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How To Make An Equatorial Sundial - With Photos

Updated on February 21, 2014
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Susan is a science geek, and if that wasn't enough, she gets all nerdy over technology too. She is also a writer too.

You will learn how to create a sundial with this step by step guide!
You will learn how to create a sundial with this step by step guide! | Source

In this guide, you will learn how to create a sundial step by step, how to read your sundial and how a sundial works. The various types of sundials will also be included. The sundial that will be created is an equatorial sundial, a very accurate and powerful kind. Your sundial will work throughout the year.

How A Sundial Works...

The woman acts as a gnomon and casts a shadow on one of the hour lines. The hour that you derive from this is solar time and must be converted to local time.
The woman acts as a gnomon and casts a shadow on one of the hour lines. The hour that you derive from this is solar time and must be converted to local time. | Source

What Is A Sundial?

A sundial is a piece of equipment that tells you the time based on the sun's position in the sky. On a simple sundial, there is usually a rod or "gnomon" that stands vertically upright. When you place the sundial outside, the sun will cast a shadow on one of the many hour lines. Based on where the sun's shadow lies, you can easily tell the time and what hour it is.

Sundials are not difficult to make and can be very effective in telling the time and can also act as a compass. Many believe that you have to know a great deal of astronomy to be able to create one, but that is simply not true.

Sundials have been used for centuries and were very popular in Europe and Egypt to tell the time when clocks were something of the future. In fact, the oldest sundial discovered was in 3500 BC created by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. As the years passed, people became more and more reliant on the sundial to tell the time. In the Middle Ages (1600's +), sundials had their golden era and were found in almost every household or town. France is a country densely populated with sundials from North to South and has always been well known for its intricate masterpieces.

Some sundials are works or art whilst others are very ancient and a little rusted. Nonetheless, they still tell the time even after the centuries passed away. It took many hours to craft these sundials and their creators are not just craftspeople but astronomers and even, philosophers. Almost every sundial is accompanied by a motto which is a short sentence that describes the passing of time, the mysteries of life or even the glory of the sun. We will be taking a look at sundial mottoes in more detail later on.

A typical sundial...

This is a horizontal sundial sporting all the features a sundial has to offer. If you look closely at the bottom of the face, you will see the motto, "Times change and we with them".
This is a horizontal sundial sporting all the features a sundial has to offer. If you look closely at the bottom of the face, you will see the motto, "Times change and we with them". | Source

Types Of Sundials

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A brass sundial, which also consists of a compass also. This is an example of a brass horizontal sundial. This, slightly rusty, sundial is a typical example of a horizontal sundial. Another example is the very first image at the top of this guide. This sundial is an equatorial sundial because its plane is inclined at the same angle as the latitiude it is currently standing on. Love the design of the sun, it's beautiful! This is an example of a vertical sundial.
A brass sundial, which also consists of a compass also. This is an example of a brass horizontal sundial.
A brass sundial, which also consists of a compass also. This is an example of a brass horizontal sundial. | Source
This, slightly rusty, sundial is a typical example of a horizontal sundial. Another example is the very first image at the top of this guide.
This, slightly rusty, sundial is a typical example of a horizontal sundial. Another example is the very first image at the top of this guide. | Source
This sundial is an equatorial sundial because its plane is inclined at the same angle as the latitiude it is currently standing on. Love the design of the sun, it's beautiful!
This sundial is an equatorial sundial because its plane is inclined at the same angle as the latitiude it is currently standing on. Love the design of the sun, it's beautiful! | Source
This is an example of a vertical sundial.
This is an example of a vertical sundial. | Source

Types Of Sundials

There are a variety of sundials which are different in their design and science. Here are three types of sundial which we will be making:

  1. Equatorial: A small square plane which is lifted at the angle of its local latitude and forms a right angle with the gnomon. To read the time from this sundial, it will have to be placed facing True North and its local latitude will have to be determined. It has two faces, the North Face and the South Face. The South Face will show the time during Winter and Spring whilst the North Face will show the time during Summer and Autumn.
  2. Horizontal: A flat plane (hence the name horizontal) which has a vertical stick or gnomon near the top of the plane. The hour lines are marked at an angle of 15 degrees and this is perhaps one of the easiest kinds to make.
  3. Vertical: In a vertical sundial, the plane or base of the sundial is vertical and the gnomon is aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation.

