Nixie Clock Failure Analysis, [Dalibor Farný] Style

We’ve become sadly accustomed to consumer devices that seem to give up the ghost right after the warranty period expires. And even when we get “lucky” and the device fails while it’s still covered, chances are that there will be no attempt to repair it; the unit will be replaced with a new one, and the failed one will get pitched in the e-waste bin.

Not every manufacturer takes this approach, however. When premium quality is the keystone of your brand, you need to take field failures seriously. [Dalibor Farný], maker of high-end Nixie tubes and the sleek, sophisticated clocks they plug into, realizes this, and a new video goes into depth about the process he uses to diagnose issues and prevent them in the future.

One clock with a digit stuck off was traced to via failure by barrel fatigue, or the board material cracking inside the via hole and breaking the plated-through copper. This prompted a board redesign to increase the diameter of all the vias, eliminating that failure mode. Another clock had a digit stuck on, which ended up being a short to ground caused by pin misalignment; when the tube was plugged in, the pins slipped and scraped some solder off the socket and onto the ground plane of the board. That resulted in another redesign that not only fixed the problem by eliminating the ground plane on the upper side of the board, but also improved the aesthetics of the board dramatically.

As with all things [Dalibor], the video is a feast for the eyes with the warm orange glow in the polished glass and chrome tubes contrasting with the bead-blasted aluminum chassis. If you haven’t watched the “making of” video yet, you’ve got to check that out too.

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Captivating Clock Tells Time With Tall Tubes

Time is probably our most important social construct. Our perception of passing time changes with everything we do, and when it comes down to it, time is all we really have. You can choose to use it wisely, or sit back and watch it go by. If you want to do both, build a clock like this one, and spectate in sleek, sophisticated style.

[ChristineNZ]’s mid-century-meets-steampunk clock uses eight ILC1-1/8Ls, which are quite possibly the largest VFD tubes ever produced (and still available as new-old stock). In addition to the time, it displays the date, relative humidity, and temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. A delightful chime sounds every fifteen minutes to remind you that time’s a-wastin’.

The seconds slip by in HH/MM/SS format, each division separated by a tube dedicated to dancing the time away. The mesmerizing display is driven by an Arduino Mega and a MAX6921 VFD driver, and built into a mahogany frame. There isn’t a single PCB in sight except for the Mega — all the VFDs are mounted on wood and everything is wired point-to-point. Sweep past the break to see the progressive slideshow build video that ends with a demo of all the functions.

Those glowing blue-green displays aren’t limited to clocking time. They can replace LCDs, or be scrolling marquees.

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Mini-VFD Clock Floats The Display Above It All

As [sjm4306] says, “You can never have too many clocks based on obsolete display technologies.” We couldn’t agree more, and this single-tube VFD clock is one we haven’t seen before.

The vacuum-fluorescent display that [sjm4306] chose to base this clock on is the IV-21, an eight-digit seven-segment display on the smallish side. The tube is Russian surplus from the ’80s, as all such displays seem to be. The main PCB sports an ATMega328, a boost converter to provide the high voltage needed to run the VFD, a real-time clock, and the driver chip for the tube segments. The tube itself lives on a clever riser card that elevates the display above the main PCB and puts it at the proper angle for reading. [sjm4306] designed it to be modular; should you want to user a bigger VFD you need only make a new riser PCB. Figuring out the proper way to space the through-holes in Eagle proved elusive, but he hacked a solution using a spreadsheet to handle the trigonometry and spit out Cartesian coordinates for each hole. Pretty neat. The video below shows the clock assembly and a test.

We really like the look of this clock for some reason – perhaps it’s the quirky nature of the VFD, or the soft teal glow of the digits. We’ve featured plenty of clocks with odd displays before: VFDs large and small, faux-NIMO, de-encapsulated LED “filaments”, and lots and lots of Nixies.

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Impractical Clock Uses Tuning Fork

Clock projects are so common that they are almost a cliche. After all, microcontrollers have some clock source and are good at counting, so it stands to reason that a clock is an obvious project. [WilkoL’s] clock though has a most unusual clock source: a 440 Hz tuning fork.

A cheap plastic dome really shows off the fork and contributes to this good-looking build. An ATTiny13 divides the input frequency down, handles the display, and obeys the adjustment buttons. It does require a little metalworking, as the tuning fork needed filing and threading, although we bet you could figure out other ways to mount it.

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Photochromic Screen Makes For An Interesting Clock

The clock project will always be a hacker staple, giving the builder a great way to build something useful and express their individual flair. [Mosivers] was undertaking a build of their own and decided to go for a twist, creating a timepiece with a photochromic display.

The clock uses an Arduino Nano to run the show, hooked up to a 4-digit, 7-segment display that is custom built on protoboard. By using ultraviolet LEDs and placing them behind a reactive screen, it’s possible to create a unique display. The clock can be used with two different screens: a photochromic display created with UV-reactive PLA filament that turns purple when excited by UV light, and a glow-in-the-dark screen for night use.

It’s a fun twist on a simple clock design, and the purple-on-white digits are sure to raise some eyebrows among curious onlookers. Photochromic materials are fun to play with, and can make eggs and glass much more visually interesting. Video after the break.

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Minimalist Word Clock Does Things Neatly

Word clocks are a cool way to tell the time. While they could have probably been built back in the 1960s with a bunch of relays and bulbs, they really only came into their own in the LED-everything era. [Vatsal Agarwal] built one of his own, showcasing his maker credentials.

It’s a build that relies on good woodworking practices from the ground up. Maple wood is used for the frame, cut and prepared on a miter saw for accurate assembly. MDF is used for panels that are out of sight, and teak strips act as light barriers to ensure only the right words are lit at any given time. The front panel is a sleek black acrylic piece, adding to the minimalist look. Neopixels serve as the light source, controlled by an Arduino Uno. As a finishing touch, some glowy stainless steel buttons are mounted on the side to control the clock.

It’s a build that serves as a great introduction to woodwork, as well as more modern skills like CAD design for laser cutting, as well as programming. They’re a great way to get stuck into making, and you can even go pocket-sized if you’re truly brave. Incidentally, if you do take up the challenge of an all-analog relay-based build, make sure you drop us a line.