The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:


Winner, Joe Martin Foundation "Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" for 2000.

1921—May 10, 2016

A master watch and clock maker who is passing his skills on to others

Mr. William R. Smith of Powell, Tennessee was selected to receive the Martin Foundation craftsmanship award for 2000 for his outstanding craftsmanship and lifelong contribution to the field of horology.

At our request, Mr. Smith provided the following biographical data. You will see that Mr. Smith is a man of many talents. Regardless of the area of interest, when he becomes involved with a subject, he pursues it until he masters every aspect. He has worked on projects spanning the range from clocks to the world's first sector-focusing cyclotron at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He received the Legion of Merit award for his work with aircraft instrumentation during World War II. He likes to learn every aspect of a project and will take the time to learn a new process so that he can do it himself rather than turn it over to another. He has been involved in watch repair, instrument repair, ham and CB radio, photography, videography, printing and has written many articles and several books. His abilities at photography and writing have allowed him to share many of his skills in clockmaking with others.

In addition to a degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Smith holds the following credentials: Fellow in the British Horological Institute (FBHI), Fellow in the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (FNAWCC), Certified Master Clockmaker (CMC), Certified Master Watchmaker (CMW) and Certified Master Electronic Watchmaker (CMEW).

William R. Smith passed away May 10, 2016.

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Autobiographical Information—William R. Smith

I was born in Atoka, Tennessee in 1921. This is a country town that is typical of those formed around depots that the new railways placed every so many miles along their tracks. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a farmer who specialized in the raising of sweet potatoes--about 5,000 bushels per year. Thus, at an early age I learned to use all sorts of horse- and mule-drawn farm equipment for tilling the soil and raising crops.

At a very early age, I showed considerable mechanical talent and was always interested all types of machinery. By the age of ten, I was wiring houses as a part of Roosevelt's REA (Rural Electrification Program). I also became involved in ham radio, the repair of automobile engines, etc.

One day, at age fourteen, a local merchant opened his cash drawer and handed me a pocket watch, saying, "Here Bill, you fix everything else, see if you can make this watch run again." Using my mother's eyebrow tweezers and a screwdriver made from a nail, I managed to remove the watch from its case and remove the balance cock. The hairspring had thrown a coil over an upper portion of itself and this was easy to set right. This convinced me that I should be a watchmaker. I then went to my grandfather to plead for the money in my $15.00 bank account so I could purchase tools. After hitchhiking twenty-nine miles to Memphis, Tennessee from my home, I purchased less than a handful of tools and set about learning the watch repair trade.

These were the days of the depression, and there was no hope of any kind of formal schooling. As a solution, I began a four-year trek to Memphis each Saturday, rain or shine. From the middle of town, I visited every watchmaker in walking distance that would allow me in his shop. To a man, they would allow me to look over their shoulders as they worked, or, if I had a problem, they would stop their work, listen, and offer a solution. At times, they would actually demonstrate what needed to be done. They also allowed my to sit in their shops and read their watchmaking books and magazines. Thus, I repaired watches during my high school years and faithfully made the Saturday trips to the Memphis watchmakers. By the time of my graduation in 1939, I and my capabilities were well known in the area. I was recommended for a job in a ten-man shop that did trade work for Sears. This exposed me to the skills of many people and was far better than any training I could have obtained in a formal school from one or two teachers.

While working in this shop, the war clouds were gathering, and the government began offering free courses in many crafts. Several of us from the shop enrolled in an aircraft instrument training course. It was from this course that I, at age twenty, and eight others volunteered for the Air Corps.

After basic training in Mobile, AL, I was sent to an instrument school in Chicago, and later to one at a Bendix instrument factory. Finally, we were absorbed into the then-forming 27 Air Depot Group of the 5th Air Service Command and were sent to Australia. There we gathered the needed materials and headed for Port Moresby New Guinea. A crew was sent into the jungle to set up a sawmill and with the lumber we set about building an air depot for the complete overhaul of aircraft. Because of my training, I was a member of the aircraft instrument shop, which did mechanical, electrical, and gyro instrument repair. I worked in the shop during the day and repaired watches at night.

Test equipment for such a shop was almost nonexistent. To solve this problem, I designed and built or had built some forty-plus pieces of test equipment. This allowed instruments to be tested and repaired that put grounded fighter planes and others back into the air again. For this work, General Douglas MacArthur awarded me the Legion of Merit, the military's highest non-combat medal. With it came five extra service points that allowed me to return home sooner than all others in the depot.

