The World's First Fibre-Optic Candle Clock



Introduction: The World's First Fibre-Optic Candle Clock

About: Inventor and Emergency Doctor.

I decided to make my wife a present and wanted to come up with an original idea. I liked the idea of a moving sculpture and after much deliberation came up with the concept of a mechanical clock which twinkled and flashed using crystals, candles and fibre optics, controlled by a mechanism, rather than electronics.

I can find no other use of candles with fibre-optic cable. I understand that this is likely to be because the light for a candle is not very powerful but all I wanted to create was a gentle twinkle so it sounded ideal for my purpose.

The second picture shows the clock where it lives on the wall in our living room alongside an amazing picture by our wonderful friend Sophie Capron. As you can see, I have hung it from the picture rail using a brass picture hook. The last five images show the clock lit only by it's own light. In the last image you can see the powerful glow radiating from the bundle of fibre optic cables near the centre of the image. This is all from the candle.

The clock took about 40 hours to make used around 200m of wire. There is no glue anywhere in the clock. I have photographed the clock against several different backgrounds to show it clearly.

If you like making things you might be interested in my Instructable on how to make a fancy dress costume where you fire someone out of a cannon;

It has been difficult to write a complete Instructable for the clock as designing and building it were dynamic simultaneous processes which involved me working out how the bits fitted together as I went along. The process you use will vary depending on the size and shape of crystals you use and the layout of the clock mechanism. I have aimed to equip you with the strategies and methods I used so that you can adapt the to your materials. Please don't be put off by the complexity; it was built one wire at a time so you can take your time. Remember that having made any part of it, you can always redo it if you are not happy. There was a lot of trial and error getting the look and structure right.

Step 1: You Will Need

Details on some of the materials and tools are discussed in the relevant steps.

Silver-coated copper craft wire, 1mm, 0.9mm, 0.5mm, 0.315, 0.2mm. (The narrower diameters come in much longer reels and you might only need one of each. The thicker diameters are structurally more useful as they can bear the weight of the clock components but only come in shorter reel of a few metres. I bought 5m reels and used about 20m of the 1mm and 0.9mm. Start with a few reels of each and see how you go)

Set of jewellery-making pliers. (You will need needle-nose, round-nose and square nose)

Nine clear standard size glass marbles.

Clear standard size glass marbles.

Large clear marble. I choose one with a large bubble inside it, choose one which appeals to you. You could use a large crystal as a stand in here.

Brass/copper tubing of a similar diameter to the nuts on the backplate of your chosen clock.

Wire cutters.


Decent PPE grade ear plugs

Metal shears/tin snips

Sandpaper, fine and medium

Soldering iron

Solder (ideally silver solder but I used normal tin/lead electrical solder and it looked fine)

Clockwork clock mechanism with pendulum

Convex 7.5cm mirror for centre of the face

Concave mirror, 5cm, focal length 5-10cm.

4 similar crystals for the 3, 6, 9 and 12 numbers

2 similar thinner crystals for the hands


Silver sheet for jewellery making (other metals will do, the more malleable the better)

Broken mirror (try to find one which is already broken to avoid the 7 years of bad luck)

Fibreoptic cable, 0.75mm, about 25m.

Heavy duty DIY knife.


Step 2: The Clockwork Mechanism

I found this old clock mechanism some time ago, I'm not sure where it came from but I can't find it listed for sale on the internet so I presume it's not made anymore. I wanted one with a pendulum so it was ideal. The shape of the case gave me several attachment points for the wire. Choose one you like, which works!

Step 3: The Frame

Make a simple frame from wood to support the clock whilst you are working on it. You could hang it from a rafter over your work area but I chose to use a frame to make it easier to work on the clock from different angles as you can turn it more easily..

Find some scrap wood and cut 2 foot long lengths and screw them together in a T-shape. Next take another piece which is 12-18 inches long and screw this to the other piece to make a base as in the diagram. Put a screw in the top of the longer piece of wood. Use this to hang the clock.

