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!

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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.

Tlaci187 months ago
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
Found exactly the same for 8eu$_85.JPG
DIYnickH1 year ago
I think its time! lol
kdick2 years ago
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?
Lawlho2 years ago
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.
spotyguy2 years ago
Oh I love that !
longwinters2 years ago
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.
sconner13 years ago
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?
jlafee sconner13 years ago
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.

Yet another reason I'm glad I'm Canadian :P
Super Cameraman (author)  jlafee3 years ago
Oh wow, well that would really suck... That would make a lot of things not work right, not just these clocks!
sconner13 years ago
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)  sconner13 years ago
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.
sconner13 years ago
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. :)
JRick33 years ago
Can you still use the radio as a radio once you have removed it?
mckeephoto3 years ago
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 YOU3 years ago
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.......

gzuckier3 years ago
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 beco3 years ago
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.
YOUgNeek3 years ago
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!
zanshin3 years ago
errrm, does this mean you have a circuit with an open 120v wires hanging around? what if someone touches it?
Nope. Look at the pictures, the wires are all tidy with Wirenuts. Nothing is exposed.
Super Cameraman (author)  Spokehedz3 years ago
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.
Super Cameraman (author)  klixtopher3 years ago
Yeah, I'm going to revise this instructable when I have access to shrink wrap or something. Thanks for all the tips guys!
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
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.
cengel13 years ago
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.
kewlkiwi3 years ago
For anyone having difficulty in finding them, DX has several models of these, including exposed units.
See or
NightFury133 years ago
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.
Super Cameraman (author)  NightFury133 years ago
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.
agis683 years ago
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
vfx3 years ago
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.
Cephus3 years ago
I'm sure the 4:20 time on your parts clock wasn't coincidental. :-)
Super Cameraman (author)  Cephus3 years ago
Would you believe me if I said it was? ;)
This is stupendous! I'll keep my eyes open for one of these clocks at the thrift store.
Super Cameraman (author)  Spaceman Spiff3 years ago
Thanks and good luck with your search!
zombeastly3 years ago
i just hope 108 minutes after i build this, my metal lamp will not pin me to the wall