All in Good Time

Though my work on the stained-glass sundial necessarily slowed in July because of the Engineering Design Workshop, I did manage to make some progress. I laser-cut a prototype, using colored paper and the better part of a can of spray adhesive; I fiddled with the numbering to try and make the sundial as intuitive and readable as possible; and I ordered the glass and aluminum for a small-scale version.

sundial lasercut colored

The laser-cut version is 18″ in diameter, made of layered sheets cut from 19″ x 25″ Canson paper and held in place with spray tacky glue. (Thankfully, the adhesive is re-positionable, like a sticky note, so I didn’t have to get the circles perfectly centered on the first try.) After putting together the prototype, I took it around to get feedback and heard two common responses: first, that reading the hours before 8 AM and after 4 PM was confusing, and second, that the colors of the stripes were a little dark.

To figure out a better way of handling the numbering, I made a bunch of mock-ups of the various options. The original numbering (with a tweaked color scheme) looked like this:

sundial with numbers

I started out by adding in the hour lines from 5-7am and 5-7 pm. These could be either cut from the same aluminum as the sundial frame and other hour lines, or painted on the opposite side of the glass from the viewer, so that the lines looked dark blue.

sundial with numbers visible aluminum  sundial with numbers dark lines

Both of these options broke up the blue field more than I liked, so I tried dashed lines to see if that worked any better.

sundial with numbers short dashes  sundial with numbers close dashessundial with numbers long dashes  sundial with numbers mixed dashes

They were a bit better, but cutting holes in the glass for the aluminum dashes to fit into would be tricky with the waterjet, and it would increase the chance that I’d break the glass sheet. Adding the stars seemed worth taking that risk, but the dashes…not so much.

I decided to abandon the lines and try moving the numbers around instead.

sundial with numbers  sundial with numbers spaced

Still not perfect, but I did like the version with the numbers spaced around the outside — plus it seemed like the most readable of the ideas I’d come up with so far. It really bothered me that the spacer dots weren’t symmetric, though.

A friend suggested that instead of trying to move the numbers around within the constraints of the grey and white blocks I’d put in, I move the blocks around instead. The original spacing of the blocks wasn’t random: I marked them by drawing a line halfway between each of the points where the hour lines hit the outside circle. But while that spacing looks good and makes sense during the daylight hours, the hour lines swoop around so much in the night hours that the spacing before 8am and after 4pm looks completely arbitrary to anyone who didn’t make the sundial.

Since the spacing before 8am and after 4pm already looked arbitrary, there was no reason not to go ahead and make it arbitrary. I shuffled the blocks around…

sundial spaced numbers

…and I think we have a winner! This option balances simplicity and readability, and it’s no more likely to crack the glass while waterjetting than the original design is.

Next up, I’m making a laser-cutter pattern for this new version in order to cut it out of acrylic — one last prototype before I switch to glass and aluminum. I’ll also be making a small test design so that I can learn to cut glass on the waterjet without risking the glass I ordered for the sundial, and hopefully I can get both of those done by early next week. This summer project is finally starting to come together.


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