Step 4: Making the Orb

I wanted to make a special mounting for the wonderful glass ball I found. I decided to make three silver cones from some jewellery grade silver sheet I had left over from making my mum a necklace about 20 years ago. You could use any malleable metal sheet.The first image shows the ball in the finished mount. You can see the detail of how the cones were made. The shoulder joint is barely visible. The holes for the wire can clearly be seen, along with the wire tying the cones to the ball. The second and third show the finished cones. These took some time to make and could be left out to shorten and simplify the process if you wish.

To make a cone, Draw a circle in diameter and mark the centre. Using a protractor, measure 120 degrees and draw two lines to create a sector, as per the fourth image. Cut it out and roll into a cone the check that you are happy with the shape. You can make a shallower cone by using a larger sector and a sharper cone using a smaller one.

When you are happy with the template, draw round it on the silver sheet and cut it out with tin snips or metal shears. Use your round nose pliers to gently bend it into a cone, as per the second image. Leave a hole at the apex for the fibre optic cables to pass through. This takes some time to get it looking neat. Silver is ideal as it is so malleable. You can place a small piece of paper between the pliers and the metal to reduce trauma to the surface.

Use your soldering iron and solder to fill in the gap down the side of the cone. This can take a bit of practice to get it right.

As silver is malleable the surface will be damaged in the process of bending it. Use sand paper and/or your Dremel-type drill with a sanding disc to get it, and the solder, smooth. Start with a medium grade on the deepest pock-marks and move to finer grades as the marks disappear. Finish off with very fine paper before using silver polish and a polishing head on your drill to get a lovely shine, like in the picture. Make sure you use some decent PPE grade ear plugs when using a drill otherwise you can end up with permanent deafness and tinnitus.

Tie the cones in a ring around the large glass bowl. Use thin wire around the front of the ball to stop it popping out. You can see this in the fifth image. Attach the ball to the lower part of the clock using several strands of your figure Swire. Twist them round the wire at the top of the ball and then attach by twisting onto a lower part. Twist more wire around the outside until it feels reduced enough to support the weight of the ball. Thread to fibre-optic cables in through each cone, pushing them until the end touches the ball. Tether them with thin wire as previously shown to stop them coming out. I have included several photographs of different angles so that you can see the attachment.

The jumble of wires at the back makes it slightly difficult to see clearly how it is attached. The approach is to be pragmatic about attachment and add wire for stability if there is too much movement in the peace. If you find that there is too much wire and it is serving no purpose then remove it.

Step 5: The Central Mirror

The central mirror acts as a face for the clock and covers up the front of the mechanism. I chose a convex mirror because I like the way it distorts reality and squeezes the whole room into the clock but you could use a flat mirror, or something else entirely if you wish. I used a car blind-spot eliminator. It took some time to track down a high quality mirror. Many of those on sale were plastic and of low quality.

Mark the centre of the back of the mirror using a ruler to measure across the widest point, then turn it through 90 degrees and repeat this to give a cross in the centre. Measure the width of the spindle which the hands attach to and use a glass drill of the relevant diameter to drill a hole in the middle. Place the mirror on a surface which will not scratch the glass when you are drilling. Drill from the back rather than the front.

I was a bit nervous about breaking the glass but the bit ground rather than drilled the glass so it was fine. Be careful not to scratch the coating on the back of the glass as it will show on the front. Place the mirror on the spindle.

Step 6: Making the Numbers

Choose your quartz points for the numbers carefully. Take your time. I decided to go with four clock face positions due to the increased work of making 12 and the fact it would probably look cluttered. Four is plenty to define the face.

The first image shows the crystal for the number 12 position. You can see how it is mounted on four twisted 1 millimetre silver wires. These continue around the crystal and onto the clock mechanism. You can also see the fibre optic cables attached round the edge of the crystal. These carry the light from the candle to the crystal to make it twinkle. You will need to angle the cables so they point inwards towards the crystal, otherwise the light will bounce off the surface.

The supports for the numbers are 14 cm from the clock mechanism into the number itself. You will need another 8 to 10 cm of wire either end in total.

