Introduction: Orrery- a Mechanical Solar System Model From Plywood

Picture of Orrery- a Mechanical Solar System Model From Plywood

This project explores the use of plywood to make mechanical, decorative, and structural parts.

This instructable is about how to build a desktop orrery. An orrery is a mechanical model of the movement and position of the planets in our solar system. The device accurately depicts where the earth is with respect to other planets, the sun, and the moon and how they move relative to one another. It can be used for education, decoration, demonstration, a gift, and a fun project to build.

I built my orrery with half a sheet of plywood and less than $50 in other materials.

However, full disclosure, constructing the orrery required some specialized tools. My design requires a CNC machine to cut the gears from the plywood. A laser cutter or a 3D printer might also work here, but I don’t know enough about them to be sure. I’m sure someone in the comment section will correct me if I’m wrong.

The design relies on custom cut gears, which need to be perfectly centered, symmetrical, and have identical teeth. I would strongly advise you not to try this with non-computerized tools. Unless you’re like the Michael Phelps of the scroll saw perfectly cutting 19 small gears with almost 900 total teeth is probably more frustrating than possible. Even small imperfections in gear cutting can cause problems because the gears all need to work together. Moving Saturn on the model, for example, requires 12 of the gears to all move together perfectly.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials

I'll start by talking about the tools and materials that I used:


  • CNC or laser cutter
  • Small file set
  • Soldering iron
  • Pipe/tube cutter (a hacksaw would probably work here)
  • Drill or drill press


  • 3/16 inch plywood (which is actually like 0.19 inch thick) - 2 ft by 4 ft section [<$10]
  • Brass tubes and rods (3 foot sections) - found these at a local art supply store, I've also seen displays at some hardware stores, and you can certainly order them online [$25 total]
    • 2 x Brass rod 3/32
    • Brass tube ⅛ inch diameter
    • Brass tube 5/32 inch diameter
    • Brass tube 3/16 inch diameter
    • Brass tube 7/32 inch diameter
    • Brass tube 1/4 inch diameter
    • Brass tube 9/32 inch diameter
  • Washers [$2]
  • Super glue
  • Marbles, wooden balls, plastic models, or whatever you want your planets to be
  • Wooden golf tees (again, optional depending on your planets)
  • Dow rod (you could substitute some of the brass tubes for dows here)
  • Wood stain or paint (optional, against depend on how you want it to look)

Step 2: Design

Picture of Design

I started by hitting the internet hard and seeing what had already been done. Orreries come in all shapes, sizes, makes, models, and designs. Some take up entire rooms; some can sit on a desktop. They can be made from anything from Legos to steel, but most are made of brass. They also range wildly in complexity. If you want to make something smaller and less complex, consider just making a model of the sun, moon, and earth. There are tons of ideas and designs out there, so be creative when making your own.

I decided to building mine out of plywood because it was a material that was easy to work with given the tools I had on hand. Because the parts are mechanical, I avoided real wood because I was concerned about creating weak points at the gear teeth when they don't align well with the wood grain, and I wanted to avoid even slight post-production warping that you may see with real wood. Any warping would throw the gears out of alignment. Plywood is also relatively inexpensive, so I could experiment with a bunch of designs and toss the ones that don’t work.


The whole idea of an orrery is for it to be a model of the relative positions of the planets and sun. I also wanted to include earth’s moon because it is readily observable. I had to be realistic about how accurate and complete it could be give constraints on size and buildability.

