It was only recently that James Hartnett came across Nixies -- those tubes for displaying numerals. James loved "that awesome display with the 3D-look and the glow of a tube-like device." When he found one, he instantly decided that he needed to make a clock. He found a Nixie Tube-based Volt Meter. "Volt meter" is a bit misleading -- it's actually a "millivolt meter," said Hartnett. When he decided to turn it into a clock, a Gadget Freak was born -- or created.
The circuit and breakboard.
What the display will look like.
Table 1: Allied Parts List
Allied Part #
Resistor; Carbon Film; Res 1 Ohms; Pwr-Rtg 0.25 W; Tol 5%; Axial; Cer-Core
Note: I did not include a zero-correction resistor in the BOM since it was specific to my meter. You can find a suitable value for your equipment or adjust the zero on the hardware, which will have to be re-adjusted before using it to measure voltages.
My husband serendipitously mentioned nixie tubes the other day, so I couldn't resist sharing his experiences with them
His dad was a Heathkit hobbyist back in the early seventies who also made a few digital clocks, a few of them sporting these very tubes. Hie remembers his dad designing the board layout from circuits pre-designed by an engineer friend, and then etching the patterns in an acid bath in the kitchen. Soon, my husband was drafted by Dad to solder the components onto the boards. Eventually, the move was made over to LEDs for reasons of power efficiency, but he says he still missed that yellow glow.
Old analog tech acolytes may recall the appearance of Nixie tubes in the early James Bond film "Goldfinger," where Sean Connery is handcuffed to a bomb at the end of the movie. The bomb has a Nixie tubes showing the timer counting down to detonation. Interestingly, I don't think they were red, which was the more common color, but rather white, which is why they kind of stood out at the time. (I should note that I'm not that old; I did NOT see Goldfinger contemporaneously.)
Well, I *am* old enough to have seen Goldfinger contemporaneously--just barely. I remember that scene well, and I think it's amazing that anyone could identify the Nixies as Nixies during such a tense situation.
The indicators on James Bond Goldfinger are *NOT* NIXIE tubes they are a simmilar vintage display though, The displays in question are side illuminated displays that use a set of ten incandecent bulbs to light the edge of a plexiglass sheet. The digits them selves are made up of dots drilled into the sheet. For a movie with NIXIE tubes check out the display counters in PIXAR's Monster Inc.
Thanks, rajackson. I guess that explains the color change. Not being a Nixie fan or user, I wouldn't know the difference between the two, but now I'm curious about the appearance of such items in movies. I bet someone somewhere has made (a) list(s).
There is a very active Google group devoted to Nixie fans. It's a bit of a cult industry, lots of geeks putting together nixie projects, complete clocks, kits for sale, etc. (I'm one of them). The tubes themselves are getting a bit pricey, at least for large ones, but are still available in pretty good quantities. The tubes were still in production in the old Soviet Union right into the 80's, maybe later.
There has been discussion of nixies spotted in movies. There were even a few pinball machines that used nixies as the score display. Lots of test equipment, other industrial applications, but interestingly, they were rarely ever used as clock displays in their heyday, as they were too expensive for consumer applications.
If you're interested at all, join the Google "neonixie" group.
Your Google group for Nixie fans sound great, radio-active. We're always looking for new Gadget Freaks. Do you have any projects that might fit? Send me a note, and I'll send along the list of items we need to present a Gadget Freak.
Plus, we pay $500 to our Gadget Freaks. Feel free to spread the word.
This isn't playing with Nixies. Buying Nixies, wiring tube sockets and getting a bite from the high voltage is playing with Nixies.
While interesting that this project outputs an analogue voltage which sometimes represents the correct time, not actually using the Nixie tubes directly kind of takes the fun out of it. You can use any dvm for this and that would be interesting in and of itself.
But what's the point if you don't risk getting a mild shock from playing with the circuit? And if you don't actually use nixies how are you going to learn anything?
Building a display with nixies is not a big deal, just some high volt switching transistors like a mpsa 42 or 92 tied to the output of the driver chip, whether it's a clock or voltmeter or a random number generator.
I've worked with vacuum tubes my entire life and there is a lot more fun to be had lighting them up and making them do something useful or even unnecessarily useful.
You haven't lived unless you've been bitten by 30KV off a color CRT.
Try being bit by a 50kV Pulse Transformer in the fifth grade haha, that's what got me really going... then two more times in the next five seconds!
I love my nixies, but for this project I didn't want to ruin the meter so I didn't re-wire the nixies themselves (yes, I know it is a must for me but I am also a college student on a ramen type budget, I have to select which equipment I ruin wisely). I'm going from the ground up with some NOS parts from Russia for that.
P.S: It says James in the article because that's how I sign my name on a lot of stuff, Jimmy for conversation though.
Readers might be entertained by a Nixie-tube artwork I made many years ago, using 4 "giant" Nixie tubes--reputed to have come from the NY Stock Exchange when they upgraded. I attach a photo; the piece is about 4 1/2 feet tall. I programmed it to deliver 512, 4-letter words arranged into droll and mildly insulting sentences/paragraphs, all decent. It sold immediately from a gallery, to a realtor who put it in her office for the entertainment of her customers. I wish I still owned it...
I don't think it was just price that kept them out of clocks. They got pretty cheap on the surplus market back in the 70s and I built a clock with them. When left on continuously, they blacken. I think it took a couple of years: they were still lit inside but you could barely read them. All of the ones I ever saw were glorified neon lamps and had that orange-red neon color.
Eleven years ago one of those rare, brilliant moments emerged from the crack staff of Design News: Let’s put the tinkerers among our audience community to work in designing and building some truly wacky devices. And Gadget Freak was born.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.