The Art of Making A Nixie Tube

Three years ago we covered [Dalibor Farnby]’s adventures in making his own Nixie tubes. Back then it was just a hobby, a kind of exploration into the past. He didn’t stop, and it soon became his primary occupation. In this video he shows the striking process of making one of his Nixie tubes.

Each of his tubes get an astounding amount of love and attention. An evolution of the process he has been working on for five years now. The video starts with the cleaning process for the newly etched metal parts. Each one is washed and dried before being taken for storage inside a clean hood. The metal parts are carefully hand bent. Little ceramic pins are carefully glued and bonded. These are used to hold the numbers apart from each other. The assembly is spot welded together.

In a separate cut work begins on the glass. The first part to make is the bottom which holds the wire leads. These are joined and then annealed. Inspection is performed on a polariscope and a leak detector before they are set aside for assembly. Back to the workbench the leads are spot welded to the frame holding the numbers.

It continues with amazing attention to detail. So much effort goes into each step. In the end a very beautiful nixie tube sits on a test rack, working through enough cycles to be certified ready for sale. The numbers crisp, clear, and beautiful. Great work keeping this loved part of history alive in the modern age.

67 thoughts on “The Art of Making A Nixie Tube

  1. This is fantastic.
    The concepts behind Nixie tubes are not impossibly complicated, but to have learned what is essentially a dying art, and to have progressed to the point of controlling out the hundreds of minute variables to consistently make something as intricate as this, by hand, is simply amazing.
    I have been keeping an eye on this since it was posted on HAD and I am looking forward to being able to afford some of these tubes, to hopefully keep a skill as rare as this alive and flourishing.

  2. As a longtime member of the neonixie-l newsgroup, I remember when Dalibor first started his journey and experiments with nixies. It is truly amazing what one can accomplish when truly driven (obsessed?). I have a lot of admiration for his work.

  3. Amazing! This guy is an artist, Those tubes looked amazing. While they do cost quite a lot ($145 per tube) the workmanship is great. Nixie tubes should never have stopped being produced in the first place because they are one of the most beautiful electronics invented. I really wish this guy great luck in the future.

    1. Wow, guess craftsmanship costs…

      … so now I’m thinking of making a flip character display with a PHOTO of a nixie tube for each char …

      … no mainly I’d do that just to mess with people…

      1. That would be crazy. I think they cost so much because they are really big nixie tubes plus its all done by hand, he does offer lifetime guarantee’s though so as long as you don’t smash them he will replace faults in the far future for free.

      2. Though that made me think what if the split flap glowed?

        And it might be doable if you use clear plastic flaps paint them black, etch characters on them and shine light down the ends.

        1. Hey that would work, I bet that would create quite a good effect. I think you need to build one because I would love to see this. If i knew more about flip dots I would give it a go.

          1. I think quite a large unit would be in order due to thickness of plastic needed. Also because of that can probably not do full alphanumeric without being really big… Even then might need laser diodes to be intense enough.

      3. You know, if you DO make a flip character display you could find a paint that fluoresces close to that beautiful glowing orange and then excite it with a UV light source and the images would glow like NIXIE tubes. :-)

    2. They are cool but never should have been stopped being produced? Nah… Looking cool is their only saving grace. They are very fragile, have a limited useful life, need high voltages, difficult to make (comparatively to modern equivalents). I cant imagine how much they would cost to make if you bought them new today, less than the $145 he charges, but probably not by much.

      I have a bunch of them that I do need to do something with, the good ones too, not the russian ones.

      1. I have some big nixies that have been running 24/7 for 20 years. I think you’ll find that making LEDs in a shed is rather more difficult than making nixies.

  4. Gorgeous… really not a lot of money for that level of craftsmanship. Think of everything that goes into making one of those. Easily a person-hour per tube… and lots of specialized equipment required. Kudos for a passionate artist keeping these devices alive.

    at the end… dat 6 in the upper left doh..

    1. You have a good eye, Just re watched the end, I’m sure he is stress testing the new tubes and that one will not pass QC. I don’t think you could really fix these could you?

      1. “Nothing is impossible… but…”
        I am not too sure if the time to attempt to cut the envelope and extract the metal structure, and the possibility of a new seal not fusing properly into a new envelope, is less than the cost of time and materials of a new tube.

        I think it would be a different situation if he were not able to make more, and it looks like he has a very refined process at this point.

      2. Think of the failure modes… Other than a physically defective digit, for a single one to be out it’s likely a solder or welding problem. Anything else would likely be a wholesale failure.. Solder rework would be one of a few possibilities for post-production repairs, assuming the error is accessible…

  5. Given that Nixies are, well, warm and fuzzy for many of us, is there someone out there making “fakes” with E-Wire or LEDs the way that they’re making fake antique light bulbs with LED emitters for the “filaments”?

    1. This is pretty much the same process used in the old days. There was more automation in the production of the bulb and stem, as well as evacuation and filling but the basic assembly process is much the same.

  6. He is doing it right. It is very similar to the process we use for regular vacuum tubes. Tubes however require many more steps and more of, well let’s just shorten it to chemistry and metallurgy. I was thinking about doing nixies, but since he is doing them now and they look quite good I see no reason to when one can just buy them From him. I am still thinking about regular tubes and am currently upgrading my shop with the intention of producing something.

    Great video.

  7. TL/DW, but I did watch the speech he gave and Wow, thus guy revived a whole technology by himself! (Collected old equipment, learned techniques, etc.) This guy is hard core! Wonder if there is a market for other, non-nixie, tubes, for say the high end audio market? This guy deserves to be rich!

  8. Watched from start to finish. That is dedication man! There is so much attention to detail, and it shows that these are truly worth the asking price! Watching the video makes me want to buy one, not because I have a need, but just because!

    My only observation… why solder pigtails to the tungsten wires and then to the PCB… why not keep the tungsten wires a bit longer and solder/spot weld them direct to the PCB? That said, that is my *only* complaint.

    Ever thought about specialty ‘digits’… +, -, $, and other interesting characters? You could advertise what ‘digits’ you offer and charge a premium for a ‘build your own stack’ service…

    Qudos to you (and Ron).

    1. How would you weld them to the PCB? If you bent the tungsten at 90 degrees and then put the tongs on both ends of the PCB, then how would you get a current path? VIAs can’t handle that current?

  9. Unbeleiveable, I remember seeing this guy play around with crude homemade nixie tube years ago and now this? Talk about craftmanship and dedication. They now look so profesionnal! It’s like watching an artist at work. So few thing are made manually like that, it remind me of those old, lost trade with apprentice shadowing the master so he can pass on his knowledge. Very impressive.

    1. I went to check ebay and the original one seem to be as expensive or more so I guess the price ain’t so nuts after all. I only ever bought small nixie tube and had no idea that they could run for so much cash per unit!

  10. The human fascination with NIXIE tubes is a window into our nature. That warm orange glow should scare us and make us want to run away like any animal’s natural fear of fire. But humans are reversed somehow. What would be an aversion is an attraction. We are drawn to the beautiful orange glow. This has got to be an adaptation to our ancient beginning to using fire.

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