Laser precision time[pieces]

My GPS-set ticking digital clock


Recently, Metrix has lent its tools to some interesting time piece projects. They both use the sky to get their time readings and they both use high-tech fabrication methods, but they couldn’t be more different in their functionality. One [top] is a digital LED clock that is run by a microcontroller and gets GPS readings through a GPS module for its time calibration while the other [bottom] is the newest addition to the ancient tradition of sundials. Read on to learn a bit more about how these timepieces were made…

GPS-set ticking digital clock

My GPS-set ticking digital clock

This clever little device, designed by Andy Filer, brings together the precision of 21st century technology with the best of old-school grandfather clocks-that soothing tick-tock that gently reminds us of time’s passing. Hear it go:

The main components that make this digital clock run are an Arduino board, which executes the code written by Andy, a TTL serial GPS module, so that the clock can set the time according to GPS data, and a relay in order to get the audible ticking sound. The rest of the electronics components are LED displays, resistors for each of the LED segments, a TIP120 darlington transistor to trigger the relay, and some wires. The real magic happens in the code uploaded to the Arduino board. Andy has been generous enough to make the code available at 


For the digital clock enclosure, he used 5mm-thick cherry veneer pieces. The joinery was created through a box-generator software that accounts for the amount of material taken out by the laser and adjusts the width of the tongue-and-groove pattern based on the desired tightness of fit. In Andy’s design, all the joints are press-fit, eliminating the need for messy glues. The laser cut box pieces are finished with tung oil, which gives them a nice polished sheen.

Old-fashioned polar sundial


Compared to Andy’s digital clock, this sundial is quite simple in how it “runs”. Align properly and just add sunlight. Its assembly on the other hand was quite the process.


It took over 70 piece to put together the sundial and its box, which also serves as its base. All the joinery is pressfit, including the layered elements. Aligning square openings were cut into the pieces that layer, then laser cut pegs were driven through those openings to attach everything tightly without the use of glue. 

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First, the sundial altitude setting hinge is assembled. The sundial is designed to be able to work anywhere in the world.

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In order to fit all the pieces in the box, a system of sliding joints was devised that allows the larger elements to break down into smaller components.

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The storage box doubles as the base of the sundial. The timepiece attaches to the lid with a sliding joint.

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The lid is then secured to the rest of the box with a set of dowels that slide into each other and lock.

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The final steps are to place the dial-numbering plates in their slot and to place the assembled dial plate onto the sundial base by sliding it onto the copper shadow-casting plate[gnomon].

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In order to align the sundial properly with the North-South axis, a compass slides out of the box lid and then stows away when not needed.

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All of the sundial components were laser cut from 3mm and 6 mm birch plywood. It took a total of about 110 minutes of laser cutting including numerous test for fit and several re-cuts. All the pieces are finished with several layers of tung oil. This design can easily be scaled down or modified.

Do you have a fun timepiece you’ve been dying to make? Come down to Metrix and take advantage of all the great tools available. Send us and e-mail if you’d like to know more about either of these project or about the services and tools offered at Metrix Create: Space.