paper sundial | Mach 30

Making a Paper Sundial in 15 Minutes

A few months ago, I came across an Instructables project for a paper sundial. Papercraft projects are some of my favorites, because all I usually need is basic elementary school supplies that are lying around the house. Some of them are probably even from when I was in elementary school! Even better: because we’re working with paper, it doesn’t hurt much when you mess something up. With how easy this is, it’s a great project for all ages, especially for kids or your inner Maker!

paper sundial | Mach 30

Completed paper sundial

You can find all the instructions and resources you need for this 15-minute project at Instructables. As a brief overview though, the writer created an online tool you can use to generate a PDF that customizes the sundial for your location, and whether you want it set up for summer or winter. From there, you print, cut, glue a little, and you’ve got your very own paper sundial.

There’s one thing that I found a little tricky though, that I thought I’d share so you can benefit from my experience. In step 4 where the paper sundial instructions talk about how to fold the gnomon (the piece that casts a shadow to show you what time it is), I found it a little unclear how the folds should look, and even glued the wrong things together.

No worries though, because like I said before: it’s paper, and you can just print out a second gnomon! Below is a picture of the northern-facing side of it, to give some extra perspective. Hopefully that makes things clearer for you if you ran into the same problem I did.

paper sundial | Mach 30

North side of paper sundial gnomon

Once I was all done, I noticed that my gnomon of my paper sundial wasn’t quite straight. The instructions point out some ways to avoid or fix this, but I went with a different route. When I cut out the dial, I glued it on some card stock (aka thick paper if you’re not familiar with it). So, to straighten out the gnomon, I just cut some of the excess from what I used for the dial, folded it in half, and glued it on. Perfectly straight now! In the picture below, the darker area of the gnomon you see is where I glued on the cardstock.

paper sundial | Mach 30

Sundial gnomon reinforcement

With daylight savings time mixed with winter weather consisting of a lot of clouds and snow, I haven’t been able to take it for a test drive. It’s a bit hard to catch days that are sunny and will therefore let the sundial cast more of a shadow, but I’m confident from some of my pictures that it’ll work perfectly.

I think I might even upgrade it to something out of stainless steel next time! This obviously would require more than some scissors and some glue (think Dremel angle grinder with a cutting wheel). If you’re a Maker, you might even try reproducing an antique sundial, such as those in the Liverpool Museum’s Collection

Finally, for some extra education: why are the hours in the dial not evenly spaced? After all, the Earth doesn’t rotate at different speeds throughout the day (although when you’re at work or in school, it can feel like it’s slowing down). The reason why is because this is a horizontal sundial, one that sits flat on the ground. Equatorial sundials, like picture below of a sundial in Beijing, have their dial aligned with the angle of the sun on the sprint and fall equinoxes. This makes it so that the shadow cast by the gnomon directly follows the motion of the sun, and thus the motion is constant. One more thing to know: on days residing on the winter side of the equinoxes, the top side of the dial is used to show the time, and the rest on the bottom side.

paper sundial | Mach 30

Equatorial sundial in the Forbidden City, Beijing. Picture from Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed making a paper sundial, and maybe even learned some things. If you’ve gone the extra mile and customized your sundial, we’d love to hear about it (or even see it!). Post a comment here, or even better, show us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or another social media site of your choice.

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