Shotgun Shell Light Sensor Clock




Introduction: Shotgun Shell Light Sensor Clock

About: Professional Educator for over 25 years. Avid DIYer! Why pay somebody to do what you can do yourself? Active in web design and development for over 20 years. After discovering have starte...

Learn how to make a beautiful wall or mantel clock that any Waterfowler would love to add to their sportsman decor.

In this Instructable I will show how to use some basic Woodworking skills, beginner Wood Burning, and amateur Electronic work to build a working IR Light Sensor Circuit triggered clock. That's right, this clock lights up automatically in the Dark!

To date, I may have the only 2 Shotgun Shell Clocks on Instructables. I have seen them on other sites, but not how to make them.

Considering all the different skill sets embedded in this documentation I have to pat myself on the back. Pretty proud of myself especially with solving my desired Light Sensor function of the clock.

I hope this Instructable inspires others to add some sportsman decor to your home. Or at the very least, make a gift for a deserving sportsman.

Read on and enjoy!

Step 1: Tools

With every great project we need tools. Here is what I used on my project. Sometimes you just don't realize how many tools you use to complete a project. I think this list is pretty comprehensive. If you notice anything in the picts that I forgot to include, let me know. I will be glad to add it.

  • Vise
  • Propane Torch
  • Pliers
  • Hammer
  • Center Punch or Phillips Screwdriver
  • Rotary Tool
  • Rotary Buffing Bit Wheel
  • Table Saw
  • 12 inch straight edge.
  • Compass with pencil
  • Drill Press
  • 3/4 Spade bit for 20 gauge shells
  • 7/8 Spade bit for 12 gauge shells
  • 5/16 Drill bit for center hole and LED installs
  • Pencil
  • Wood Burning Iron and Assorted tips.
  • Nail gun and/or glue to build box sides.
  • Rag
  • Wire Strippers
  • Soldering Iron
  • Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks

Step 2: Materials

Materials for this project are as follows. I have added links to where you can purchase some of the less common items. Especially for those who are new (like me) to electronic circuitry.

Step 3: Shotgun Shells

Before you start this project you will need some spent shotgun shells. Two great sources for FREE shotgun shells would be a friend who shoots or a local shooting range. I have seen people selling them in bulk on Etsy as well. Shotgun shells come in a few different sizes. Most common are 12 gauge and 20 gauge. 12 gauge are larger than 20 gauge. There will also be high brass and low brass. As you can also see the colors may differ as well. Bottom line, if you can get the shells for free, get as many as you can so you can decide what size you want to work with. A shooting range will probably have garbage cans full.

I recommend starting your project by acquiring the shotgun shells. Unless you have easy access as I did from my sportsman's club, you never know when you will get them.

My first shotgun shell idea project came from LoneSoulSurfer here. If you scroll down to the comments section you will see my lights in the I Made It section.

After I completed that project I had the idea to do this clock so I started prepping the shotgun shells. You only want the brass from the shell and discard the plastic, paper and primer. Since I did not take pictures back then , you can see how the LoneSoulSurfer separated the brass from the shotgun shell. I pretty much did it the same way. After an hour you will have a couple boxes of brass.

NOTE: You want only the metal from the shell. Notice in the images of boxed shells there is paper and plastic still remaining in the shells. Get that stuff out of there. Just apply more heat and pull it out with a screwdriver.

Step 4: Removing Primers

For this project you will need to remove the primers from the brass as well. The hole created by removing the primer is where we will be installing LED lights.

  1. Turn brass upside down so you can see inside of brass.
  2. Insert a center punch or Phillips screwdriver into center of primer.
  3. Give your center punch a couple taps and the primer will pop out.

WARNING: Be certain the primers have been spent before doing this. The primer is the part of the shell that ignites the gunpowder when shell is shot. You will not want the surprise if striking a live primer. BANG!

Step 5: Clean the Brass

This is a fun but dirty job. Brought my son in to help with this step. Great way to start teaching the young ones how to use power tools safely.

Use a rotary tool with buffing wheel and some polishing compound to give the brass a good cleaning. Have a rag handy to wipe the compound away from shell after cleaning.

Now that you have the most important materials prepped and ready, move on to the next step. Let's start cutting wood.

Step 6: Cut the Wood

I started the project with a scrap piece of plywood. I love it when I can build something without having to go out and buy more supplies. You never know when that scrap lumber will come in handy and useful.

I started with a piece that was 12 x 28 x 3/8"

Using my table saw I cut this down to...

(2) 10 x 10 inch squares. One for clock face and the other for back cover.

(4) 1 x 11 pieces for the sides. I allowed an extra inch for making my miter cuts later.

Basically I am creating a box that is 10 x 10 x 1 3/4"

Step 7: Clock Face Layout

We need to create a layout for even shell placement around the 10" clock face board.. Shells are set into the 8" circle.

