Quick and Dirty Driver Tips for Surplus VFDs

Sometimes it seems like eBay is the world’s junk bin, and we mean that in the best possible way. The variety of parts available for a pittance boggles the mind sometimes, especially when the parts were once ordered in massive quantities but have since gone obsolete. The urge to order parts like these in bulk can be overwhelming, and sooner or later, you’ll find yourself with a fistful of old stuff but no idea how to put it to use.

Case in point: the box of Russian surplus seven-segment vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) that [w_k_fay] had to figure out how to use. The result is a tutorial on quick and dirty VFD drivers that looks pretty handy. [w_k_fay] takes pains to point out that these are practical tips for putting surplus VFDs to work, as opposed to engineered solutions. He starts with tips on characterizing your surplus tubes in case you don’t have a pinout. A 1.5 V battery will suffice for the hot cathode, while a 9 V battery will turn on the segments. The VFDs can be treated much like a common cathode LED display, and a simple circuit driving the tube with a 4026 decade counter can be seen below. He also covers the challenges of driving VFDs from microcontrollers, and promises a full build of a frequency counter wherein the mysteries of multiplexing will be addressed.

Sounds like it’s time to stock up on those surplus VFDs and put them to work. For inspiration, take a look at this minimalist VFD clock, or perhaps mix VFDs with Nixies to satisfy your urge for all things glowy.

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VFD tube clock built using protoboard and free-formed PSU

vfd-tube-clock

[James Glanville] wrote in to show of his latest tube project. It’s a clock using six IV-3 VFD tubes. In addition to the tube displays the project prominently features a blue 3D printed case which hides away all the guts of the build including the Stellaris Launchpad which drives the clock.

Speaking of guts, you’ll want to look through a few of [James’] other posts on the project. His first write-up on this clock shows off the protoboard and point-to-point soldering that makes the tubes work. To help simplify things he went with a MAX6921 VFD driver chip. He mounted it dead-bug style on its own piece of protoboard and then soldered all of the necessary connections to the larger hunk hosting the tubes. There’s also an interesting post that details the switch mode power supply which ramps the USB 5V power all the way up to the 50V used to drive the displays.

If you like this you should check out the first VFD clock he built. We featured it a while back in a links post.