Rolling Ball Clock Instructions
By Geoff Whiting
A rolling ball clock uses a set of steel balls or ball bearings that move down slanted slats to tell you the time of day. These kinetic motion clocks were developed and sold by the Idle-Tyme Corporation starting in 1978 and use a power source to operate the levers and a lift that move balls around the clock to keep the hour and minutes correct.
Rolling ball clocks from Idle-Tyme and other manufacturers all have leveling mechanisms because the clock must be level to operate properly. The most common way to level a clock is via two leveling screws on its base, making very minor adjustments to make the clock level. These screws can be adjusted with your fingers typically, but a screwdriver may make it easier. The base will come with a divot that fits one ball. If the ball is placed in to the divot on a level base, it will not move from the spot. Balls will not properly move down the slats or may fall out of an un-leveled clock.
Rolling ball clocks have two main setups, each using two slats to tell the minutes and one to tell the hour. In the original design, the top row would indicate one through four minutes while the second row would indicate minutes as a multiple of five. You would need to add up the numbers -- say a ball indicating two and another indicating 10-- to determine the minutes, in this case 12. Modern designs use the top row to go through minute nine and the middle row indicating a multiple of 10. Most designs use the bottom row with balls corresponding to each hour.
Properly power your clock, either through a plug or batteries, to begin setting the time. Then, set balls in the appropriate spots for the time. Be sure to note the proper numbers for the minutes as different designs use different ball counts. Place all of the leftover balls in the clock’s reservoir or on its bottom row. Turn on the ball clock and it will be operational with the correct time.
Balls will occasionally fall off of the clock's tracks, but a few instances of this happening don’t mean the clock is broken. If falling occurs multiple times, remove any dust or other accumulation on the track and send a test ball down the slat to see if the clock is steady and on a flat surface. You can also you a check this by laying a level across the base of your clock and making sure the level's bubble is in the center of its gauge. If it is not, adjust the clock with its leveling screws until the bubble is properly centered. You can also check the ball itself for imperfections and remove any damaged balls.
Different Ball Clocks
Rolling-ball clocks are not too common because of the patents held by the Idle-Tyme Corporation, but there are some recent clocks and many clock designs available on the market. The Sharper Image developed a rolling ball clock called the Time Machine that has its own display case and is now available from niche online retailers like InnovaToys (link in Resources). RollingBallClock.com and Stuart's Rolling Ball Clock (links in Resources) sell vintage clocks and plans for people to build their own rolling ball clocks -- currently these are the most common ways to get a rolling ball clock.
Geoff Whiting is a writer and copy editor who has specialized in business technology, consumer electronics and research reports since 2007. He has written for national magazines like "American Shipper" and "BIC Magazine," has written daily news articles for FierceMarkets, and has crafted research reports for Rider Research, Intel and Spotify.