Tutorial: Build A Manifold Clock For $10

Every once in a while, the Hack a Day tip line gets a submission that is cool, but screams to be built in a few hours, possibly while consuming adult beverages. When [Shay] and [Ben] sent in their Manifold Clock Kickstarter, I knew what I had to do. To make a long story short, there’s a manifold clock hanging on my wall right now. Check out my manifold clock how-to guide after the break.

As designed by [Shay] and [Ben] at Studio Ve, the Manifold Clock tells time in three dimensions and is based on the log z Riemann surface. Here’s the video the guys put up on their Kickstarter campaign:


As you can see, it’s not a terribly complicated build. There are three basic components for this build. First, the clock drive: these can be had for about $5 from any arts and crafts store. Secondly, the clock hands: not many clock drives come with a six-inch long minute hand, but I can make something work. Lastly, the webbing that goes between the hands. The official version of the Manifold Clock uses Tyvek for its tear resistance, but I came up with something just as cool.

To create the long clock hands, I repurposed the clock hands that came with the clock drive. By cutting of the largest part of the hour and minute hand, I was left with a small sliver of brass that can be attached to the hub of the clock. I bought a few pieces of brass tubing while I was in the hobby shop, as well. The hands of the clock were extended by soldering on brass tubing with 0.1″ or 2.5mm OD brass tubing:

Pardon the terrible picture. If anyone would like to donate a macro lens for a D40, I would graciously accept.

After cutting the clock hands to length, everything’s gravy. Now onto building the webbing that goes in between the clock hands.

The next two paragraphs are rather boring. Fair warning.

If you’d like to create your own manifold, just fire up your favorite CAD package and get to work. For my manifold, I first drew a circle with the same radius as the minute hand, and two more for the hour hand and center. I used a circle with a diameter of half and inch for the center – just enough to clear the hub of the clock drive. Inscribe a 12-gon in the hour hand’s circle, and draw the hour hand. I drew mine at 5 o’ clock, although this is just a rough guesstimate from watching the video for the Manifold Clock

The next step may be a little difficult if you don’t know your drawing package very well, but luckily it can be done very easily with a compass and straight-edge construction. I’ll let you Euclid that one out for yourself. Bisect the hour and minute hands, then draw a circle with a radius that is the average of the minute and hour hands. Draw an arc from the tip of the minute hand through the intersection of the bisection and circle you just drew, ending at the tip of the hour hand. Erase a few lines,  put some tabs on for gluing, and you’re done.

To save everyone from having to replicate my work, I’ve created a PDF file of the template for my clock’s membrane. This template is sized for a minute hand that is 5.5 inches long and an hour hand that is 3 inches long. Do with it what you will.

The Manifold Clock uses a piece of Tyvek for the web between the hour and minute hands. Tyvek can be had for free if you care enough to drive around to a new development and dumpster-dive for a piece of housewrap, but I wanted to make my clock a little classier. My webbing is made out of mylar (from an “emergency camping blanket” or alternatively a mylar balloon) with a layer of Kapton tape stuck to one side. The Kapton tape was originally purchased for the heated bed and hot end of my RepRap, but once I realized the gold foil on the Apollo LEM were a lamination of mylar and Kapton, I had to try this out. The result is a fairly tear-resistant film in a wonderful silver and gold:

Oh yeah, you also have to bend the minute hand higher than the hour hand.

After cutting my gold and silver film according to the template, the only thing left to do is assemble the clock. Wrap the tabs on the web around the hands of the clock, making sure the hands can rotate freely around the foil. Assemble the hands onto the clock mechanism according to the directions and mount it in some sort of enclosure. I used a fifty-cent round clock face:

So far the clock has been up on my wall for 38 hours and it’s still keeping the right time. I’m going to call this a success. Here’s a time-lapse of the clock in action:


The expenses for this build were a clock mechanism for $5.99, a small brass tube for $2.99, and an unfinished clock face for $0.50, totaling $9.49. Of course I haven’t figured in the cost of the mylar, Kapton, solder, paint, and soldering iron, but you get the point.

Sadly my clock doesn’t have a second hand and doesn’t tick very loudly so a Vetinari Clock is out of the question. If anyone is brave enough to build a Manifold Clock with a second hand, send it in. We’ll put it up.

35 thoughts on “Tutorial: Build A Manifold Clock For $10

    1. Several strips. I got a 2″ roll of it on eBay for about $15. Works wonders on a glass plate attached to my heated bed, the fact that it would look awesome on a LEM model is just a bonus.

      I have a square foot left of the mylar/kapton laminate. I might be making a wallet soon.

    1. Sorry; that’s like asking what is the benefit of the wide variety of clocks styles offered in a furniture store. Where there are sub varieties as well. Differentiate stroke for different folks, I suppose.

  1. I was going to say “What do two guys need $15k of other peoples money for to glue stuff on a premade clock?” but then started thinking…

    It’s about the hack. Who cares what my supposed interest in it is?

    I would say the clock is faulty by design, as you can’t see the hour hand on a smaller clock from a very wide angle. If it’s “about” noon, you’d probably know if it were 11:00AM or 1:00 PM when the hands start to intersect; but unless you’re accustomed to the distinct patterns of this clock, maybe not. Then again, I didnt build a binary clock so anyone ELSE would know what time it was!

