EL Wire Nixie Tube Is In Your Reach


Nixie tubes are awesome, but sometimes a little out of reach for some makers, whether it is a matter of obtaining them, or figuring out how to drive them. The hackerspace over at H3 Laboratories decided to try making a fun alternative — EL wire nixie tubes.

[Marty] leads us through the build in a very detailed Instructable, which makes use of CoolNeon EL wire. He’s using an Arduino Uno with a CoolNeon shield to control it. The trickiest part of this build is forming the numbers to minimize the overlap — to figure this out he modeled it in Blender. He created a test jig and formed the numbers using coat hanger wire first before playing around with the EL wire.

EL wire can be soldered together — it’s just a bit of a fine art, which is explained in another detailed Instructable. To black out parts of the number and the trailing wires, [Marty] made use of black plastic dip. The numbers are mounted on a Styrofoam cylinder which fits into the bottom of a large masonry jar. It’s a great build and a fun project to get into Nixies … without actually getting into Nixies.

Stick around for a video of it in operation.

[Thanks Guillermo!]

18 thoughts on “EL Wire Nixie Tube Is In Your Reach

  1. Interesting build but the numbers are a bit obscured by the wires as you said, maybe this would work better for a seven segment display (although I know this is meant to simulate a nixie.)

  2. 1. The blinking is annoying… (I had the sound off; he may have explained why it blinks.)
    2. It’s a Mason jar (named after the inventor). A “masonry” jar would be quite heavy and hard to seal due to the joints between the bricks/stones ;)

  3. quote: “For those that don’t know, see Nixie Tube is a vacuum tube primarily used in Russia and Eastern Europe to display a digit”

    bzzt! wrong. but thanks for playing.

    the US used a lot of nixies. the brits did. the germans did. you see all of those on ebay as NOS. the russians have the most stock LEFT but everyone who could use them, did, back then.

    1. So.. something I have been wondering for a while… did Nixies commonly show up in regular consumer products? If so then what? Or was it just test equipment like high end frequency counters that used them.

      1. They (along with the electronics to drive them) were far too expensive for consumer products. At the time nixies were popular, a digital frequency display on a radio would have been an order of magnitude more complex than the radio itself.

  4. Original author here.

    The blinking is annoying, which is explained in the video narration. The shield doesn’t cut power to each of the digits cleanly, so the power bleeds over when the digit changes, until the inverter is power-cycled.

    There is some obscurement, but it looks better in person.

    1. Nixies require pretty high voltage for hobby electronics. Not really dangerous but enough where a lot of modern drivers just can’t handle it; and Soviet NOS drivers designed for them are even more costly than the Nixies themselves. A nixie this size would run you well over a hundred bucks. EL wire is a LOT cheaper

  5. Awesome concept, however, EL wires/sheets tend to ‘burn out’ and dim after awhile. I’ve had 3 keyboards with EL backlighting and it seemed that about a year after first use, they seem to be about %70 dimmer than when I originally used them. EL isn’t practical for use in things where the light is going to be on more than a few hours a day.

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