  1. Find the center point of your board by measuring and drawing a horizontal and vertical line at the 5" mark.
  2. With a compass, draw a 9" circle from the center point. This will be the outer boarder to be burned later.
  3. With a compass, draw an 8" circle from the center point. This circle is where we will be installing shotgun shells.
  4. With a straight edge draw segments between vertical and horizontal points to make a square inside 8" circle.
  5. Measure the distance of one of the segments. Since this is a square, all segments of the square should be equal.
  6. Divide the length of segment by 3. We will call this measurement "X".
  7. Now place measure marks of "X" inches for each segment.
  8. With a straight edge, extend this "X" measurement to the 8" circle and mark. These marks will be drilled for shell locations.

Step 8: Drill Shotgun Shell Insets

The clock face is starting to take shape and form. You can almost visualize the second hand ticking around the face.

Let's now drill the insets for the shotgun shells.

  1. Place a 3/4 inch spade bit in your drill press. Since I am using 20 gauge shells I need a 3/4 inch bit. If you use 12 gauge shells, then you will need to move up to 7/8 inch spade bit.
  2. Set depth of press to drill about 1/4 inch into the wood. Actually, this is personal preference and depends on whether you are using high brass or low brass shells. Decide what depth you want to inset your shells and drill to that depth.
  3. Drill at all 12 marks from previous step that should be on the 8 inch circle.
  4. Since you are drilling, drill your center hole where clock will be installed. My clock kit calls for a 5/16 inch hole in center.
  5. Drill out the center of the inserts as well with the 5/16 inch bit. This will allow you to install LEDs later.

Step 9: Transfer Burn Design to Clock Face

If your plans do not include a design burned into the clock face then you can skip this step and the next. Otherwise read on.

I want to fancy this clock face up a bit in tribute to Ducks Unlimited.

This is how I did it.

  1. Place your design where you wish.
  2. Tape design to board with painters tape. Painters tape won't stain or leave adhesive on the wood.
  3. Insert graphite transfer paper beneath design and tape to wood.
  4. Trace design with pencil to transfer design to wood.
  5. Remove tape, design, and transfer paper.

Easy Peezy!

NOTE: Since the design is a little heavy on the left side I off centered it a bit to the right to give good balance with the other elements of the clock face.

This my second wood burning project ever.

Let's get ready to BURN some wood!


Step 10: Burn Design

As mentioned earlier this is only my second burn project. While I am not a expert by any means, I think my product comes out pretty good. I only used two burning tips for this project. You decide what you like and use it.

  1. Warm up your burning iron. I use a standard/cheap $8 model. Actually I have noticed that the iron temp fluctuates as I use it. Therefore, I have two irons plugged in at all times with identical tips so that I can switch back and forth between and cool and hot iron.
  2. Apply desired HOT tip to the wood and burn slowly. Let the heat do the work. Don't think you are going to make the iron burn faster by pressing or moving iron faster. It is a slow and patient process.
  3. Use tips that you like best for the design you wish to accomplish.

NOTE: Before burning, take time to practice with your different tips to see how they burn.

Step 11: Build Clock Box

For even a beginner woodworker this is simple enough. Remember those (4) 1 x 11 pieces? Those are out box sides.

  1. We are going to cut them down to 10 inch lengths with a 45 degree miter cut at each end.
  2. Next with pint nail gun or stapler, attach the sides to the face of the clock. Apply a little glue before nailing.
  3. Bring the other 10 x 10 (back cover) out and get ready to stain.

Step 12: Wood Finish

Finish the wood box. This is a total personal preference step. Choose the stain or paint of your choice and make it pretty.

  1. Lightly sand the wood to remove pencil and graphite marks,
  2. Apply wood finish. I used an oil base cherry stain.
  3. Apply clear coat. I applied 3 coats.

WoW! That is looking sharp isn't it?

After a light sanding, stain, and clear coat the artwork really POPS!

Step 13: LED Lights

Now things are getting exciting. Time to bring the BLING to this clock. Let me show how I wired the LED lights together. You have the option of wring the lights parallel or series. I chose to go with a parallel circuit based on being easy.

If you are using multiple colors, be sure to label your lights. I am using Green for the 12, 3, 6, and 9 positions on the clock. Those lights are labeled with piece of tape for easy identification later.

  1. Gather all your lights
  2. Strip the ends so that you have about 3/4 of an inch wire exposed.
  3. Twist together all the Reds then the Blacks.
  4. Solder wires together to give a strong connection of ALL lights.

Step 14: Assemble LED Lights and Shotgun Shells

Before moving on to this step understand that I missed one image before this step. The steps below are done AFTER feeding the LEDs through the back of the clock box to the front of the clock face.

  1. Feed your lights through the back of the clock to the front.
  2. Insert 5mm LED holder into shotgun shell.
  3. Use hot glue gun and glue to secure light inside shotgun shell.

