It should always be sunny in Chet Roberts' world, where sundial inscriptions express love and affection. "We will love you for all time," "You are my sunshine" and "Time began in a garden" are just a few of the phrases highlighting Roberts' customized aluminum sundials which he creates his Fredricksburg Drive home workshop.
Roberts is one of only a handful of individuals in the United States who create sundials to the exact specifications of one's home.
Unlike the sundials found at most home and garden centers, Roberts' sundials will provide an accurate time within seconds for one's street address. Although the time on your cell phone may say 10 a.m. in both Avon Lake and Toledo, there is actually a four-minute difference between the cities. So while time zones do a decent job of adjusting for when the sun is shining above, mass produced sundials are not exact.
Roberts used to be an award-winning television producer with channels 5 and 8 in Cleveland and was the former field producer for Cleveland's PM Magazine. Roberts said it was his work at the station, including making his own animation sequences, that helped provide inspiration for his current project.
"I figure exactly where the sundial will be based on the address," Roberts said. "And that sundial will provide the correct time, down to a few seconds, for your yard."
The end result is a personalized, one-of-a-kind sundial.
Roberts is a modern-day Renaissance man whose bookcases are divided into his broad spectrum of interests including theology, philosophy, trains and magic. He had to learn not just how to create the sundials, but to create the equipment and programs needed to make the sundials.
"The first result was disastrous," he said.
That result, a 2-pound 10-inch round sundial for his wife Audrey, an avid gardener, took two years to complete.
A painstaking process
"That right there is the most satisfying part of this," he said, pointing to Audrey's sundial which is inscribed, "Time began in a garden."
In order to create these sundials, Roberts uses a computer program to provide longitude, latitude and meridian lines based on an address's coordinates. That information is used for a second computer program he created to provide a series of information points, including the angle of the gnomon. The gnomon is the metal triangle-shaped pointer that casts the shadow to tell time.
But it was making the actual equipment from scratch, including an aluminum foundry, that proved painstaking. While it may have been easier to buy the foundry used to melt the aluminum and cast the sundials, it wasn't financially an option. Creating the equipment though, was.
"It took research, research, research and modification," Roberts, who does not have an engineering background, said of learning how to build the equipment.
He collects castoff aluminum barbecue grills for the aluminum, smashing them into pieces small enough to melt in the foundry. The melting process is done on his driveway, away from the eyes of curious onlookers and the potential dangers of melting metal.
While that first sundial took two years to complete, the process now takes about four days.
Customers wanting a customized $150 sundial can select a unique saying for their sundial and will approve the design ahead of time.
Roberts' website, has a list of inscriptions including "Shadows pass, love is eternal," "You are my sunshine" and "All in due time."