Introduction: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Intro.
I love nixie tube clocks because of the retro electro-mechanical display. It is mesmerizing to watch. They were used during the 1950's and 60's for alpha numeric displays on control systems. WWII advanced the science of electronics but they did not have a way of displaying information and thus invented the nixie tube. These tubes are no longer made but some supplies of them still exist in Russia and former Soviet countries. I purchase my electronics as a kit from Lithuania (Tube hobby) and sometimes solder it together myself and other times have TubeHobby assemble it for me. If you have good soldering skills, it is a fun and rewarding challenge to assemble your own boards. If you are not experienced at soldering just order the kit assembled.
BTW, the electronics accept a GPS receiver which keeps the clock perfectly accurate all the time.
This specific clock was configured for simplicity and elegance with contrasting materials and design elements. The deep rich colors in the tulip poplar are amazing.
To be completely honest, I started with the build having a painted on design. This did not turn out to be what I thought it would so I sanded it off and went with just natural wood.
Step 1: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Materials and Tools
The following reflects the materials I used for my build. You can do your own design and decide what materials you want to use.
- IN-14 nixie tube electronics (tubehobby.com) Approx. $130 + shipping
- 12v 1A 5.5/5.2mm wall wart power supply (Ebay) Approx. $15 + shipping
- GPS Receiver (BR-355 (PS2) Approx. $60 + shipping
- Tulip poplar or wood of your choice; make sure that you use wood that has been thoroughly dried.
- 3/4" clear acrylic (Ebay)
- 1/2" black fiberglass rod (Ebay)
- 1/4" aluminum plate to fit top surface of clock (Ebay)
- Rust-oleum 2X extra cover clear gloss aerosol spray
- 14 piece polishing kit from Harbor Freight
- Multiple grits of sand paper (150, 220, 320 and 400)
I used the following major tools to achieve my purposes. You can substitute hand tools or power tools that you have to accomplish the same results.
- 13" Dewalt planer
- 12" Craftsman band saw
- Enco 3 axis manual bench top milling machine
- Delta 12" disc sander
- Delta drill press
- Dewalt orbital sander
- Misc. hand tools
Step 2: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Design
Start by designing the exact shape of the clock and all of it's design elements. Make sure that the dimensions and geometry will accommodate housing the electronics. I simply designed mine on PowerPoint which actually scales fairly accurately. I don't use CAD because I do not use CNC in making any of my projects. I have included drawings I made for referencing during the build and accurately machining the hole pattern for the display tubes to go through.
Step 3: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Fabrication
1. Machine aluminum top plate for the nixie tubes to reside in. First cut the plate to the final size of the top of your clock. Next drill the tube holes. The main tubes will require 3/4" holes and the small indicator tubes will require 5/16" holes. Use a milling machine if at all possible to ensure the precise location of these holes. If not, layout the hole pattern conventionally and very carefully drill the holes. I drill the large holes in increments instead of trying to drill a 3/4" hole in one pass. You can sand it for a brushed finish or polish it with the list polishing kit.
2. To mount the electronics to the top plate I drilled and tapped a hole in the underside of the top plate at the ends of the board location and made 2 small clamps that grip the ends if the board.
3.Next mill or route out the cavity that the electronics will fit in. Leave a 1/4" extra on the ends and 1/8" for the back side of the board and 1/4" for the front side of the board.
4. Mill or route out the cavity in the back where the connectors will go and the push buttons on the control board will go. Do not drill the holes for the control buttons, power plug and GPS plug until you have very carefully measured their locations.
5. For attaching the top plate to the body, you can simply drill holes through the top plate and screw it on or you can drill 2 holes into the rear cavity from above and drill and tap corresponding holes in the under side of the plate so that you have a cleaner look which is what I did.
6. Cut out curved shape to the clock body on a band saw and sand on a disc sander.
7. Mill or route the "V" relief where the triangle bases go. Then chisel corner square.
8. Cut and sand(150 grit) acrylic edges to final dimensions and fit them to the "V" reliefs in the wood (Do not take off the protective paper on the acrylic when performing any operations on it).
9. Match drill the bases together so that all of the holes align when assembling. Use a brand new sharp twist drill for this to minimize chip out around the holes. Take it slow and drill through into a block of back up wood. I was able to do it with no chipping at all.
10. Next place the base pieces into the wood recess and match drill these mounting holes. Do not drill all of ther way through. You only need to drill about 3/4" deep.
11. Cut and sand the ends of the fiberglass rods. There should be 2 long ones that span between the bases and 2 short ones that mount the bases to the wood.
Step 4: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Finishing
1.Depending on the type of wood you choose you can have the color and beauty that suits you. I NEVER stain wood. Using a neutral finish product will bring out the natural beauty of any particular species and not artificially alter it's appearance. You can use an oil base finish which will somewhat darken the the wood but also enhance the grain and figuring. I tend to just go straight to a clear spray on finish because it only lightly deepens the color but still accentuates the grain and figuring.
2.To finish the acrylic, sand the edges starting 150 grit and work your way up to 4oo with intermediate steps at 220 and 320. As I mentioned before, keep the protect paper on during this process. Next, using the largest buffing wheel in the Harbor Freight polishing kit, apply the white polishing compound to the wheel and either chuck it up in a drill press or electric hand drill and polish the acrylic until it is perfectly clear and glossy. As to the drilled holes, take a wooden dowel and double back tape and attach sand paper (try 220 grit) and sand the holes using an electric drill until you achieve a nice uniform finish.
Step 5: Tulip Poplar Nixie Tube Clock: Assembly
1- The bases are press fit together. Carefully test all of the holes to make sure the fiberglass rods fit well (you can use wood if you prefer but the diameter you get in wood dowels is not very accurate thus I use fiberglass). They should not be tight or loose. You can adjust this by sanding the holes until satisfied. I painted the ends of the rods with black acrylic artists paint as well as the holes through the acrylic so that the black holes don't have a frosted appearance. I did not try to polish them because they were too small for polishing tools. Be patient and do not force it together. The friction fit is enough to hold it all together very well.
2- Install the top plate and tubes/electronics.
3- Plug in the power supply and GPS unit and program the clock per the instructions that came with the electronics.
4- Congratulations. This clock will last many many years and give you endless hours of pleasure not to mention the attention it will draw when you have friends over.
Participated in the