Why would you like to create a sundial?

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How To Make An Equatorial Sundial

An equatorial sundial is one of the easiest kinds of sundials to make but perhaps the most common and the best looking. If you ever go to a park, you might see a sundial as the centrepiece of the park. I have seen sundials dotted across many parks and more than likely they are going to be an equatorial or sometimes an equatorial. They are credited for their accuracy, design and easiness to read so an equatorial sundial will be the easiest to create. Our sundial is going to be made from cardboard (or wood if you have it) and some wooden sticks. We are going to paint it at the end to give it a more authentic feel. Let's get started!

Before we begin, your sundial will look something like the image on the right. It took me about twenty minutes in all to draw and half an hour to paint a fully functional sundial. With a sundial you can:

  1. Tell the time in all seasons

Make sure that you know where North is!
Make sure that you know where North is! | Source

1. Find Out Your Latitude and Direction Of North

Information You Will Need:

Sundials can be constructed anywhere on this globe, regardless of latitiude. However, you will have to make some personal adjustments to your sundial to make it fully functional. Otherwise the sun's angle created with the side of the sundial will give a faulty time and we don't want that! You wil need some extra information about your area or nearest town/city to allow your sundial to perform at its very best.

  1. Local Latitude - If you don't know your local latitude, Google it or consult the map below for a rough indicator.
  2. True North - Do you know where true (geographical) north is? Remember that magnetic north is different to true north. To find where it is in your area,

2. Assemble Your Materials

Once you know your latitude and the direction of North, get your materials ready. You are going to need:

  1. 15 cm x 15 cm piece of cardboard
  2. Gnomon or Stick: You could use a chopstick, kebab sticks or even a straight straw or pencil for a gnomon.
  3. Maths Tools - Protractor, Set Square, Ruler, Pencil
  4. Other extras: Scissors, sticky tape/blue tack,
  5. Paints and Paintbrushes- If you want to decorate your sundial, try painting with either watercolours for a slightly transparent look or oil pastels for some vibrancy.
  6. Black Marker - For darkening in the lines and marking in the hours

These are the instruments and materials you will need.
These are the instruments and materials you will need. | Source

3. Measuring and Marking The Plane

It is essential that the plane or piece of cardboard is 15 cm and that it is kept in proportion with the dimensions given.

  1. Cut your plane out so that it measures as 15 cm by 15 cm.
  2. Next, the centre point has to be found as all the lines are going to emit from this point. To do so, draw a line from the top-right corner to the bottom-left corner and do the same with the other two points. Draw a point on the place where the two lines intersect.
  3. Punch a compass through this hole and fit the gnomon/stick through it just to make sure that the hole is large enough and then take the gnomon out.
  4. Using a compass, draw a circle of radius 7.5 cm around the centre point.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1.Measuring the cardboard.2. Drawing diagonals from one corner to the other on each side is needed to find the point where the two lines intersect, or otherwise, the centre of the square. 3. Enlarge this hole with a compass or sharp pencil and make sure that the stick fits through hole. 4. Draw a circle of radius 7.5 cm from the centre point with a compass.
1.Measuring the cardboard.
1.Measuring the cardboard.
2. Drawing diagonals from one corner to the other on each side is needed to find the point where the two lines intersect, or otherwise, the centre of the square.
2. Drawing diagonals from one corner to the other on each side is needed to find the point where the two lines intersect, or otherwise, the centre of the square.
3. Enlarge this hole with a compass or sharp pencil and make sure that the stick fits through hole.
3. Enlarge this hole with a compass or sharp pencil and make sure that the stick fits through hole.
4. Draw a circle of radius 7.5 cm from the centre point with a compass.
4. Draw a circle of radius 7.5 cm from the centre point with a compass.

4. Drawing The Lines

Next, we have to draw in the hour lines. The sun will form a shadow with the gnomon and this shadow will lie on one of the many hour lines telling us the time. To draw the lines, we will need to use a protractor and a pencil.

