Cold War Clock is all Tubes

A clock built from tubes


Clocks are great projects to build. They serve a real purpose, and there’s a wide variety of ways to implement a unique timepiece. [Hank]‘s Cold War Clock only uses parts and technologies that were available in 1959. It contains no semiconductors, but has an audible alarm and reasonable time accuracy.

Looking through the hand drafted schematics, you’ll find a number of Dekatron tubes. These vintage components are used as registers to store and count the time. [Hank] found some cheap Soviet Dekatrons, but had to machine his own sockets to connect them. These tubes do the counting, but the actual display consists of nixies.

A cost estimate puts this clock at $2130 in 1959, which equates to $17040 today. Clearly this would be outside the price range of most hobbyists. The actual build cost [Hank] around $1600.

There’s some intricate details in this build. The front panel has an authentic look to it, and the manual has instructions for “demolition of clock to prevent enemy use.” [Hank] calls it a “creative anachronism.” In a sense, it’s a reproduction of a product that never actually existed.

A video of this clock in action, including the Cold War era alarm, is after the break.

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The State-Based Nixie Multimeter


Instead of numbers the IN-15A Nixie tube has symbols, specifically n, μ, P, -, +, m, M, k, Π, and %. The related IN-15B Nixie has letters: A, F, H, Hz, Ω, S, V, and W. These should look familiar to you. [kittan] decided it would be really cool to have a Nixie-equipped multimeter, and since he’s going retro fabulous anyway, he might as well make his multimeter controllerless, with discrete logic and comparator ICs. It’s a state-based Nixie multimeter, and it’s going to be freakin’ awesome.

The basic plan of the multimeter is a precision 1V voltage reference, a bunch of opamps, and a ton of resistors to form a ladder All the opamps in each decade are XOR’d together, so when one of the ten comparators for each decade stage is tripped, only one number will display on the (numeric) Nixie tube.

With a reasonable plan for measuring a voltage, it’s not too hard to expand the design for other measurements. V=IR, so with a constant current, V=R. The same equation can be used with a fixed resistance to determine current. Capacitance can be measured by comparing the change in charge of a known capacitor. Inductance, conductance, power, and frequency are all planned for this monster of a multimeter.

The initial PCB design is completed (and shown above) and it’s theoretically possible to do on a single-sided board with a minimum of jumpers. An amazing project, and even though you could probably find a similar, ancient meter in a trash heap or on a collector’s shelf, this is by far one of the best Nixie projects we’ve ever seen.


Vintage Vertical Nixie Clock


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.

Nixie-ify Me Necklace


[Armilar] wanted to cheer up his friend who was going through a rough spot at the time — she really likes Dieselpunk, so he decided to improvise a Dieselpunk themed photo shoot for her. We’re assuming they had other costumes and props, but [Armilar] had this idea to make a nixie tube pendant for a while, he’d just have to expedite the build process to have it ready!

What he managed to whip up the day of the shoot looks amazing considering the time involved, if not just a little bit ill-advised. There may or may not be 200VAC running around his friend’s neck.

He’s using an electroluminescent driver rated for 5VDC to 100VAC, over-powered to 12VDC, resulting in about 200VAC, which is just enough to make the nixie glow a nice warm orange. In an effort to minimize the size of the pendant, he had to keep the battery and driver hanging off the back of the necklace.

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[Fran]‘s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.


With a love of blinky and glowey things, [Fran] has collected a lot of electronic display devices over the years. Now she’s doing a few teardowns and tutorials on some of her (and our) favorite parts: LEDs and VFD and Nixie tubes

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that someone with hardware from a Saturn V flight computer also has a whole lot of vintage components, but we’re just surprised at how complete [Fran]‘s collection is. She has one of the very first commercial LEDs ever made. It’s a very tiny red LED made by Monsanto (yes, that company) packaged in a very odd lead-and-cup package.

Also in her LED collection is a strange Western Electric part that’s green, but not the green you expect from an LED. This LED is more of an emerald color – not this color, but more like the green you get with a CMYK process. It would be really cool to see one of these put in a package with red, green, and blue LED, and could have some interesting applications considering the color space of an RGB LED.

Apart from her LEDs, [Fran] also has a huge collection of VFD and Nixie tubes. Despite the beliefs of eBay sellers, these two technologies are not the same: VFDs are true vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent coating and work something like a CRT turned inside out. Nixies, on the other hand, are filled with a gas (usually neon) that turns to plasma when current flows through one of the digits. [Fran] has a ton of VFDs and Nixies – mostly military surplus – and sent a few over to [Dave Jones] for him to fool around with.

It’s all very cool stuff and a great lead-in to what we hear [Fran] will be looking at next: electroluminescent displays found in the Apollo Guidance Computer.

Videos below.

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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!]

VFD And Nixie Clock Twofer


Sometimes the stars align and we get two somewhat similar builds hitting the Hackaday tip line at the same time. Recently, the build of note was clocks using some sort of display tube, so here we go.

First up is [Pyrofer]‘s VFD network time clock (pic, above). The build started as a vacuum flourescent display tube he salvaged from an old fruit machine – whatever that is. The VFD was a 16 character, 14 segment display, all controlled via serial input.

The main control board is, of course, an Arduino with a WizNet 5100 Ethernet board. The clock connects to the Internet via DHCP so there’s no need to set an IP address. Once connected, the clock sets itself via network time and displays the current date, time, and temperature provided by a Dallas 1-wire temperature probe.

Next up is [Andrew]‘s beautiful Nixie clock with enough LEDs to satiate the desires of even the most discerning technophile. The board is based on a PIC microcontroller with two switching power supplies – one for the 170VDC for the Nixies, and 5V for the rest of the board.

A battery backed DS1307 is the real-time clock for this board, and two MCP23017 I/O expanders are used to run the old-school Nixie drivers

All this is pretty standard for a Nixie clock build, if a little excessive. It wasn’t enough for [Andrew], though: he used the USB support on his PIC to throw a USB port on his board and wrote an awesome bit of software for his PC to set the time, upload new firmware, and set the color fade and speed. With this many LEDs, it’s not something you want in your bedroom with all the lights on full blast, so he implemented a ‘sleep’ mode to turn off most of the lights and all the Nixie tubes. It’s a great piece of work that could easily be successfully funded on Kickstarter.