Introduction: Cool Exposed Retro Flip Clock

Picture of Cool Exposed Retro Flip Clock

Ever since watching LOST, I’ve always been interested in owning my own flip clock, like the one in the Swan Station. Split flap displays have been around since the 1960’s and are still used in many train stations to display the train schedule. 

I think these displays look really cool, and it’s always interesting watching the displays change, as they can’t just change every word at the same time, it has to go letter by letter until the correct letter shows up.

In this Instructable, I’ll be taking an old split flap alarm clock and turning into a cool piece of mechanical art. You can buy very similar clocks online anywhere from $40 to $100, but I’ll show you how I made mine for just 2 bucks. I think this could make a great gift!

Step 1: The Find

Picture of The Find

The hardest part of this Instructable might just be finding the right clock for the right price. You can buy a retro flip clock on eBay for under $30, but if you look in Goodwill and other thrift stores, you might be able to find one for a great price. The one I’m using cost me $2 at my local Goodwill.

If your clock looks anything like this, you will probably be able to follow right along. This is the second clock I’ve modded like this, and even though they were different companies, the insides were basically identical. Just make sure it actually has a split flap display. Also, check online to see if it’s actually worth more than you paid. For example, the alarm clock that wakes Marty McFly in Back to the Future is actually worth a decent amount money. 

Step 2: Open It Up

Picture of Open It Up

Opening these clocks is pretty simple. You just need to remove the screws on the bottom and pull off any knobs on the sides or top. The knobs might need a little force to come off, but they should come off without damaging anything.

There should be about four screws under the clock’s display. Leave those in for now-- They hold the display mechanism in place.

Step 3: Scoping It Out

Picture of Scoping It Out

This is what most flip clocks look like on the inside. From left to right, you can see the power transformer, the clock mechanism, and the radio. Notice how the radio and the transformer take up so much space.

The transformer is only used for the radio, not the clock. Believe it or not, the clock’s motor and light just get plugged directly into the wall without any circuitry. 

Step 4: Split the Clock

Picture of Split the Clock

In this step, we'll be separating the clock from the radio and everything else.

Start by freeing the power cable. There should be a screw holding it in. Also, unscrew the transformer.

When that’s all done, carefully remove the screws holding the clock to the plastic base. There should be four screws.


Step 5: Wires Wires Wires

Picture of Wires Wires Wires

Now you're probably noticing, there are a lot of wires in there. But it's pretty simple actually.

If your clock is like this, it has a motor to run the clock itself and a single light to light it up. There should be four wires for the whole thing; two for the motor, two for the light. 

If you follow the power cable into the clock, you’ll find that all four of these wires are probably directly attached to it. There also should be wires going to the transformer. Cut these off, we’re not using the transformer.

The clock part should now be free from the box. If it's not, cut any wires that are left over. There might be wires for the alarm switches. I'm not using this as an alarm clock, so I cut all those wires.

UPDATE: It's not the best idea to have any wires exposed, even the ends of wires you cut. I'm going to updating this Instructable shortly with instructions on how to do this properly with solder and heat wrap.

Step 6: Make It Pretty

Picture of Make It Pretty

Now it should look like this. Do whatever you want to clean it up a little. Cut off any wires you’re not using and try to remove any components that you’re not using such as the switches for the alarm clock. 

You can also shorten the wires and use shrink wrap if you feel inclined to be fancy.

Step 7: Set the Time and Plug It In!

Picture of Set the Time and Plug It In!

That should be it! All you have to do now is set the time and plug it in. You set the time by twisting the knob on the left. Note that it only goes one way, so if you go past the time it is, you can’t dial it back. You have to dial it all the way back around through all 24 hours.

When you plug it in, you should notice the motor spinning. It spins all the time, but should be pretty silent. Mine here is pretty neat since there is a spiral pattern on the motor which is constantly moving. Pretty trippy/awesome.

Check out the video for the exciting moment where the time changes!


sconner1 (author)2011-11-30

Fun fact:
Older electric clocks often used the 60Hz AC signal of the power grid to count seconds and keep the time. At 60 cycles per second, 60 cycles = 1second.
This made it easy to build AC electric motor driven mechanical clocks. Clever huh?

wee gary (author)sconner12015-08-16

That is interesting. I wonder how they got that to work on the UK versions. (It's 50Hz over here.)

FahdMurtaza (author)wee gary2017-10-10

Not just frequency, the voltage too. So in this case, they usually provided a flip switch in the clock or timer to switch to 50 Hz so you could have the correct time. The Japanese made devices I have seen had switches for changing voltage and frequency both.

jlafee (author)sconner12011-12-17

Sorry for the late reply on this, but just came across this Instructable. Gorgeous work, but unfortunately Congress will be doing their part to ruin it's functionality. There is a proposed change to the power grid that would actually change the 60Hz cycle to a variable cycle to reduce power consumption during non-peak hours.

Michael_Bell (author)jlafee2012-04-10

Yet another reason I'm glad I'm Canadian :P

Super Cameraman (author)jlafee2011-12-17

Oh wow, well that would really suck... That would make a lot of things not work right, not just these clocks!

wee gary (author)2015-08-16

Interesting. Would you know if all flip clock-radios are laid out like that?
(The clock totally independent from the radio.)
If so, I have an interesting project for one.

Sp1k33 (author)2014-08-12

Thank you very much, because if i didn't read your instructable i would left the transformator in it, and it looks so much better without that. :-D

pballenfrits (author)2013-12-11

Found exactly the same for 8eu$_85.JPG

DIYnickH (author)2013-11-18

I think its time! lol

kdick (author)2012-08-14

What if it's one of the one's where it's just the clock (no radio)? Do you just remove the case and take off anything extra?

