Nixie Clock

Background

I have been interested in clocks and lights for as long as I can remember. I have had a variety of main clocks in my bedroom and none of them have been normal. I had a multi coloured LED clock which was good for some time. I then decided to update and went to a Sony “Dream Machine” that had many cool features such as a full colour LCD display and functioned as a photoframe. The software on this device  was rubbish and would constantly crash despite many updates being downloaded from Sony.  After a couple of years of problems and many late mornings due to alarm failure I decided to get a new clock. The problem was where to go next.

Where To Go Next

After the disappointment of the Dream Machine I wanted something that would last while at the same time look cool and tell me the time accurately. At this point I thought back to some clocks I had looked at a long time ago that used the old Neon number tubes (Nixie Tubes) to display the time. A quick google search provided a couple of results and I had a look at all of them. I then found a great website called Nixie Clock Tube Clock Database. the website is a great place to look a nixie clocks from a variety of companies and with a variety of designs. This website also gave good reviews that allowed me to do most of my decision making on their website.

Choosing A Nixie Clock

At first I was overwhelmed by choice. When I started looking i thought that I would have a couple to choose from and the range would not be great. I now had to choose from a variety of characteristics that were available. Some of the characteristics that I had to choose from were:

Type and Size of Tube

There are two main types of tubes to choose from. There are ones that stand vertically and there are others that plug in horizontally. I was not sure which I wanted but came to the conclusion that I wanted one that plugged in horizontally. All of the clocks that had the vertically standing tubes didn’t offer much protection for the tubes and I was worried that I might break one. Most of the clocks with the horizontal tubes however had them well protected and only had the end of the tube exposed.

A vertical nixie tube from wikipedia.org
A vertical nixie tube from wikipedia.org
Colour Of Backlighting

Another feature on almost all of these nixie clocks is to have a backlight behind or underneath the tubes. For this I wanted a colour that would go well with the orange glow of the tubes. After looking at a few photos I decided that I wanted a blue backlight. There were some clocks that had RGB backlights that the colour could be selected however I just really wanted blue so i didn’t bother with any of these.

Other Various Features

There are many other features that I wanted in my clock such as:

Anti – Cathode Poisoning

This is a neat feature that combats some of the known disadvantages of Nixie Tubes. “Nixie Tubes” are actually 10 neon tubes within one glass enclosure and during normal use microscopic pieces of the cathodes (the numbers) become vaporised and condense elsewhere. In normal neons tubes would just deposit on the inside of the glass and would not become a problem for 30 – 50 years. However when there are multiple cathodes in one enclosure these small pieces of metal can deposit themselves on the other cathodes. If the cathodes are not turned on regularly then this can build up on the seldom used cathodes and stop parts of them from glowing. This is particularly a problem on clocks where some numbers spend hours on. Anti – Cathode poisoning will cycle through the numbers after however many minutes you set it to. This will prevent cathode poisoning and keep the clock looking good for years.

Night Power Down

Because this was going in my bedroom I wanted it to automatically dim the tubes and the backlight at a set time to allow me to sleep. I also wanted to have the tubes return to a normal brightness in the morning.

GPS Time

Some of these nixie clocks can have a GPS receiver that gets super accurate time from GPS signals that will always be right. Setting the time is just a matter of setting the UTC offset. This would be a great feature that would mean that the time was always correct. I had to have this.

Neon Colon Lights

I had noticed on many clocks that the colon lights (the dots between the numbers) were LED’s. The LED’s didn’t seem to match the colour of the neon tubes very well. I therefore wanted a clock that had neon colon lights so that the colours would be exactly the same.

Kit

I wanted to build this clock myself because I think that it makes it more special and I would have the ability to replace any components that I didn’t think were good enough with higher quality ones. Another advantage of building the clock as a kit is that if anything went wrong many years in the future I could troubleshoot and replace any basic components that had gone wrong. (Such as resistors or diodes.)

Compatible Tubes

I knew that eventually I would need new tubes to keep this clock going. Some clocks needed a very specific set of tubes while others could support literally 110’s of different tubes.

Appearance

This was the most basic requirement. The clock had to look good and look well built. I also wanted to choose Nixie Tubes that had a correct looking 5 digit. Many Russian made tubes simply have an upside-down 2 to display a 5. This looks rather odd to me.

The Choice

This list of features produced a small list of possible clocks. In the end it just came down to the one that I liked the most. The choice ended up being the “Black and Wood” nixie clock from nixie kit world. The clock had to be bought in two parts. The kit from nixie kit world and the tubes from Nocrotec.

Shipping

A couple of year ago I had a model steam roller shipped from Germany using the standard DHL shipping. The tracking was terrible and it took more than six weeks. I didn’t want to go through this again. I emailed nixie kit world and asked them if there was any way to get it here any quicker. They were really helpful and got the clock to me really quickly.

Unboxing

When I opened the box the first thing that I noticed was that everything was packed very well. This gives you an immediate good feeling about the product. The main components such as resistors and diodes came in a big bag that was then split into smaller bags that contained slightly different devices such as different value resistors. The next item was the wooden case. This looked well built and appeared to be cut to size very accurately. The final item was the metal front. This looked to be extremely high quality and was surprising heavy. After quickly placing the metal front on the wooden case the clock looked really good.

Assembly

The assembly process was relatively easy following the instructions. It was broken down into logical steps and the individual bags for different components made it easy to find the components. During the assembly process I was checking all components to ensure that they were of a relatively high quality. The whole kit was put together in about three hours. It was not hard however having to solder each socket for each pin on each tube and then the diodes to control them and then the leds to go under them took a long time just performing basic soldering.

Here are some pictures of the assembly process

Nixie clock with a few components
Nixie clock with a few components

 

Nixie clock with some resistors
Nixie clock with some resistors
Nixie clock with high voltage section
Nixie clock with high voltage section

 

Nixie Clock with one tube in place
Nixie Clock with one tube in place
Nixie Clock with five tubes in place
Nixie Clock with five tubes in place
Nixie Clock with six tubes in place
Nixie Clock with six tubes in place

The Finished Product

When everything was put into its case and then turned on for the first time it looked absolutely amazing. The tubes lit up a bright orange and then the blue backlight came on creating a fantastic looking clock. I cant really explain as well as some pictures could.

The finished Nixie Clock sitting on the table
The finished Nixie Clock sitting on the table

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