I figured the model can be proportional in three ways:

Orbital period - The planets all spin around the sun in the same direction (relative to the sun) on roughly the same plane. The amount of time it takes them to revolve around the sun varies by planet. For the earth, it takes 365 days. The orbital period of a planet (or planetary year) increases exponentially as you move further from the sun. For every time the earth goes around the Sun, Mercury has to go around about 4 times. Saturn only goes about 12 degrees in that time. I decided that it’s not worth representing any planets farther from the sun than Saturn because they would barely move. That is, they have very small angular velocity that's difficult to observe in an orrery. Simply showing the first six planets captured most of the variation. For example, for every rotation of the earth (or ~ 4 rotations of Mercury), Uranus would only move 4 degrees. Neptune would move a barely noticeable 2 degrees. I decided I’d just do the first 6 planets. Sorry, Neptune and Uranus (and possible mysterious ninth planet that may or may not exist. - )

Planet size - I quickly found I couldn’t make the planets and sun proportional in size to each other. Even if I made the moon a pinhead, the sun would need to be a beach ball. Instead, I resolved to have them represented in size order, but not proportional. The sun would be the largest object but not as large as it should be. The moon, the smallest but not as small as it should be. I still wanted this size difference to be demonstrated, so I did end up carving out the relative size of all the planets in the solar system inside the largest gear, more on that further down.

Planet distance- Similar to planet size, the orrery would need to be gigantic to represent the distance between the planets properly, so I figured I just have them in the proper order and that would be good enough.


In addition to being not totally accurate, the model is also not totally complete.

Moons - I also choose not to depict any moons except for Earth’s. Saturn and Jupiter together have over 100 and that would quickly clutter things. There are also asteroids, dwarf planets and a whole bunch of other stuff floating around, but none of them are represented in the model.

Axial rotation- I also choose not to depict any axial rotation, that is, the planets would not spin on their own axis. I considered just having the earth spin, but the 1/365 gear ratio was very intimidating. If anyone has any great ideas for easily incorporating axial rotation, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Step 3: Gears

Picture of Gears

Start by designing gears. The gears are the heart of the orrery. The gears need to have specific teeth ratios to ensure the planets move that the proper speed relative to one another.

For each gear, you’ll need to know the number of teeth (which is proportional to its diameter) and the size of the shaft in the center of the gear. All the gears should have the same thickness, the thickness of the plywood.

For the gears, I modified the design found on . The blogger was limited by what brass gears were available commercially. Since I was cutting my own gears from plywood, they can be any size and have any number of teeth. Therefore, I could make the model far more accurate. I used Excel to find a combination of gears that (a) were within the size range I could cut with my material and (b) accurately showed planetary speed within 1% error.

I used 19 gears with the following number of teeth:

  • 11
  • 15
  • 16 (x2)
  • 18
  • 30
  • 32
  • 35
  • 40 (x3)
  • 46 (x2)
  • 57
  • 60
  • 61
  • 74
  • 76
  • 146*

*For the largest, 146-toothed gear, I etched the months of the year around the circumference. Note that the months should be COUNTERCLOCKWISE. I messed up the first time and put them in clockwise, which is not accurate.

In the center of each gear, you’ll need a hole that will snuggly fit your brass tube. Refer to the diagram which shows which gears have common axles. Solid lines that connect gears show they have a common axle. Hollow lines show that the axles fit inside one another and should be able to spin independently of each other.

  • The 74, 57, 46, and 32-tooth gears need to fit on the same tube.
  • The 15 and 30-tooth gears also need to fit on the same tube.
  • Two pairs of 16 and 40-tooth gears need to have the same diameter shaft.
  • The last 40-tooth gear needs a shaft that slides into one of the 16 and 40-tooth pairs.
  • The 18, 35, 46, 146, 60, 61,and 76- tooth gears all need different and increasingly larger tubes because they will slide into one another in that order and need to spin independently of each other.
  • The 11-tooth gear can have any size tube.

Spends some time figuring out which gears will use which tubes.

To determine the gears’ total diameter, the only consideration was that the largest gear (146 teeth) has to be about the diameter of the earth’s rotational path. The Sun, Mercury, Venus, and the moon all had to fit within that path. I lined up my planet marbles at a spacing that looked good and found they all fit into a circle about 9 inches in diameter with the sun at the center and the earth on the edge. The gear that the earth rotated against had 146 teeth, So 9 inches/146 teeth became the proportion I used to calculate the size of all the other gears. (X teeth)*(9/146) = Y inches in diameter.

