Unusual Nixie Tubes Lead to Unique Clock

There’s no doubting the appeal of Nixie tubes. The play of the orange plasma around the cathodes through the mesh anode and onto the glass envelope can be enchanting, and the stacking of the symbols in the tube gives a depth to the display that is unlike any other technology. So when [Ian] found a set of six tubes on eBay at a fire sale price, he couldn’t resist picking them up and incorporating them into a unique but difficult to read Nixie clock.

It turns out the set of tubes [Ian] ordered were more likely destined for a test instrument than a clock, displaying symbols such a “Hz”, “V” and “Ω”. Initially disappointed with his seemingly useless purchase, [Ian] put his buyer’s remorse aside and built his clock anyway. Laser-cut acrylic, blue LEDs under the tube for a glow effect, a battery-backed RTC talking to an ATmega328, and the appropriate high-voltage section lead to a good-looking and functional clock, even if [Ian] himself needs a cross-reference chart to read the time. You’ll be able to figure out at the whole character set after watching the video after the break; spoiler alert: sensibly enough, Ω maps to 0.

We’ve seen lots of Nixie projects before, but few as unique as [Ian]’s clock.

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[Mike] Illuminates us on LED Filaments

LED filaments started showing up in light bulbs a few months back. [Mike] discovered that the strips are available in bulk from ebay and Alibaba. Always keen to work with new LED technologies, [Mike] ordered a few for experimenting and posted the results on his [mikeselectricstuff] YouTube channel. He also added the information to his website.

The filaments consist of 28 LEDs connected in series. The blue LEDs are covered by the typical yellow phosphors to make them glow white. It’s interesting to note that some of the filaments use a removable silicone sleeve to hold the phosphor coating, while others are coated with a resin material. The LEDs themselves are bare dies mounted to a metal strip and joined by bond wires. The entire strip can be bent, but be careful, or you’ll break the fragile bond wires.

The strips do require a fair bit of voltage to operate. The entire strip runs best at around 75 and 10~15 mA, while putting out about 1 Watt of light. [Mike] tested a strip to destruction by pumping 40 mA through it. Predictably the strip went out when the bond wires melted. The surprising part was that the strip blinked back on as the wires cooled and re-connected. The strip and wires were working as a temperature controlled switch, similar to the bimetalic strip found in old fashioned “twinkling” incandescent Christmas lights.

Not satisfied with simple tests, [Mike] went on to build a clock using the filaments as elements of a seven segment display. Inspired by numitron and minitron displays, [Mike] built a single sided PCB which held the clock circuit on the bottom and the LED filaments on top. The filaments are spaced off the board by tall wire wrap sockets, which proved to be difficult to keep from shorting out. Texas Instruments TPIC6B595 chips were used to control the LED filaments. Logically the chip functions the same as a 75LS595, which means it can be driven with a SPI bus. The open drain outputs can handle 50 volts – which makes them perfect for this application.  The clock is tremendously bright, but there is still a bit of room for improvement. [Mike] notes that the phosphor of un-powered filaments tend to glow a bit due to light absorbed from nearby illuminated filaments. He’s experimenting with color filters to reduce this effect. At full power though, [Mike] says this clock would easily be daylight readable, and we don’t doubt it!

[Mike’s] final test was a bit whimsical – he built a cube entirely from the LED filaments. The cube looks awesome, but we can’t wait to see who will move things into the 4th dimension and build a tesseract!

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DIY Turntable In A Beautiful Wooden Case

Old timers who have been around for the last 40 years or so have been fortunate enough to have lived through several audio reproduction technologies – Vinyl Records, Cassette Tapes, Laser Disks and CD-ROM’s. Most will also swear that analog, especially vinyl records, sounded the best. And when it comes to amplifiers, nothing comes close to the richness of vacuum tubes.

[MCumic10] had a long time desire to build his own HiFi turntable encased in a nice wooden housing, with the electronics embedded inside. When he chanced upon an old and battered turntable whose mechanism barely worked, he decided to plunge right in to his pet project. The result, at the end of many long months of painstaking work, is a stunning, beautiful, wooden turntable. Especially since in his own words, “I didn’t have any experience in electronics or woodworking before I started this project so it took me many long months in learning analyzing and frustration. I burned some electronic parts few times and made them from the beginning.”

The build is a mix of some off the shelf modules that he bought off eBay and other sources, and some other modules that he built himself. He’s divided the build in to several bite sized chunks to make it easy to follow. The interesting parts are the 6N3 Valve Preamplifier (the main amplifier is solid-state), the motorized Remote Volume Control Input kit, and the Nixie tube channel indicator. And of course the layered, plywood casing. By his own reckoning, this was the toughest and longest part of his build, requiring a fairly large amount of elbow grease to get it finished. He hasn’t yet measured how much it tips the scales, but it sure looks very heavy. The end result is quite nice, especially for someone who didn’t have much experience building such stuff.

Thanks [irish] for sending in this tip.

