Homestead

A timely profession: Maine artisan crafts handmade clocks

Posted July 06, 2016, at 4:22 p.m.
Last modified July 07, 2016, at 9:52 a.m.

When Tamzin Higgins moved to the United States, she didn’t plan to become a woodworker. Instead, she looked forward to starting life with her new husband, Keven.

But it wasn’t long before she realized she would need something to do to occupy her time.

“I didn’t have anything to do. I left my job [in Canada] and I was like, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’” Tamzin Higgins said. With a technical school diploma in film and a history of expressing her creativity through hobbies such as writing, Tamzin Higgins had never been averse to artistic ventures, but she never imagined she would support herself through one.

“I’m 50 percent artist and 50 percent a logical, organized person,” Tamzin Higgins said. “I like doing things that are creative, but I also realize there are bills to pay.”

It took a chance encounter to help her come up with an idea that has taken on a life of its own.

“I had been in a shop in Bangor and saw a clock that I think was made of plastic, but looked like a butcher block board. I thought, ‘I bet we could make clocks. I’m sure we could do something like that,’” Tamzin Higgins said. “[Keven] had some wood leftover, and I suggested it to [him] and he was all excited about it. He said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”

The result of that decision was Durum Tempus, a custom hardwood clock-making business.

At their home in Holden, their family room on the first floor isn’t exactly fit for gatherings anymore. Slabs of wood, including walnut, pine, oak and more, occupy one corner of the room, filling the space from floor to ceiling. The Higgins’ cat, Weasley, naps among the aromatic lumber. An enormous computer numerical control machine takes up another corner, and freshly made clocks are propped against free space on the walls and situated in a vessel on the floor.

The entire downstairs of the household has been converted to a workshop. At first it was just the home of Higgins Fabrication, where Keven Higgins builds custom furniture. Now the workshop also houses Durum Tempus.

Before the two were married, Tamzin Higgins had never worked with wood, but Durum Tempus was able to get off the ground quickly primarily because of her husband’s pre-established business and the tools he already had.

“It’s something that I never thought of doing. It was…” Tamzin Higgins said, pausing briefly.

“Terrifying,” Keven Higgins said, finishing her sentence with a laugh.

“I had a lot of [hardwood] shorts that I didn’t have anything to do with and couldn’t bear to throw away. And now she’s grown it to the point where we’re buying lumber specifically for the clocks,” Keven Higgins said.

Tamzin Higgins has only been making clocks for about three months, but the response she’s gotten from the community for her unique product has taken her by surprise.

“It’s taken off in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think other people saw the potential in it more than I did,” she said. She won an award Island Arts Association in Bar Harbor in May — the second craft fair she attended.

Tamzin Higgins makes her clocks with computer software and a special computer numerical control machine that had been receiving only minimal use by Keven Higgins before her venture.

The process begins when she chooses wood for the clocks, which is then jointed, planed and glued to ready it for new designs.

“[This one is] a solid black walnut panel, and this one on top is flame birch,” Keven Higgins said, displaying a particular clock in the works. “We take a board that’s flame birch and with a band saw we slice these little thin sheets off. Using a vacuum press, [we] glue them down to make this thin layer on top. What she does is cut through it, so you end up with this high contrast without paint or stain. All it is is color contrast with the two different species of wood.”

From birdseye maple to pine, walnut and flame birch, they use high-quality, locally sourced wood for the clocks Tamzin Higgins designs. Particle board and plywood are never used in either of their creations.

The CNC machine cuts designs into the wood, which Tamzin Higgins creates on special computer software.

“We use a program called Vectric, and you can import files from the internet. I want to do more hand-drawn stuff, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Tamzin Higgins said.

Keven Higgins called the CNC machine a game-changer for woodworking.

“They’re insanely precise down to thousandths of an inch. It allows you to do things you used to have to apprentice for 20 years to learn,” he said.

The clock is then carefully sanded and finished with lacquer.

Tamzin Higgins generally uses images from the public domain when she creates her designs, but sometimes special licensing is required so she can make a clock with a particular pattern.

“Some things we have to license. The Acadia one is a good example. Friends of Acadia owns that logo, so we licensed it through them. It’s a limited run, and a portion of the proceeds goes to those guys,” Tamzin Higgins said. She made a special clock for the national park’s centennial to be auctioned off at an event, but the clock was so desirable that she decided to make others for sale.

The entire process varies depending on the size of the clock and complexity of the design, but it generally takes about a day of work to make one from start to finish. The clocks vary in design, from patterns of the earth and moon to trees with falling leaves and even maps of the earth. They vary in price but generally fall in the $75 to $200 range.

Tamzin Higgins is looking to expand locations where her clocks are offered, but they can be found at The Not So Empty Nest in Bangor. They also will be available at Venn + Marker in Bath, which is aiming to open at the end of July, and the Lighthouse Arts Center in Bucksport, which is opening in mid-August.

She also sells at Maine craft fairs, including the Southwest Harbor Flamingo Festival on July 16 and 17, the United Maine Craftsmen craft fair at the Cumberland Fairgrounds from Aug. 11 to 14, the Island Arts Association craft fairs in Southwest Harbor on Aug. 21 and Bar Harbor on Sept. 3 and 4 and the United Maine Craftsmen craft fair in Westbrook on Sept. 10.

Tamzin Higgins said she has plans to attend school in the fall for business management but will continue to make clocks until she receives her degree and decides what to do from there. She said pursuing her education will help both businesses, because she said her husband would rather be building than dealing with administrative chores.

“If someone told you a year ago you were going to a professional woodworker, I don’t think you would have believed them,” Keven Higgins said.

Tamzin Higgins agreed.

But for now, a woodworker is exactly what she is.

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