Keith Chambers started off with a love for handmade things.
"My dad died when I was real young, so up until high school I never even had a screwdriver," Chambers, 59, says. "Then, in high school, I started taking shop and photography and metalworking, silk screening. I took every class I could and just loved the handmade stuff."
His career took him on a bit of a different path, working his way up to senior engineer at Square D, now Schneider Electric. But he kept his hands in woodworking, making things for his daughter, Angela, including a wagon in which she could pull her dolls and stuffed animals. He also made a dining room table and bookcases, but he wanted something more challenging.
In a 1987 edition of Fine Woodworking magazine, he found his challenge: wood-geared clocks.
He set out to make one, crafting a wood-gear grandfather clock that still stands in his living room.
"It near about killed me," Chambers says. "It took me nine months to make it."
And it started something.
Once again, Chambers Woodwerks will have a booth at the American Founders Bank Woodland Art Fair, selling a variety of wood-geared clocks and hand-made electronic wall and desk clocks. Chambers has exhibited at the fair with the enterprise that has grown from a hobby into at least a substantial part-time occupation, particularly after he left his day job at Elan Home Systems in July 2011.
Chambers also does free-lance engineering work, including designing wall mounts for LCD television monitors with a friend. But he has found himself able to devote more time to his wood-geared and electronic clocks.
Like many artists who exhibit at Woodland and similar fairs, Chambers has found there is a limited clientele for his priciest products, which cost well into four figures. So he has developed a line of hand-made electronic wall and desk clocks that generally go in the neighborhood of $150 and up. They don't feature the wooden gears and weights that mark his signature products, but they usually have pendulums and surfaces of leopard wood that aren't commonly found in clocks.
His most popular design is a wall clock with an owl bobbing back and forth in a window above the clock face.
But his first love is the wood-gear clocks, which have very high-tech origins — remember, the man is an engineer. Before he cuts a grain, Chambers designs the clocks on his computer with three-dimensional drawings that define measurements down to thousandths of centimeters.
Sitting before a couple of monitors, he virtually pulls gears out of a grandfather clock design and flips them around and zeroes in on their details.
"My biggest challenge is how you get it from the drawing board to an actual part," Chambers says.
That takes place in a shop behind his house where his tools include a custom-designed device for carving out gears. Even with expertise and equipment, Chambers says, making the wood-gear creations is a time-consuming task.
Chambers recently joined the Kentucky Arts Council's Kentucky Crafted marketing program, meaning his work will be available to wholesalers. With more flexibility in his schedule, Chambers says, he has more time to keep up with that kind of demand.
"It used to be it was all I could do to keep up with inventory for the shows," Chambers says. "Now, I kind of like the situation I'm in."