How to Make a Sundial




Introduction: How to Make a Sundial

Making a sundial is something we've wanted to do for a long time. As with any project we do, we wanted to make it a bit different. Rather than making it with a standard round dial plate we went with a leaf for the plate. We learned a lot along the way and we were pretty happy with the end result.

What you'll need

  • Wood (scrap wood works for all of this, we used a small piece of cherry for the gnomon though)
  • Dowel (if making a pedestal)
  • Dremel or other rotary tool and craving bits
  • Propane torch
  • Resin (we use Famowood Glaze Coat)
  • Stain and Finish
  • Screws & Glue

Make sure you check out the video, it shows a bit more of each step than the images do. Please enjoy and if you make it or something like it, we'd love to see it. Share it with us on here or on Facebook, Google+, etc.

Step 1: Sundial Calculations

Everything started with figuring out the layout of the dial plate and where each of the hour lines would lie. I did this by finding our exact latitude at and then entering our latitude into the horizontal sun dial calculator at This gave us the exact angles each line would need to be for each hour. This calculator actually gives you down to 15 minutes, but we only wanted to use the hours. This is what we came up with after laying out the angles. We figured each vein of the leaf could serve as an hour line.

Step 2: Creating the Dial Plate

I printed out a large pattern using a free program called posterazor and then attached it to the face of a pine board using some temporary glue.

I cut out the leaf pattern using the bandsaw.

Then I cleaned up all the edges using a spindle sander.

Step 3: Carving the Plate

To create the veins that will be the hour lines, I left the pattern on the board and cut into the wood with a rotary tool using small carving bit. I didn't go very deep on the first pass since this only to mark the lines on the board.

Once all the lines were transferred, I peeled off the pattern and continued to carve the lines a bit deeper using a variety of bits.. While carving toward the edges I made sure to run the bit over the end and dig it a little deeper. No real purpose, I just thought it looked neat.

I made sure to take my time and really tried to get a feel for how I wanted it to look. I eventually got what I wanted after going through just about every carving bit I have and then I moved on.

Step 4: Finishing the Dial Plate

While figuring out how I would finish the dial plate I thought it would be kind of neat to burn the surface of the wood instead of staining it. So after quite a few passes with the propane torch and after hitting it with some sandpaper, it was time to add the finish.

We had the idea from the beginning to cover the dial plate in resin, no matter what design we went with. The thing is, some resins aren't meant for outdoors and the resin we have is one of those. With that being said, we used it anyway.

We applied it as usual, mixing it in equal parts and spreading it out over the surface while it leveled itself out. As it settled more spots would appear that were, well... resinless. To fix that problem, we let the resin cure for just a little while, til it was a bit tacky and then poured some more over it. This second pour took care of all the bare spots. We let it cure for a full 24 hours and then trimmed off the excess resin and then the dial plate was complete.

Step 5: Making the Gnomon

Probably the most recognizable part of a sundial is the gnomon, the little spike the protrudes from the dial plate, the thing that actually makes it possible to tell time with a sundial. Figuring out the angle for the gnomon is super easy. The angle is the same as your latitude. As long as that is correct you can do whatever else you want with the design of it. We just drew one up by hand on a scrap piece of cherry and cut it and shaped it on the fly. As long as the angle on the flat side stays the same it'll work just fine.

Attaching the gnomon is pretty straight forward. It needs to be centered on the 12 o'clock line and the very back needs to start at the 6's line, which is line that runs straight from side to side and is perpendicular to the 12 line.

We attached ours from the bottom using screws, in case it would ever get knocked over and break, it would be easy to replace. After it was positioned correctly we took it off and added some oil finish and reattached it.

Step 6: Making the Pedestal

We also made a pedestal for the sundial

to sit on. This was made from a thick dowel and a couple of scrap pieces of pine. Holes were drilled into a round base and square block to match the size of the dowel. The dowel was glued into the base and a screw was driven in from the bottom. The other end of the dowel was then glued into the square block and the block was then attached to the underside of the dial plate with screws, in case we would ever need to replace it as well.

Lastly, a stain and finish was applied to the pedestal so that it would match the rest of the sundial.

Step 7: All Done!

We were a bit skeptical if we would be able to build this and it actually tell the time correctly. Well, we are skeptical no more. After positioning it in the right direction, which is with the gnomon pointing to true north and not magnetic north, it works just as it should. So, now we can tell time whenever we want, if we are outside, and it's sunny.

We hope you enjoyed this DIY project and the video that goes along with it. If you have any questions or comments please let us know, we'd be more than happy to help you out. Thanks for checking out this Instructable.

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    4 years ago

    Outstanding project... I just asking how to determine the real North instead of magnetic one?


    Reply 3 years ago

    There compass apps that allow for true nirth as well magnetic north.


    Reply 4 years ago

    True north is pointing toward Polaris or what most of us call the North Star.


    4 years ago

    What a neat project to take on! I love your non traditional approach to use a leaf design, very clever.

    I learned a lot from your instructables, thanks for sharing!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Glad you liked it and also glad you could learn something. Thanks for the kind remarks.