Take one end of a roll of 1 mm wire and gently wind it around the crystal, as per the seventh image. You may be able to do this without damaging the crystal if it is large, if it is a smaller crystal more force is required to bend the wire and it can chip and crack the surface. With the crystals shown here I wrapped a piece of thin paper around the crystal first to reduce damage, otherwise you can bend the wire to the right shape with the pliers and insert the crystal afterwards.

Having wrapped the wire around the crystal three or four times bend it around the base and then bend at 90° so that the wire is perpendicular to the flat end of the crystal, as you can see most clearly in the fourth and seventh photo.

Add another three wires in the same way, as per the 8th and 9th images, spiralling them between the wires you have already wound round the crystal. When you reach the long free part of wire you need to twist them together to create a stiff arm like the one shown in the photograph. Leave the last 10 cm free to attach to the mechanism in the middle.

I did most of the bending with my hands, if there is a small angle you can't quite get then use a fine pair of pliers with a tiny piece of paper between the pliers and the silver wire to avoid damage. Take your time, if you are not happy with what you have done, remove it and do it again. It took me some time to get the hang of the processes and the order in which they are done. If you are struggling to get it right, drop me a line in the comments below and I will do my best to help.

Take some fine wire and twist one end around the end of the 1mm wire, like in the 10th image. Wrap it round the crystal then wrap it round the stem, as per the 11th image. This hold the crystal tightly, stopping it rattling and falling out. Make fronds

Do this for all four numbers. I used a matching pair of crystals for the midday and six positions and another matching pair for the three and nine positions. The length of the arms for the three and nine are slightly longer than the other two due to the dimensions of the clock mechanism. This allowed me to arrange the numbers as though they are around the edge of a circle.

Attach them by threading the wire through one of the screw holes, or around mounting bolts. Make sure they spread straight out laterally from the clock mechanism so they don't get in the way of the hands. Also be careful that the wire doesn't get in the way of the clock mechanism.

Twist them round the bolt or holes until the arm is no longer wobbly. I tended to wind two in one direction and two in the other. You can then cut them short using your wirecutters.

Step 7: The Hands

The hands are quartz crystal points mounted on 1mm silver-coated copper wire. They shouldn't be too large otherwise the mechanism will struggle. The first image shows the hour hand attached to an s-shaped wire, connected to the spindle. The spindle has two concentric tubes, the inner one is longer than the outer one. One is for the hour hand, one for the minute hand. The tubes have bevels to stop the hands spinning freely.

Start making the hand at the face end, wrapping the 1mm wire around the spindle so it locks on. This may take some fiddling to get right. You can turn the time setting wheel on the back of the clock to check that they move freely. Mine has a screw on cap you can see in the first photo to hold the hands in place. Bend the next 10-cm into an s-shape, then bend the wire around the crystal, as in the second picture.

Trying to bend the wire against the crystal itself chips the edge so use the pliers to bend the wire into a spiral using the crystal as a reference to get shape right, then insert the crystal afterwards. The difficulty is that wire which is rigid enough to make a reliable hand is very difficult to fit tightly around a crystal. Bind the crystal into the spiral using your finest silver wire, as per the second image. Attach the wire at one end of the spiral, winding it round tightly, then wind it around the crystal, following the 1mm wire spiral, then bind it at the end.

For the minute hand I used a slightly longer crystal. I spent some time choosing the crystals and made sure that they were the most beautiful ones I could find. They also needed to work together as a group. The hands look like a pair, and the number crystals group together nicely. I have chosen clear quartz but you could use amethyst, citrine, or any other crystals you like. The third image shows both hands. You can see that the time here is 3:30. The crystal at the bottom is the minute hand and the one near the middle of the image is the hour hand. The fourth image shows the hands from another angle.

The fifth image shows the attachments of the hands to the spindle at the centre of the clock. When you connect both hands, make sure that they don't overlap or rub against each other.

Step 8: Mounting the Marbles

These images show the mounting of the marbles. You will need two 30 cm pieces of 0.3 or 0.4 mm wire to wrap around the marble to create a cage. Take the first piece of wire and wind it round the widest part of the marble, bringing the pieces of wire together at one side, like in the 1st photograph.

