159: Clock

All the little clock pieces, lined up in order!

Making a clock has always been on the big list of things to try, but it wasn’t until this month that I actually got around to picking up the necessary supplies. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make your own clock. The supplies are inexpensive, and there are no tools (beyond the laser, if you choose to use it) actually necessary. To make your own clock, at minimum, all you need to do is pick up a clock movement kit, and then design your own clock face. I decided to add an extra challenge with this clock and design my own minute and hour hands. This is not actually necessary, as the kit has all the hands you need.

I picked up a clock movement kit at the local craft supply store for just $8.99 (price before the perpetual 20% off coupon!) They come in several different sizes – basically, you can choose how big and thick you want your clock. Bigger clock meant longer hands, but thicker clock face needed. I went with the smallest kit available because the clock face clearance is 1/4 inch thick. The hands included were quite short – about 1.5 inches for the hour hand and 2 inches for the minute hand. Since I was planning on making my own hands, I didn’t need to be too constrained by this, though.

Very detailed instructions! 😉

For those that might not be up on your analog clock terminology, the clock face is the decorative part with the numbers (usually), and the part where your laser and creativity come into play. I was toying around with ideas of funky shaped clocks, but since this was my first time trying this, I went with the standard round face. I spiffed it up with my favorite Pixelaser pattern, the blown out argyle vector line pattern. I didn’t want it to get too number heavy, so I chose to just put the 12, 3, 6 and 9 on the face, with little hash marks for the rest of the numbers engraved in.

The plain circle was just filler behind the clock face.

I made my clock face out of 1/8 inch thick bamboo ply, and it is 7 inches in diameter. If I had used the shorter hands in the kit, I would have done 6 inches, max – the ratio would have felt off otherwise. Because the clock movement kit had a clearance of 1/4 inch thickness for the face and I was only using 1/8 inch, I cut a smaller diameter circle and and nestled in behind to fill space. It worked like a charm.

I realize, belatedly, I may have spoken too soon about no other tools necessary. It was really nice to have a pair of digital calipers to get the hole measurements correct. Each piece of the clock had a different hole size where it was threaded onto the clock hand shaft – the piece in the center that connect the hands to the clock mechanism. The minute hand connection hole was particularly tricky – it was a circle with two sides cut off. The measurements were something like 4.5 mm tall, but only 2.9 mm wide. So, while not strictly necessary, a digital caliper is recommended for sanity’s sake!

The hands were fun to design. I took the basic shape and size of the argyle diamond and trimmed up the sides so they would be more like diamond pointers. I lined them up so the diamonds fit in the dotted lines each day at midnight and noon; likely no one will notice that but me, but it makes me happy. The hour hand is about 2 inches long; the minute hand is 3.

You can see the hand possibilities I cut: black, gold, and white, which I still think would be a fun look if I had the right thickness of material! Note the slightly different hole shape between the minute and hour hand. This was necessary to have it correctly tell the time!

I needed a super thin and light material for the hands because the ones included in the kits were made out of stamped metal. I originally envisioned a more mod-looking clock with white pointers, but the thinnest material I had in white 1/16 inch. I tried it; there was not enough room on the clock shaft to get the final nut on. So I ended up using .02 inch thick “Flexi Brass.” I get it from Johnson’s plastics, and this one was a nice gold over black. Gold and bamboo wasn’t quite the look I was going for, so I flipped it over and used the black side. My laser cut hands are more flexible than the original metal, but at such a short length on something that generally won’t get handled, I’m not worried about it bending out of shape.

The kit-included hour hand had this extra ring attached, so I tried to mimic this with laser cut washers.

I mentioned how getting the hole shape for the minute hand where it meets the hand shaft was tricky; the hour hand had a bit more of an issue. When looking at it, it was immediately obvious that there was an extra ring of metal around the hole of the hour hand. What wasn’t obvious what what it was used for, or it if was totally necessary. Was it simply spacing? Or necessary for proper hand movement? The hole measured 5mm on the ring side (or bottom side), and scant bit less, about 4.75 mm on the hand side (or top side). I wasn’t sure if this was just a by product of how they attached the ring or if it was really important, so I made the laser cut hour hand with a 4.75 mm hole, and cut an extra ring of material to glue to the back with a larger, 5mm hole.

That little tiny bit of hole size difference was important, it turned out. The hour hand sits above where the clock hand shaft widens to 5mm. The smaller hole held the hand at the right place on the shaft, while the wider ring attached stabilized it. My handmade hand with the .02 inch thick ring attached on the back did not work – the hour hand flopped towards the clock face. I think I could have fixed this issue by adding more thin rings to the back, but a simpler solution was at hand. I simply snipped off the decorative point of the metal hour hand, and then glued my plastic laser cut one on top. It worked perfectly, and I would recommend that to anyone using a kit like mine – the metal hand would have gone to waste anyway.

The clock mechanism was finished off with the gold second hand provided in the kit, though your clock will work just fine if you don’t want to include that. I thought it brought together to gold hardware nicely without it being too overwhelming. I popped a battery in and it’s ticking away nicely next to me. This project was a win – satisfyingly quick to assemble, relatively inexpensive for a polished looking end product, and infinitely customizable.


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