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'Time on his hands': Retired Minn. man makes ornate wood clocks

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Bill Bongs of Ironton talks about his intricate wooden dome clock he created which has a prominent place in his living room. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service 2 / 4
The intricate woodwork requires patience and a steady hand. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service 3 / 4
Bill Bongs stands in his Ironton, Minn., home surrounded by his woodworking projects. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service 4 / 4

IRONTON, Minn.—Bill and Vonda Bongs always know what time it is when they are at home. They are literally surrounded by clocks, many of which Bill made himself.

"I always tell people we have a lot of time on our hands," Bill said of his clocks, some of which contain thousands of pieces.

The 87-year-old Korean War veteran made several ornate wood clocks that adorn his and his 86-year-old wife's home in Ironton, but the handcrafted timepieces are not for sale.

"I started looking at them in some of these bulletins and places where they sold plans and saw some that I'd thought I'd try and see if I could make one," he said of how he got his start. "It just takes practice. I just started out by buying a scroll saw and had at it." The amature clockmaker passes the time carving the pieces of the clocks out of wood, some of which comes from his 20-acre property located about 15 miles northeast of Brainerd.

"I do it in my spare time. I'll work on them for six, eight hours a day and then I'll leave it alone for a number of days," he said. "Some of them are hard to make and some of them quite easy."

A large-scale replica of the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, or Amiens Cathedral, sits on the couple's kitchen table, and it took about two months for him to build it. The Roman Catholic cathedral and seat of the Bishop of Amiens is about 75 miles north of Paris.

"I really give credit to the people that drew them and figured them all out," Bill said of the blueprints he orders and then spends on average a couple of weeks turning out his clocks.

His four children and seven grandchildren will inherit the clocks, but he makes the intricate clocks as a way to ward off the winter doldrums that come with cabin fever.

"The grandkids, when they come over, they'll put a slip with their name in the clock that they like the best," said Bill, a fire warden who issues burning permits.

The former Marine has made about 30 clocks, which vary in size and details, but he said anyone can do what he does as long as he or she is persistent.

"We've given eight of them away to our four children, and when our grandchildren get married, they'll all get a clock, so the clocks will be heirlooms," said Vonda, an Air Force veteran.

Several of the timepieces have doors, chimes or moving parts, and all took patience to make because a mistake with, say, the scroll saw could render a piece unusable in the final product.

"Patience is the big thing," said Bill, a retired house painter who also ran a greenhouse and nursery on his property for about three decades. "The details are the most fun."

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