Have you ever thought that Nixie tubes are cool but too hard to control with modern electronics? And that they’re just too expensive? [david.reid] apparently thought so and decided to create his own version of a Nixie tube, and it doesn’t get much cheaper than this.
While working on a 3D printed locomotive with his son, [david.reid] used clear PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) 3D printer filament to move light from LEDs to various parts of the locomotive. He found this was a success, but roughed up the outside of the filament to see what would happen. Lo and behold, a warm glow appeared on the surface of the tube! Like any good hacker, his next thought was of Nixie tubes, as you have seeninmanyclocks.
His basic idea is that with a little heat you can bend the filament into any shape that you like ([david.reid] uses custom molds). You then use some sandpaper to roughen up the outside wherever you’d like light to show, and add an LED at the bottom to light it up!
Like the look of Nixies but they just seem a little overdone? Or perhaps you just don’t want the hassles of a high-voltage power supply? Then maybe these faux-Nixie LED “tube” displays will find a way into your next clock build.
For his 2018 Hackaday Prize entry, [bobricius] decided that what the world needs is a Nixie that’s not a Nixie. To that end, each display is formed by seven surface-mount LEDs soldered to a seven-segment shaped PCB and slipped into a glass tube. The LEDs are in 4014 packages so they’re only 4 millimeters long, but what they lack in size they make up for in brightness. We’re not sure if it’s a trick of the camera, but the LEDs certainly seem to put off a bluish glow that’s reminiscent of vacuum-fluorescent displays — it’s like a Nixie and a VFD all rolled up in one package. The current case, which hides the clock circuitry on the lower part of the PCB, is just plastic, but this would look spiffy in a fine wooden case.
Revisiting old projects is always fun and this Nixie Clock by [pa3fwm] is just a classic. Instead of using transistors or microcontrollers, it uses neon lamps to clock and drive the Nixie Displays. The neon lamps themselves are the logic elements. Seriously, this masterpiece just oozes geekiness.
Inspired by the book “Electronic Counting Circuits” by J.B. Dance(ZIP), published in 1967, we covered the initial build a few years back. The fundamental concept of operation is similar to that of Neon Ring Counters. [Luc Small] has a write-up explaining the construction of such a device and some math associated with it. In this project, [pa3fwm] uses modern day neons that you find in indicators, so his circuit is also updated to compensate for the smaller difference in striking and maintaining voltages.
The original project was done in 2007 and has since undergone a few upgrades. [Pa3fwm] has modified the construction to make it wall mounted. Even though it’s not a precise timekeeper, the project itself is a keeper from its time. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
Every now and then something old comes along which we’re surprised has never been on Hackaday. That’s especially the case here since it includes nixie tubes and is a clock, two things beloved here by many. Then again, it’s not a hack, but it just should be (hint hint).
Pulsar mystery clock
2001: A Space Odyssey clock
This clock’s origins are a bit of a mystery. As detailed in [Asto_Vidatu]’s Reddit post, he found it when cleaning out his mother’s garage. Larger photos of the clock internals are on his imgur page and are sure to delight and intrigue you. It looks very much like a clock widely thought to be the one which the Hamilton Watch Company made for Stanley Kubrick. In 1966, Kubrick commissioned Hamilton to make a futuristic looking clock and watches for his upcoming movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The watches appear in the movie on the wrists of the astronauts but the clock was left on the cutting room floor. After the movie was made, Kubrick gave the clock back to Hamilton, and it ended up in the possession of [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather, who worked on the team which made the clock.
All this might lead you to think that this is the clock made for the movie, instead of the one with the name Hamilton on it but the name Pulsar is thought to have been dreamed up around the time the movie came out. So where did it come from? Was it a hack by [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather or others at Hamilton? Was it a product which Hamilton had worked on, or perhaps a marketing gimmick for the Pulsar watch?
Love them or hate them, Nixies are here to stay. Their enduring appeal is due in no small part to the fact that they’re hardly plug-and-play; generating the high-voltage needed to drive the retro displays is part of their charm. But most Nixie power supplies seem to want 9 volts or more on the input side, which can make integrating them into the typical USB-powered microcontroller project difficult.
Fixing that problem is the idea behind [Mark Smith]’s 5-volt Nixie power supply. The overall goal is simple: 5 volts in, 170 volts out at 20 mA. But [Mark] paid special care to minimize the EMI output of the boost converter through careful design, and he managed to pack everything into a compact 14-cm² PCB. He subjected his initial design to a lot of careful experimentation to verify that he had met his design goals, and then embarked on a little tweaking mission in KiCad to trim the PCB’s footprint down by 27%. The three separate blog posts are well worth a read by anyone interested in learning about electronics design.
Instructables user [hellboy] — a recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter — is a longtime admirer of Nixie tubes. In melding these two joys, he has been able to design and build this gorgeous work of art: The White Rabbit Nixie Clock.
Going into this build, [hellboy] was concerned over the lifespan of the tubes, and so needed to be able to turn them off when not needed. Discarding their original idea of having the clock open with servos, [hellboy]’s clock opens by pressing down on a bar and is closed by snapping the lid shut — albeit slightly more complicated than your averagetimepiece. Given the intricacy of the mechanism, he had to run through numerous prototypes — testing, tweaking and scrapping parts along the way.
With the power of steam-bending, [hellboy] lovingly moulded walnut planks and a sundry list of other types of wood to define the ‘rabbit’ appearance of the mechanism, and the other parts of the clock’s case. Once again, designing the clock around a row of six pivoting Nixie tubes was no mean feat — especially, as [hellboy] points out, when twenty or so wires need to rotate with them! After a few attempts, the Nixie tubes, their 3mm blue LEDs and associated wires were properly seated.
As cool as Nixies are — we’ll admit that to a certain degree, familiarity breeds contempt — they can be tricky to integrate. [dekuNukem] notes that aside from the high voltages, laying hands on vintage driver chips like the 7441 can be challenging and expensive. The problem was solved with about $3 worth of parts, including an STM32 microcontroller and some high-voltage transistors. The PCBs come in two flavors, one for the IN-12 and one for the IN-14, and connections for the SPI interface and both high- and low-voltage supplies are brought out to header pins. That makes the module easy to plug into a motherboard or riser card. The driver supports overdriving to accommodate poisoned cathodes, 127 brightness levels for smooth dimming, and a fully adjustable RBG backlight under the tube. See the boards in action in the video below, which features a nicely styled, high-accuracy clock.