To make the gear, I used the following steps:

  1. Draw up each gear in gear generator (
  2. Press "export it as a svg file"
  3. Import that svg file into my CNC program (or laser cutter or 3D printer)
  4. Scale it to the proper diameter according to the tooth/ diameter ratio (for me, multiply teeth by 9/146),
  5. Add a shaft hole of the appropriate size in the exact middle
  6. Run the machine to cut the plywood
  7. Use small files to clean up the cut

Since the earth would rotate around the 146-tooth gear each year, I added the months to it as point of reference. I also cut out circles in this gear relative to the size of the planets because I wanted that represented somewhere, even if just decoratively. The whole gear is the relative size of Jupiter. The ring inside the month labels is the relative size of Saturn. The three large cutouts are the relative size of Neptune and Uranus (they are very similar in size). The three set of four cutouts are the relative size of Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury.

I stained all my gears to make them look less like cheap plywood. Certain plywoods don't take stain well because they are a combination of different materials that absorb stain differently. Consider paint or test your stain before using it on your cut pieces.

Step 4: Top and Bottom Plates

Picture of Top and Bottom Plates

Nearly all the gears (except for the 146 and 11 tooth) are sandwiched between a top and bottom plate. These plates play several roles:

  • The bottom plate acts as a base for the orrery. Later, I put cork shelf liner under mine to protect the surfaces it sits on.
  • Both plates hold all the axles in position. The gears to need to be in a precise location. Close enough to that the teeth mesh but not so close that they bind. Finding that point can be a bit difficult, so take your time and try a few things out. For me, I found the distance between the axles needs to be the sum of the radii of the gears minus 0.125 inches. At that distance, the gears ran very smoothly.
  • Both plates hold the vertical supports in position. I cut six dow rods to act as vertical supports, but you can use brass tubes just as effectively. These supports keep the plates from getting too close together and preventing the axles from rotating freely. They also prevent the plates from getting too far apart and letting the axles fall out of vertical alignment.

I machined a top and bottom plate on my CNC. A started with the bottom plate. I found the distance between each of the axles, and I machined 0.1 inch indents into the top and bottom where the five shafts would fit in to ensure they stayed in place and were perfectly vertical. I also placed indents for 6 wooden dows in a circle.

For the top plate, I used the same CNC file with four changes.

  1. The bottom side of the top plate will be a mirror image of the top of the bottom plate. So I flipped the coordinates.
  2. The center axle will need to be a hole all the way through large enough to accommodate the tubes that drive the planets
  3. I made the top plate smaller in diameter than the bottom plate because I though it looked good and it allowed some of the gears to stick out and be more visible
  4. I also put some decorative cutout circles in the top plate to make the inner gears more visible.

Step 5: Brace

Picture of Brace

The brace plate is a strange but necessary part of the orrery. It's purpose is to prevent the 146-tooth gear from spinning. That gear needs to remain stationary. The brace holds the tube that the 146-tooth gear is mounted on.

To make the brace, I used the same file as the top plate with a few changes:

  1. The center hole needs to be the exact same diameter as the hole at the center of the 146-tooth gear.
  2. Instead of indents for the axles and vertical supports, the brace requires holes all the way through the material because all the axles run through the brace.They can be in the same location and the same size as the indents on the top plate though.
  3. I changed the decorative circle design.

Step 6: Gear Assembly

Picture of Gear Assembly

By now, you should have all the plywood parts cut:

  • 19 gears
  • Top plate
  • Bottom plate
  • Brace

With all these parts, you can start assembling the main body of the orrery.

First you'll need to cut the brass rods and tubes to the appropriate length. To calculate the length for each rod, look at the diagram to see what that rod or tube needs to go through, then added all thicknesses of those materials together. For my materials:

  • 0.11 inches for the indents on the top and bottom plates
  • 0.056 inches for each washer (A washer goes above and below each gear)
  • 0.193 inches for each gear and the brace

For example, the length of four of my axles (from the indent in the bottom plate to the indent in the top plate) was 2.268 inches. That's 7 layers of gears, 1 brace, 2 indents, and 9 washers.

