The “Electric” Hourglass: Final Report pt.1


The intent of the “electric hourglass” is to create a new perspective on the age-old timepiece. Its initial concept was to construct a wood stand and hourglass section in which a lighting display would imitate the movement of sand. However, this scope was narrowed by the capability of available lighting options.  More idea were developed while thinking upon the lines of a more electric aesthetic, with the effects of a visible electric current instead of the impression of sand.

Beyond aesthetic, I hope for the design to express a deeper message on the treatment of time across different cultures and fields of thought.


The original “electric hourglass” concept was to install a plasma globe inside the glass. In order to make that design work, the hourglass environment would have to sustain noble gases in a vacuum. This limitation led to the next concept: generate a visible electric current through a high voltage arc between wires. Mr. May informed me that a large voltage and minimal space between wires would be necessary in order for this to work. He suggested researching spark gap generators; however, this mechanism requires a small gap whose aesthetic would be unimpressive given my initial vision.

Given these restrictions, the concept again shifted to incorporate lights into the hourglass structure and have that light captured within a central part. The next challenge was to find an hourglass to use. While looking at different models on the internet, I found another issue. Most hourglass forms are closed on the bottom and top and would not provide an entry for installing the light piece. The closest thing I found to an approximate hourglass form that also was open on the end was a Chemex coffee maker.

The wood piece was removable, therefore I was able to work on developing a light piece and the base.


I found a suitable wood piece t cut the bases from and took it to the CNC machine in the CINC. The drill-paths were programmed using Rhinoceros.Displaying IMG_0747.jpg On a trip to Home Depot, I found several dowels, but none which had lathed designs. However, they had half turn rope trim which I decided to attach back to back to make the columns. As for the light installation, I found a silicon-like ball on a Christmas decoration and drilled a hole in the top. I discovered that shining a laser into the ball, most of the light was captured and spread evenly across the ball to create a glow effect.

Final Product Displaying IMG_0747.jpg

Due to the tolerance on the CNC, the components all fell together nice. Though the initial “electric” concepts did not work out, the final product does have a working aesthetic.




Chemex $41.99
Wood trim $8.79
Remnant Wood Free
Wood Stain $4.99
Silicon Ball Free
Laser Pointer $5.99
Total $61.76
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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Chad Alvarez
    May 4, 2016 2:18 pm

    This project turned out looking excellent even without the “electric” part you mentioned. I would suggest posting a video to give readers a better idea about how these things work compared to a classic sand hourglass. I like your ambition tackling the challenge of trying to change something that hasn’t changed in the course of history. Excellent work getting the cnc tolerances to all match up and really good research trying to find all the right parts and information. I definitely suggest not letting this class top you from trying to fix or update this design as it would be awesome to get it completely functioning how you wanted it to. Nice work!


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