A Simple Horizontal Sundial

An easy-to-make, two-piece paper sundial for kids to cut out and assemble.

This paper sundial is intended for all ages, with only two pieces to cut out and fold, and should take less than a class period to construct. It requires scissors, a hobby knife (or a carpenter’s utility knife, or a scalpel, if you have dissection supplies), and tape or glue. Many designs of sundial are possible — this one represents the ‘traditional horizontal’ design you might find in garden supply stores.

There are two small steps that need a little bit of care. First, there is a slot to be cut out. Older children who can handle a hobby knife should have no trouble with it, but younger children should probably have help. Also, scoring the fold lines isn’t strictly necessary, but it is a great help in making the folds crisp and straight. Again, older children should have no problem with this, but younger children might need some guidance.

Every sundial must be designed for the latitude in which it is to be used, and in the download links you can find several versions that can be adapted to any latitude, except the equator or near the poles. The ‘gnomon’ or shadow-stick part needs to point at the North Star (or more precisely, the North Celestial Pole), meaning it needs to tilt up at an angle equal to your latitude. You handle this by constructing your own pair of fold lines on the gnomon at the appropriate latitude. Also, the hour-line marks will change gradually with latitude, so for the most accuracy, you will obviously want to choose the download page representing the latitude closest to you.

To make the dial, choose the page containing the nearest latitude to yours, and print it onto card stock. (If you don’t mind a floppy sundial that probably won’t last long, you could also just use normal paper.) Mark the fold lines for the gnomon before cutting it out. Draw a line on each side of the gnomon’s centerline, starting at the center, and ending at the appropriate latitude mark These become the fold lines along which you will fold the paper to make the flaps that will rest against the bottom of the dial.

How to mark the fold line for a specific latitude on the gnomon of the paper sundial
Marking the Gnomon for Latitude 35°N

After marking the fold lines for the gnomon, cut out the two pieces of the sundial along the thick black lines, including the incision into the base of the gnomon, and the slot in the dial. If you wish to score the fold lines, place a ruler or other straight edge along the fold line, and run a pin or dull blade gently along the line. Fold the gnomon in half along the centerline, and fold up the two flaps resulting from the construction of the latitude lines. Insert the gnomon through the slot in the dial, and tape or glue it in place. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the tip of the gnomon must point north, and if you live in the southern hemisphere, it must point south.

This is how a folded gnomon for the paper sundial should look
Folding the gnomon

Whenever the sundial is in the sunshine, and as long as it is turned the right way, it should give reasonably accurate ‘solar time’. In solar time, ‘noon’ is the exact moment when the sun is due south, at the peak of its arc, exactly halfway between sunrise and sunset. Daylight Savings Time will shift clock time from solar time by an hour, and your longitude within your time zone will also shift your clock time away from solar time. If you live near the center of your time zone, and you are not on Daylight Savings Time, your sundial should give clock time to within 15 minutes or so.

A basic sundial, assembled from two cut-out paper parts
Assembled Dial


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  • Kimberly Holt

    February 10, 2020

    How can I find my latitude?

    • John Krieger

      John Krieger

      February 11, 2020

      Since I always have my iPhone with me, the easiest way for me is usually to open the "Compass" app, in the "Utilities" folder. There's a readout at the bottom that includes my current latitude and longitude. I assume other mobile devices have something similar, but I can't personally confirm that.

      Google Maps can also tell you the coordinates of any place in any map you are viewing, but the procedure isn't obvious. You have to right-click on the location you want, and select "What's Here?" from the pop-up menu. Another window should pop up that includes the GPS coordinates.

      There are also many websites, of varying quality, that will give you the coordinates for any street address. (I sometimes wonder if creating such a website is an assignment in computer science classes.) Some examples are:


      Thanks for visiting!