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Picture of Faux Nixie Tube Clock
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I love retro tech. It's so much fun to play with older tech since they are usually larger and more aesthetic than modern equivalents. The only problem with old tech such as Nixie tubes is that they are rare, expensive, and generally difficult to work with. Since the library near me just got a laser cutter for the public to use, I knew I had to make a project to learn how to use it. What better thing to do than combine my passion for old tech with lasers. These LED "Nixie" tubes are much cheaper, less dangerous, and can be powered off of USB power.

The template I used for my PCB was provided by Connor Nishijima on github (https://github.com/connornishijima/lixie-arduino)
My original inspiration for this was the version that Make did (https://makezine.com/projects/led-nixie-display/), but Connor's PCB was much cheaper to produce as the PCB's are smaller.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools
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Materials:

Electronics:

  • Arduino Nano
  • 10K Resistor
  • Pushbutton
  • Toggle Switch
  • WS2812B LED's
  • Misc Wire
  • Mini USB cable
  • USB-B extender (commonly used for 3D Printers)
  • Coin Cell Battery
  • DS3231 RTC module

Other:

  • 3mm Plywood
  • 1/16" Acrylic
  • M3 Screws and Nuts


Tools:

  • Laser Cutter
  • Sandpaper (220 Grit)
  • Mouse Sander
  • Allen Keys
  • Utility Knife
  • Super Glue
  • Solder Reflow Oven (A toaster oven will also work)
  • Wire Cutters
  • Soldering Iron
  • 60/40 Lead solder
  • Syringe and Tips
  • Solder Paste
  • Hot Glue and Glue Dun
Hello, this is a great project. I made myself my pcb. after a test via the example of the library "lixie" my pcb works. however I have a problem with the code, at the line "87 ... DS3231 Clock;" I have an error "no matching function for call to 'DS3231 :: DS3231 ()'" and I can not solve it would you have an idea?
thank you
Zachary Goode (author)  roro.espinasse19 days ago
I know this might be a dumb question to ask, but did you install the DS3231 library? It sounds like the library was not included
hello. Yes the library ds3231 is well loaded. I even send the example on my editing and it works, however I still have the same error
thank you for telling me about the library because it was his (I did not have the right), I spent the evening has tested everything and I found one that works, I installed this one "https://www.arduinolibraries.info/libraries/ds3231". and it's perfect. I will have another question is it possible to pass this clock with the second?
Zachary Goode (author)  roro.espinasse17 days ago
Do you mean adding a third pair of digits to display seconds? Cause yeah, that should be possible. I was actually considering doing it originally but didnt out of laziness
vbarinovn2 months ago
Hello my friend. I am from Russia, Moscow, I look at your project and I understand that in every country in every city there is one person with golden hands. This is a great project. I wish you great success in all your endeavors. This is the site of my friend in Russia, he is an engineer, he creates beautiful things from electronics. Look, maybe you need something.
http://labkit.ru/html/clock
He has now removed the firmware for many hours, but I have them preserved on the computer, so if you need anything (program, sketch), write, I will give. Also, if you need, some lamps (IN-4 and others) from Russia, you can also write, I will try to send. Good luck.
pzucarelli6 months ago
Zachary,
Great project and well done.
I'm definitely filing this away as a project to build when I get some free time. One thing I can't seen to find is the overall wiring diagram. You referred to it as a Fritzing diagram in step 5. The list of connections in step 5 probably gives me enough info to recreate this, but I was wondering were the three 10K resistors went. I'm assuming that the switches ground the designated UNO pins when actuated. Probably can figure that out from the code anyway.
Phil
Was about to say... pol-filter on the camera could have removed the reflections.
But even the glimmer makes it more interesting!
Awesome project!
Zachary Goode (author)  pzucarelli6 months ago
I forgot to upload the diagram that I made. I'll get that taken care of
Thanks!
Zachary Goode (author)  pzucarelli6 months ago
You are right that the pins connect to ground when not high. Due to how the frame was designed I don't think an uno will be small enough to fit inside btw. I just uploaded a fritzing diagram both here and in step 5. If you have any more questions just ask.
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CraftAndu6 months ago
Looks awesome!
fstedie6 months ago
A lot of work went into this, I don't deny that. But am I the only one that thinks this doesn't look very good? Maybe it is the lighting? All the engraved letters light up enough to be distracting and it all ends up looking like a jumbled mess. If there was a way to keep the non-active digits completely dark, maybe it would look better...
Zachary Goode (author)  fstedie6 months ago
That's just how it looks on camera. In real life while that effect is still there it is much less noticeable. I could probably minimize it by tuning the laser settings even more. This is one of those things that is just difficult to photograph properly.
In addition, the parts where the numbers are engraved aren't clear. So even if they are turned off with no light you will be able to see the engravings
jcushard6 months ago
Well it is much prettier than the real nixie tube clock built in my electronics class in 1964 it too used micro electronics, flip flops divided the 60 hertz line down into seconds then minutes then hours then AM/PM then reset to do it all again then there were the driver circuits the high voltage supply ... little larger than a shoe box, it was a tech wonder of it's day .... over heating was over come with a very loud fan setting the time not user friendly but it worked, we were emulating the engineers that took man into space ... our class bore out 6 engineers several teachers and young men who could thing through problems in design and function ... you did well, your work has an artistic appeal I envy your tools what might my old group have done with such? good luck to you dream, design and build and never stop.
alcurb6 months ago
Nice Nixie work-alike concept, but if you know Nixies, you know that they are nearly never any color than red-orange. I would have liked to have seen a pic of it, glowing orange, and be momentarily confused about whether it's a true-nixie or not. To me, that moment of confusion is what I would call an effective Faux. That said, your project is wonderfully designed and constructed and it shows you spent much effort and dedication to it.
Zachary Goode (author)  alcurb6 months ago
Here is a picture I just took of the Nixie's glowing orange.
test 1_1_40.jpg
esilky alcurb6 months ago
I totally agree. I have two 'actual' Nixie clocks in my house that I have built. With as much effort as you put into this, you should at least have an option to switch the color to 'glowing orange'. I'm fine if you also want blue/purple (to be different/modern) - but you really need 'glowing orange'.
Other than that - excellent work!
I wish I had easy access to a laser cutter - I would probably build one to add to one more room in my house (in addition to the two 'real' Nixies.

