Make Your Own Antique Rotary Phone Completely out of Wood
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Rotary telephones are certainly a thing of the past, but no one can dispute their inherent decorative beauty as objects. Wouldn't it be nice to have a wooden replica to display in your house?
Well, with this amazing woodworking project you can make your own from some scraps of wood and basic tools. Follow this simple guide to find out how.
Before we get started we will need some equipment and raw materials, as you might expect.
Materials and gear needed
- Lumber (reclaimed or new)
- Table saw
- Orbital sander
- Wood glue
- Coiled spring
- Old telephone coiled wire
- Hammer and chisel
- Power drill and drill bits
- Woodworking tools
- Mini lathe
- Clear varnish
Step 1: Prepare your wood
With all our gear and materials ready it is now time to get on with the build. The first step is to plan out our design and prepare our wood accordingly.
For this piece, you'll need a series of short and long pieces of lumber. You will need four longer strips to form a square for the base, three larger sheets of wood to form the base walls, four shorter strips to form a rim piece for the base, and one square piece of wood to act as a cap for the base.
You will also need other pieces to make the prism and main dials for the rotary dial.
Take your pieces of wood and begin to trim them down to size using your bench saw. This will trim off any excess and ensure the pieces are all the same dimensions.
Where required, cut some lengths of wood at angles too. These will be used to make a series of wood squares to form the body of the phone.
With that wood prepared, grab your orbital sander and sand down all exposed surfaces of the wooden pieces you've just cut.
Next, with some of the pieces of wood, cut the edges at 45-degree angles using your band saw. These will form the walls of the phone's plinth.
Step 2: Assemble the basic shape of the phone
With your wooden sections prepared, we can now begin to assemble to the rough shape of the phone. Grab the three squares of wood that will form the body of the phone and glue them together to make a C-shaped piece of wood.
Next, grab the lengths of wood that will form the base and glue them together to make a wooden square. This will form the main body of the plinth of the telephone.
Allow the glue to fully cure before moving on to the next step. Once ready, take your wooden square and chisel out notches around three sides of the inside perimeter to make a platformed edge.
Next, take your C-shaped piece of wood and place it onto the notched edge of the wooden square plinth.
Next, make a smaller square of wood and glue the pieces together. Again allow the glue to cure.
Once ready, place the square on top of the C-shaped walls of the base of the phone to make a rim.
With that complete, place a slightly smaller square piece of wood to form a cap over the base. With that, the main design for the base of the telephone is more or less ready.
Step 3: Add some design details to the base
Next, dismantle the base and transfer it to your table router and add a cornice molding bit. Take the largest square piece and route a cornice detail on all upper edges of the square.
Do the same for the smaller wooden rectangle to the design you want.
Repeat the process once again for the capping square of wood for the telephone's base. Once the cornice details are complete, reassemble the telephone base as needed.
With the pieces assembled, you can now glue them together. You can either do this as you assemble the pieces or use a glue applicator to run glue along the seams in their assembled state.
Step 4: Make the rotary dial assembly
With the base more or less now ready, we can move on to building the main telephone portion of the project. Take some angled pieces of wood and assemble them into a prism.
Glue the pieces together as needed. This will form the dial of the phone later.
Add the end plate pieces to the wooden frame to form the final prism.
With the prism complete, mark out a circle on the longest side of the prism using a pair of compasses.
Next, take another piece of wood, and draw two other circles using your compasses to the same dimensions as the circle you drew on the prism. Cut them out using your band saw.
With one of the circles of wood, mark out a ten-armed asterisk. This will be used to make the positions of the number holes on the rotary dial later.
With that complete, mark out a larger circle that bisects all the lines at the point you want the rotary dial finger holes to be.
Take the other unmarked circle, and glue it into position on the prism.
Drill a hole directly through the middle of the circle. Then using your drill again, drill finger holes around the rotary dial circle of wood and another hole through the center of it too.
Next, paint the numbers to the lower dial attached to the prism. Ensure you replicate the true position and sequence of numbers and symbols seen in genuine antique rotary phones.
Also, grab an old coiled spring. You may want to salvage a mechanism from an old antique phone or make your own.
Place the coiled spring into the hole in the prism. Connect the main rotary dial piece to the coiled spring, as needed, and test the action.
You should be able to freely rotate it and then it should return to position once you let it go.
Next, fashion a wooden finger stopper for the rotary dial and glue it into position on the front of the prism.
With that complete, transfer your rotary dial assembly to the main telephone plinth. Place it inside the box with the dial facing inwards and upside down. Drill two hinge holes to either side of the walls of the plinth into the dial prism.
Add screws or bolts into the hinge points as needed.
Next, make a closer plate for the void above the rotary dial prism. Glue it into position as needed but do not glue it to the rotary dial prism -- as it needs to remain free to swing outwards.
Next, make a decorative knob for the rotary dial, and glue it into position on the exposed face of the dial prism.
Step 5: Make the handset
Next, take another length of lumber and mount it into your lathe. Turn the wood to make a cylinder. With that complete, begin to add a series of ridges to the cylinder.
This will form the main details of the handset for the phone. With that complete, turn another piece of wood to make the main handle of the handset and other smaller details for the assembly.
The design is completely up to you but use some images of old phones for inspiration. With that complete. take your turned pieces of wood and cut them down into the necessary components using a band saw.
With that complete, drill holes into the parts that will be connected together. You will also need a series of dowels to match the holes.
With that complete, assemble the phone's main handset and handset rest as needed.
Step 6: Complete final assembly
With that complete, glue the pieces together if not already done so, and mount and glue the handset rest to the main phone plinth.
With that done, take the handset and place it onto the handset rest. Adjust as needed.
Next, take your sandpaper and give the entire piece a good once-over.
With that complete, begin to apply a layer of lacquer to the entire piece. For best results apply by hand using a paintbrush.
Ensure you work the lacquer into all the nooks and crannies of the piece.
With that complete, take an old piece of coiled telephone cable. Mark out where you want it to attach to the handset and the main plinth.
Drill corresponding holes and then attach the phone cable as required between the plinth and the handset.
With that, your antique wooden rotary phone is now complete. While this piece doesn't actually work, you can now place it somewhere of prominence in your house.
Well done you!
If you enjoyed this piece, why not make some more decorative wooden things like a working wooden gun? We thought that might pique your interest.