A Reel To Reel Clock

And this is how the clock will tell time!

Word clocks – time pieces that spell out the current time with words – are awesome. They’re usually entirely electronic, illuminating LEDs to display the time. Not this one. It’s a mechanical masterpiece that shows the current time in words using motors and 35mm film leader.

The mechanics of this clock are fairly simple: text is transferred onto 35mm film leaders with water slide decals, which are then rolled onto film reels. These film reels are mounted on stepper motors attached to a frame with Meccano. There are four film strips, making this a surprisingly similar a word clock but using motors instead of LEDs.

Because this clock was originally built in 2008, the electronics are a bit… strange through the lens of a post-Arduino skill set. [David] is using a homebrew BASIC Stamp with eight Step Genie ICs and MOSFETs for each motor. Calibration of the clock is handled by an IR detector and a mark on each piece of film leader.

It’s an impressive example of mashing up spare and surplus parts to make something cool, but unfortunately we can’t find a video of this clock in action. If you manage to find one, put a link in the comments and we’ll add it below.


  1. peanutbutterjellytime says:

    Just brilliant!

  2. Crazy Cellist says:

    Here’s a video clip :-)

  3. 0xfred says:

    Very nice. Always good to see a different interpretation of something familiar.

    I’ve got an even more awesome word clock planned out in my head, although someone will probably beat me to it before I actually get round to making it a reality.

  4. Le_Bassiste says:

    N1! what’s the name of the tune?

  5. Fritz says:


  6. Very cool. I wonder how different the day feels using this as a clock compared to how it feels when getting the time through digital numbers digital on a phone or computer screen.

  7. Hi, I’m the artist who created this piece. It was also covered in Make magazine (http://dhenshaw.com/Art/ReelTime/images/ReelTime%20Make%20Magazine.jpg) and I presented it at the Bay Area Maker Faire in ’08. You can see how it was built, step-by-step, at http://dhenshaw.com/art/reeltime/index.html. It’s true that this is antiquated now, and I’ve since moved to Arduino!

  8. Hirudinea says:

    That’s clever but it would have been easier to just take to take a picture of a clock every 5 minutes on a film reel.

  9. test says:

    Where do you get 35 mm film like that? I’m looking for vinyl to make a dry erase computer.

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