Hold the marble and wire in the right place with one hand and with the other, hold three fibre optic cables in place at the base of the marble. Wind the wire around the fibre optic cable bundle, binding them together and holding them in place at the base of the ball to collect the light, as per the second image. As you can see from the second photograph, there is thicker 0.8 or 1 mm wire also wrapped around the fibre-optic cables. These are to tether the marbles in the right place on the clock. The wires from the base of the marbles converge and connect with the stem of the Photonic Accumulator, as you can see in the next stage.

The fourth and fifth images show the concept of the mounting of the marbles, with the fibre optic cables omitted for clarity. You could mount the marbles like this first, then add the fibre optics later if you wish.

I also added several loose ended wires around the base of the marbles by winding them around the fibre optic cables and leaving 8 or 10 cm free. I have demonstrated this in the sixth image using a crystal instead of a marble. This was to give a sense of flaring of the light around the marbles. You can see these in several of the photographs. They are bent in a fairly organic way to fill the space around the collector. Mount and connect each of the marbles in the same way. Position each one individually so that it is pointing towards the mirror with the fibre optic cable directly opposite the flame, about 3cm away. This will be about the right distance for the focal length of the concave mirror if it is located 2.5 cm on the other side of the candle flame. If the focal distance of your mirror is different you will need to adjust the distances accordingly.

When you have mounted all the marbles and connected all the fibre optics hold the bunch of wires coming from the marbles together in one hand, adjusting the position of each marble individually. When they are correctly positioned you can twist the wires together and connect them to the clock mechanism. Alternatively, you could connect one marble at a time, threading the wire through and winding subsequent wires around the first. See what works best for you.

Step 9: The Photonic Accumulator

The photonic accumulator is the part of the clock which creates, collects and distributes the light around the clock. As a candle does not emit a huge amount of light I wanted to collect as much of it is possible for channelling into the fibre-optic system.

The first and second images show the arrangement. On the left is a 5cm concave mirror with a 10 cm focal distance. At the bottom is a standard tea light with an extra wick taken from another tea light and threaded through the hole and inserted into the round metal ring which supports the wick. This significantly increases the light output. On the right are seven clear glass marbles acting as lenses to focus the light on the fibre optic cables at their base.

The third image shows the cluster of marbles. I got them as close together as possible to collect as much of the light reflected from the mirror as I could. The fourth image shows a magnifying glass. I did many experiments with different types of mirrors and lenses until I got the best effect. I found that the focal distance of a lens such as this one was too far to make a compact unit. The concave mirror gave the best results.

The fifth image shows the back of the concave mirror and how I mounted it. Start with the long central attachment. Bend the end of a piece of wire over gently using the round nosed pliers to give a space which is about the depth of the mirror. Don't bend the wire around the mirror as this will crack or chip it.

Bend two more pieces of wire in the same way to make the hooks at the bottom, then bend them round into the shapes shown. Check that they fit on very nicely then twist them together at the bottom. I held the mirror and wire attachments in place with one hand and twisted the wires round each other with the other hand.

Leave a stem of 10 to 12 cm before leaving another 8 or 10 cm free for attachment at the bottom. You can see the stem and the mirror mounting in several of the images. You can see that the stem winds around those from the candle and marble array.

The seventh image shows the side elevation of the mechanism for the clock. Towards the top of the image you can see how the wires coming down from the Photonic Accumulator wind around the columns at the corners of the clock mechanism. Bend the wires round several times and then cut them off very short using wire cutters. It required many pieces of wire to give stability to the heavy unit at the top. Spread the legs of the support widely to give more stability. If wobbling still occurs, add more wire.

The eighth image shows the front elevation of the connection of the Photonic Accumulator to the clock mechanism.

The ninth and tenth images show the candle mounting. Make this by copying the shape in the photogaphs using three pieces of thick wire and attaching it to the stem of the Photonic Accumulator in the previously mentioned fashion.

Step 10: The Fibre Optic Array

There are three fibre-optic cables from each marble in the Photonic Accumulator, making 21 in total. Ten go down one side of the clock and eleven travel down the other, to converge and head upwards and backwards in front of the pendulum. Here they are tethered with wire by winding 1 mm diameter lengths around it and tying to the bottom of the mechanism. The ends of the fibre-optic cable are flush and point horizontally backwards towards the top of the pendulum. This is visible in the first and second images.

