A clock made with LED filaments inside clear plastic tubes

LED Filaments Make A Retro Clock Without Any Retro Parts

We love clock projects here at Hackaday, and we’ve seen many beautiful designs based on a wide variety of display technologies. There are various types of glass tubes like Nixies, Numitrons and classic VFD displays, all of which have that warm “retro” glow to them. Then there’s LEDs, which are useful for making cool pixel-based timepieces and easy to drive with low-voltage electronics. So how about combining the best of both worlds, by using LEDs to make a Numitron-like display? That’s exactly what [Jay Hamlin] did when he built a digital clock based on LED filaments.

The heart of the project consists of orange LED filaments similar to the ones used in vintage-style LED light bulbs. [Jay] bought a bunch of them online and tried various ways of combining them into seven-segment displays, eventually settling on a small PCB with a black finish to give good contrast between the LEDs and the background. To make the displays look like they’re encased in glass, [Jay] bought a set of plastic test tubes and cut them to size.

The base of the clock is formed by a slick black PCB that holds an ESP32. The segments are driven through a set of 74LV595 shift registers to keep the required number of GPIOs to a minimum. There are no buttons: thanks to a WiFi connection and the Network Time Protocol the ESP32 automatically keeps the correct time.

The end result looks remarkably like a Numitron display at first glance, and remains a beautifully-made clock even if you notice that there’s no glass to be found. If you’re into LED filament clocks (and who isn’t?), check out this analog wall clock, or this spiderweb-like digital clock.

Continue reading “LED Filaments Make A Retro Clock Without Any Retro Parts”

A Numitron clock showing "30 degrees C"

Simple But Stylish Numitron Clock Can Display Time, Date And Temperature

While it seems like Nixie tubes get all the attention when it comes to making retro-style displays, there are plenty of other display technologies that can make a good-looking retro design. Take the Numitron tube: introduced by RCA in the early 1970s, these display tubes might look superficially similar to Nixies but work in a completely different way. The Numitron uses incandescent elements that make up seven-segment displays.

The main advantage Numitrons have over Nixes is that they don’t require a high-voltage supply, which makes them much easier to hook up to modern low-voltage electronics. [mircemk] used this to his advantage when he built a simple clock using four numitrons that can display the time, the date, and the ambient temperature.

The brains of the device are formed by an Arduino Nano coupled with a DS3231 battery-backed real-time clock module. For now, the time has to be synchronized by connecting the Arduino to a PC and reprogramming it, but [mircemk] has plans to update the design with pushbuttons to allow the user to set the time manually.

Four shift registers are all that’s needed to interface the microcontroller to the display tubes, thanks to their low-voltage operation. They do need quite a lot of current, so [mircemk] used the high-power TPIC6C595 instead of a  regular 74HC595 chip. We wonder if the tubes’ high power consumption could be the reason why the temperature in his lab seems to hover around 30 °C.

A simple but stylish plastic enclosure completes the design. Since Numitron tubes are relatively low-cost and no other specialized components are needed, this could be one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make a retro display tube clock. Although we’ve seen a couple of Numitron clocks and even watches before, today’s build is a great example of how simple such a design can actually be. Continue reading “Simple But Stylish Numitron Clock Can Display Time, Date And Temperature”

Smell That? It’s Time.

Steampunk is beautiful. There is something about the exposed metal and primitive looking artifacts that visually appeal to the brain of a maker and engineer alike. Makers have been busy the last decade building clocks with this theme because hey, everyone needs a clock. [Fuselage] has put together a Steam Punk Clock that releases actual steam(actually steam oil smoke) for its hourly chime. How cool is that?

The clock is designed around the Conrad C-Control Unit (translated) which has the Motorola 68HC08 and [Fuselage] uses BASIC to write the routines for the system. Unlike a lot of steampunk clocks that use Nixie Tubes, this one uses 4 Numitron displays for the hours and minutes display. An analog dial panel display is employed for the seconds’ and is driven by a PWM signal. The absence of the RTC module was not obvious until we saw that the BOM includes a DCF77 receiver. For the uninitiated, DCF77 is a longwave time signal and standard-frequency radio station in Mainflingen, Germany. If you are anywhere within a 2000 km range of that location, you can pick up a 24-hr time signal for free which is excellent if you plan to make say… a radio clock.

The steam/smoke generator is a subproject of sorts. The custom machine is designed to have a separate oil reservoir and pump in addition to the actual generator so that the system does not run out of fuel as quickly. Clearly [Fuselage] did his homework which is explained in brief in his project logs. The final design has a brass tube as the main heating and also serves as the outlet chamber. The oil is pumped from under the heating filament in the brass tube, and excess fluid drains off back into the reservoir. A piece of nichrome wire serves as the filament that vaporizes the liquid to gaseous form. Sensors make sure of the oil levels in the reservoir as well as the steam tube. Servo motors and fans add the effect of the opening the exhaust rain cap, and a small LED helps illuminate the exhaust to complete the impression of real steam.

The project is a great example of a simple but effective implementation and for those who are wondering about Numitron Tubes, check out this tutorial on the subject. Of course, there is the Giant Electro-mechanical Clock for those looking at more sizable works of art.

Continue reading “Smell That? It’s Time.”

Flexible Numitron Tube Clock Build

Hackers and makers alike often use whatever’s readily available. Sometimes this is done out of necessity, other times because of the desire to make something work without waiting for parts to ship or some store to open. And many times, we use what we already have simply because it presents a challenge. A couple of years ago, [Alan] made a beautiful clock that combines the lessons he learned from building a word clock with the challenges presented by some IV-9 and IV-16 Numitron tubes he acquired.

This build expanded [Alan]’s horizons while extending the use of his existing tools. The timekeeping is done with a word clock board he had designed previously that can utilize any of three kinds of RTC modules. Further flexibility is evident in the top board, which is designed with double footprints to accommodate through-hole or SMD shift registers and resistors. His current board iteration allows for chaining if you like your time displays long and specific. If the vintage blue reddish-orange glow of VFDs  Numitron tubes offends your eyes for some reason, there’s a dual-footprint for a single-color LED under each tube.

It’s worth mentioning that these are not Nixie tubes, they are vacuum fluorescent displays (VFD)s Numitron tubes.  If you already have or plan to acquire some but don’t know how to drive them, check out this Numitron tutorial we covered a few years back.

Edit: D’oh. As you have pointed out, these are Numitron tubes, not VFDs or Nixies. That is what multitasking will get you. We applaud your vigilance.