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Alhambra student to build grandfather clock

Students learn woodworking at Alhambra High under tutelage of Mr. Jay Heeb

Alhambra High School senior Matthew Webb displays the regulator clock he is building. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)
Alhambra High School senior Matthew Webb displays the regulator clock he is building. (DONNA BETH WEILENMAN / Martinez Tribune)
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Matthew Webb’s interest in woodworking began when he was in sixth grade.

As a Martinez Junior High School student, he heard about his school’s woodshop class, and thought he’d enroll.

Now Webb is in Alhambra High School, and is one of the award-winning members of Jay Heeb’s class that has been ranked fifth in the state at a recent competition.

Like he approached the sixth grade class, Webb decided once he heard about Heeb’s course, “I wanted to give it a try.”

He started with smaller items – jewelry boxes, one of which he gave his mother. The jewelry boxes are a convenient craft – Webb also makes jewelry, including a pirate coin pendant he often has with him.

Webb has learned to craft three-legged and four-legged tables. He became involved in cabinet-making, and was one of Heeb’s students to score well at regional and state levels of the Skills USA contest for woodworking students.

Courtney Laerzio came out on top in the regional contest, with Ryan DeMello and Webb technically tying for second, although Webb was scored third when the class competed at the state level.

More students in the class placed in the top 10 in the regional contest, and this year’s class took fifth at state for the second year in a row. The assignment was challenging – make a cabinet and have it completed in eight hours.

Most of what Webb makes in class are items for himself, he said.

“It’s fun,” Webb said. “I enjoy this class.” Part of its appeal is that Heeb’s class has fewer students. Those that attend are expected to perform their work without a teacher hovering nearby. “I can do what I want to do,” he said.

Webb, 17, is in the middle of several projects that should keep him busy for the next few weeks. He is nearing completion of the first part of an Adirondack wooden chair he expects to complete soon.

He already has made a cabinet for a modern version of a regulator clock.

The original regulator clocks were developed in England in the late 1700s as a way to improve timekeeping. They were popularized by Vienna clockmakers, whose products became fixtures in railway stations and other public places where it was important to know the correct time.

Modern versions don’t need pendulums and weights to help them tell time. But their look resembles the clocks of the earlier era.

Once Webb finishes his chair and installs the face into the cabinet of his regulator clock, he has a bigger project in mind that could take him the rest of the school year to complete.

He’s going to build a grandfather clock.

Like the regulator clock, this statuesque clock isn’t likely to have a functional pendulum, Webb said. “That’s a $400 clock movement,” he said. Still, he expects the clock to be an elegant timepiece.

Like the regulator clock’s cabinet, the grandfather clock will be made of oak. “It’s still going to be nice,” he said.

Another point of pride is it will be the first grandfather clock built at Alhambra High School since the 1990s, he said. That one was assembled by a member of the family that owns Kinder’s Meats and Barbecue, he said.

Webb said he’s taking advantage of the opportunities of the class. He’ll be graduating in spring, and won’t have access to the massive and intricate tools that fill the school’s workshop.

He’s kept nearly everything he’s made. He expects to keep both clocks and the chair, once they’re finished.

He enjoys learning the skills Heeb has taught him. “Furniture breaks. But I can usually fix it,” he said. In addition, it’s given him a step to a career. Webb expects to join a cabinetry company as an employee after his graduation.

Watching his young student grow in woodworking skills has become a matter of pride for Heeb.

“That’s a very talented man right there,” he said of Webb.

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