All the tubes should end at that the top plate except for the tubes that hold the planets, they should extend through the top plate.The rods and tubes that go through the center of the top plate need to be long enough to not only protrude through the top of the top plate, but also continue on to each have an exposed 0.5 inches of brass. You can see in the photo how these nest tubes look like an old timey telescope if done correctly. Mercury, for example, will have a tube that extends from the 18 tooth gear, through 6 other layers of gears, through the top plate, through the half inch sections for Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the brace, Earth, and Venus, and an additional 0.5 inches of exposed brass.

Cut the rods to size using a tube cutter. Use a small round file to smooth out the cut so a smaller diameter tube will spin freely within the tube.

Add the gears and cut the rods according to the diagram.

Important: Remember to place a brass washer around the axle underneath each gear. The washer will reduce friction between gears spinning at different speeds or reduce the friction between stationary plates and spinning gears. Even on gears that spin at the same speed, the washer will maintain the proper spacing. A little lubricant between brass tubes will also help tubes that sit inside one another spin freely.

Even though the holes in the center of gears were the exact diameter of the tubes and a tight fit, I used a few drops super glue to make sure the tubes rotate with the gears they are attached to.

Start assembling from the bottom.

The sun needs no gears because it’s the point of reference and stationary. Mine sits on top of a 3/32” rod at the center. That rod should drop into the indent on the base plate.

The first four planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are the easiest mechanically.The planets are driven by a stacked set of drive gears on a common axle that sit on a washer that sits on the base plate. This stacked set of drive gears spins, but they do not move relative to each other. They have the same angular velocity. These drive gears articulate with the planets’ gears, which also sit on a washer that sits on the base plate. Each planet has it’s own gear and axle that move independently from the other planets. The smallest axle, Mercury’s, fits inside the axle for Venus, which fits inside the axle for Earth, etc. etc.

On the bottom of the drive gear stack, a 74-tooth gear drives the 18-tooth gear that’s attached to Mercury’s axle. Second from bottom, a 57-tooth gear drives the 35-tooth gear that’s attached to Venus’s axle. Third from bottom, a 46-tooth gear drives another 46-tooth gear that’s attached to Earth’s axle. The 146-tooth’s brace should be added above the 46-tooth gears. It does not rotate but instead holds a tube that will support the 146-tooth gear between Earth and Mars. Fifth from bottom, a 32-tooth gear drives a 60-tooth gear that’s attached to Mars’s axle.

Note:The gear ratios are proportional to the orbital period of that planet. The earth’s orbital period is 365 days, 1 year. Earth's drive gear and planet gear are both 46 teeth. 46/46 = 1. For every one rotation of those gears, one earth year has passed in the model. Mercury's gears a 18 and 74 teeth. 18/74 = 0.24. Mercury orbits the sun in 88 days or 0.24 years. Notice also that all the tooth combinations add up to 92. This is so they are always the same distance apart.

For Jupiter's gear, the rotation needs to be slowed down further. This will require two more stacks of gears. The Mars gear drives a 40-tooth gear that shares an axle with a 16-tooth gear. That 16 tooth gear drives a second 40-tooth gear, which also shares an axle with a 16-tooth gear. That second 16-tooth gear drives a third 40-tooth gear on its own axle that sits inside the axle of the first 40-tooth gear. The final 40-tooth gear drives the Jupiter gear.

A final stack of gears a 30- tooth and 15-tooth on a common axle use the rotation of the Jupiter gear to drive the Saturn gear.

Dry fit the vertical supports and add the top plate.

Once you have all the gears and plates assembled. Test the rotation by rotating the 74-toothed gear with your finger. It should run smoothly and the center axles should spin at different rates (except the one braced axle, it shouldn't spin at all). If you're satisfied with the motion, add the dow or brass tube vertical supports and glue those in place.

