Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Cuckoo Chronulator

For those of you that are regular visitors here you'll know I've become more or less obsessed with designing and building cuckoo clocks. This has involved teaching this old dog some pretty new tricks. And I've loved it. I've found myself immersed in woodworking, woodcarving, clockworking, electronics and mold-making. It's been a blast.

What i've enjoyed the most is finding different ways of telling the time. Unearthing outdated technology and applying it to my cuckoo clocks in strange hybrids of chronology. Things like the wonderful nixie tubes with their oddly cold-war retro feel...

And the seventies flip clocks that have such a great analogy vibe that digital clocks could never replicate.

The joy of this on-going project has been finding problems and then solving them. Recently I've been fiddling around with wonderful Chronulator from the clever chaps over at ShareBrained Technology. It's a great kit that uses panel meters to tell time. So instead of showing voltage this kit allows panel meters to   display time. Nice aren't they?

The poplar and walnut case on this one was built by a clever chap called Kraig but all the internal workings are pure ShareBrained.  This is me assembling one of the kits...

It's a sweet kit and a clever piece of electronic jiggery pokery. However I want to make my clocks a bit more retro in feel than this. So I've been buying up old retro panel meters to use instead.

As you'll see they suit the mash-up steam-punky quality I'm looking for in my clocks.

However there is one small problem. These panel meters are very hard to come by and every time I get one it involves either a really big rebuilt to replace the shunt or the difficult task of replacing components on the kit in order to change the voltage. Given that whenever I find another second-hand panel meter the voltage or set up is different this has become a very laborious task each and every time.

So I hit on the idea of building my own retro panel meters. Ones that I can fit with a shunt that perfectly matches the ShareBrained Chronulator. No need to rewire or source old panel meters.

Seems like a simple solution right? Well, yes and no. Building the new panel meters has involved making new prototypes in wood. This meant some pretty intense wood-turning but I think you'll agree they've come up a treat.

First of all I needed something to model my new/old panel meters on. This old Simpson amp meter fitted the bill nicely.

Then I had to remove the shunt from the meters supplied with the ShareBrained kit. Given that their panel meters are square and my are round this was a pretty tricky task. Also when you cut plastic with an electric saw it tends to heat up and then reattach itself as you cut. Slow speed was the answer and constant pressure to keep the pieces separate.

So once it was cut I had some dimensions to work too. Here are the three pieces to my meter.

And assembled.

By 'eck it looks just like a bought one doesn't it? Then it's just a matter of slotting in the shunt housing.

Fits like a glove. Next up I also wanted to make one to a slightly larger size so I can have some variety in my meters. So I just scaled the process up.

Here they all are side by side.

For the next step I'm going to make molds of all the parts and reproduce them in black polyurethane plastic. This will bring them another step closer to looking like the Simpson meter. I'll also laser cut a hours display to slot inside and a clear plastic window to complete the look.

I'm really pleased with the way tis has turned out and it will lead to some pretty slick looking (and relatively hassle-free) clocks down the track. As always I'll keep you posted on my progress.   

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