The bundle of fibre-optic cables leaving the pendulum consists of 18 cables. Two go into each of the three silver cones around the large ball at the bottom and each number around the face has 3 each.

Like with the wire, it is worth leaving the cable slightly on the longer side, rather than risking cutting them too short. To cut them, roll them gently under a sharp Stanley knife and then snap them to give a nice clean cut at the end which will not scatter the light too much.

Connect the fibre-optic cables after the all the numbers have been attached. That way you will get the lengths and angles all correct. You can start by connecting either end of them, loop the cables round to where you want them to go and connect them loosely or holding with your hand whilst you twist the wire around them. Remember, if you are not happy re-do it rather than leave it or give up.

When you are adjusting the length of the cables remember to lean back and look at the overall shape of the clock, trying to keep it symmetrical and as fluid as possible. Don't pull the fibre-optics too tight otherwise they will look strange and unnatural.

Join the cables up as shown in the photographs. Use fine wire to wind around the cable, leaving it long to tether it to a nearby joint or connection point. When you connect the cables to the cones push them right the way through to the base so they are touching it the ball.

Make 2 spirals, as shown in the third and fourth images from about 20cm of wire. These act as cable tidies for the budles of fibre-optics at the sides. The fifth and sixth image show the detail of how the fine wire is wrapped around the fibre-optic cables to tether them.

Step 11: The Pendulum

The swinging of the pendulum is used to scatter the light from the candle to other groups of cables around the clock. It has four tiny fragments of mirror attached at slightly different angles to make the light flash and scatter as it swings.

Use a mirror which is already broken if you can; that should avoid seven years of bad luck. Alternatively, you may be able to find a non-superstitious friend to break one for you or use some tiny mirror discs which are often used in Indian crafts and bracelets. I would use a highly reflective piece of proper mirror, rather than a plastic mirror or sequin to try and preserve as much of the light travelling through the system as possible.

Choose four similarly sized pieces around 6 to 8 mm in diameter, attaching them with Blu-Tack. This allows adjustment of the angle so you can make sure it is reflecting the light in the right direction. It also allows further adjustment if the structure of the clock shifts.

Don't use pieces of mirror which are too large otherwise the pendulum swing will be reduced. You can adjust the length of the pendulum by turning the screw at the bottom to adjust the speed of the clock for accuracy.

Step 12: The Legs

The legs hold the back of the mechanism away from the wall to allow room for the pendulum. I used copper tubing I happened to have which luckily was a tight fit for the nuts screwed on the back plate.

Cut 4 lengths of tube the same length, around 2-3cm, depending on the depth of the pendulum attachment on the back of the clock. This needs to be kept clear of the wall. Unscrew one nut at a time from the back plate and push it into the tube. Don't take all four off at once as the backplate will come off and all the gears will fall out of the clock. The diameter of the tubing needs to be about the same as the diameter of the nut. Hammer it into the end of the tube as per the second and third images. Place the tip of a screwdriver or pair of pliers on the nut and tap it with a hammer to recess it into the tube. Make sure it remains horizontal then crimp the edges of the tube in with a pair of pliers to hold it in place.

Repeat for all four legs then screw into place.

Step 13: The Candle

I used a standard tea-light and added an extra wick from another tea-light by removing the candle from it's tin, cutting it in half, sticking the extra wick into the round metal disc in the bottom of the candle, then putting the candle back together again. This is to make it brighter, if you hadn't guessed.

Be really careful with fire and don't leave unattended when lit. Be careful not to knock the clock when it's lit otherwise melted wax will end up down the wall.

Step 14: Hanging Your Clock

Now your clock is finished you need to hang it. Tie three long pieces of wire to the top of the clock mechanism so that the clock hangs vertically. It can take a bit of adjustment to get the positioning right. You could then hang it from a picture rail if you have one.

Alternatively you could hand it from a mount or a nail in the wall. If you've actually got this far I don't think you will need me to explain this step to you.

Please post your pictures!

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