Nixie Tube Clocks

So I started binge watching Travelers on Netflix (Sci-fi time traveling series with Eric McCormack from Will & Grace). One of the characters on the show has this really cool clock in his apartment.


So I googled “glass tube clock” and discovered that it was a nixie tube clock. Basically, nixie tubeswere cold cathode display tubes created in the 1950’s for technological displays, primarily numbers. They were manufactured by many companies, including Siemens and others. Think of the early pre-cursors to LED displays, a past gone technology. The Russians continued using them into the 1980’s, and stock-piles of them were built up before the end of the cold-war, and unused tubes (new old stock) sat in warehouses for decades. So even the most recently produced tubes are 35+ years old.

Then enter the steam-punk, tech hipster era, and using modern printed circuit boards and readily available drivers and the cool nixie tube clocks via kits and fully made versions have popped up on eBay and elsewhere.

See obligatory SDMB thread from 2015: Why Did The Russians make All Those Nixie Tubes? - In My Humble Opinion - Straight Dope Message Board, where several dopers have bought or built their own clocks. The recent demand for these unique clocks has driven the prices of the tubes up, especially the larger tubes, which go for $60 to $100 per tube in many places. A guy in the Czech Republic has begun manufacturing his own Nixie tubes and sells them for $150+ each.

Average life of a tube is estimated at 5,000 hours for early tubes and as high as 200,000 hours for the later ones, so if it was the latter, and a clock ran continuously, it would last about 20+ years…not to bad. Many of the clock drivers used in the kits have motion sensors or internal timer so that the bulbs only stay lit during certain hours or when there is motion detected, so as to extend the life of the bulbs.

So, I’m thinking about getting a clock for my office at work, just because of the novelty. Any of you that have experience with these tubes, what’s your opinion? Have the tubes continued to function?

Be aware that while Nixies look really cool, they draw quite a lot of power and generate heat.

Here’s an awesome video of a guy who manufactures large Nixie tubes by hand.

There is a kit on Amazon. Be careful when you look at the price if you have a heart condition.

This page has some interesting history of display technologies.

I have a home made clock converted from a nixi tube frequency counter. (A circuit was created that generates a frequency of, say, 82215 hz, and the display reads “8.22.15”. Every second the frequency is increased by 1 hz.)

Really cool display. I wish it were a bit smaller, but whaddya gonna do?

The tubes are still perfect.

I’m kind of into making these, but by the time I get the electronics built I get stymied when I have to make a decent case. There are lots of good Nixie tube clock information on eBay, whether you want to buy the individual tubes, electronics boards for tubes, or completely built clocks.

I have several non-Nixie displays that I’m considering how to incorporate into a clock. My latest are these Numerik Indicator displays, which were among the first “digital” display and predate Nixie tubes. You can see them in action from Goldfinger at 11:30 in this Bomb-diffusing video.

I’ve got a clock with yet another obscure display technique: Numitron

Shown here: link, it’s a tube with seven segments of incandescent filaments.

Think Geek has Nixie and VFD clocks.

Dammit. I thought I’d invented these - I was looking at Nixie clocks and figuring out a design for edge-lit acrylic layers, illuminated by a 10 segment LED bargraph display.

I still haven’t put my kit together. There’s just no time. I should probably pay someone to do it. :frowning:

I’m not into steampunk stuff, but the glow of these bulbs is really cool. As I mentioned at that the end of the OP, what I’m most concerned about is the longevity of the bulbs. If the bulbs start dying 2 years after I buy the clock, that’s not good.

Which makes me lean toward the larger size bulbs, as they have prongs on the end which plug into sockets, whereas the smaller bulbs are normally with leads that are soldered to the PCB. With the larger, more costly bulbs, if individual bulbs go bad it’s much easier to buy a replacement and just plug it in.

I’m not ‘into’ steampunk, but a lot of it is really cool. I don’t know what kind of case I’d like. Acrylic? Nice to see the electronics. Kind of mid-'80s look. Brushed metal with toggle switches/buttons in front? (I’m thinking an angled faceplate.) Could be a cool 1950s look. Rack-mount with smaller switches? I think that would be cool. Steampunk? It would have to have miniature telegraph keys and throw-switches.

