Digital Hourglass

Art 107: Advanced Projects


I have had this idea for a digital hourglass for a few semesters now. It has had the unfortunate luck to be in the shadow of two other larger collaborations so the project has been on the back burner for quite a while. While it initially evolved as a play on the cyclical things in nature, language, physics, and mathematics, it has evolved into ideas of over engineering and differing perceptions of time.

  • picture“1/2" slices ended up being too thick.”
  • picture“Back to the drawing board with multiple iterations. “
  • picture“Cutting the spacers.”

  • picture“Uneven circles because of warped cuts.”
  • picture“Hand sanding the end caps. “
  • picture“Beautiful edge lighting!”


I started by working from a rough model I made last semester with some added tweaks to the original design to help simplify construction as well as make it studier. After several iterations with different scales and sheet thicknesses, I finally settled on a 1/2 inch thick design with fewer slices, as I learned that electronics quickly get out of hand with the 44 slices I was working with last semester. I took the proper measurements and laid out the cuts in illustrator to calculate how much sheeting I would need. Fortunately I only needed 2 sheets for the 1/2 inch design. I used 1/8th inch acrylic sheets and cut 2 laser beds worth of plastic washers as well. This was a wonderful suggestion that helped stabilize the central structure and create more contact surface area for gluing later on.

However, I found that cutting the half inch was more trouble than it was worth. The rough cut end product was much too heavy to be picked up and the thickness of the sheet made the laser cuts come out the other side unevenly, warping the cut shapes. I salvaged what I could, but it was clear I needed a thinner sheet. Unfortunately I can't make it too thin because of the quickly scaling problems with that many LEDs on the horizontal slices.

I recut the slices, but this time with 3/8th inch sheets. This resulted in a much lighter end product I was happy with. For the spine of the piece, I split 1/8th inch acrylic tubing down its length on a bandsaw. This will allow for easy access to the electronics that are going to be housed inside.
I salvaged some slices from the thick failure to be the end caps for the piece. I wanted to differentiate the edges so it didn't seem like an extension of the middle "glass", so I sanded the edges down. I had to use 3 passes of varying grain sandpaper to get a nice matte finish. I did all this by hand because all of the powered sanders melted the edges and left uneven white streaks.