Alex Paulson shows off the grandfather clock that he made as his final 4-H project for the Fillmore County Fair. The clock earned him a grand champion rating.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Alex Paulson shows off the grandfather clock that he made as his final 4-H project for the Fillmore County Fair. The clock earned him a grand champion rating. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Alex Paulson of Chatfield has earned a trip to the Minnesota State Fair by building a grandfather clock for the 2013 Fillmore County Fair. His final project, entered as a member of the Root River Rabbit 4-H Club, earned him a grand champion ribbon.

"I've been making projects for the fair for about eight years. I started thinking about my other projects, and I thought of a grandfather clock, this being my last project," he said. "I started working on it last year, but I didn't finish it in time for last year's fair, so I finished it for this year's."

Alex has been a 4-H member for "about eight years" and he has used his grandfather's workshop to create woodworking projects for most of his fair entries throughout his high school career.

"The wood is almost all from my grandpa's farm. He had lumber people come out and chop trees from his field, and he got some back from them. He kiln-dried this wood. I have a bunch of cousins on my dad's side who have been in 4-H, and they built a bunch of wood projects," Alex shared. "My grandpa likes inviting my cousins and me up to his workshop, and the Christmas I was in fifth grade, he gave me a tape measure as his invitation to work with him. I started by making a spinning DVD holder, and I've made a CD rack, a nightstand, a smaller wall clock, a foosball table, a dresser and desk, and a cabinet. The cabinet got me reserve grand champion three years ago."

Once he decided to make a grandfather clock, his grandfather gave him assistance and the tools to start working. Alex ordered plans and clock parts from an online clockmaker, but most of the plans required adjustment because the measurements were off by nearly half an inch in some places, offsetting very precise joints and seams. Nonetheless, he persevered.

"When you first start making anything, you start with boards and look for straight lines. As you start adding curves and natural shapes, you see more shapes. I had to slow down on the curves - sand this, cut that - and it definitely helps to have it look nice as you're putting it together," Alex described.

He said he had troubles with the clockworks - the pendulum was swinging into the chimes, so he had to make some adjustments because one of the pieces was too long.

"There were a lot of different pieces in it and a lot of challenges - the wood choice, making sure it fit correctly...I had to do the doors over again because they had cracks and glue," Alex continued. "The hardest part was the crown because every one of the pieces was very small, but it catches your eye. It took a few tries to get the pieces working together to make the curved top and spindle."

Alex had very last-minute finishing touches to make to his clock before taking it to the county fair.

"I actually had to get it done the day of the fair. I had to do some varnishing, fix the hinges. I didn't get to enjoy it before we brought it to the fair, but it was a weight off my shoulders, especially being the last time I get to do 4-H," Alex said. "It definitely was a relief. It was something my grandpa got me started with woodworking, and he was looking forward to helping me with it...he was happy to help and let me use his shop. We were having a great time."

The clock spent a fortnight on display at the Fillmore County fair, as it is sensitive to humidity and must also remain perfectly level in order for the pendulum to swing properly, so Alex and his parents obtained permission to take it home immediately after it was awarded grand champion in the 4-H woodworking category.

Seeing the purple ribbon on his clock was a great thrill. "It was definitely my aim to get up to the state fair. I'd gotten a purple award for the county fair, went to the state fair and missed. With this one, I'm hoping to get back to purple status again," he said. "It's stepping stones. I've worked on it since the fair - steel wooled it, used paper to buff and shine it. We're planning on taking it to the state fair ourselves so that it has perfect leveling - when we get to the fair, we'll do the leveling, make sure it's presentable."

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville sophomore surveyed the woodworking projects filling his parents' home, noting that his chosen career is similar to clock-making and woodworking in that he aspires to become a mechanical engineer and that anything he does will require the use of technical drawings.

"I like to be working on some kind of engine, making it more fuel-efficient, working with different fuels. It's not far from clock making in a sense because with mechanical engineering, you're dealing with moving parts," he said. "Everything you're working with typically is moving constructed parts and the ideas behind having to take into account this thing or that thing. Looking at the plans for a clock helps me make my own plans, which I will be doing for someone else."

Since Alex is going to continue his college career, the clock will stand in the corner of the family dining room until he finds a permanent home of his own.

"It was a lot of work, but I had great help from my grandpa and my dad. The first year, I worked on it at my grandpa's, and all the finishing was done here at home in Chatfield. I couldn't have done it without my dad's and grandpa's help. It's very technical, as hard as it looks."