received that clock making soon turned into a successful business. Dailey was already immersed in Arts & Crafts, having partially restored an exceptional house in the style built in 1912 near Pasadena. He also enrolled in the docent training program at the Gamble House, taught by the late Randell Makinson.
Only experience and skill lead to the sophisticated work Dailey produces. He cuts the basic shape out of cardboard, then progresses to a “dummy” clock made from less-valuable scrap wood. After he’s built and tweaked the dummy, Dailey builds the real thing from a scale drawing, cutting the pieces, then gluing and clamping using modern woodworking techniques. In true guild spirit, the copper faces are made by metal artist James Mattson. For designs with pendulums, Dailey collaborates with yet another artist, James Davies of Craftsman Copper.
The last steps are labor intensive: multiple sandings, followed by stains and dyes to bring out the wood’s richness, and finally waxing. Dailey still offers many of his older designs,but enjoys the challenge of more complex clocks.
And “just because it’s custom doesn’t mean it has to cost more,” he says. “New designs make it interesting for me.”