Catherine from The Upcycled Timber Company makes beautiful things from old whisky barrels. She started to make clocks from cask ends and used fillets of wood at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions to indicate numbers. Catherine asked if I could help her experiment with laser engraving as an alternative.
Creating the artwork
First, I had to create the artwork for the numbers. Catherine was happy with a simple bold font to complement the rustic nature of cask ends, so we chose the Arial font. I laid out the numbers on a circle sized roughly to match cask end sizes.
Cask end challenges
Unless cask ends are brand new like the ones I engraved for Diageo, they’re not usually regular circles. Edges wear down over the years, making the faces near the edges curved, and they’re rough and blackened in places. Individuality is part of the appeal of old cask ends, but it means we have to be flexible with the artwork to make it right for each clock. In this case, we reduced the size of the artwork to make sure that the numbers were far enough away from the edges.
How to reduce engraving time
I programmed the laser to engrave all the numbers individually. It’s much faster to do this rather than engraving each number at the same time as the laser has to scan across the whole cask end with each pass of the laser head. This reduces production time per unit. That’s why you see all the numbers coloured differently in the artwork. The colours are engraved sequentially.
Each cask end is different
Catherine brought the cask end round to the workshop and stayed while I engraved it. She decided that she wanted the clock raster engraved with the pieces of wood vertically aligned.
There was a surprise on the back of the cask end – a piece of wood perpendicular to the cask end pieces. As it would be unstable in the machine without extra support, I stabilised it with pieces of wood so that it wouldn’t wobble.
Cask oak is usually very dense. I engraved at the highest power setting to get the deepest, darkest engrave possible. This oak was particularly dense, so we engraved the 3, 6, 9 and 12 again for extra definition. As the 9 was on a darker area of wood, it helped it stand out more.
Catherine was delighted with the results. After oiling it and fitting the mechanism, she sent it to its new home in the United States. It was ordered as a birthday gift for a whisky lover who fell in love with it immediately.