Retro Modern Nixie Clock


[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 — 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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Homemade Nixie Tubes

Do you love Nixie Tubes? Upset that they aren’t really manufactured anymore, and the cost of old ones is rising? Why not make your own? That’s exactly what [Dalibor] of the Czech Republic is up to, including blowing the glass tubes himself!

He’s chosen the Z568 nixie tubes to copy, as they are his favorite style of nixie. To create the display he has etched the digits and housing out of 0.3mm stainless steel sheet — which potentially means if he gets the hang of making the tubes, he could actually produce them to sell! To perform the glass blowing, he scored a Heathway glassblowing lathe off eBay — but unfortunately he hasn’t documented much of anything on making the glass tubes, which is too bad because we think that would be equally fascinating as the nixie displays themselves. On his first attempt with a properly sealed tube, the nixie worked and he even recorded striking voltage values very similar to industry tubes — not bad for something made in a backyard shed!

He has since then continued refining this art and is entering a glass-art contest called “When Prague Meets Shanghai” with a beautiful entry dubbed the ShanghaiTime Nixie Clock.

If this post seems vaguely familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time we’ve posted an article about homemade nixie tubes, but we think [Dalibor’s] is by far the most elegant! Stick around after the break to see one of his first test videos — You might even think he’s cheating, the tubes look so professional!

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A simple nixie clock with logic gates

Here is a very nice project that [Znaxque] finished a few months ago: a simple nixie clock made with logic gates only. In this build, the mains 50Hz is used as a time base instead of a 32KHz crystal that most readers here may use. In the very long term, this clock may actually be more precise than a crystal-based one as power companies in Europe adjust the mains frequency. However, at a given moment the difference between this clock and a reference may be as big as 60 seconds.

The design was sketched on a simple piece of paper and later made using salvaged ICs. [Znaxque] only bought the six IN-14 nixies for $45 and the veroboard shown in the picture above. The BCD to Decimal decoders are 74141s and three buttons are present on the board to set minutes, hours, as well as resetting all the counters.

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 exhibits well fabricated metal bezel

[Matt Evans] achieves a total win with his Nixie clock. Not only does he have the benefit of the retro display hardware, but he really catches our eye with the enclosure he built for it.

The project had its genesis when he came across a set of the Nixie Tubes in a surplus store. This was back in 2007, and with parts in hand he built the high-voltage driver circuit and a control board. The thing kept time, but was housed in a temporary case that was a bit rough looking. There it sat, waiting to become the focus of his attention once again.

When it did finally come time to build a proper case [Matt] started with a small sheet of recycled copper. He made the cutouts and bends by hand. He mentions that it’s a little uneven; maybe, but we don’t think it detracts from the design. Some black screen (like would be used on a porch door) covers the openings, giving texture and contrast to the facade.

We love the look, and the ATmega48 with a clock crystal for the RTC functions should make this a reliable time source.

Nixie frequency counter gone timepiece

nixie clock hack

[Windell] of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories took an ancient Nixie tube based frequency counter and converted it into a clock. The unit he got his hands on is an HP model that was still in great shape. He’s using an internally generated one second pulse as the clock signal, but some modifications are necessary to display time. That’s because the frequency counter is base 10 and clocks use a quirky combination of base 60 and base 12.

It wasn’t too much of a problem to rig up a system to track minutes and seconds. The tens digit for each is monitored by a couple of AND gates that he added to the mix. When they detect a ‘6’ the digit is reset and a pulse increments the next digit as the carry. This is more difficult to accomplish with the hours though. Minutes and seconds count from 0 to 59 but hours don’t start at 0. Instead of over-complicating the logic [Windell] used a bit of slight-of-hand. The Nixie tubes for the hours have been rewired so that when the counter is at 0, the filament in the shape of a 1 lights up. No difference in logic, just a translation that makes them display one digit higher than the actual count.

Steampunk Nixie clock

This single-digit Nixie clock is a thing of beauty. You might hate Steampunk or you might love it, but you have to respect projects where the design gets equal (or more) consideration compared to the function. The electronics used in the project build upon an existing single Nixie design. Instead of hiding the guts inside the clock the PCB has been laid out to augment the design. We think [Blue Metal] hit it out of the park with this one!