About W.R. Smith Print E-mail

The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship presents the award for

Metalworking Craftsman of the year, 2000

William R. Smith,


W.R. Smith

Mr. William R. Smith of Powell, Tennessee has been selected to receive the Martin Foundation craftsmanship award for 2000. The award will be presented April 30th, 2000 at the NAMES show in Wyandotte, Michigan.

Bill Smith

At the North American Model Engineering Society expo on April 30, 2000, Bill Smith received the award for "Outstanding Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" and a check for $1000.00 from founder, Joe Martin.

Bill Smith

At the NAMES show, Bill Smith displayed some of his award-winning clocks.

At our request, Mr. Smith provided the following biographical data. You will see that Mr. Smith is a man of many talents and skills. 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.

After a 16-year absence from ham radio, Bill is now back and operating three stations from his home. His callsign is W4PAL. He has also recently renewed his boyhood interest in building speed keys. He built his first high speed key at age 10 over 73 years ago. His most recent, the
Duovert, is the world's first fully automatic, vertical telegraph speed key.

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).

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.

wall clock

This scroll skeleton wall clock stands 9" above its black walnut base, is one of Mr. Smiths 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.

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 Corps. 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.

lyre skeleton clock

This lyre skeleton clock stands 16" above its base, 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.

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 five workshop manuals, and have produced three workshop videos. 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.


This 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.

About two weeks ago, I completed work on my fifth workshop manual, Workshop Techniques for Clockmakers & Modelmakers. This contains most of the tooling articles, other than serials, that I have written during the past eight or so years.

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 was responsible for all of our jobs in the nation's shops. 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.

Scroll skeleton

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.

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.

I sell my books and videos from Powell, and my workshop manuals and videos are also sold across Europe by the British Horological Institute 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 (423) 947-9671.

--William R. Smith

Strutt clock

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 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 Book

When Bill Smith first built the award winning Strutt Skeleton Clock  in 1980, he did not document the construction. In 2003, he made a new version of the clock, and it is now documented in a book for those who wish to build this clock themselves and learn some of Bill's techniques. Bill also has numerous other books and instructional videos on sale for clockmakers and modelmakers. Call him at (423) 947-9671 for information or to order. More about Bill can be found on his page in the Internet Museum of Craftsmanship at www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com/WRSmith.htm.