  1. Draw a line perpendicular to the centre point, it will be in the middle of the length of the plane. This line is known as the noon line.
  2. Place the protractor on the plane as shown below and make sure that it forms a right angle with the centre point.
  3. Then, count 15° on the protractor and mark a point there. Mark eight points from the noon line on the right side and eight points on the left side. So, in total you should have 17 lines each 15° apart.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Marking in the lines. Marking 15 degree points, eight on each side of the noon line. The noon line is perpendicular to the plane and the centre point. The North Plane is finished!
Marking in the lines.
Marking in the lines.
Marking 15 degree points, eight on each side of the noon line. The noon line is perpendicular to the plane and the centre point.
Marking 15 degree points, eight on each side of the noon line. The noon line is perpendicular to the plane and the centre point.
The North Plane is finished!
The North Plane is finished!

5. Marking The South Plane

Now that the North Plane has been fully marked and ready to go, we need to mark the South Plane. During times near the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the sun's shadow will be seen on the Southern Plane. One may ask, why does an equatorial sundial have two faces? Think about it. For this kind of sundial to work, you will need to position it facing North. If the sun is above the South horizon, and the plane is inclined at an angle, how will the sun shine on the North face? It can't. That's why it needs a South plane to shine on so that we can still get a reading. Creating the South Plane is easy, you just have to follow all the steps so far again on the other side of the cardboard.

  1. Turn over your piece of cardboard.
  2. Follow all steps from number 3.

Now that the two faces are marked, it is time to begin touching up our sundial face.

Time to add some colour to your sundial!
Time to add some colour to your sundial! | Source

6. Painting The Sundial

The rough outline of our sundial is complete and now we need to start making our sundial look like star quality! Get those paints out and a black marker and we will start writing in the hour lines and painting it in. I thickened in the lines with black acrylic paint and painted the segments with watercolours. I wrote in the hour lines with a black marker.

  1. Mark in the lines with a black marker or black oil pastel.
  2. Paint the sundial with whatever style you want. You can copy the design such as below or work with different colour schemes. Colour is very important in a sundial and reflects the qualities you want to pass down to the observer. See the table below for colours and their symbols and meanings.
  3. Remember to paint the South Face also.

Various Design Ideas:

  • Spirals
  • Sun's in various colours such as orange, and different shades of yellow
  • Vibrant Segments - Each of the segments can be coloured in vibrant colours. I think that watercolours work best on cardboard but acrylics are good too.
  • Stripes
  • Spots
  • Clocks - A great way to show the passing of time!

Colours and Their Meanings

Colour
Meaning
 
Red
Power, passion, love, fire, strength
 
Orange
Vitality, Brightness
 
Yellow
Happiness, Brightness, The Sun
 
Green
Earth, pure, enviroment, vitality, health, freshness
 
Blue
Tranquility, Calm, Peace, Sky
 
Pink
Combines the power of red and the serenity of white to create a peaceful yet vibrant atmoshphere
 
Purple
Astronomy, Stars, Night Time, Luxury
 

7. Add A Motto

Remember that your sundial face is not complete without a motto! A motto is traditionally placed on a sundial that reflects the creator. Choose a motto from the list below and make sure that it reflects your personality. You can place that motto wherever you wish on your sundial.

Quotes and Mottos Found On Sundials

These quotes and mottos have been found on sundials. Traditionally, after the crafter of a sundial maker creates a sundial, he or she can carve a motto onto the sundial which reflects some philosophy about time or the sun. Here are some famous and inspiring quotes you can place on your sundials. They have been divided into sections.

The Passing Of Time:

"Profit from every goodly hour - for it will never come again"

"Be as true to each other as this dial is to the sun."

"After darkness, light"

" Be vigilant for you never know at what hour..."

"Do not kill time, for it will surely kill thee"

"The hour is flowing."

"Time will give everything"

Doing Good To Others:

"Be as true to each other as this sundial is to the sun"

"The sun shines for everyone"

"While we have time, let us do good"

The Sun:

"Without the sun, I am nothing"

Latin Mottos:

"Lente hora, celeriter anni" - An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly

"Tempus vincit Omnia" - Time conquers everything

"Una dabit quod negat altera" - One hour will give what another has refused.

