The Doctor's Confession Dial on the Cheap

Introduction: The Doctor's Confession Dial on the Cheap

About: Find more of what I do on my homepage - but no matter where you go, remember to Be Inspired!

While my skills may not be enough to make a "helluva bird" (watch the show), I wanted to try my hands on a confession dial. I will be the first to say that it looks nowhere near as intricate as the one used in the season 9 finale of Doctor Who and glimpsed at throughout the season, but I imagine that it was a lot simpler to make - not to mention all that messing with dimension to fit so much inside.


  • Wood - a piece that will yield the round body of the dial and fits on your lathe. If necessary, use almost any kind of saw to approximate a round shape to save time when turning.
  • Paint - I used black paint for the accents, dark yellow as a base and gold effect paint as a top coat.
  • Lacquer - I used spray lacquer to seal the whole thing and give it some shimmer.
  • Paper towels - preferrably wet, used to clean the piece up. You could use shop rags if you do not mind getting paint on them.


  • Lathe - Used to turn the piece of wood into shape. I used a faceplate, but depending on what you have available other options like a chuck or a screw chuck would work as well.
  • Sandpaper - unless you have exceptional lathe skills you will probably need to sand the piece after you are done shaping. I recommend using 80, 120 and 180 grit in sequence.
  • Holesaw - for creating round marks on the piece off center. The only caveat is that it should be one without a center drill bit. There are some where it can be removed, while for others you might need to grind down an old, dull bit of matching size.
  • Handsaw - used to create straight lines in the wood. I used a japanese-style pullsaw.
  • Carving utensils (optional) - If you want to go more artistic than I did and use markings that are neither circled or straight lines, you will need some additional tools and the knowledge to use them properly - because I do not.

Step 1: Watch the Video!

I made a video about this project, and I would appreciate it if you checked it out. It also contains footage of a "detour" I took (which I also mention in a few steps), and might help you to avoid this mistake.

Onwards to the build!

Step 2: Shaping the Dial

The dial has a convex shape, like a lens. I recommend doing an image search for "confession dial" - you will find plenty visual reference there, which I do not dare put into this Instructable for copyright reasons.

I use my lathe's faceplate to mount the round blank on, making sure that the screws are shallow enough as to not get in the way while still holding the thing securely. I start out by turning the piece round, then I start working my way to the flat-dome shape. Last, I shape the back as far as the faceplate allows, with the back and front flowing together at the edge.

Step 3: Turn It Into Gold

Once you are happy with the shape the time has come to gild the dial. You can use your gold effect paint right away if it covers the wood well enough, but both to make sure that it does as well as to save on the (usually more expensive) paint, I used a dark yellow color to give the piece a base coat and cover up the grain.

I do this on the lathe using paper towels as disposable brushes. Turn the lathe by hand to prevent paint from getting flung all over the place, and give it enough coats so that the wood is completely covered.

After the base coat(s) is/are dry, come back with the gold effect and apply as many layers as you need. I only needed one, which is probably due to the matching basecoat. Let that try, too.

Step 4: Leaving a Mark

Now it is time to add the Gallifreyan marks to the piece. The concentric circles are of course easiest on the lathe. I use my parting tool for them since I so not have any other tool capable of adding such details, and I hold it at an angle in order to cut into the wood at a 45° angle.

Then I use a handsaw - in my case a pullsaw - to create straight cuts in the wood. For the lines through the center I rest my saw on the lathe's tool rest. I do the same for lines off-center but within the range of the tool rest, but for some I had do work free-hand - though looking back I should simply have put a piece of slat as spacer between tool rest and saw.

Another way to add features is the hole saw - as long as it works without a center drill bit. The one I used has that bit removable and is held in the drill by part of the main body. What I should have done differently, though, is tilt the table slightly, because the way I used them - straight down on a curved surface - it created an unevenness in the circle created that I hope will get covered up by the paint later, but might look bad if not..

I have another holesaw where the saw is actually chucked into the drill press by that bit, so that would only work if you ground down a bit of equal size and replaced the one it came with - which would work, but I did not have a sacrificial bit ready at the time.

Step 5: Flood It With Color

In order to make the marks stick out they now get painted over, and since I am not very skilled or patient with a thin brush - otherwise I could simply have painted them on - I take a paper towel with loads of black paint instead and spread it all over the piece. Yes, I cover up the gold, but the important part is that I do not let it dry.

Step 6: Cleanup

Instead, I almost immediately take a new paper towel abd start taking the paint off again. Making the towel wet works best here, and you are bound to run through a few towels until all the paint is removed. A shop rag would work here, too, especially if you have running water in your shop - which I sadly do not.

Do not worry about removing too much paint - you want to take off as much as you can, and there is little to no chance that you might actually take the paint out of the marks. Not only are they inset and will keep their paint, the wood has also sucked up enough paint that you would not notice the difference even if you tried to clean them. So make sure to polish that gold.

I did add a coat of spray lacquer to the finished piece, but I would say that is optional.

Step 7: Detour

Before I show you the final result, here is a little detour I took when I first approached this idea - a different sequence then I am recommending to you in this Instructable. What I did was to cut the patterns into the unpainted wood, then paint it black and turn/sand away the excess. But not only did it look bad, there was also no way to paint the surface in gold without also painting over the patterns.

I hope this helps you not make the same or a similar mistake in one of your projects.

Step 8: Confession Time!

I confess that this might not be a professional-grade prop, but it came out looking way cooler than I had expected, especially given the amount of work that went into this.

I also confess that I want to thank you for checking out this Instructable, and if you make this - or use the techniques used on something completely different - please let me know and share it in the comments below.

And as always, remember to be Inspired!

Be the First to Share


    • Plywood Challenge

      Plywood Challenge
    • Plastic Contest

      Plastic Contest
    • Battery Powered Contest

      Battery Powered Contest

    2 Discussions

    Ben Shamblin
    Ben Shamblin

    4 years ago


    Nice work.


    4 years ago