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Build An Evil Mad Science Bulbdial Clock

LED sundial electronics kit is made for the shade

By Ryan Winters
Jameco Product Manager

Bulbdial Clock Description: Bulbdial Clock
Assembly Time: 6 hours
Skill level: Intermediate

Parts and Tools List:
Bulbdial Clock Kit
Soldering iron
Angle flush cutters

Optional Parts:
USB-TTL cable/device (if you want to reprogram the clock)

It's time to break out the soldering iron for the electronics Bulbdial Clock Kit from Evil Mad Science. This is a fantastically designed kit complete with well-documented build instructions and every component you will need to complete the clock, right down to the power supply to plug in for instant gratification. Now the plugging in part may be instant, but as for the soldering, let's not be hasty. The Bulbdial Clock functions like a sundial except it uses colored LEDs to cast a shadow instead of the sun. In this RGB version of the kit, each color casts a different length shadow to represent the hour, minute, and second-hands on the clock. It is definitely an eye catcher and a fun electronics project.

Getting Started

As with all kits, make sure you have all the pieces and equipment you are going to need before getting started. You will need a soldering iron, solder, angle flush cutters, and a USB-TTL cable/device only if you will be reprogramming the clock (the Bulbdial Clock chip is pre-programmed). The parts in the kit are nicely organized into their own little bags with tags that identify the contents of each bag (Fig.1). There is even a little wooden jig (Fig. 2) with a cutout of an LED to assist with bending the leads so that all LEDs will be uniform and line up properly. Since this clock works like a sundial, the alignment of the LEDs are critical in order to cast the right shadow to read the time properly. Take your time when installing the LEDs and assembling the components because it will make the calibration step much easier.

Bill of Materials included with the kitFig. 1, Bill of Materials included with the kit.

Wooden jig for LED lead bendingFig. 2, Wooden jig for LED lead bending.

Detailed step-by-step instructionsFig. 3, Detailed step-by-step instructions.

The image above (Fig. 3) illustrates the amount of detail given for each step. There are helpful pointers for soldering, component orientation, and even how to hold them steady when soldering. I was able to complete the whole project without the use of a third-hand. You can either love it or hate it, but the 68-page build instructions are on the website in PDF format. I happen to love it because I opened the file on my smartphone or iPad and had the build plans handy at the work bench while soldering.

Beginning Your Build

Installing the resistors, capacitors, crystal, buttons, headers, and MCU are pretty simple. The LEDs will take a little more care because the angle of installation is important. Once you've bent the 30 blue LEDs, prepare the main board to receive the LEDs. Install some of the hardware stand-offs temporarily to allow the LEDs to sit freely. The LEDs are fed into the board from the back side. Follow the instructions to temporarily fix the red ring PCB to the main PCB. This red PCB will prevent the LEDs from falling out when you solder the leads. Inspect the LEDs and verify they are all roughly pointing toward the center and in the same plane. Also, make sure the leads are pointed straight up and down, not at an angle.

Do as the instructions say and only solder one lead of each LED. This allows for one more chance to adjust the LED spacing and alignment before soldering the final lead. After the ring of LEDs is completely soldered and the excess leads have been trimmed, it is time to assemble the clock face so the first ring of LEDs can be calibrated. Plug in the power supply and power-up the board. Follow the instructions for how to enter the calibration mode on the clock. Push down each LED to cast the perfect shadow across the gnomon spike. Follow the steps and recommendations from the guide to get the best looking second-hand shadow. Since this first ring of LEDs will spotlight the second-hand, the alignment does not need to be perfect. Each LED represents a two second interval and with the fade transition between each LED, you will hardly notice any minor deviation off center.

Perform the same lead bending procedure for the green LEDs using the jig to build the second ring representing the minutes on the clock. Take care when bending and positioning them into the green board, again, trying to have them all pointing roughly toward center and on the same plane. The soldering process is the same as with the blue ring. There will be some zero-ohm resistors to connect the three layers together electrically. Pay special attention of when to solder and when to clip the leads. When the green ring is complete, you will calibrate it the same way as the first layer. You will see when applying the final push on the LED, the shadow is just a little shorter than the second-hand to be distinguished as minutes (Fig. 4).

Green minute-hand calibrationFig. 4, Green minute-hand calibration.

Hour Marker LEDs

There is red light at the end of the tunnel! The 12 red LEDs are the last to install to the remaining red PCB. There is one for each hour, so be sure these are nicely aligned before final soldering. Solder the remaining zero-ohm resistor leads to electrically connect the final ring and plug it in for testing and calibration. The clock is pretty much complete with the exception of the case. Follow the instructions for building the case and the clock is complete.

The clock looks great and keeps accurate time. There are seven levels of brightness for the display, including "Lights-out", while still keeping time. Additionally, each hand's brightness can be adjusted independently as well as disabling the second-hand for a completely custom appearance. Personally, I enjoy watching the second hand tick-fade around the clock. Anyone who has walked by and seen my new clock on the desk is bedazzled with the color and the slick motion of the second-hand "ticking". I'm certain no other clock you may have will ever intrigue your guests as the Bulbdial Clock will!

Green minute-hand calibration
Green minute-hand calibration

Need help?

Your first stop should be the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories forums:
Ryan Winters is a Product Manager at Jameco Electronics. His hobbies include working on cars and computers, fiddling with electronic gadgets, and learning robotics.