A lot of instructables about Nixie tubes are concerned with the electronics. I was lazy and bought mine. It was a fraction of the price of the tubes anyway.
Therefor this instructable is not so much a how to, but more a process of the aesthetic part of creating a Nixie clock. I still tried hard to make general instructions out of it and not just tell you what I did. In addition to the instructions I also added my experience in Italic.
I hope you will get inspired to create a unique looking clock.
Parts I used:
- IN18 Nixie clock board from Kosbo
- 6 IN18 Nixie 1991 tubes New Old Stock from Ukrain through eBay.
- Phillips B2X80U Tube Radio from online ads
- Hole saw and drill kit from local home improvement store
- DPDT momentary switch from eBay
The moment I first came across Nixie tubes and the modern implementation of them in clocks I was in love. This is something I wanted to have. However a lot of the housings available for sale didn't complement the technological beauty of the Nixie tubes at all.
Wanting to give this a personal twist I was set to at least make the housing myself.
Step 1: Picking and Getting a Housing
Decide what your housing is going to be. Pick something original. This can range from an radio, telephone, typewriter, humidor to a jewelry box, you name it. Pick something to match the style of the Nixie tubes. In this guide I proceed with my instructions for a housing made out of Bakelite. Bakelite is an early form of plastic and goes hand in hand with the retro look of Nixie.
If you aren't sure what to get I strongly recommend strolling a flea market with just the housing in mind.
Just make there is enough space inside the housing to fit your project.
For Nixie clock examples check out the gallery by Mike .
Being Dutch and thus loving Phillips I settled on an old 1953 tube radio. Owing a lot to the hobbyist collectors that represent a very live community with lots of information I settled on a Phillips B2X80U. The size is perfect. Very simple design, round dial and slightly rounded corners. I scouted the on-line ads for a while.
Obtaining a Housing
Once you know what it is you want there are many places to get your housing from.
- Flea markets
- Second-hand recycle shops
- On-line ads
Step 2: Preparing the Housing
The first step after acquiring the housing is to restore it, so disassemble everything and start cleaning, repairing and polishing.
The best way to clean and remove paint from Bakelite is by soaking it in soda for a night, removing as much of the paint as you can with a blunt piece of plastic (I used an expired credit card). Repeat soaking and removing as many times as necessary. It honestly took me at least 7 repeats. But never ever sand Bakelite.
After all the paint is removed and the casing is clean, wipe it dry and let it dry for a few more hours. Removing scratches is pretty easy, but again asks for your determination. To remove scratches and make the surface more smooth, a wax product is used. Brasso (copper polish, this is what I used, got it from the supermarket) and Commandant (rubbing compound for cars) are good for the job, both have a solving agent in them. Follow the instructions and repeat until you're satisfied.
Now it is time to let it shine! The best way to make Bakelite shine nice is to treat it with paraffin oil. Apply and rub with a soft cloth, the Bakelite will actually suck up the oil so repeat a few times.
Paraffin oil is supposed to be sold at drugstores, but none of the five ones I visited had it. But by chance I found out that IKEA sells it under the name SKYDD.
The one I bought was cheap, not in working condition and by far desirable to look at. Some person had painted the housing in mint green (yuk) and it was already fading. I definitely wanted it original in black with the unique Bakelite shine.
Making the Holes
The text step is to drill the holes for the tubes. This is done with a hole saw and regular drill. Obtain a nice set if you don't have this yet. Measure everything and get out your set square. Measure again and draw all the centers on a single line on a piece of paper. This of course all depends on the board you use. Mine has 6 large holes for the tubes and two small ones.
Cover the general area where the holes are going to be with masking tape. This will prevent chipping during drilling.
Place the piece of paper on the casing , decide ideal position and stick this with more masking tape.
The big holes should be pre-drilled with a drill smaller than you center drill of the hole saw. It is advisable to pre-drill the small bulb holes as well. By using bigger drills directly it is harder to end up exactly where you want it.
Bakelite is very tough I found out. Drilling the holes through 8mm takes a few minutes and 6 holes later my hole saw was blunt.
Now that you have the holes it is time to make make the room available for your hardware inside the housing. This step involves removing/replacing/cutting the original components.
The only thing that was in the way for me was the ferrite antenna. I bended the mount so it ended up 3cm lower. There is no decrease in reception noticeable.
Mounting the Electronics
Having the holes and the room isn't enough, we need to support our electronics. This step entirely depends on the housing you chose, be creative. Get some cardboard and build/glue/wedge your supporting structure.
I also spent some time restoring the radio to working conditions just for fun. Being a newbie in electronics this was a nice learning experience. In these old electronics the board is very simple, components large and schematics readily available. Capacitors always go bad. Don't even bother testing them, just replace them all. Test all the resistors and replace where necessary.
This radio receives AM only, but it was very nice to listen to the BBC World Service with all the authentic noise.
Step 3: Putting Everything Together
Not just yet
Before you put everything in place there is one last thing to consider. To interact with the clock it is nice to have some buttons on the outside of the housing. Find out what controls (if any) your clock board has and how you want to translate this to buttons and switches. Drill the necessary holes and wire everything up.
My board has 2 PCB buttons, I soldered a stereo audio wire (ground + left and right) to the board and a DPDT momentary switch to the other end. Flipping the switch up results in button 1 getting pressed and flipping down to press button 2.
Put everything together
Assemble your clock, place the tubes and fire it up. Enjoy!
I would love to see what what you have made to house your Nixie project. Even if you didn't follow this guide at all :). Send me a message with your pictures.