So make it like the early digital watches, so that the display is lit only while you are pushing a button.

We’re just getting around to retiring a fleet of aircraft where half the avionics displays are Numitron. I shudder to think what all those little light modules cost new in 2017. Some are even alphanumeric, not just numeric.

Ours seemed to have time to first filament failure of 1000 hours or so for a 7-filament digit module. Failures happened, but not all that often despite having 30-40 of the things on each aircraft.

In the old Nuclear Physics lab in college there was a Nixie tube radiation counter.

Yeah, I’m old.

OTOH, Googling for Nixie tube radiation counters turns up several pages of how-tos for building one for yourself. Must not lust.

Wozniak has a Nixie tube wristwatch. Must lust.

I own a Nixie clock. It’s great. Never fails to garner oooh’s and aaah’s from visitors if it happens to be operating.

I purchased mine in 2014 for about $400 from Jerzy Giedzinski out in Michigan. He makes them. I selected his clock because the “5” digit is a real “5,” not an upside down “2.” My clock uses old-new tubes that have an estimated life span of 35,000 hours.

It’s sitting on a shelf right above my home office desk. The control electronics can be programmed to turn the clock off and on when you want it. Since I’m there from 6 a.m. to about 10 a.m. that’s when it runs. If I get 35,000 hours running 4 hours per day the thing should be viable for 20 years.

The clock has an internal real time clock chip that is more accurate than my computer chip. I set the time on my clock back in mid 2014 and is has lost about 4 seconds since them. I turned off PC clock auto synchronizing and let it run. It drifted forward by two seconds – in one week. Sheesh.

Jerzy’s clock has a number of programmable features. He even added one I asked about into my particular clock. If you decide to purchase a clock from anyone make sure it can be turned off and on like mine. Better still, see if it can have two or more of those daily off-on cycles.

I didn’t think the tubes were expensive in 2014. I purchase two spares for $32.

I watched that tube construction video. If I had to go through that I’d also charge $150.

Is there a downside? Yes. I wish I was still working so I could bring this thing into a real office and let other people enjoy it.

BTW: I am not related to nor affiliated with Jerzy or any of his activities. His clock is just bitchen.

I have always thought that Nixie clocks were really cool. I was on a site today called “dudeIwantthat” and saw this Nixie chess set that blew me away. It is soooooo freaking cool. I’m not related in any way. I just saw this and remembered a Nixie thread on here and had to contribute this. I want one. They have a DIY kit too, though it’s been a long time since I’ve broken out the old soldering iron.

Nixie Chess Set on Etsy

I was at a yard sale in the 80’s and could have picked up a box of about 100 of those tubes for $20.

Thanks for reminding me to kick myself again…

Cool find. Thanks.

I really like this line from the Etsy page:
•Materials: Bakelite, Glass, Neon, Resin, Electrons, Brass

One thing’s for sure: by count the electrons are the most numerous part.

No experience with the clocks, but with Nixie tubes? Yeah. Some of the test equipment I worked with in the Nav used 'em. OLD equipment. HEAVY equipment. But they worked. The standard blurb was that they “Don’t rust, bust, or take on dust.”

Truth be told, I’d considered building me such a clock, just for the giggles of it (and to keep my hand ‘in’ at working with electronics) but haven’t actually gotten around to it yet.

I bought my clock. Ordered it from a dude from Poland. It only took about 3 days to arrive. Extremely cool. It uses the larger tubes, so the numerals are about and inch and a half tall. It’s in my office at work, and definitely a conversation piece. The printed circuit board used for mine includes a temperature sensor, so that about every minute the room temp is displayed. I also purchased a couple of spare tubes just to have on hand. The tubes are slightly warm but not hot. There are LEDs underneath the tubes that can change colors throughout the day, or you can set them to be off. Very happy with my purchase.