Stainless Steel Word Clock

A 3D-printed word clock with minute resolution and a laser-cut stainless steel front plate

August 8, 2023 3 min read
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I've always been fascinated with word clocks since I first saw the QLOCKTWO at an art gallery in New York. I believe that it's the ability for a seemingly random grid of letters to tell the time is magical.

Most of the commercially-available ones, however, only tell the time in five minute increments, opting instead to use a "four corners" system in which LEDs on each of the corners indicate how many minutes to add onto the time displayed in words. While this makes the clock simpler, I wanted one that had minute by minute resolution, just by using words.

Taking inspiration from QLOCKTWO's large-format metal clocks, I decided that the front plate should be laser-cut stainless steel, with the back being 3D-printed PETG. I was also on a time crunch, having a little less than two weeks before I left for college.

I eventually want to mill a walnut slab for the back, however I don't think I'll have time for this.

I started by creating a 16x16 grid of letters in Illustrator that would serve as the front plate of the clock. I wanted to use the excess scraps of WS2812 strips that I had laying around, so the center point of each of the letters is exactly 16.66mm apart, same as on the strips.

This was then exported as a DXF to be sent to Fusion 360 to start work on the backplate and center frame, which would hold the light strips in place.

There are three 3D printed pieces, each 320x320mm. All are secured together using the four M5 screws inserted from the front of the clock.

I used Ponoko's online service to fabricate the front panels, and while they took about a month to come, they look fantastic!

I cut & soldered the various scrap pieces of LED strip into sections of 16, and soldered them together with 3cm long wires. These sections were then put into the alignment jig.

The light blocker and diffuser blocks were then put on top.

The clocks are actually powered by the same boards used in my custom WLED controller project. The WLED software treats the 256 pixels as a 16x16 matrix and uses string manipulation to figure out which pixels to light up based on the time.

WiFi LED Controllers - Aiden VigueFlexible voltage input, over current protection, and it only cost $8 in parts!!
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