"Horas non numero nisi serenas - I count only the happy hours

"Vivere memento" - Remember to live

The sundial plane is now finished!
The sundial plane is now finished! | Source
The gnomon is now stuck through the plane of the sundial.
The gnomon is now stuck through the plane of the sundial.

8. Assemble Your Sundial

Now that both faces of the sundial has been painted and fully marked, it is time to assemble it! This is where the local latitude and direction of North will be needed.

  1. Stick the gnomon through the hole and make it to be about 10 cm in length. We could calculate it by using the tangent of the local latitude, but that is for another day. This will still be accurate enough despite not doing this calculation. More than likely, you will need your gnomon to be about 10 cm for a 15 cm board.
  2. Using blue tack or sticky tape, secure it in place but make sure that it forms a right angle (90°) with the sundial face. That is essential. You can use a set square to check this or a protractor.
  3. Face the sundial North. You can check North with a compass or by locating the North Star at night time.
  4. Make sure that the angle between the surface that the sundial lies on and the sundial plane is equal to your local latitude.

The sundial is now complete! So, now that a fully functional sundial has been created, how do we read the time from it?

With a sundial, telling the time is easy.
With a sundial, telling the time is easy. | Source

9. How To Read An Equatorial Sundial

Reading a sundial is not complicated and you will get an idea of the rough time. For exact minutes, many calculations such as the Equation Of Time will have to be taken into account. However, for this sundial, you simply have to read off where exactly the shadow is when the sun shines on one of the hour lines.

  1. Place the sundial in a sunny area. Make sure that the sun is able to cast a shadow on the sundial.
  2. Check where the shadow is and read off the hour line where it lies. This is the time.

The sundial is assembled.
The sundial is assembled.

About The Author

Susan W. (susi10) is a sundial enthusiast having studied their workings in academic books and historical sources. She is highly interested in ancient civilisations and how they kept time as well as the science behind the sun and its motions.

Favourite sundial motto?

"Profit from every goodly hour... for it will never come again"

"One hour will give what another has refused."

© 2014 Susan W

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a cool idea. We made one at the last school I taught at and the kids were fascinated with the project. Great information here.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Thanks for your comment Bill. You are right, it is a very fascinating project for kids even adults. The workings of a sundial are very complex, yet creating a functional sundial is a rewarding experience.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      This would definitely be a fascinating project to do with children, but I would like to design and make one myself. Thanks for the info and tutorial. Hope to be back to look more closely at your detailed instructions. Having such good photos to go with the directions will be really useful to people. Pinning to my Home Education/Schooling board.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      What a nifty project -- something I'd love to do this summer with my daughter or nephews/nieces. Thanks for not only the tutorial but the historical information. Voted up and more, plus pinning.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      Great information about the sundial and about how to make a sundial. Great hub, interesting and informative, voted up.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Susi, this is an awesome craft with so much meaning and history behind it. I am going to scout around my home and find the things I need to get started. My favorite sundial motto is: "Lente hora, celeriter anni" - An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly.

      Great hub -- thanks for sharing your expertise and creativity.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I see that you wrote your Hub susi10. :) Congratulations. It is very good and interesting. I have always had an interest in sundials but it seems not as much as you do.

      I voted it up and all of the way across, except funny, plus Pin.

      Kevin

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi R Talloni,

      I am so glad to see you drop by, thank you for your wonderful comments. Yes, sundials can be created and enjoyed by anyone and can be a great hobby for any adult! There is something fascinating about the way that we can tell the time from just the sun and nothing else, the same way our ancestors did.

      Thank you for the pin, I appreciate it Roberta!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi Flourish Anyway,

      I'm glad you liked this, the history can be very interesting behind sundials. Imagine that sundials were created even in 3000 BC by the Greeks and Romans, that is amazing. Making a sundial will be a great project for your daughter or nieces/nephews to create, I am sure it will be very educational for them. Enjoy! Thanks for the pin and the comments. :)

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi Vellur! Thanks for reading this, I appreciate your wonderful comments. :) Sundials are truly amazing pieces of astronomy and a fully-functional sundial can be a very handy invention! If you ever have the time, I suggest that you try making a sundial, it is a great project for anyone.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi Phyllis!

