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15. Applications and Implications

This week I worked on outlining some of the charactheristics of my final project.

What is it?

The artifact I have been designing and producing is a fully programmable chess clock\timer.

It features:

  • two push buttons (one for each player, different for usual chess timers, which generally present one switch for both)
  • a rotary encoder with push function (to select time, increment and moves values)
  • 2 more buttons to cover the rest of interections with the machine (modes, game start, game end)

The software would allow:

  • multiple game modes
  • game time selection
  • delay\increment selection
  • moves selection
  • a bitmap font of my design

What will it do?

It will allow chess players to utilise the chess timing system of their choice for their game. It is a big and sturdy object (as opposed to most commercial chess timers) allowing the players to fully release the game stress by hitting those buttons as swiftly and energetically as needed, without moving the timer out of place or breaking it.

What will you design?

I designed:

  • the internal joints to keep the structure together
  • a cover for the rotary encoder
  • the wooden faces and sides
  • the screen to cover the LED matrixes
  • the fixture to keep the matrixes together
  • the aesthetic details of the timer
  • the software of the timer
  • the font for animations and data
  • the two boards for calculating and rendering
  • 2 breakout boards for alimentation and i2c connection

What materials and components will be used?

The faces and matrix fixture will be done in 5mm thick poplar MDF, while the sides in 20mm thick poplar wood panel.

The inside joints and encoder cover will be 3D printed in PLA.

The screen cover will be in machined plexiglass.

The buttons will be bought, as well as the LED matrixes, the rotary encoder and the alimentation.

BOM sources and prices



Rotary encoder:

  • 1 * (Rotary encoder)[] w\ breakout board, out of production


  • PLA, about 14m, 24.90 Euros for 750g, vendor
  • 3mm mdf, 60x70, 17,08 euros for 100x100 sheet, vendor
  • 20mm mdf, 50 x 60, 41,72 euros for 100x100, vendor
  • 20mm plexiglass, 20x40, 262,30 euros for 100x100, vendor
  • bolts and nuts, unknown
  • all electronics were bought at DigiKey


The sum of the costs of components does not make up the final price of the artifact as:

  • about 5 hours of large format machining
  • 1 hour of small format machining
  • 1 hour of soldering
  • 1 hour of laser cutting
  • 1 hour of vinyl cutting
  • 8 hours of 3d printing
  • 3 hours of painting and sanding
  • countless hours of CAD, CAM, coding and debugging

were not calculated.


In order to finalise my project I used a series of manufacturing processes.

The faces and screen fixtures were designed on Fusion and Rhino and lasercut on the GCC LaserPRO.

The screen cover was machined on the large format Shopbot.

The joints and encoder cover got 3d printed with the Ultimaker 2+ and Wasp Delta.

I cut the details on the Roland vinyl cutter.

The boards were milled on the Roland MDX-40.

A few other finishing processes were included such as:

  • sanding
  • painting
  • re-work the holes on 3D printed joints with a pillar drill


There are multiple examples of chess timers that were done in the past.

The very first (late 19th century) were hourglasses that could be layed on their sides, later on analog clock were introduced. The first digital clock for chess was developed by B. Cheney in 1973, different clocks were needed depending on the time system chosen, and only later fully programmable clocks appeared. In 1989 the Fischer time control clock was introduced, while in 1994 a simple delay digital clock was patented.

Regarding the non-commercial universe I found a few examples and projects:

My main issue with most of these designs is that the case or structure itself mostly looked far from solid, with mainly breadboarded circuits, poor to none system integration and almost entrirely lacking any sense of taste or design. I do appreciate a little emphasis on etiquette, and especially in chess (with all it’s boring seriousness) I believe it’s pleasant when the chess board, pieces and timer look nice and sharp. The people I play chess with are not that serious, but that doesn’t mean the clock should look like a heap of jumpers, a cluster of cables.

What questions need to be answered?

I guess the main question is: is it worth to spend time and money to produce an object that is readily available in commerce, at a cheap price? My answer is, probably not.

To a certain degree I found myself thinking intensively about why and what to design, even my BA final essay was based on similar questions. It is my belief that there are three main design missions: to create (when you make something entirely new), to innovate (when you develop something old into something new) an to improve (what exists already).

I did not create in this case. I did not innovate. But I do think that (in this case) I did some improvements from the DIY clocks I linked in the Research section. I think such improvements are to be found in the structure and aesthetic presence of the clock, and in the software (as it allows for multiple game modes).

How will it be evaluated?

Does this chess clock allow players to have a good game of chess? Do they understand how it works without explanation? Do they see their time clearly? Do they have multiple choices for time control methods, game lenght, increment duration and move quantity? Do they find some pleasure in ending their move with a resonant push on their button? Do they appreciated the “cold war submarine” style I wanted to acheive?

I would consider this project successful if all (or most) of these questions were to be answered positively.

Last update: July 9, 2021