Sundials - World's Oldest Clocks

North American Sundial Society

Durer Method of Making a SundialYou can layout a sundial using only a compass and straight edge (and yes, a ruler and book of tangents so that you can set out the gnomon lines for your latitude).  Clem Rutter has created a graphical set of instructions to make horizontal sundials taken from the challenge of Fred Sawyer of the North American Sundial Society to find how many different ways can you graphically lay out the lines of a sundial.

Here's where the fun begins.  Clem Rutter in short order presents eleven different approaches. Do you want to follow the method of Dürer (1525), Benendetti (1574), Clavius (1586) or the more modern methods of Leybourn (1660) or Ozanam (1673)?  All these methods are graphical shown.  Join the centuries of gnomonists and begin your own Art of Dialing at

Armillary Sphere

An armillary sundial also called an armillary sphere is a representation of both the terrestrial globe and celestial sphere.  Often highly decorated, these are beautiful sundials.

Read more: Armillary Sundial

Eagle Scout Project by
Geno Chandler
Parker Middle School, Howell, MI

The "Human Sundial", technically called an analemmatic sundial, allows one's own shadow to cast the time of day.  The sundial works with students of any height, where all they have to do is stand on the current day of year mark of a central walkway.  The analemmatic sundial can be painted onto concrete or asphalt playgrounds or, using markers and a brick or paver-stone walkway, be designed for a flat, grassy area.

Read more: Human Sundial Project

This Sundials for Starters appeared in The Compendium in March 2014

Robert L. Kellogg, Ph.D.

In 1902 Alice More Earle in her book Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday commented:

“Of course, there are in the United States many houses that manufacture optical and mathematical instruments and also make sun-dials. There are also those who make and sell very pretty brass dials, made to look well … regardless of the shape of the gnomon or drawing of the hour lines. I know no individual, however, save Captain Bailey, who makes accurate sun-dials for all latitudes.” [Fig. 1 of Captain John S. Bailey, 19th century dial maker - Earle].

Read more: Sundial Materials

Mechanical Dialing and a Laser Trigon

terwilliger_trigon_photo_details By Robert Terwilliger

The most popular ways to lay out sundials involves computation, geometry, or a combination of both. These methods assume the dial will be created on a regular surface, such as flat horizontal or vertical dials or circularly curved equatorial dials.

A less known method is mechanically drawing dial lines using a string or laser beam to project artificial “sunbeams” to show where light and shadow fall. This technique can be used on both regular and irregular surfaces. We start by describing the principles of a trigon.

Read more: Laser Trigon

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