High Vacuum with Mercury and Glassware

If you want to build your own vacuum tubes, whether amplifying, Nixie or cathode-ray, you’re going to need a vacuum. It’s in the name, after all. For a few thousand bucks, you can probably pick up a used turbo-molecular pump. But how did they make high vacuums back in the day? How did Edison evacuate his light bulbs?

Strangely enough, you could do worse than turn to YouTube for the answer: [Cody] demonstrates building a Sprengel vacuum pump (video embedded below). As tipster [BrightBlueJim] wrote us, this project has everything: high vacuum, home-made torch glassware, and large quantities of toxic heavy metals. (Somehow [Jim] missed out on the high-voltage from the static electricity generated by sliding mercury down glass tubes for days on end.)

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Obsolete Time Lite

There are very few constants in the world of home-made electronics. Things that you might have found on the bench of a mid-1960s engineer working with germanium PNP transistors just as much as you might find on the bench of one in 2017 working on 32-bit microcontrollers. One of these constants is the humble Altoids tin. The ubiquitous mint container is as handy a size for the transistor circuits of previous decades as it is for the highly integrated circuits of today, and has become something of a standard form factor.

One thing you might not expect in an Altoids tin though is a vacuum tube, even one protruding through the lid. [opeRaptor] though has done just that, though, with a very nicely executed design for a NIXIE clock in your favorite mint container. We’re writing this up as a Hackaday Prize entry so at this stage in the competition the boards are still in design for the prototype, but the difficult power supply to make 180 V DC from a single cell is already proven to work, as it the clock circuitry. The final clock will be a very compact device given the size of the tin, and will contain an ESP8266 board for wireless network connectivity.

For a project at this early stage, there is frustratingly little real work to go on aside from some renders, but there is at least a video showing the PSU working driving a NIXIE, which we’ve put below the break.

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Darth Vader, In A Nixie Tube

This may be a controversial statement, but Nixie tubes have become a little passé in our community. Along comes another clock project, and oh look! It’s got Nixie tubes instead of 7-segment displays or an LCD. There was a time when this rediscovered archaic component was cool, but face it folks, it’s been done to death. Or has it?

vadar-nixie-tube-unlitSo given a disaffection with the ubiquity of Nixies you might think that no Nixie project could rekindle that excitement. That might have been true, until the videos below the break came our way. [Tobias Bartusch] has made his own Nixie tube, and instead of numerals it contains a 3D model of [Darth Vader], complete with moving light saber. Suddenly the world of Nixies is interesting again.

The first video below the break shows us the tube in action. We see [Vader] from all angles, and his light saber. Below that is the second video which is a detailed story of the build. Be warned though, this is one that’s rather long.

The model is made by carefully shaping and spot welding Kanthal wire into the sculpture, a process during which (as [Tobias] says) you need to think like neon plasma. It is then encased in a cage-like structure which forms its other electrode. He takes us through the process of creating the glass envelope, in which the wire assembly is placed. The result is a slightly wireframe but very recognisable [Vader], and a unique tube.

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Plus Size Watch with a Pair of Tiny Nixies

When you stuff a pair of Nixie tubes into a wristwatch the resulting timepiece looks a little like Flavor Flav’s necklace. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your taste and if you’re comfortable with the idea of wearing 200 volts on your wrist, of course.

As a build, though, [prototype_mechanic]’s watch is worth looking into. Sadly, details are sparse due to a computer issue that ate the original drawings and schematics, but we can glean a little from the Instructables post. The case is machined out of solid aluminum and sports a quartz glass crystal. The pair of IN-16 tubes lives behind a bezel with RGB LEDs lighting the well. There’s a 400mAh LiPo battery on board, and an accelerometer to turn the display on with a flick of the wrist.

It may be a bit impractical for daily use, but it’s a nicely crafted timepiece with a steampunk flair. Indeed, [prototype_mechanic] shows off a few other leather and Nixie pieces with four tubes that certainly capture the feel of the steampunk genre. For one with a little more hacker appeal, check out this Nixie watch with a 3D-printed case.

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Sculptural Nixie Clock has Shockingly Exposed Design

Single tube Nixie clocks? Been there, seen that. A single tube Nixie clock with sculptural wiring that exposes dangerous voltages? Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

[Andrew Moser]’s clock is clearly a case of aesthetic by anesthetic — he built it after surgery while under the influence of painkillers. That may explain the questionable judgment, but we won’t argue with the look. The boost converter for the Nixie lives near the base of the bent wire frame, with the ATmega 328 and DS1307 RTC supported in the midsection by the leads of attached passive components and jumper wires. A ring at the top of the frame supports the octal socket for the Nixie and a crown of driver transistors for each element.

In the video after the break, [Andrew] speaks of rebuilding this on a PCB. While we’ve seen single tube Nixie PCB clocks before, and we agree that the design needs to be safer, we wouldn’t ditch the dead bug style at all. Maybe just throw the whole thing in a glass bell jar or acrylic tube.

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Light Pipes and LEDs Team Up for a Modern Take on the Nixie Tube

There’s no doubting the popularity of Nixie tubes these days. They lend a retro flair to modern builds and pop up in everything from clocks to weather stations. But they’re not without their problems — the high voltage, the limited tube life, and the fact that you can have them in any color you want as long as it’s orange. Seems like it might be time for a modern spin on the Nixie that uses LEDs and light pipes. Meet Nixie Pipes.

Inspired by an incandescent light-pipe alphanumeric display from a 1970s telephone exchange, [John Whittington]’s design captures the depth and look of a Nixie by using laminated acrylic sheets. Each layer is laser etched with dots in the shape of a character or icon, and when lit from below by a WS2812B LED, the dots pick up the light and display the character in any color. [John]’s modular design allows one master and an arbitrary number of slaves, so large displays can simply be plugged together. [John] is selling a limited run of the Nixie Pipes online, but he’s also open-sourced the project so you can build your own modules.

We really like the modularity and flexibility of Nixie Pipes, and the look is pretty nice too. Chances are good that it won’t appeal to the hardcore Nixie aficionado, though, in which case building your own Nixies might be a good project to tackle.

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NixieBot Films Your Tweets

[Robin Bussell]’s NixieBot is a mash up of new age electronics and retro vintage components and he’s got a bunch of hacks crammed in there. It’s a Nixie tube clock which displays tweets, takes pictures of the display when it encounters tweets with a #NixieBotShowMe hash tag, and then posts requested pictures back to twitter. If a word is eight characters, it takes a snapshot. If it’s a longer message, NixieBot takes a series of pictures of each word, converts it to an animated GIF, and then posts the tweet. In between, it displays random tweets every twenty seconds. You can see the camera setup in the image below and you should check out the @nixiebot twitter feed to see some of the action.

nixiebot_05For the display, he’s using eight big vintage Burroughs B7971 Nixie Tubes. These aren’t easy to source, and current prices hover around $100 each if you can find them. The 170V DC needed to run each tube comes from a set of six 12V to 170V converter boards specifically designed to drive these tubes. Each board can drive at least a couple of nixies, so [Robin]’s able to use just four boards for the eight tubes. Each nixie is driven by its own “B7971 SmartSocket“, a dedicated PIC16F690 micro-controller board custom designed for the purpose. A serial protocol makes it easy to daisy-chain the SmartSockets to build multi character displays.

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