Hacklet 37 – Nixie Projects

Nothing quite beats the warm glow of a tube. What better way to enjoy that glow than to use it to read numbers? Nixie tubes were created by Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and popularized by Burroughs Corp in 1955. The name comes from NIX I – or “Numeric Indicator eXperimental No. 1”. By the mid 1970’s, seven segment LED’s were becoming popular and low-cost alternatives to Nixies, but they didn’t have the same appeal. Nixie tubes were manufactured all the way into the 1990’s. There’s just something about that tube glow that hackers, makers, and humans in general love. This week’s Hacklet highlights the best Nixie (and Nixie inspired) projects on Hackaday.io!

temperatureDisplayWe start with [Sascha Grant] and Nixie Temperature Display. [Sascha] mixed an Arduino, a Dallas DS18B20 Temperature sensor, and three IN-12A Nixie tubes to create a simple three digit temperature display. We really love the understated laser-cut black acrylic case. An Arduino Pro Micro reads the Dallas 1-wire sensor and converts the temperature to BCD. High voltage duties are handled by a modular HV power supply which bumps 9V up to the required 170V.  Controlling the Nixie tubes themselves are the classic K155ID1 BCD to decimal converter chips – a favorite for clock builders.

 

driverNext up is [Christoph] with Reading Datasheets and Driving Nixie Tubes. Chips like the K155ID1, and the 74141 make driving Nixie tubes easy. They convert Binary Coded Decimal (BCD) to discrete outputs to drive the cathodes of the Nixie. More importantly, the output drivers of this chip are designed to handle the high voltages involved in driving Nixie tubes. These chips aren’t manufactured anymore though, and are becoming rare. [Christoph] used more common parts. His final drive transistor is a MPSA42 high voltage NPN unit. Driving the MPSA42’s is a 74HC595 style shift register. [Christoph] used a somewhat exotic Texas Instruments TPIC6B595 with FET outputs, but any shift register should work here. The project runs on a Stellaris Launchpad, so it should be Arduino compatible code.

fixietube[Davedarko] has the fixietube clock. Fixietube isn’t exactly a Nixie. It’s an LED based display inspired by Nixie tubes. Modern amber LEDs aren’t quite the same as classic Nixies, but they get pretty darn close. [Dave] designed a PCB with a 3×5 matrix of LEDs to display digits. A few blue LEDs add a bit of ambient light. The LEDs are driven with a 74HC595 shift register. The entire assembly mounts inside a tiny glass jam jar, giving it the effect of being a vacuum tube. The results speak for themselves – fixietubes certainly aren’t Nixies, but they look pretty darn good. Add a nice 3D printed case, and you’ve got a great project which is safe for anyone to build.

openNixieFinally, we have [Johnny.drazzi] with his Open Nixie Clock Display. [Johnny] has been working on Open Nixie for a few years. The goal is to create a Nixie based clock display which can be driven over the SPI bus. So far, [Johnny] has 6 Russian IN-12 tubes glowing with the help of the ubiquitous K155ID1 BCD to decimal converter. The colons of the clock are created with two INS-1 neon indicators. [Johnny] spends a lot of time analyzing the characteristics of a Nixie tube – including the strike voltage, and steady state current. If you’re interested in building a Nixie circuit yourself, his research is well worth a read!

Not satisfied? Want more Nixie goodness? Check out our Nixie tube project list!

That’s about all the time we have for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Nixie inspired 7 segment display

The supply of Nixie tubes from east European stock piles is still enough to keep their prices down. But once those start dwindling, prices will move north. Besides, if you want to use them, you need to work with high voltage supplies and worry about not getting zapped while trying to debug a circuit. [FilleK] had some time to spare and decided to build a cheaper substitute for a real nixie tube using a regular 7 segment LED display.

We have already seen this hack before, in the Arduino-based ENIGMA replica. But [FilleK] improved on that by adding an extra LED to simulate the radiant glow typical of Nixie tubes. His project log describes the fairly straightforward process using parts that can be found easily. A piece of plastic, painted in a shade of copper and fixed around the 7 segment display, acts as a nice baffle to contain and reflect the ambient glow of the back-light LED. A nice improvement would be to add a random flicker to the background LED. Maybe add an Octal socket (the decimal point had to be nixed though!), and cap it in a proper glass tube. If you’d rather work with the real McCoy, check out our archives.

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!

Simple and Elegant Single Digit Nixie Tube Clock

We’ve seen a few Nixie projects around here before, but this one might be the simplest yet. [Pinomelean] designed this simple nixie tube clock with just a handful of components.

The Nixie tube chosen for the project is an IN-12a. This tube can be purchased for around just four dollars. It is capable of displaying one digit at a time, zero through nine. Since the tube can only display one digit at a time, the clock is programmed to flash each digit of the current time one by one. There is a longer pause in between each cycle to make it easier to tell when the cycle begins and ends.

The system is broken into two main components. The first is the clock circuit. The clock runs off a PIC microcontroller with a 4MHz crystal. All of the logic is performed via the PIC and only a handful of other components are required. This includes some resistors and capacitors as well as a few high voltage SMD transistors to control the Nixie tube. [Pinomelean] has made this PCB design available so anyone can download it and make their own clock.

The second component to the clock is the power supply. The system is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, but [Pinomelean] notes that it can also be powered with USB. The lower voltage works well for the microcontroller, but the Nixie tube needs a higher voltage. [Pinomelean] built his own high voltage supply using components scavenged from an old disposable camera. This power supply board design is also made available for download, but it plugs into the main board so you can use another design if desired.. Check out the demo video below to see it in action. Continue reading “Simple and Elegant Single Digit Nixie Tube Clock”