Mechanical Timekeeping Hack Chat With Clickspring

Join us on Wednesday, February 3 at noon Pacific for the Mechanical Timekeeping Hack Chat with Clickspring!

The reckoning of the passage of time has been of vital importance to humans pretty much for all our history, but for most of that time we were stuck looking at the movements of heavenly bodies or noting the changing of the seasons to answer questions of time. The search for mechanical aids to mark the passage of time began surprisingly early, though, pretty much from the time our ancestors first learned to work with metals.

Timekeeping devices were often created to please a potentate or to satisfy a religious imperative, but whatever the reason for their invention, these early clocks and calendars were key to a ton of discoveries. Timekeeping devices were among the first precision mechanisms, and as such formed the basis of much of our mechanical world. A mechanical representation of the passage of time also gave us some of the first precise observations of the physical world, which led to an enormous number of discoveries about the nature of the universe, not to mention practical skills such as navigation, which allowed us to explore the world with greater confidence.

In our era, precision timekeeping has moved beyond the mechanical realm into the subatomic world, and mechanisms built to please a prince are relegated to museums and collectors. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to learn from the building of mechanical timepieces, as anyone who has watched any of the videos on Clickspring’s YouTube channel can attest. Clickspring not only makes some magnificent modern timepieces, like his famous open-frame clock, but recently he’s also branched out into the timekeeping mechanisms of the ancients. He built a reproduction Byzantine sundial-calendar, and tackled a reproduction of the famous Antikythera mechanism. The latter was undertaken using only the tools and materials that would have been available to the original maker. That led to an unexpected discovery and a detour into the world of scholarly publishing.

Clickspring has been busy lately, but he made some time to stop by the Hack Chat and talk about mechanical timepieces. We’ll talk about his modern builds, his forays into the mechanisms of antiquity, and his serendipitous discovery. On the way we’re likely to talk about what it takes to build precision mechanisms in a small shop, and whatever else that crops up.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 3 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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For Your Holiday Relaxation: The Clickspring Sundial Build Megacut

The fortunate among us may very well have a bit of time off from work coming up, and while most of that time will likely be filled with family obligations and festivities, there’s probably going to be some downtime. And if you should happen to find yourself with a half hour free, you might want to check out the Clickspring Byzantine Calendar-Sundial mega edit. And we’ll gladly accept your gratitude in advance.

Fans of machining videos will no doubt already be familiar with Clickspring, aka [Chris], the amateur horologist who, through a combination of amazing craftsmanship and top-notch production values, managed to make clockmaking a spectator sport. We first caught the Clickspring bug with his open-frame clock build, which ended up as a legitimate work of art. [Chris] then undertook two builds at once: a reproduction of the famous Antikythera mechanism, and the calendar-sundial seen in the video below.

The cut condenses 1,000 hours of machining, turning, casting, heat-treating, and even hand-engraving of brass and steel into an incredibly relaxing video. There’s no narration, no exposition — nothing but the sounds of metal being shaped into dozens of parts that eventually fit perfectly together into an instrument worthy of a prince of Byzantium. This video really whets our appetite for more Antikythera build details, but we understand that [Chris] has been busy lately, so we’ll be patient.

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Hacker’s Discovery Changes Understanding Of The Antikythera Mechanism

With all the trained academics who have pored over the Antikythera mechanism in the 120 years since it was pulled from the Mediterranean Sea, you’d think all of the features of the ancient analog computer would have been discovered by now. But the mechanism still holds secrets, some of which can only be appreciated by someone in tune with the original maker of the device. At least that what appears to have happened with the recent discovery of a hitherto unknown lunar calendar in the Antikythera mechanism. (Video, embedded below.)

The Antikythera mechanism is fascinating in its own right, but the real treat here is that this discovery comes from one of our own community — [Chris] at Clickspring, maker of amazing clocks and other mechanical works of art. When he undertook a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism using nothing but period-correct materials and tools four years ago, he had no idea that the effort would take the direction it has. The video below — also on Vimeo — sums up the serendipitous discovery, which is based on the unusual number of divisions etched into one of the rings of the mechanisms. Scholars had dismissed this as a mistake, but having walked a mile in the shoes of the mechanism’s creator, [Chris] knew better.

The craftsmanship and ingenuity evidenced in the original led [Chris] and his collaborators to the conclusion that the calendar ring is actually a 354-day calendar that reflects a lunar cycle rather than a solar cycle. The findings are summarized in a scholarly paper in the Horological Journal. Getting a paper accepted in a peer-reviewed journal is no mean feat, so hats off to the authors for not only finding this long-lost feature of the Antikythera mechanism and figuring out its significance, but also for persisting through the writing and publication process while putting other projects on hold. Clickspring fans have extra reason to rejoice, too — more videos are now on the way!

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The Clickspring Playing Card Press Is A Work Of Art

We have no idea what a playing card press is, nor do we care. All we know is that after watching [Chris] from Clickspring make his playing card press, we want it.

Digging a little deeper, [Chris] offered to make this card press for [Chris Ramsay], a magician who specializes in cardistry, or the art of illusions with cards. The feel of playing cards is crucial to performing with them, and a card press keeps a deck of cards in shape. Not a commonly available device, [Clickspring Chris] designed one in an elaborate style that brought in elements from [Chris Ramsay]’s logo.

Like all Clickspring videos, this one is a joy to watch, but in a departure, there’s no narration — just 30 minutes of precision machining and metal finishing. [Chris] has gotten into metal engraving in a big way, and used his skills to add details to everything from the stylized acorn at the top to the intricate press plate, all of which was done freehand. And those snakes! Made from brass rod and bent into shape by hand, they wrap around the side supports to form [Chris Ramsay]’s logo. All the brass ended up gold plated, while all the screws ended up with a heat-blued finish. Settle in and enjoy the video below.