      It's so nice to hear from you, thanks for the great comments! :) You are right, sundials really do have so much history behind them. They were the primary source of telling the time before clocks so imagine how many people have used them before!

      I am delighted that you will try out this project, best of luck with it. This kind of sundial is not too difficult to create and takes a short time too. If you need any assistance, just drop a line here and I will be ready to help! I just tested my sundial today and it is working perfectly. At 11:00 am, the shadow lied exactly at the 11 hour line. It is a very fascinating piece of equipment, and impressive to show to family and friends too.

      "An hour passes slowly but the years go by quickly"... I can see why this is your favourite motto, I love it too. I completely agree with the meaning of this quote. It is amazing that time goes past us in the blink of an eye and before we know it, a couple of years have passed!

      Thank you for dropping by, glad to see you Phyllis!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi The Examiner!

      Thank you for the great comments. Yep, I wrote my hub at last. I might write one or two more on sundials, I will have a think about it. Getting ideas for hubs can be difficult sometimes.

      I never knew that you had an interest in sundials, have you ever built one before? Thanks for all the votes and the pin, it's very much appreciated. Glad to see you, Kevin!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I have not built one but I thought about it. I was going to lay a dial face on top of a birdbath for the winter.

      I have written a list of Hub ideas because I cannot keep up with them. I do not have time to write them all!

      Kevin

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      A sundial dial face on a bird bath sounds good, at least you will have two functions with the bird bath. If you do, I recommend that you try creating a horizontal sundial as it consists of only one face and is very easy to make which has a circular shape. I will be writing a hub on how to make a circular dial face soon. Anyway...thanks for your comments!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      You are welcome and keep up the good work. :-)

      Kevin

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I'm back to say congratulations on HOTD! Well done!

    • virazoza profile image

      Nilesh oza 3 years ago from Mumbai

      very nice

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Flourish - Thank you for the congrats, I am so happy that this is HOTD. Well done on your latest HOTD, on ways to embarrass your teenagers. We all got a good laugh out of that one. :)

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Virazoza - Thanks for dropping by and for your comments. I hope that you have learned how to make a sundial with this hub. Sundials are very fascinating to create and can teach us a lot about our solar system.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Congratulations susi on HOTD.

      Kevin

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Great hub and done very well!

      I think it is an interesting project for kids during Summer vacation.

      Congratulations for HOTD!

    • Artois52 profile image

      Artois52 3 years ago from England

      This is a fantastic example of what I love about Hub pages. You learn so much! Great hub and thanks for all the work that you must have put into it.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 3 years ago from Europe

      Great! Very original and interesting information and thanks for creating this fantastic Hub. I hope you'll stimulate many people to create their own solar clock.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Kevin - Thank you for the congrats, I am delighted that this was chosen as HOTD! I still can't believe it.

      Chitranganda - I agree. I think that kids would really love to try their hand at this project during their vacation this Summer. It really is a crafty, creative and scientific project to try out. The best thing is that it actually works and can be used as a clock afterwards, providing another way to read the time. Thank you for dropping by and for the great comments. I appreciate your visit!

      Artois - Thank you for the visit and the wonderful comments. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this and learned a lot from it. Creating a sundial is a very rewarding project for kids and even, adults because it takes the person who crafted it back in time.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      This is so neat! So unique! Congrats on HOTD. Well-deserved!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Buildreps - I would like to thank you for your fantastic comments, I really appreciate them. I agree, I hope that many people will learn how to create their own sundial. Most people think that you have to be a skilled scientist or maths guru to make one but hopefully this hub will show how untrue that is. I am glad to see you drop by!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Vicki - Thank you for the inspiring comments and for your congrats. Sundials are very unique, agreed, because of the fact that the work in correlation with the earth's rotation and sun's trajectory throughout the sky. People think it is rocket science but it really isn't. I hope that this hub will demonstrate how fascinating sundials are. I am happy to see you drop by.

    • virazoza profile image

      Nilesh oza 3 years ago from Mumbai

      i hv read it is fascinating........

    • profile image

      anonymous 18 months ago

      I read that the angle it is raised at should be 90-your latitude?

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