Building a clock from parts is a rite of passage for makers, and often represents a sensible introduction into the world of electronics. It’s also hard to beat the warm glow of Nixie tubes in a desktop clock, as [Joshua Coleman] discovered when building a Nixie tube clock for a friend.
The original decision to upcycle the chassis from an unrepairable Heathkit function generator came a little undone after some misaligned cutting, so the front panel ended up being redesigned and 3D printed. This ended up being serendipitous, as the redesigned front panel allowed the Nixie tubes to be inset within the metal chassis. This effect looks great, and it also better protects the tubes from impact damage.
Sourcing clones of the 74141 Nixie driver ICs ended up being easier than anticipated, and the rest of the electronics came together quickly. The decoders are driven by an Arduino, and the IN-4 Nixie tubes are powered by a bespoke 170 volt DC power supply.
Unfortunately four of the tubes were damaged during installation, however replacements were readily available online. The gorgeous IN-4 Nixie tube has a reputation for breaking easily, but is priced accordingly on auction sites and relatively easy to source.
The build video after the break should get any aspiring Nixie clock makers started, but the video description is also full of extra information and links for those needing help getting started.
We don’t often get a Tips line submission where the “Subject” line auto-translates as “Yoshi Yoshi Yoshi”, linking to a short video by [Yasunari Industries] (embedded below). For many, it might be hard to tell what this is at a first glance – however, if the myriad of relays clacking won’t draw your attention, the four Nixie digits on the top definitely will! The gorgeous black PCB has two buttons on the bottom, incrementing hour and minute hours respectively, and observant readers will notice how the LEDs near the relays respond to binary-coded-decimal representation of the digits being shown. This appears to be a relay-based clock with Nixie tubes for digit outputs, and on a scale from “practical” to “eye candy”, it firmly points towards the latter!
The project’s description is quite laconic, but it’s fun to try to figure out what is what based off the few pictures available. The top part with the Nixies and the PIR sensor (presumably for conserving the Nixie tube resources) is V-scored, and a small jumper PCB on the back connects the Nixie module to the relay board – likely, we might see these boards reassembled in a different form-factor, or perhaps find their way into [Yasunari Industries]’ different projects altogether! We can see a Digispark board in the bottom right corner, and wonder if, with addition of that, this board is able to function as a standalone clock — hopefully it does, because that’s one gorgeous addition. And, of course, it all couldn’t happen without help of a bunch of red wires on the back of the board – the author says that some segments were reversed, and the high-voltage PSU section of the board was mis-wired.
Over on [Techmoan]’s YouTube channel he’s excited about a new gadget that finally arrived after months of waiting — the EleksTube IPS fake Nixie tube clock. This is a re-imagining of a Nixie tube clock using six 135×240 pixel IPS display panels. They are mounted like tiny billboards, each one inside glass bulbs to mimic that retro look. Based on [Techmoan]’s measurement of these displays, it appears they are the same 16:9 IPS displays used in the TTGO ESP32 modules. The effect is quite impressive, and the fact that each digit is a complete display leads to quite a bit of flexibility. For example, if you don’t like the Nixie look, you can select from a suite of styles or make your own set of custom digits.
It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sure, there are some who might simply sugarcoat blatant plagiarism with fancy quotes, but there are still cases that come from well-intended, genuine admiration. The Nixie tube with its ember-like glow is a component that definitely gets a lot of such admiration, and being a fond LED enthusiast, [tuenhidiy] saw a perfect opportunity to imitate them with a RGB LED Matrix and build a virtual Nixie clock from it.
What may sound like just displaying images of Nixie tubes on a LED matrix, is actually exactly that. Using the UTFT library and converter, [tuenhidiy] turned pictures of individually lit-up Nixie tube digits into arrays of 16bit RGB values, and shows the current time on an ESP32-controlled 64×64 matrix with them. Providing two different image sizes, you can either place two tubes next to each other, or in a 3×2 arrangement, and of course have plenty of flexibility for future extensions. In the demo video after the break, you can see the two options in action while displaying both the full time, and only the seconds.
Unfortunately, it’s always difficult to judge an LED project through the lens of a camera, especially when looking for the characteristic color of a Nixie tube, but we take [tuenhidiy]’s word that it resembles it a lot better in reality. On the other hand, the pixelated look certainly adds its own charm, so you might as well go completely overboard with the colors — something we’ve seen with a different LED-themed Nixie alternative a little while back.
With all the Nixie Clock projects out there, it is truly difficult to come up with something new and unique. Nevertheless, [TheJBW] managed to do so with his Ultimate Nixie Internet Alarm Clock (UNIAC) which definitely does not skimp on cool features.
Although the device does tell time, it is actually a portable boombox that streams music from Spotify using a Raspberry Pi Zero running Mopidy. The housing made from smoked acrylic, together with the IN-12A Nixie Tubes, an IN-13 VU meter, and illuminated pushbuttons give this boombox kind of a 70s/90s mashup retro look. The acrylic housing is special since it consists of only two plates which were bent into shape, resulting in smooth edges in contrast to the often used finger or T-slot design.
For his project [TheJBW] designed a general-purpose Nixie display that can not only show time and date but also the elapsed or remaining track time. He also came up with a Python generated artificial voice that reads you the current playlist. The only problem [TheJBW] has run into was when trying to design a suitable battery system for the device, as the high current draw during start-up can easily cause brownouts. Due to time constraints, he ended up with a MacGyver-style solution by taping a 12 V battery pack from Amazon to the back of the unit.
Whenever a project calls for displaying numbers, a 7-segment display is the classic and straightforward choice. However, if you’re more into a rustic, retro, almost mystical, and steampunky look and feel, it’s hard to beat the warm, orange glow of a Nixie tube. Once doomed as obsolete technology of yesteryear, they have since reclaimed their significance in the hobbyist space, and have become such a frequent and deliberate design choice, that it’s easy to forget that older devices actually used them out of necessity for lack of alternatives. Exhibit A: the impulse counter [soldeerridder] found in the attic that he turned into a general-purpose, I2C controlled display.
Instead of just salvaging the Nixie tubes, [soldeerridder] kept and re-used the original device, with the goal to embed an Intel Edison module and connect it via I2C. Naturally, as the counter is a standalone device containing mainly just a handful of SN74141 drivers and SN7490 BCD counters, there was no I2C connectivity available out of the box. At the same time, the Edison would anyway replace the 7490s functionality, so the solution is simple yet genius: remove the BCD counter ICs and design a custom PCB containing a PCF8574 GPIO expander as drop-in replacement for them, hence allowing to send arbitrary values to the driver ICs via I2C, while keeping everything else in its original shape.
Packing twin Nixie tubes, the watch displays hours first, then minutes. An accelerometer is fitted, switching the tubes on when the user checks the watch. There’s also Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, which can be used to set the time as well as check the remaining battery life. Standby time is estimated to be 350 hours, thanks to a low-power microcontroller and keeping the tubes off most of the time.
The presentation is where this watch really shines, sporting as it does an RGB LED for backlighting and an attractive aluminium case. The design is simple, helping to highlight the industrial beauty of the Nixie tubes themselves. The housing was first mocked up with 3D printed parts, before the final piece was CNC milled. [RemcoK3] is contemplating anodizing the watch, but we think that the brushed aluminium already looks perfect.