Step 7: Planets

Picture of Planets

I decided to use marbles from a local store for planets because they came in various colors and sizes and had an abstract quality to them. You could so use beads, wooden balls, custom make planets from clay, or purchase plastic models. The planets would need to be mounted on brass arms. To join the brass rods to the marbles, I used wooden golf tees. I drilled a hole the same diameter of the rod straight down the tee. I then cut the bottom off the tee and used super glue to secure the marble on the top of the tee. If you are using a material that you can drill into, you can skip the golf tees and stick the rods directly into the planets. I found I was more likely to crack the marbles trying to drill into them.

Step 8: Planet Arms

Picture of Planet Arms

Bend the 3/32 inch rods into arms to hold the planets. Bend eye hooks into the opposite end that are roughly the diameter of the tubes they are to be attached to.

Make sure the arms for each planet's arm is long enough that they can each pass by each other without colliding.

I looked up the appropriate relative positions of the planets on to find out where to place Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Do not solder on Earth, Venus, and Mercury just yet.

I then soldered the brass eye loops onto the appropriate tube with a soldering iron. I filed down any extra solder.

Note: Because I used marbles, the large glass balls for Jupiter and Saturn were quite heavy and tended to flex the 3/32 inch rods. I reinforced those rods with a sheath of thicker brass tubing, which prevented much of the bending.

Step 9: Moon Mechanism

Picture of Moon Mechanism

After installing Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars on their axles. Add the 146 tooth gear to its braced axle above Mars's. Use a few drops of super glue to make sure it doesn't spin.

Note: The moon rotates around the earth once every 27.32 days. That's 13.36 times a year. We can approximate this by having an 11-tooth gear rotate around the 146-tooth gear. 146/11= 13.3.

To make the moon rotate around. I drilled two holes in one of the larger brass tubes. One to fit over the axle that moves the earth and a hole on the opposite end of the tube large enough to allow the moons axle to spin freely. As the earth's axle rotates (driven by the gears between the plates), it moves the arm around the outside of the 146-tooth gear. The 146 tooth gear spins the 11 tooth gear which spins the small moon arm. The earth sits on a rod that slides into the moon's axle. A small washer is added to reduce friction between the arm and the gear.

Step 10: Last Planets and Sun

Picture of Last Planets and Sun

After the moon mechanism is running smoothly. Solder on Venus and Mercury's planetary arms and add the planets to the end of those arms. The Sun should be put in last, just mounted on the center rod.

Step 11: Final Touches and Thoughts

Picture of Final Touches and Thoughts

I added a crimped clear plastic ring around Saturn to represent its prominent rings. I also added some cork shelf liner to the bottom of the base plate to protect any surfaces I put the orrery on.

I'm very happy with how the orrery turned out. If I ever made another, I would change a few things that you could take into consideration.

  • I operate the orrery by moving the 74 -tooth gear with my hand. Adding a small crank knob might make that a little bit easier.
  • I really like the way the marbles look, but they are very heavy, especially at the end of long arms. I had to make my base big enough so that if Jupiter and Saturn are on the same side, the device wouldn't tip over. Painting wooden balls of various sizes might reduce weight.
  • This design is also scalable, so it can be as large or as small as your materials will allow. I'd love to see an outdoor kinetic sculpture like this.

Special thanks to the folks who created: and They are free and very useful.


NathanielH19 made it! (author)2017-12-26

Thanks for the instructable. I cut my gears from cast acrylic using a laser. It was probably a bad choice. Using an end mill or wood would have given me more square cuts. My cylindrical holes ended up being slightly conical, which made squaring the brass very difficult. Also bonding the brass to acrylic is difficult. Super glue essentially makes a very tight friction fit, but it can't penetrate either material. I used swarovski crystals for the planets. I'm pretty happy with the results. Took me a little over a month to design, fabricate, and assemble. Total material cost around $75. Whole thing weighs almost three pounds, rum for scale.

MatthewS3 (author)NathanielH192017-12-28

Very well done. This looks incredible. The clear acrylic really gives a look into mechanics and the planet representations is just great. Thanks for posting photos!