    I’d make this instead with something transparent, more flexible than an overhead projector sheet, but sturdier than Saran Wrap (no-cling, obviously), with highly-visible hour/minute hands, and put the design in light colors or some graphic pattern (X-Y spacegrid is always cool)

    Maybe screen-door mesh pieces? Bright on one side, chromed on the other? The flex wouldnt push much on the clock arms, hindering the motor.

    1. Stating the obvious, I guess. Most likely the manufactures of the battery operated clocks we buy now use clockworks made by someone else The intent is to manufacture this commercially. Unless they are being start by some one who already has wealth, most business start ups need to raise capital. No need to bother with the conventional financial structure anymore. Rather than offering speculation of profit, they actually give investors something tangible for their donation. As you indicated, like your binary clock, this is a novelty clock

    2. It is clearly not meant for you, that is how art is. Some people love it some people hate it. The fact is that the more of these that they make, the less they are worth. The first one, before manufacturing started was probably worth 15k. Be cause it was beautiful, and someone wanted it. every time you make another, the value goes down. The people in charge clearly see a high profit margin, and don’t understand art. That doesn’t make the Hack-a-Day post any less valuable. I want one, and will build one, but i am not going to pay 15 K for it.

    3. Glue stuff on a premade clock? Are you serious?

      So, designing and injection molding the clock face doesn’t count? Hand-building clock hands with a jewelry-like finish doesn’t count? Having custom print runs on Tyvek doesn’t count?

      The only premade thing here is the clock mechanism, and given that it’s tucked away where nobody can see it, it’s the single least important element in the design.

  2. “To make a long story short, there’s a manifold clock hanging on my wall right now.”

    And lots of beer bottles thrown around your room too?!?!?


    Great quick and easy project! Well if you have all the parts that is…

  3. When I looked at the video I just groaned. When I looked at the Kickstarter page I groaned really loud. I had to double-check my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April first. Even if you spend ten minutes on this, it will be an incredible waste of time.

    1. agreed. i was mad at the seeing that it made it on this site, then even madder about the kickstarter promo, then 3x the mad when i needed to waste more time making this post and another about how terrible it was.

      so as a personal rule when i get 3x the mad, i say to myself “it’s time to stop checking hackaday for a week or so”.

  4. Wow it is crystal clear that this hacking community have a very limited group of artist.

    Why does it have to have a new purpose?

    The clock was not meant to carry a manifold, now it does. That is a hack. In your opinion it may not be a good one, but it is still a hack.

    From an art perspective it is very interesting. I am contemplating getting a number of these clocks and setting them to different time zones.

    One recommendation i would make is using scrap book paper rather than a space blanket. the space blanket doesn’t hold its shape like paper does, it looks really mechanical, and the original piece looks more lively

  5. It’s very deeply disheartening how little people here understand the design process.

    The mechanism is simple, yes. Actually reaching the end product is not. Everything lies in the details. *Everything.* Getting the manifold to look just right, working out the graphic print, getting the form and proportion *just* right, making sure the material folds over smoothly, and generally just refining the overall form and build. (Heck, if you’d refer to the original prototype that was featured in several magazines, the hands used to be cruder and the face had some unsightly screws.)

    There’s is an immense amount of effort that goes into even the simplest designs. They could have just grabbed some cheap faux patinated bronze potted plant tray, stuck a cheap clock mechanism inside of it, and stuck a scrap of limp, wrinkled space blanket in between the hands. Of course, then it would have looked like total crap.

  6. Thanks for the information. I’m building this using a tidal clock mechanism — idea being the wave motion is a nice abstraction of the natural phenomena.

    As in, it’s art. Users condemning this hack seem bright as uppity chickens to me. I wonder if they go ranting at the pointlessness of aesthetic objects in public? Obviously there’s room in life for both groundbreaking hacks, and simple mirth.

    Anyway, fwiw, I first tried using interfacing (a flexible fabric a little like tyvek) but that did not flip around the way your mylar does, but rather curls up and gets stuck… I hope that is just due to the material, and will try mylar next.

    1. Hi Maureen. I made it with tyvek, which I bought very cheaply by the metre at a small museum. They use it for wrapping prints, etc. You can print on it with an ink jet printer or paint it yourself, and you can sew the edge pockets for the clock hands to go through. Tyvek has the right amount of stiffness required for the manifold to flip around and it’s more versatile and prettier than mylar, I think. Make sure the hands can spin freely around in their pockets. I slid a 3mm diameter plastic tube over the clock hands. The tube came off a remote controlled car (used for protecting the antenna). Have fun! KJ

      1. KJ, thanks for your further advice. I found the time to complete my manifold tidal clock—in a rural location with few materials to work with. To correct my manifold to spin freely, I gel-superglued 1.5mm tubes (using drink-box straws) to the edges, then capped the clock hands (using match tips). So far the clock is maintaining accuracy about tide and minutes; Intentionally this clock does not tell hours—how’s that suit you hyperrationalists? ;-) If you’d like a glimpse, I made a photo of the clock my avatar here—you’ll see I handcopied Hokusai’s “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” onto one side of the manifold, and decorated the other in abstract silver-ocean patterns. KJ, message me if you’d like a full-size image to see or post! Great hack altogether, thank you again.

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