After two years in the instrument shop in Port Moresby, our depot was moved north to Finschhafen, New Guinea to be nearer the front, and we were absorbed into a depot already there. I was assigned to take care of the instruments in a group of C-47's that unneeded test pilots were using to fly cargo. Because of my Ham Radio background, I signed on as a radio operator in the group and flew for my remaining year in New Guinea. By then, the war had ended and I returned home and married.

Taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights, I enrolled in the mechanical engineering college of the University of Tennessee. We were assigned a small trailer in a 125-trailer park created by the university for returning veterans. The rent was $15.00 per month, which also covered electricity and water. I continued to repair watches during my four years at the university. In our small trailer, we had a 600-Watt ham station, a watchmaker's bench, a spinet piano and a homemade folding table.

Following graduation, I took a job as a mechanical engineer at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. About twelve years were spent at this plant. By that time, we had received funds to build the world's first sector focusing (strong focusing) cyclotron at the X-10 site. I was Chief Engineer for the project for a total of about fifteen years. During the early part of this period, I continued to repair watches and clocks but finally became involved in other things and had to travel a lot for the corporation. During this period, I had a number of engineers and designers working for me and was responsible for all of the work being done in local and other shops to create the cyclotron. This required travel to many vendors' shops.

After the machine was built and operational, I transferred to the K-25 plant to help in their plant expansion effort. However, the government had demanded that a safety analysis be done for the plant, and their first effort had been rejected. I was then called in and told, "We can hire PhD's in English by the dozens, but they can't write engineering. We can hire engineers by the dozen but they can't write English. You can do both and we need you." For the remainder of my ten-year stay at K-25, I served as a technical writer and editor for the Safety Analysis Program.

In the early sixties, citizen band radio was a big thing, and there was a demand for someone in the Knoxville area to repair CB radios. Because of my lifetime involvement in ham radio (I still hold license W4PAL) and the fact that I had the FCC required broadcast license, I set up shop in my 1500 square-foot basement and did CB sales, service and manufacturing in the evenings for a period of over twenty years.

My main product was the "Windjammer," one of the first power microphones offered for use by CB's. These were done in lots of 1000 each and involved the use of a 14-ton punch press, nine sets of dies, silk screens, and a crew of fourteen people during an assembly run.

After thirty-five years at the plants, I retired in 1984 at age sixty-four. At about that same time, the safety analysis we had been working on for many years was accepted. About seven years before retirement, I began designing clocks and workshop tooling, building them and writing in the field of horology and modelmaking. To date, I have published about 64 articles in these fields, have published six workshop manuals, and have produced four workshop videos. The videos are now available in both VHS tape and DVD format. Since the start of these efforts, in international competition I have been awarded four gold medals for hand-made clocks, one silver medal and one bronze. I have also received a gold metal for a tool design.

I recently completed work on my sixth book, How to Make a Strutt Epicyclic Clock. This clock is highly unusual in that it has an epicyclic train. The book is 8-1/2" x 11? and contains 122 pages.

Although I have never worked in a machine shop, my early years of turning, tempering and working with metals in the repair of watches and clocks has made it easy for me to master new and different techniques required for other tasks. Also, as Chief Engineer of the cyclotron project, I traveled to shops across the nation. This allowed me to meet and study the work of some of the world's finest craftsmen.

Following my retirement, I purchased a home in Powell, Tennessee. In it I have a three-room basement workshop that includes a 12' x 12' machine shop, a 12' x 12' darkroom, and a 12' x 24' main shop.

To publish a clockmaking workshop manual, I design the clock, photographically document each step of the construction, process the film in the darkroom, write the text, set type on the computer and have it print out master pages that are camera-ready except for waxing in the halftones. These are then made in the darkroom, added to the pages, which are then photographed to 8-1/2" x 11" negatives using my own 14" x 18" process camera. The negatives are then masked and used to burn offset press plates in a homemade contact print frame. The plates are installed on my offset press and the pages printed. These are then collated, punched and bound—all in-house.