Raha heidari (author)2017-07-05

We saw how the movie system was movin

M2aestro (author)2016-02-19

I've looked at many wooden gears in clocks. The best gears were generally made of many pie sections glued together to form the circle of teeth, then finished. That requires much more labor of course (an understatement, if ever there were), but allows you to have stonger gear teeth

action pig (author)M2aestro2017-06-07

Plywood works just as well if not better. Wooden gears were glued in pie sections to keep the grain oriented in a way that allows for maximum strength. A gear cut out of hardwood without using the pie method would be very weak in the cross-grain direction. Because plywood is made of alternating layers it does not have a weak cross grain direction and does not need to be glued into pie sections.

When ordering the brass tubes, do the wall thicknesses matter? If so, what are the appropriate wall thicknesses for each tube size?

The inside and outside diameter is what is important. Some of the tubes must fit inside one another and spin freely. Look at the 4th and 5th photos in Step 6. The outside diameter of the smaller tube must be no larger than in inside diameter of the larger tube. Makes sure that if one tube must fit inside of another the outer tube has an inside diameter that accommodates the smaller tube. When purchasing tubes, pay attention to the inside and outside diameters (ID and OD). The wall thickness is just the difference between these.

EmilyS187 (author)2017-03-19

Hello there - how would I go about scaling this up so I can have a bigger Orrery. If I made all the arms longer by the same factor then they would all take longer to complete each rotation so how would I compensate for this with the gears? Would I scale them by the same ratio?

MatthewS3 (author)EmilyS1872017-03-20

The most important thing in the design is the gear ratios. Regardless of scale, the ratio between the number of teeth on each gear must be the same. The relative number of teeth on each gear determines the speed of the arms. If you multiply the teeth on one gear by any factor, multiply the number of teeth on all the gears by the same factor.

The easiest way to scale up this design would be to make bigger gears, but with the same number of teeth. In step 3, I multiplied the number of teeth by 9/146th of an inch (0.0616 inches) to calculate the proper gear diameter. If you want your orrery to be roughly twice as big as mine multiply by 0.125 inches, for example.

The length of the arms does not matter. If they are 6 inches or 6 feet long, they will still rotate at the same angular velocity. That is, they will still go 360 degrees in the same amount of time. Think of it like a clock, even if you cut the minute hand in half, it would still take 60 minutes for it to go around the face. The relative angular velocity is what's important.

JobbieSaus (author)2017-02-03


satya.bgr (author)2016-09-12

painted planets.. sun pending

satya.bgr (author)2016-09-09

Also I took off top and brace plate from design and instead used a adjustable rectangular wooden (scale type) piece. This project really took the juice out of my brain.

satya.bgr (author)2016-09-09

I followed your design and ended up like in attached photo with available materials. Still planet colouring and Calendar scale pending. Gear wheels were cut on jigsaw.
Gear teeth adjustment and shaft alignment job is really difficult as the teeth are uneven and need to scratch each teeth with sand paper for uniformity. Brass tubes are not available instead used old telescopic radio antenna. Soldering also a big task as each tube has be machined perfectly. On a whole it requires a lot of patience and luck of finding correct material.

scicior (author)2016-06-18

Hello! I want to make mine out of aluminum on my CNC mill and I just sat down to start cading this up. Came to a screeching halt when Gear Generator asked me about Pitch diameter, Diametral pitch, and Pressure Angle. Mind if I ask what values did you use? Also, what size cutting tool did you use when you cut out your gears? I've been reading instructables for years, but this is the first time I ever sat down to actually try to implement what I read. Thanks!

- Steve

MatthewS3 (author)scicior2016-06-18

Also, post a photo when you're done!

MatthewS3 (author)scicior2016-06-18

Check out this instructable: for some CAD files of an improved version of this orrery design.

Just use the default values for the pitch measurements. Pitch diameter (the radius of the gear) should scale with the number of teeth, so you shouldn't have to change anything there. Just make sure the ratio "teeth:pitch diameter" stays the same for all your gears. Teeth/pitch diameter is the diametral pitch. Again, just make sure its consistent. You'll resize your gears in CAD anyway.

Pressure angle is how sharp the teeth of your gear are. The optimal value for this will depend on your material. I use 24 deg for the thin plywood that I used. I'd recommend just cutting a couple test gears at an angel that looks good and seeing if they mesh well and run smooth in aluminum.