Also, one question?...
When the digits change, does one fade out while the other fades in? You had photos, but without a video I can't tell. That is another distinguishing thing of the Nixie tubes - they aren't instantaneous. So when the time changes, you can detect that one digit is 'fading out' while the other digit is 'coming on'.
Zachary Goode (author)  alcurb6 months ago
I can very easily upload a picture of them orange when I get home today. Since I used RGB LEDs for this I just need to make a change in code to do that. I only chose the blue-purple that i did because because it showed up well on camera.
VincentV816 months ago
Nice ! Good job, have you any video on the web, this should confirm your nice project.
Thanks.

Zachary Goode (author)  VincentV816 months ago
I just uploaded a video showing a timelapse of a few minutes
Yes, I too would like to see a video!
Zachary Goode (author)  kleetus926 months ago
I posted one to reddit, I'll upload one here as well
pbbaker6 months ago
Really nice project. I made a clock a while back and used an atomic clock module and some helpful code I found in an Arduino forum. The clock would set itself based on the atomic clock signal. Might be a nice improvement for this very cool nixie clock.
Zachary Goode (author)  pbbaker6 months ago
That actually sounds pretty cool. If I ever decide to make and sell these on Etsy or something I will definetely try and make that change to it.
DrewL316 months ago
Super cool idea!
andrea biffi6 months ago
It's awesome! And much larger than a Nixie clock!
If you want to build a Nixie clock, I made some one ibles about that, you'll see that it's not expensive and difficult as you believe ;-)
Zachary Goode (author)  andrea biffi6 months ago
I'll have to check them out. I haven't messed with nixie tubes before but I really want to give it a go eventually, I just need to find out where to source some
markkoce766 months ago
Qué ingenioso! Me recuerda a los números de las máquinas recreativas para bares para bares !!! 7 7 7
Intector6 months ago
That's very nice, I love the idea.
tercero6 months ago
Nice!!!

I wanted to build a nixie clock, but honestly. The price on the tubes makes me a bit hesitant. This makes the project worth attempting.
Look at my ibles for making a Nixie clock. I love the in-4 tubes which are not more expensive than 4-5 $ each.. but you can buy cheaper very nice tubes for 2$ each... And you can learn to make yourself the PCB with not much money..
Zachary Goode (author)  tercero6 months ago
All in all I think I spent $50-75 on this and most of that was on the acrylic. It was relatively easy. The only difficult parts are aligning the button parts properly when closing up the case and getting your cutting power and speed right on the laser cutter. I wish you luck if you attempt to build this and if you need help feel free to contact me
starphire6 months ago

There is a danger of damaging WS2812b (or similar kinds of addressable LEDs in SMT packages) during reflow soldering if they are not kept in a low humidity environment prior to soldering. If they are used immediately after opening a factory sealed reel, they are safe for reflow soldering. But makers purchasing smaller quantities of them will probably receive short strips cut from the original factory reel, and repackaged by the seller without such humidity protection. In this state, the lens material slowly absorbs moisture from the air. When rapidly heated in a reflow oven that moisture can turn to steam inside the package, which may permanently damage pixels. To avoid this risk, follow directions in the manufacturer's datasheet for pre-baking the LEDs at a lower temperature for the recommended amount of time to drive out all of the moisture, just before placing them on the PCB and putting them into the oven for reflow soldering.
WayneT226 months ago
I just had a thought about how to get more forward-viewable glow but I don't know how or if a laser cutter is capable of doing angled cuts on the Plexiglas. If the cuts are done at 10-15° from perpendicular, the exposed edge would be more visible from the front and would appear to glow so much more.
Zachary Goode (author)  WayneT226 months ago
That is actually a really smart idea that I would have never thought of. While it sounds like it should work, and it might on some more industrial expensive laser cutters, I know that the glowforge I used is not capable of that. It might have also worked better if I had engraved a solid shape into the acrylic instead of just the outline.
pgs0709476 months ago
Nice use of acrylic.
A perfect material when you need to illuminate from a remote lighting source.
I think the Russians still use Nixie (Burroughs) tubes in their space capsules - not serious.
Nixie tubes are a fine example of necessity being the Mother of Invention. Burroughs made calculators and primitive computers or tabulators which could work quite quickly but there was no numerical display to match. LEDs came along to provide matrices and things like alphanumeric displays, now OLEDs and LCDs are commonly available.
The older methods are often more decorative in their own right. A classic example is the "flip" displays that used to be used in rail stations and airports. I think it was an Italian design and still preferred in design conscious settings. It amuses me to see LED versions of old style filament lamps.
Zachary Goode (author)  pgs0709476 months ago
I actually find it really entertaining that you mentioned flip displays. I bought about a dozen of the seven segment ones from Alfa-Zeta about a month ago or so to make yet another clock out of. I just love the satisfying clicky sound that they make when changing what they are displaying. The only reason that hasn't been posted yet is because driving the flipdots has been more difficult than I thought it would be.
That is amazing!
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