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.

21 thoughts on “Unusual Nixie Tubes Lead to Unique Clock

    1. no such thing as standard on nixie. (I’m a nixie builder, myself). some are wire leads, some are socketed and there are at least 20 pinouts I can think of just offhand.

      and the ones that are wired in – lots of ‘fun’ swapping them out. this is why some builders put nixies on a riser board that has a socket of its own.

      1. I was just thinking about what it would take to make custom tubes. I have the gas flame equipment and was looking at flat bottom test tubes. I haven’t worked with glass as a media but I could give it a go.

        Do you have any tips that you would be generous enough to offer? Is it possible to get pre made pin/wire bases? And lastly are there hazards such as hazardous chemicals used?

        Thanks.

  1. Wait a tick. Is that thing counting in Octal? I could only count 8 digits in the tube. If so you just might have the next prop for Lost 2: We Went On a Boat This Time. If anything it is an impressive looking build. Only request, dim the blue backlights a bit. Maybe it was just the camera but it looked to make watching the numbers hard.

    1. I don’t understand the draw of blue lights under nixies.

      when I see that, I think that its hiding a nixie or voltage problem. some tubes and some driver chips have issues (over time) and they can get a blue glow on some digits. maybe the blue led idea was an attempt to hide the ‘bad blue’ that sometimes comes from the tubes.

      nixie orange is good on its own. I think blue and orange do mix (color wise) but blue leds are becoming overused, today.

      nice plastic box on the clock, though. I like the fake ‘fins’, nice design element.

        1. Haha, no it’s not :) Have a look at the picture, and try to think of what he meant when he mentioned “blue lights under nixies”. And I agree, it ruins the authentic look, and it’s hardly original considering every other nixie clock you see adds these blue LEDs, unfortunately. It’s kitschy, IMHO.

        2. Have to agree. Blue LEDs make something look oh-so-2000s. Like Ferraris that come with no radio installed – the sound of the engine should be enough – the nixies look just magnificent by themselves, honestly.

      1. I never heard about this blue glow caused by driver chip issues, but I currently I am working on my own Nixie clock based the IN-12b and think that this blue color around the digits is the consequence of using a little amount of mercury, which is responsible for a better ignition.

        However, I also don’t get this hype of these blue leds everywhere…

        1. there are reports that using the russian nixie 74141 style chips AND the huge IN russian tubes (forget the number but its the super huge, super nice and super expensive tube) give a blue glow and only on some digits. if you use the hard-to-find TI 74141 chips, it supposedly goes away or is minimized. so, some leakage or something implementation dependant vs those 2 chips. other drivers may have other behavior. on my smaller tubes (US and russian) I use the russian driver chips and have not seen blue yet.

          1. Violet glow happens with overcurrent, does not matter what chip you are using. To properly avoid it the source must be current limited, but usually the glow is negligible. Here though it’s just kitschy blue LEDs, as others have pointed out already. I think this build is cool, but for me the blue LEDs ruin the looks.

  2. Echo those above – what IS it with this shit of putting blue LEDs under nixies? Stop it, just stop it, it looks like crap and furthermore is a horrendous anachronism. If LEDs had existed when nixies were invented, then nixies would never have been invented in the first place.

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