Hielke Rispens made it! (author)2016-04-19

Hello Matthew, thanks for making the instructable of your beautiful orrery!
We (FabLab Zwolle, Netherlands) have build our orrery based on your plans.
We also published the cutting plans (we used a laser cutter), please follow this link for the plans:

MatthewS3 (author)Hielke Rispens2016-04-21

Very well done! Looks like it most definitely can be built with a laser cutter. Great improvements. I especially like the knob. The feet are also a nice touch. It looks cleaner with the painted wooden balls. Just excellent all around.

I can't wait to see more people build and improve upon the idea.

DavidL138 (author)2016-03-15

Nicely done. I've studied Orrey's for many years. To make this to scale you would need an Orrey with a diameter of 80 cm (32 inches) and the moon would be the diameter of a very small brass rod and the earth 1 mm.

As I read through your instructions (very good, BTW), I wondered if you inverted the Orrey (ring gears), made them out of tinted clear plexiglass and stacked them inside a clear plexiglass cylinder. The gear train would stack 2 or 3 feet high with the planets hovering above that. Makes for an interesting project.

famirante (author)2016-03-09

But it works fine???
the orbits are elliptical not round; when you round orbits, you have to use t the epicycles

MatthewS3 (author)famirante2016-03-09

It works great.

The planets orbits are slightly elliptical in real life, but at this scale, it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference between a circular orbit and these planets' elliptical orbits without breaking out the compass and calipers.

If you want to see how a planet's eccentricity changes its orbit away from circular, there is a great app here --

Almost all the planets have an eccentricity of less than 0.1, which as you can see appears nearly circular.

whopoder (author)2016-02-23

Oh my holy system!

I can't do this this. But it is so amazing.

Thank you.

imperia777 (author)2016-02-23

Pitch Black :)

M2aestro (author)2016-02-19

If you were to have a slide and an angular indexing head, or even two good pivots, you could cut gears with a variety of other tools; what clock makers used to do. You'd need to dress either a milling type or an abrasive wheel to the cutting form however.

Jack Rodgers (author)2016-02-18


Now can you create a wrist watch. We could call it Plyex... :)

kennethagiusmosta (author)2016-02-18

Well done,

Can you post an acad, sketchup or something so to copy does gears on a cnc?

Thank you

My CNC's proprietary software accepts SVG files, so didn't have to do any CAD for the project. (A big plus for me.) That being said, you can generate a gear file in less than 2 minutes. (free) does all the heavy lifting. Go to the site, clear the examples, change the number of teeth, export as an svg. Bring SVG into inkscape (free), scale it to the size you want, delete all the extraneous bits, add the axle hole of the size you want, save as dxf, eps, or whatever your CAM program likes.

the Bruce1322 (author)2016-02-18

Great instructable, I too have been meaning to make an orrery for sometime. This has given me the impetus to get going. I have been interested in all things astronomical since a young boy star gazing with my dad and watching the moon landings in the 70s. I made an astrolabe a few years ago using a laser cutter I was thinking of buying the paper Copernican orrery from astromedia to start with but I may just dive in with the plywood version. I have made a Brian Law wooden clock with plywood before and the plywood had a tendency to warp which made the gears useless, the quality of ply was not good in South America. By the way he cuts most of his gears with a fret saw, check him on out YouTube. Probably best to go with marine ply. It can be cut with CNC router or laser cutter. Mahogany would be a good option for aesthetics, it looks good against brass. I think a hand crank or electric motor is a definite upgrade, maybe solar driven!

MatthewS3 (author)the Bruce13222016-02-18

Thanks. Good luck on your orrery. Please post photos when you're done.

If you've made a wooden clock, then you have all the skills you need. Fundamentally, this is just a geared clock on steriods. Instead of three hands moving at a 60 to 1 ratio (60 sec per 1 minute; 60 minutes per 1 hour) like in a clock, an orrery is 6 hands moving at a bunch of different ratios (orbital period of one planet to orbital period of another planet). These ratios aren't nice and neat like in a clock; Saturn: earth is 1: 29.45, for example. To deal with those weird radios, you need many custom gears to get a reasonable level of accuracy.

