Introduction: Cool Exposed Retro Flip Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!