Sundial Instructions

Instead of checking your cell phone or asking someone what time it is..  try building a sundial! These instructions are focused on a simple method for making an accurate sundial on a patch of level ground. The sun travels 15 degrees in an hour.

Step 1: Clear an area

Clear a circular area of bare ground and place a stick Sundial-Step-1(gnomon) in the center.


Step 2: Identify North

Find which way is north. If you place pebbles throughout a day at the point where the sun Sundial-Step-2casts a shadow from the tip of the gnomon, the stones will describe a hyperbola and North is where the shadow is shortest.

A more accurate way will be to find east-west first.

Draw a circle centered at your vertical stick, at a radius given by a morning pebble, then wait until afternoon when the shadow just touches the circle. A line drawn between these two points will be due east-west and you can draw a line perpendicular to this to find a true north-south line.


Step 3: Draw a circle

Draw a new circle as large as you want to make your Sundial-Step-3sundial, with the center where your east-west and north-south lines meet. A good radius is about the same length as your shadow stick.


Step 4: Make a mark every 15 degrees

Make a mark every 15 degrees on the circle (use a pebble). Sundial-Step-4Start by dividing the arc between east and north in half, then divide each of these into three equal pieces. You should end up with 24 even spaces along the circle.


Step 5: Find you latitude

Find your approximate latitude, you can look it up online, Coordinates for High Cliffor one way to find latitude in the northern hemisphere is to determine how far above the horizon the north star (Polaris) lies. Polaris is at the end of the handle of the little dipper. Once you know your latitude, mark the point on the circle that corresponds to that angle (counterclockwise) from east. If your latitude is a multiple of 15 degrees, you can use one of the pebbles you have already used.


Details in image are for High Cliff State Park


Step 6: Draw North-South Line

Extend a perpendicular line from the latitude stone to the north-Sundial-Step-6south line

Step 7: draw ellipse

Draw an ellipse with the minor axis at this point, and the Sundial-Step-7major axis where the circle intersects the east-west line. The point where the ellipse crosses the north-south line will be 12 o'clock. The points where the ellipse crosses the east-west line will be 6 o'clock (AM to the west, PM to the east).

Step 8: draw lines

Extend a line straight south or north from each 15 degree Sundial-Step-8mark on the circle to the ellipse and place a pebble at the intersections. These will be your hours. Note the lines extending east-west out from the inner circle in the diagram and inward north-south from the outer circle, the intersections determine the hour points and instead of drawing an ellipse, you can just find these points.

  • Your sundial should look like this (this image was done in a drawing program and the 15 minute marks were added, you can simply divide each hour into 4 with three smaller pebbles):

Step 9: Put Stick in Center of Circle

Stand up a stick in the center of the circle. The type of sundial Sundial-Step-9you have just made is called an analemmatic sundial. The exact position of the stick (gnomon) should change with the season (+/- 23.5 degrees) along the north-south line as the sun moves north and south of the equator, but this is a temporary structure so we will dispense with that for now.

Step 10: Check the Time

Watch for a shadow to be cast, whatever number that Sundial-Step-10shadow is cast on, that is your beginning to find out what time it is.

You must then correct for your longitude and the equation of time, and daylight savings time (if any).

  • Attached is a completed sundial with the construction lines removed and a declination line added. The gnomon (stick) should lie along the center of this in a position which corresponds to the time of year.

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