Warp certainly happens in plywood. I store my plywood inside at the same humidity as where the orrery was to be displayed, so if it will warp, it will warp before I spend the time cutting and staining it.

You can also use some hand saws, band saw and scroll saw for larger gears. My smallest gear was about the size of a nickel, which is much smaller than I've seen folks cut with non-computerized machines.

sstone137 (author)2016-02-18

Wonderful design! All the details will make it very easy for me to make one. (Which I plan on starting ASAP!) The only difference I plan on doing is making it a little smaller and 3D printing it on my Objet 30, including the planets. :) Thanks for the fantastic work through.

MatthewS3 (author)sstone1372016-02-18

Excellent. Good luck. Post photos once you get it finished!

HollyMann (author)2016-02-18

This looks amazing - I love your style!

bibbster (author)2016-02-18

Very nicely done! My daughter would love to build this (she's a new astronomer, 10 yrs old).

Now, where do I buy those gears? ;)

MatthewS3 (author)bibbster2016-02-18

There are a few websites that will do custom laser cutting for you if you send them drawings and money.

bibbster (author)MatthewS32016-02-18

Thank you, I'll see what I can find.

RussellS8 (author)2016-02-18


ellendxyz (author)2016-02-18

Coolest thing I've ever seen on Instructables. I have no tools or abilities to make this. Would you be interested in making one for sale? I have 6 young grandchildren who would be thrilled and fascinated by coming to Grandma's house to eat cookies and watch the universe turn!

CuriousWeasel (author)2016-02-18

Outstanding ! I've been wanting to make one of these for some time now, and your instructable has given me the impetus to actually do something about it !

Once quick question, how do you initially set the individual orbits of the planets, so that they are as much in the correct positions as possible ?

MatthewS3 (author)CuriousWeasel2016-02-18

You should definitely make one and post photos!

To set the initial conditions, go to , its like the app version of the this device. That site will tell you where are the planets are right now. When you go to solder the planetary arms, put the planets in that configuration. The gears will keep them in proper alignment (with <1% error) as they spin. Honestly, I've spun mine back and forth so much I don't remember what year it is representing anymore, which I'm totally fine with.

If you're not totally fine with being adrift in space and time, then you can etch the years into the base plate like I etched the months into the 146-tooth gear. Saturn has a orbital period of 29.45 years, so etch the next 29.45 years in a circle around the edge. The location of Saturn's arm on the base plate will indicate the year, like the location Earth's arm on the 146-tooth gear indicates the month. Of course, in 29 years, you'll have to make a new base plate, but if you send me a message in 29 years to remind me, I'll make another instructable on how to do that.

CuriousWeasel (author)MatthewS32016-02-18

Nice one :) Thanks for the extra info, I'll try and remember to get back to you in 29yrs or so !

cdevildevil (author)2016-02-18

"Michael Phelps of the scroll saw"

I kind of love how ridiculous this metaphor is, lol.

deswiger (author)2016-02-18

Man, that is out of this world (did I say that?). This is really great though. It would have taken me 3,271,953,036.271 years (or something like that) to figure this out. Gotta' be one of my favorites of all time. Thanks for sharing.

Glenn781 (author)2016-02-17

Do you have a video of it running? Looks great I just pray it actually moves.

IdoM1 (author)2016-02-17

Wow! thank you for that

dragonegg (author)2016-02-17

Nice,I would make one for my daughter

KW_30161 (author)2016-02-17

Awesome! You can tell you put a lot of time into this. It's beautiful!

KW_30161 (author)2016-02-17

Great work! You can tell you put alot of time into this. It's beautiful!

ewautvanwassenhove (author)2016-02-17

This is beautiful!!

lglira (author)2016-02-17

Nice and beautiful project

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More by MatthewS3:Orrery- A Mechanical Solar System Model from PlywoodAquarium Gumball Machine
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