Small, Detailed Nixie Clock Build

Nixie tubes, while built during the vacuum tube era of the mid-20th century, still exist in a niche among hackers. It’s quite the task to get them up and running due to a number of quirks, so getting an entire clock to work with Nixie tubes is a badge of honor for those who attempt the project. For anyone thinking about trying, [Tomasz] has written an extremely detailed write-up of his Nixie clock which should be able to help.

There is a lot of in-depth theory behind Nixie tubes on [Tomasz]’s page that he covers in the course of describing his clock. As far as the actual project is concerned, this is a simplified design which uses one board for the entire clock, including circuits for the lamps, drivers, microcontroller, power supply, and DC/DC conversion. This accomplishes his goal of making this project as small as possible. The Nixies he chose were IN-12 which are popular in his Eastern European home, but could be sourced from eBay and shipped anywhere in the world.

There is a lot of documentation on the project site, including schematics, microcontroller code, PCB design, and even screenshots of the oscilloscope for various points in the circuit. While this might not be the simplest Nixie clock ever, it is certainly close, more easily readable, and the most detailed build we’ve seen in a while!

Vintage Vertical Nixie Clock

verticalNixieClock

There’s no shortage of Nixie-related projects online, but this vertical wall clock is a solid build and looks pretty sleek. [andreas] actually sourced the wood from an old handrail, into which he drilled six holes for the tubes with 30mm bits, then treated it with some woodworm poison after noticing holes his drill wasn’t responsible for.

The schematic is what you’d expect for a Nixie clock, designed with 123D circuits. [andreas] provides both top and bottom layers in a high-res PDF if you’d prefer to etch your own boards at home rather than order a PCB from the man. He took the finished board and soldered all the components in place, using tape to prevent some short circuit possibilities and mounting the result onto a pair of black plastic rails. The entire assembly mounts to the wooden case and is rounded off with glued-on end caps and a back cover. As always, be aware of the danger presented by the high voltage requirements of Nixie Tubes, and don’t go licking the components.

Retro Modern Nixie Clock

timeface

[Reboots] is a humble hacker who enjoys nixie tubes. So when he saw an old General Electric battery charger for sale at a hamfest, he thought: “that case would make a nice clock…”

He was first exposed to nixie tube clocks a few years ago when his brother gave him a DIY nixie clock kit from [Peter Jensen’s] website TubeClock.com — it was an easy build, and worked very well. It also introduced him to a unique driver for nixie tubes, an HV5622 high-voltage shift register made by Supertex inc. Compared to the traditional (and rare) 74141 nixie driver chips or discrete transistor drivers, the HV5622 is much smaller, requires less microcontroller I/O’s, and is not as picky when it comes to powering it.

The nixie tubes he chose for the project came from a lot sale on eBay, Russian surplus IN-12 tubes. He even managed to find an english datasheet for them!

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Once, Twice, Three Times a Nixie

Try as he might, [Localroger] can’t seem to throw away a certain board that started life in one of the first digital industrial scales, the NCI DigiFlex model 5775. He recently gave it a third career as a nixie clock with an alarm.

[Localroger] says the board dates to about 1975. It’s all TTL, no microprocessor anywhere. He was headed to the Dumpster with it in the mid-1980s, but realized that he could hack it into something useful. Since the display wasn’t multiplexed, it would be fairly easy. He used it as a BCD tester for about 10 years until the method fell out of fashion.

After a decade on the shelf, [Localroger] started off for the Dumpster once more with the board. The nixie tube display cried out for another chance to glow, so he decided to repurpose it into a remote-controlled bedside clock with an alarm. He installed a Parallax Propeller Protoboard with headers for easy removal and subsequent servicing of the 5775 board. He added a few things to the protoboard: a piezo element for the alarm, a SparkFun RTC module, an IR receiver, and vertically-oriented header so the PropPlug can be plugged in from the top. But that’s not all. [Localroger] designed a custom melamine-finished MDF enclosure and laser cut it, giving the edges a nice contrast. It’s so tough, he can put his ceramic lamp on top of it to save space on the nightstand.

Nixie tubes are becoming more scarce all the time. If you can’t find any, we humbly suggest rolling your own.

[Thanks Localroger!]

NES: Nixie Entertainment System

nixieNES

[Bradley W. Lewis] is no stranger to Nixie clock builds, and he felt his latest commission was missing something. Instead of merely mounting the Nixie clock into a case resembling an NES console, he goes full tilt and makes it into an NES console emulator. After some work on the milling machine, a wooden box has room to squeeze in a few new components. [Bradley] originally planned to mount only an Arduino with an ArduNIX shield to handle the Nixie clock, but the emulator demands some space saving. Flipping the Arduino on its side freed up plenty of room and the shield still easily connects to the adjacent Nixie tube board.

A Raspberry Pi serves as the console emulator and was mounted close to the side of the case to allow access to its HDMI port. The other ports from both the Arduino and RasPi stick out of the back, including an extension to the Pi’s RCA video out and buttons to set both the hour and minutes of the clock. The two surplus NES buttons on the front of the case control power to the RasPi and provide a reset function for the Nixie clock.

If that isn’t enough Nixie to satisfy you, check out the WiFi Nixie counter.

Spare parts pulled together into a Nixie clock

We’d like to dig around in [Small Scale Research’s] parts bin. Apparently there’s good stuff in there because he managed to build this Nixie tube clock using mostly leftovers.

The chip driving the device is an ATtiny1634. We weren’t familiar with it so here’s a datasheet (pdf) if you’re curios as well. The microcontroller communicates with an old GPS module in order to keep perfect time. There is an external antenna for it which connects through the hole next to the red switch seen above. The high voltage driver is a repurposed backlight inverter which is fed 12V power from an old laptop supply.

The album linked above shows the build quite well and even includes full schematics. There are some fireworks when he encountered an issue with a pretty large cap shorting to a resistor leg. If this isn’t enough juicy detail for you there are a few more nuggets shared in the Reddit comments.

Nixie Clock Without a PCB

Looking for an artistic way to build circuits? Don’t want to design a PCB? The Lethal Nixie Tube Clock is a free form circuit that gives you the time one digit at a time. It uses a IN-1 Nixie tube to display the digits. This is driven by ten MPSA42 high voltage transistors. A IRF520 N-FET, inductor, and a diode are used as a switching power supply that generates the high voltage needed to drive the Nixie tube. It’s probably not lethal, but there are exposed high voltages in the cube. You’d definitely regret touching it.

An ATMega8 is used to control the clock. It drives the various digits of the Nixie tube, and generates a PWM output to switch the high voltage supply. Unfortunately, the schematic has been lost. If you’re interested in the switching supply, it’s likely similar to the one explained here.

Check out a video of the clock after the break.

Via Dangerous Prototypes

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