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David Henshaw’s Reel Time clock is about as far from “real-time” as you can get, but that’s half the fun of this whimsical timekeeper.

One of a series of electronic clocks that Henshaw has built over the years, Reel Time tells time in pieced-together English sentences, displayed on rolls of 35mm film. Rather than displaying 6:05, the clock will inform you that “It’s just gone five past six o’clock in the evening.”

The clock’s unique design incorporates a BASIC Stamp processor to control eight stepper motors, which rotate four separate reels of film. The project took six months of sporadic night and weekend work, and fits most definitions of a labor of love.

The most challenging aspect was getting the reels of film to rotate just the right amount so that the correct phrase scrolls into view, which required the number of motor rotations to vary depending on what time it was. After a couple weeks of debugging, Henshaw got the timing right and the Reel Time clock was off and running.

Henshaw grew up in Salford, England, but now lives in San Francisco, where the Reel Time clock was featured in an exhibition at the Mina Dresden Gallery last year.

Much of the clock is made with recycled and surplus components, including the bobbins, film, wood, and power supply, which were bought online or in secondhand shops. Henshaw also made use of Meccano metal construction toy pieces, Lazertran transfer paper, and military surplus motors.

If he could do anything over, it would be to build a better cabinet. As it is, whenever Henshaw has to move the clock, he says it feels like moving an antique.

Making things like the Reel Time clock is how Henshaw keeps the creative juices flowing while employed as an IT manager for a large financial institution. “Working on projects like this in my spare time is what keeps me sane!”

>> Reel Time Clock Build: dhenshaw.com/art/reeltime
Reel Time in Action: makezine.com/go/reeltime


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