Form Follows Function In This Circuit Sculpture Clock

A wall clock made from wires and electronic components

Electronic components are strictly functional objects: their appearance is determined by the function they’re meant to fulfil. But that doesn’t mean there’s no beauty in them. In fact, a whole discipline called circuit sculpture exists that aims to make beautiful shapes out of nothing more than electronic components and wires. Today we can show you [Maarten Tromp]’s latest work in this field: a wall-mounted clock that he’s christened the Clock Sculpture.

The clock’s main structure consists of two concentric rings made from galvanized steel wire, held together by twelve spokes. All components are soldered directly onto those two rings, with no additional mechanical support. Steel isn’t the greatest material for soldering to, but [Maarten] managed to make it work with a high-wattage soldering iron and a bit of plumbers’ flux.

The overall design is simple but clever: the outer ring holds 60 LEDs to indicate the minutes, with every fifth LED always illuminated dimly in order to provide a background reference in dark conditions. There are 24 LEDs on the inner ring to indicate the twelve hours as well as the “half-hours” in between. Without these, the dial would look a bit odd at 30 minutes past the hour.

Detail of a circuit sculpture clockA mains transformer, plus a single diode, a buffer capacitor and a 7805 regulator form a simple DC power supply, with its negative terminal connected to the steel frame. Time is kept by an ATtiny13A that counts mains frequency pulses. There’s no way to adjust the time: you’ll have to plug in the clock exactly at noon or midnight in order to synchronize it with the outside world. A crude method perhaps, but one that fits well with the clock’s bare-bones aesthetic.

The individual LEDs are driven by a set of twelve 74HC595 shift registers, all mounted dead-bug style between the two rings. Signals and power are carried between the chips by inconspicuous grey wires taken from old IDE cables; this gives the clock a clean, uncluttered appearance. [Maarten] has had the sculpture clock in his office for several months and while it apparently took some time to get used to, he claims it’s easy to read in bright and dark conditions.

Circuit sculpture has formed the basis for several stunning clock projects: this Tie Fighter-shaped clock for instance, or this insanely complex LED clock. Our 2020 Circuit Sculpture contest yielded many breathtaking designs, too.

4 thoughts on “Form Follows Function In This Circuit Sculpture Clock

  1. “… indicate the twelve hours as well as the “half-hours” in between.”

    I have often considered adding a similar feature to the Bulbdial kit. I keep having to explain to visitors that it is a digital clock with analogue display. Turning LEDs on at 1 and 2 o’clock positions simultaneously would indicate the halfway state, for example.

    Have not located the source code as yet.

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