Step 15: Install Light Shell Assembly Into Clock Face

Wow! So excited at this point I am having a hard time controlling myself.

Now that we have a light and shell assembled we can install it into the clock face.

  1. Use hot glue gun to apply ample amount of glue inside shell inset.
  2. Before inserting shell align lettering on shell face as you desire.
  3. Press and hold shell into inset and hot glue. Should be set in about 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat for all lights of clock.
  5. Turn clock over to access backside.
  6. Apply hot glue to each assembling from backside.

Step 16: Build and Test Dark/Light Sensor Circuit

This was by far the most challenging part of the project. But, it is what gives this clock its Bling! This feature sets this clock apart from all the other Shotgun Shell clocks on the Internet. None of which I found on This might be the only Shotgun Clock in this community.

When I first thought about this project, I thought I would be able to find a light sensor module somewhere online (Ebay or Amazon) that I could easily throw into this project and I would be done. I was wrong. I just do not think they exist.

The closest I came was a 12 volt light sensor relay switch. While it would work, the 12 volt battery pack you need to power it posed a problem. There was not enough room inside the box to house a clock mechanism, relay switch, and battery pack. (8 AA batteries). Now this might be an option for you if your design will be a larger box. If interested check out my DC Low Voltage Light Sensor Instructable. It might work for you.

Problem Solution

First let me say this is MY FIRST circuit built with any components other than wires and manufactured circuit boards. I had to actually build this from scratch. I amazed myself when it worked.

See the diagram above. I redrew this based on a pencil sketch that I found here on Instructables. The first challenge was to read and follow the schematic. Next was having the parts. Then getting it to work.


  • Breadboard
  • Light Sensor Transistor
  • NPN Transistor
  • Resistor
  • Jumper Wires

If you know how to do this, it is easy and works great. There is only one modification you will need to make based on your preference and what lights you use. The schematic calls for a 100k resistor. While this worked great on sensitivity it sent too much voltage through to the lights. Too much means the light output was too bright. Even with a 9 volt battery connected and resistors inline the lights things were to bright. So I experimented with resistors until I found the brightness I liked. I end up using a 470K resistor. PERFECT for my liking.

NOTE: By modifying the resistor to dim the LEDs this also made the sensor LESS sensitive which was a good thing. With the 100k resistor simply waving your hand over the sensor would trigger the circuit. Now with the 470K resistor, you need a nearly dark room to trigger circuit.

Step 17: Install Sensor

Now that we know the light sensor circuit works, let's install the sensor.

  1. Drill 5/16 hole in top of box.
  2. Insert sensor
  3. Reconnect sensor wires
  4. Hot glue sensor from inside box.
  5. Connect positive and negative output from breadboard to positive and negative of lights.

Step 18: Install Back Cover and Clock

Are you as excited as me? Almost done!

Install your clock as recommended by manufacturer. I purchased mine from a local craft store for about $8. You can probably salvage one from an old and tired looking analog clock.

Fasten breadboard to inside of box with double sided tape.

Install hinges and back cover.

Install battery and close it up!


Step 19: Not Done Yet

Hah! Fooled you...

After testing and modifying the resistor to give a lower LED brightness I noticed it was difficult to see the clock hands. Well, let's give them some artificial light with Glow in the Dark Paint! After a couple coats give a spray of clear coat.

Step 20: Shotgun Shell Clock 1.0

Prior to doing this Instructable I did another clock with less Bling! But, still pretty nice. Thought I would share a few picts.

Step 21: Shotgun Shell Clock 2.0 With Bling!

As you can see quite the upgrade from version 1.0

I am really happy with the final result.

I am really happy that I persevered with the challenge of the Light Sensor Circuit. I might take it a step forward and have a few made by one of these online circuit shops just to have a few on hand.

If anyone had any advice on how to get some PCBs made with the cicuit included in this project please let me know.

Thanks and keep Making!


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    6 Discussions


    3 years ago

    LED's are a cool touch, i made a normal clock for my local trap club but might have to try this on my next attempt


    Reply 3 years ago

    Nice! How about a Clay in the center of your clock? Might be tricky drilling a hole into the clay.


    3 years ago

    Fancy! How did the glow in the dark paint work out?

    OSH Park @ make cheap enough boards if you have a design (that is to say, a design file made in a circuit focused CAD program) if you're looking to make a small run of your light sensor circuit, or you could look at the shared projects and find a board that matches your needs if you don't want to design one yourself.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for the info on OSH Park. Definitely worth a look. Will need to educate myself a little more on being able to identify a board that would match my needs. The glow in the dark paint did not work out as I had hoped. There is a slight glow, but you need to be within 3 feet to see the clock hands in the dark. Will need to find a better solution there.


    3 years ago



    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks. Please vote if you feel worthy.