Faux Nixie Tube Clock

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Introduction: Faux Nixie Tube Clock

About: I am a freshman at ASU studying robotics and film production. I love to make things and perform music. I am always working on several projects at a given time.

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

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

Step 2: Laser Cutting

Using the SVG files (or Fusion360 file) that I have provided, cut out the pieces of the frame.

The pieces that have text on them have a separate svg file that includes the text in it. These pieces are 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Back, Bottom, Top.

You will need:

  • 4 x 0 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 1 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 2 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 3 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 4 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 5 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 6 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 7 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 8 (acrylic)
  • 4 x 9 (acrylic)
  • 1 x Back (wood)
  • 1 x Bottom (wood)
  • 3 x Button (wood)
  • 4 x Feet1 (wood)
  • 4 x Feet2 (wood)
  • 1 x Front (wood)
  • 2 x Side (wood)
  • 4 x Slot (wood)
  • 1 x Spacer (wood)
  • 2 x Top Cover (wood)
  • 2 x Top Slot (wood)
  • 1 x Top (wood)

In making this I used the Glowforge at my local makerspace, but any laser cutter will work (Duh!). If you are using a Glowforge these are the settings that worked for me. With the wood I used 250 speed, 100 power, and 2 passes (for the more delicate pieces you might want to use less power and slower). For cutting the acrylic I used 200 speed, 100 power, and 1 pass. For engraving the wood I used 250 speed, 10 power, and 1 pass. For engraving the acrylic I used 500 speed, 50 power, and 1 pass. I recommend messing with settings and find what works best for you before cutting out all of the pieces.

Don't peel the protective layer off the acrylic, leave it on until a later step.

Step 3: Making the Digits

Order or make the PCB's for the digits using the gerber or Eagle files I have provided. I used the PCB files developed by Connor Nishijima as a base, the only edits I made were to add the 5v line in (since the original files dint have a 5V line for some reason) and change the silkscreen a bit. Using either a syringe filled with solder paste (the method I chose) or a stencil and a spreader tool, apply solder paste to the pads on the PCB's. When applying the solder paste a little bit goes a long way, you only need just enough to coat the pads. You'll need to make four of these, and it might be a good idea to make an extra to test on or in case one of them breaks. Carefully place the WS2812B LED's on the pads, being careful to note the orientation of the LED's. They don't have to be perfect since when they are cooking the surface tension of the solder will straighten them out. It is very difficult to remove an LED if it is put on wrong (I did this on my first board and spent close to a half hour trying to fix it without ruining anything. After placing all the LED's on the board, put them in the reflow oven, or in my case a toaster oven and then turn it on AFTER placing the boards in. Keep a close eye on the oven when it cooking, you don't want to exceed 220 degrees Celsius or you'll start to damage the boards. The solder should start to melt around 200 degrees Celsius. Once the solder joints have melted, turn off the oven and wait for it to cool off. Don't try to remove the boards until the have cooled, if you don't the LED's will move and the board will be ruined. After they are complete I recommend plugging them into an arduino and using one of the NeoPixel example codes to verify that the boards indeed work.

Step 4: Programming the Arduino

Plug the arduino Nano into your computer and open up the Arduino environment. Open the sketch and upload the code, making sure that you have selected the right board and COM port. If you ever need to update the clock's firmware you can do it through the USB extension cable and not disassemble it.

To make sure you are using the most up to date code check my Github here: https://github.com/ZGoode/Faux-Nixie-Clock

Step 5: Electronics

Connect all of the wires to the Arduino Nano as shown in the Fritzing diagram. Double check all wiring before plugging in to power. Fixing a burnt Nixie display is very difficult and annoying to have to deal with.

When mounting the toggle switches you will need to sand off about a millimeter from the top side (the side that is facing the PCB's making up the Nixies). This is to make them fit properly without interfering with the PCB.

You will also need to splice together the USB-B cable and the Mini-B cable. This serves two purposes, one to power the clock, and two to give you USB access so as to reprogram or update it without disassembling.