My workshop videos are also produced in-house. The scenes are first recorded using a camcorder. This usually ends up as about six tapes. A time code is written on each tape, which puts an individual number on each of the 30 frames per second of the two-hour tape. An edit log is then prepared, and, by the use of edit machines which communicate with each other based on the time code numbers, editing can be done within plus or minus two frames. By this means, the material from the raw footage tapes is assembled into a single master tape. This tape is then used to drive a distribution amplifier having ten outputs, each of which drives a VCR. Thus, for each two-hour run, ten tapes are dubbed. Now I have a master DVD made from each video master of the four workshop videos so that I can duplicate 4 DVD's at a time as well.

I sell my books, videos and DVD's from Powell, and my workshop manuals and videos are also sold across Europe by RiteTime Publishing in England. It is in this manner that I am hopeful of honoring the memory of many kind souls who invested their time in a poor farm boy who had no money but a burning desire to learn. I am always delighted to try to be of help to modelers with my books, videos, or personal experience and can be reached at (865) 947-9671.

—William R. Smith

For more information on William R. Smith and photos of his work, visit his web sites at or

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Here are some photos of William R. Smith's clocks:

(Click any photo to view a larger image.)

Scroll Skeleton Wall Clock

This clock stands 9" above its black walnut base, is one of Mr. Smith's own designs and won a silver medal in international competition at the NAWCC Craft Contest for handmade clocks. It has a seconds beating pendulum, weight drive and an 8-day run. All of the parts were made in Mr. Smith's shop except the 47-strand stainless steel cable and the commercial Roman numerals in the dial.


Lyre Skeleton Clock

This clock stands 16" above its base. It is one of Mr. Smith's designs and contains a never before used spring pallet escapement of his own design. It won a gold medal in international competition for handmade clocks at the NAWCC Craft Contest for handmade clocks. All parts were made in his ship except the mainspring and 47-strand stainless steel cable. The dial is sawn from 3/32" brass sheet with a handheld piercing saw and the numerals were filed to shape.


Grasshopper Skeleton clock

The grasshopper skeleton clock stands 17" above its base, was designed by Mr. Smith and features a grasshopper escapement with a never before used double escape wheel. It has a compound pendulum (i.e., a top and bottom bob) that swings 72 beats/minute. The dial is hand sawn from a solid brass sheet with a piercing saw. All parts are made in Mr. Smith's shop except the mainspring and cable. Without the compound pendulum to slow the beats per minute, a pendulum of 27" length would have been required and the clock could not have been for tabletop use.


Scroll Skeleton Clock

The scroll skeleton clock stands 17" above its base and was built from a John Wilding design. It won a gold medal in international competition at an NAWCC Craft Contest for handmade clocks. All parts were made in Mr. Smith's shop except the dial, mainspring and 47-strand SS cable.


Strutt Skeleton Clock (built 1980)

This skeleton clock stands 8-1/2" above its base and was built from a photograph of an 1830's William Strutt clock found in a book. It was awarded a gold medal in international competition at the 1982 NAWCC Craft Contest for handmade clocks. It is unusual in that it has an epicyclic train and no motion works. The dial is hand sawn from a solid sheet of 3/32" brass with a handheld piercing saw and the numerals filed to shape. All parts were made in Mr. Smith's shop except the mainspring and 47-strand SS cable.


Strutt Skeleton Clock (built 2003)

The Strutt Epicyclic Train Clock is documented in Bill's latest book. He built a similar clock in 1980 (see above) but did not document its production. After many requests, he recently completed another version of the clock and this time fully documented its production in a new book. The 121-page book, How to Make a Strutt Epicyclic Train Clock, is available from Bill. (Call him at (865) 947-9671 to order.) With its unique Ferguson Paradox motion work and epicyclic (planetary) gearing, it is one of the most interesting skeleton clocks you can build.

Other Projects

Duovert fully automatic, vertical telegraph speed key

As of 2005 Bill Smith has been involved in ham radio operation for 73 years, having built his first telegraph speed key at age 10. Busy working on his clocks, he had been off the air for 16 years, but has now gotten back into the hobby with three stations operating from his home. He is now enjoying being back in touch with old friends again.

Once back on the air, Bill (call sign: W4PAL) got interested in speed keys again and decided to make one that was both unusual and special. The Duovert is the world's first and only vertical, mechanical, fully automatic (both dots and dashes) telegraph speed key. In making it, Bill found himself learning some new and interesting skills like plating and hand fabrications.

The Duovert stands 8" tall, weighs 4-1/4 pounds and has a speed range of 13 to 35 WPM. The base, main frame (bridge) and hardware are made from chrome plated brass. The foot is of 1-inch thick, chrome plated brass with rubber feet. The dash and dot levers are of heat blued steel. The signet paddle was hand sawed from a sheet of black plastic.