BTW: Is this safe to have plugged in for everyday use?

Lawlho (author)2012-06-25

So this is the closest thing to a Lost clock I could find. Would it be possible to make this play a recording of the Swan countdown as an alarm? I've been looking into stuff like this because I really want an alarm clock like the Swan station.

spotyguy (author)2012-06-08

Oh I love that !

longwinters (author)2012-05-13

My first thought came from my mother, so you forgot how to put it back togeather?
I like these projects but for some reason when I strip much of what I buy it's
boring or cheep, you got lucky with the retro look on this one nice job.

sconner1 (author)2011-11-30

Just exposing the workings of this style clock goes a long way to making it look 'punky.
I have an idea for the truly ambitious glutton for tedious punishment.
Carefully clean the ghastly Helvetica typeface off the flaps and replace with a more stylized one. ooohhh.

Super Cameraman (author)sconner12011-12-17

I've often thought about doing this... Or even changing colors. Like spray painting the flaps white and getting number stickers and putting them on the flaps.

sconner1 (author)2011-11-30

If you pass the correct time by only one minute (aww), simply unplug for one minute to let reality catch up instead of taking one to two minutes to flip through 24 hrs worth. :)

JRick3 (author)2011-11-28

Can you still use the radio as a radio once you have removed it?

mckeephoto (author)2011-11-28

Talk about "not judging a book by its cover"!

I have seen many of these out garage sale-ing and have thought that I should get one and do something...

But, I was never able to get past the vague high school memories of that thing keeping me awake at night when it clicked over.

Now, I will have my revenge!

(and show it off at the studio, where it won't keep me awake at night, clicking out the minutes!)

HEY YOU (author)2011-11-28

Nicely Done!

I had one of these clocks as a kid but it got knocked off the bedside table, the cover came off and something inside was damaged. 24 hours later the number halves were spread all over the room and I had no more flip clock.......


gzuckier (author)2011-11-27

I have one of those clocks I salvaged from a Sony clock radio in 1970 or thereabouts; i kept the microswitch attached to it, so now and then i can use it to switch things, like it was intended. It still keeps time despite getting knocked around from time to time; the only thing that happened is that the frame around the spiral wheel can get bent so that it drags on the wheel and slows it down, and I had to bend it back.

wanna beco (author)2011-11-27

Can't believe how many of these we threw away over the years, we wanted the LED ones. LOL. I see endless steam punk possibilities with this one... thanks for posting.

YOUgNeek (author)2011-11-27

I totally have one of these clocks that I bought at a yard sale and wanted to do something cool with it. Thanks, I will try this project! Yours look awesome!

zanshin (author)2011-11-27

errrm, does this mean you have a circuit with an open 120v wires hanging around? what if someone touches it?

Spokehedz (author)zanshin2011-11-27

Nope. Look at the pictures, the wires are all tidy with Wirenuts. Nothing is exposed.

Well I haven't been shocked yet... I'll let you all know if I do though. Is this really unsafe?

Noticed this too. The one particular spot that looked unsafe (without better examination of the clock) is where you cut the leads for the transformer. Those little red stubs are left exposed and they would be 120V. I'd use caution with this (it was in a case for a reason). Really cool project here though, really want to try a version of this.

Yeah, I'm going to revise this instructable when I have access to shrink wrap or something. Thanks for all the tips guys!

zanshin (author)Super Cameraman2011-11-27

and test all of the exposed metal pieces with that mains-test-screwdriver thingy (sorry, not native english speaker) for shorts, and if there are any capacitors (i don't see them...but they usually there when you have timing circuits), if they are of some size, they tend to hold the charge of decent voltage in them, and can easily shock

Spokehedz (author)klixtopher2011-11-27

I missed those, but you are right. I would remove all the wire nuts, and put new ones on if I didn't want to solder the wires up right with heat shrink tube.

cengel1 (author)2011-11-27

It would be cool if all the parts that betray the fact that it used to be part of a clock radio were converted to something more steampunky. E.g., replace plastic gears with brass, maybe do something a little different with the left knob, etc. Awesome as-is though.

kewlkiwi (author)2011-11-27

For anyone having difficulty in finding them, DX has several models of these, including exposed units.
See or

NightFury13 (author)2011-11-27

Do you think its possible to have this wired up to a battery because i think it takes up too much space and would be nicer with a battery.

I'm sure there's a way, but you would probably have to replace the motor. The stock motor needs 120v to run. Anything less, and the clock won't run at the right speed.

Also, the motor is constantly moving which would probably drain any battery pretty quickly.

Oh thats right and thanks for this instructable i'll try it as soon as i can, i've always liked flip clocks.

agis68 (author)2011-11-27

great job...i have one (GE made) from 50-60's. Was a gift from my grandpap for my good grades in high school...2nd year...back in works perfect but the flipping has some delays to change. I guess need some cleaning

vfx (author)2011-11-27

The reason these are so often used in movies and TV shows (like BTTF) is that the red lit number versions strobe out of sync with movie cameras. It's distracting and had to fix later.

Cephus (author)2011-11-27

I'm sure the 4:20 time on your parts clock wasn't coincidental. :-)

Super Cameraman (author)Cephus2011-11-27

Would you believe me if I said it was? ;)

Spaceman Spiff (author)2011-11-26

This is stupendous! I'll keep my eyes open for one of these clocks at the thrift store.

Thanks and good luck with your search!

zombeastly (author)2011-11-25

i just hope 108 minutes after i build this, my metal lamp will not pin me to the wall

About This Instructable




Bio: Film maker, musician, tinkerer. Living in Philly.
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