It’s been a while since the Clickspring skeleton clock was finished, in which time [Chris] has been working on a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism. His video output slowed considerably, though, when he made a new finding about the mechanism, an observation worthy of writing up as a scholarly paper. We can’t begrudge him the time needed to pursue that, and we’re glad he found time for this project too.

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Hackaday Links: February 26, 2017

The MeArm Pi is a fantastic little robot kit that was the first place winner of the Enlightened Pi contest here on Hackaday. It’s crushing the Shitty Robots subreddit, and compared to the old MeArm kit, it’s much, much simpler to assemble. Ask me how I know. Now the MeArm Pi is a Kickstarter. This tiny robot arm is programmable in everything from Scratch to Perl. It’s highly recommended for children ages 8 to those wanting to recreate the opening scene of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Almost a year ago, Lulzbot unveiled their latest 3D printer at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The Taz 6 is a great printer, but it’s a bit of a departure from their previous designs. The biggest change was the ‘brain box’, the controller box that encases the power supply, stepper drivers, and other associated electronics. Last year, Lulzbot said they would be selling this brain box by itself. It’s out now, ready for integration into your own self-built Taz, or a 3D printer of your own design.

Speaking of the Midwest RepRap Festival, it’s only a month away. It’s scheduled for March 25-26th at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Indiana. Why the middle of nowhere? It ensures only the cool kids make it. For one weekend a year, Goshen, Indiana turns into the nexus of all things 3D printing. Don’t ask questions, just come. It’s free, although it would be cool if you kicked a few bucks over to the organizers.

[Clickspring] — the guy who built a fantastic clock in his home shop – is working on his second project. It’s an Antikythera Mechanism, and the latest episode is about building a gigantic gear. This is a unique approach to building an Antikythera Mechanism. [Clickspring] is still using modern tools, but he’s figuring out how this machine was built with tools available 2000 years ago.

Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.
Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.

Ogopogo. Champ is a picture of a log and Nessie is a toy submarine with a head made out of plastic wood. Ogopogo is a plesiosaur. Are you going to tell me a log – or at best a beaver – can kick the ass of a plesiosaur? Ogo. Pogo. Plesiosaur. The Travelling Hacker Box has conquered Ogopogo.

The ESP32 is quickly becoming the coolest microcontroller platform out there. You know what that means – Kickstarters! The FluoWiFi is Arduino-derived dev board featuring the ESP32 for WiFi, Bluetooth, and all the cool wireless goodies. This board also features an ATMega644p — basically the little sister to the ATMega1284p – for all your standard microcontroller Arduino stuff. It’s £25 for a board, which makes it pretty inexpensive for what you’re getting.

Hackaday Links: February 12, 2017

Taking small LCD screens, a tiny computer running Linux, and a 3D printed enclosure to build miniature versions of old computers is a thing now. Here’s [Cupcakus]’s tiny little Apple II, complete with Oregon Trail. This Apple II is running on a C.H.I.P., uses a 3s lithium battery from a drone, and works with a Bluetooth keyboard and joystick. Yes, the power button on the monitor works.

At Hackaday, we get a lot of emails from people asking the most important question ever: “how do you become a hardware hacker?” [Tex Projects] lays it all out on the line. All you need to do is to buy five of something every time you need one. Need some header pins? Buy five. A sensor? five. Come to the realization that anything you build could be bought for less money.

Are we still doing low-poly Pokemon? [davedarko] has an idea for the Sci-Fi contest we’re running. He’s going to give children seizures. He’s refreshing a project of mine by putting lights, blinkies, and noisy things in a 3D printed Porygon, the original 3D printed Pokemon. Porygon was the subject of that one episode of the Pokemon cartoon that sent 635 Japanese children to the hospital. The episode was banned in America, but it was actually Pikachu that caused the flashing lights.

‘Member Clickspring? He’s the guy who made a fantastic mechanical clock using nothing except a few bits of brass, a blowtorch, a tiny mill and lathe, and a lot of patience. Now he’s building the Antikythera mechanism. The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000-year-old device designed to calculate the phases of the moon, the motion of the planets, and other local astronomical phenomena. This is going to be a masterpiece, and will eventually end up in a museum, so be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel.

For Your Binge-Watching Pleasure: The Clickspring Clock Is Finally Complete

It took as long to make as it takes to gestate a human, but the Clickspring open-frame mechanical clock is finally complete. And the results are spectacular.

If you have even a passing interest in machining, you owe it to yourself to watch the entire 23 episode playlist. The level of craftsmanship that [Chris] displays in every episode, both in terms of the clock build and the production values of his videos is truly something to behold. The clock started as CAD prints glued to brass plates as templates for the scroll saw work that roughed out the frames and gears. Bar stock was turned, parts were threaded and knurled, and gear teeth were cut. Every screw in the clock was custom made and heat-treated to a rich blue that contrasts beautifully with the mirror polish on the brass parts. Each episode has some little tidbit of precision machining that would make the episode worth watching even if you have no interest in clocks. For our money, the best moment comes in episode 10 when the bezel and chapter ring come together with a satisfying click.

We feature a lot of timekeeping projects here, but none can compare to the Clickspring clock. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at some of our earlier coverage, like when we first noticed [Chris]’ channel, or when he fabricated and blued the clock’s hands. We can’t wait for the next Clickspring project, and we know what we’re watching tonight.

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