The dot contact is a conventional spring, but the dash contact uses a rare earth permanent magnet triggering a reed switch. Only weight movements are required for speed changes. The dash weight is first positioned for the desired speed, and then the dot weight is adjusted so that it makes the correct dot length in relation to the dash length.



The "Minikey" Telegraph Speed Key—2006

After seeing al picture of an Ultimate 73 key made by the Los Angeles Transmitter Company, I thought it would be fun to see if I could build a working speed key smaller than that. According to the picture of the key by a ruler, it measured 2-1/2" long.
While not a copy of the other key, Bill's key must share certain characteristics in order to function. It has silver contacts, all of the adjustments found on a normal speed key and functions well on the ham bands. The speed range is from about 15 to 35 WPM.

The binding posts for attaching a cable for keying the transmitter are the two posts in the upper right hand corner. The key has three rubber feet and all metal parts are nickel plated. To save space, Bill designed the posts so they grip the screws to retain their setting and avoid the need for thumbnuts. The mainspring is held in place by 0 – 80 pan head screws and nuts. From the ruler in Bill's photo you can see he managed to beat the size of the Ultimate 73 key length of 2-1/2" by a considerable amount. Note the signet paddle with the “S” for Smith. 

Bill found a finger ring box in which it would just fit. This makes it easy to carry in the pocket. Naturally, there has been considerable interest in the key among hams; however, Bill has been quite pleased by the interest shown by the general public as well.




The "Nanokey" Telegraph Speed Key—2006

Having just completed the Minikey, Bill decided to build a small straight hand key. He had seen a number of small ones from the past and realized that to be of any interest, the key would need to be quite small by comparison. He made a base that had a length approximately ˝ the diameter of a penny and set about making the remainder of the key to fit that base.

Rope knurled screws and rope knurled thumbnuts were made for locations where various adjustments had to be made. The little key was assembled and adjusted for a good feel. It was then put on the air and given a shake-down run to be sure it functioned properly. It performed well and a number of e-mail pictures of it were sent to friends.

Bill carries this tiny key in a ring box and usually offers it with a large magnifying glass so the viewer can see the details of the key. He also gives out 4 x 6 photo prints to those who have seen it so they can show their friends.

Books and Instructional Videos by W. R. Smith


Tooling the Workshop for Clockmakers and Modelmakers (2-hour Video, VHS or DVD)


Wheel Cutting, Pinion Making and Depthing for Clockmakers and Modelmakers (2-hour Video, VHS or DVD)


Graver Making and Hand Turning for Clockmakers and Modelmakers (2-hour Video, VHS or DVD)


Workshop Procedures for Clockmakers and Modelmakers (2-hour Video, VHS or DVD)


How to Make a Skeleton Wall Clock (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 88 pages, 280 photos)


How to Make a Lyre Skeleton Clock (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 86 pages, 256 photos)


How to Make a Grasshopper Skeleton Clock (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 93 pages, 348 photos and drawings)


Workshop Techniques for Clockmakers and Modelmakers (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 108 pages. A collection of all articles written by Mr. Smith in The Home Shop Machinist, Projects In Metal and England's The Clockmaker over an 8-year period.)


Clockmaking and Modelmaking Tools and Techniques (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 112 pages. A collection of the best articles written by Mr. Smith for the British Horological Journal, Timecraft, Model Engineer and Horological Times. Some are revised, expanded and updated.)


How to Make a Strutt Epicyclic Train Clock (Book, 8-1/2 x 11, 121 pages)

Books and videos may be ordered from W.R. Smith at 8049 Camberley Drive, Powel, TN 37848. Call (865) 947-9671.

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New Submissions Welcomed

If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.

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This section sponsored by:
distributors of books by William R. Smith and John Wilding
4384 Woodbridge Rd., Tallahassee, Fl. 32303
Phone: 850-562-8084
E-mail: or order on-line at
W. R. Smith, 8049 Camberley Drive, Powell, TN 37849. Phone: (865) 947-9671
Worldwide sales except Europe. Europeans can order from Ritetime Publishing

This section is also sponsored by

Makers of precision miniature machine tools and accessories. Sherline tools are made in the USA.

Sherline is proud to confirm that William R. Smith uses Sherline tools and components for some of his small projects.

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