DS3231 Pinout

  • SCL - A5
  • SDA - A4

Lixie Pinout

  • DIN - 7

Buttons

  • Hour - 9
  • Minute - 8
  • Color - 10

Switches

  • Daylight Savings - 11
  • Time Set - 12
  • 24 Hour - 13

Step 6: Final Assembly

After all of the electronics are tested and working and the wires have been cleaned up, prepare to close up the box. Tape down or glue the Arduino and RTC so that they don't end up touching one of the bolts or other wires. Make sure that everything that should be plugged in is plugged in. Super Glue the box shut, putting the bottom piece on last. After closing the box insert the feet pieces into their slots on the bottom.

At this point you need to take careful precautions to keep the acrylic clean. Before peeling off the protective plastic I recommend using rubber gloves to keep your skin oils from getting on the digits. Peel off the plastic protection and insert the numbers in the slots in this order (from front to back): 3, 8, 9, 4, 0, 5, 7, 2, 6, 1. After the digits are in place put the top slot piece onto each side to keep the acrylic number aligned and then super glue the top piece on to finish the clock. At this point you are done with assembly and ready to start setting up the clock for use.

Step 7: How to Use It

  • To set the time: Toggle the set switch to on (making sure the DST or Daylight Savings Time is set correctly) and press the hour and minute buttons to change the time. After the time is set toggle the set switch to off and it should function correctly.
  • To change the color/pattern used in the digits: Press the button labeled color
  • To turn on or off Daylight Savings Mode: Toggled the switch in the back labeled DST
  • To change to 24 hour mode: Toggle the switch on the back labeled 24HR

Because of the RTC used, you should only have to set the time when either the battery dies or when plugging it in for the first time.

Faux-Real Contest

Second Prize in the
Faux-Real Contest

1 Person Made This Project!

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51 Discussions

0
Dạ EmT
Dạ EmT

7 months ago

Hello, could you help me add a second display. I tried to add a second display but everything still didn't work when I added a second display, everything worked but the time display lost.

1
alcurb
alcurb

1 year 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.

0
esilky
esilky

Reply 1 year 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'.

0
nic.bryan.73
nic.bryan.73

Reply 9 months ago

That's probably doable, but it would require some extra code to ramp the brightness of one up and the previous down.

0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Reply 1 year ago

Here is a picture I just took of the Nixie's glowing orange.

test 1_1_40.jpg
0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Reply 1 year 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.

1
pgs070947
pgs070947

1 year 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.

0
myk3yth
myk3yth

Reply 9 months ago

As someone who trained on 'primitive' Burroughs computers, they were the leading manufacturer of their time.

We had all sorts of goodies that were considered state of the art. But, technology marches on and IBM marketed them out of the lead.

They then swallowed up UNIVAC, hoping to get the University and research market and exist today as Unisys.

0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Reply 1 year 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.

1
Deedeeoc
Deedeeoc

Reply 1 year ago

That is amazing!

0
myk3yth
myk3yth

9 months ago

Nice instructable.

I think this will be a great new year project.

But, I'm tempted towards an ESP rather than Arduino as there's no need for an RTC - the NTP takes care of that, and you can automate time setting, add alarms, etc.

And I'm going to cheat and get the pcb pre-assembled. :)

0
roro.espinasse
roro.espinasse

Question 1 year ago

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

0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Answer 1 year 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

0
roro.espinasse
roro.espinasse

Reply 1 year ago

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

0
roro.espinasse
roro.espinasse

Reply 1 year ago

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?

0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Reply 1 year 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

1
pzucarelli
pzucarelli

1 year 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

0
Sanados
Sanados

Reply 1 year ago

Was about to say... pol-filter on the camera could have removed the reflections.
But even the glimmer makes it more interesting!
Awesome project!

0
Zachary Goode
Zachary Goode

Best Answer 1 year ago

I forgot to upload the diagram that I made. I'll get that taken care of