Home-made Nixie tube clock: Time is ticking - Embedded.com

Home-made Nixie tube clock: Time is ticking

Just to make sure we're all tap dancing to the same drum beat, let's remind ourselves that, sometime ago, I ran across some mega-cool Nixie tube constructions (see Outrageously Cool Nixie Tube Clocks ) and I was so excited by what I saw that I decided to build one of my very own (see Creating a Steampunk Nixie Tube Clock and Home-made Nixie tube clock: Making things spin).

The key players in this drama are Paul Parry of Bad Dog Designs (Paul made the original clocks), Pete Virica of PV Electronics (not surprisingly, Pete supplies the electronics), Andy and Mandy Blackett of Engraving Studios (they fabricate the brass panels), and Dalibor Farny (he hand-crafts the uber-large R|Z568M tubes I'll be featuring in my Nixie clock masterpiece).

As an aside, Andy and Mandy recently made some brass plaques for me to attach to my various projects — see Have You Got the Plaques? (No, I Always Walk This Way!) — but we digress…

Now, I really love the clocks Paul has created — especially the ones with the Steampunk look-and-feel. One that caught my eye even has a small steam engine on top, but I can’t just go around copying someone else's work — I have an uncontrollable urge to express my own insanity individuality.

Whilst pondering this poser, I leaned back in the supreme commander's chair in my office, glanced around the room, and spotted some antique relays sitting on one of the shelves.

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “these really are rather tasty.” I've been waiting for an appropriate project to come along for these little rascals, and I think this may well be it. You have to admit that these little beauties are really rather special.

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

I have a really cunning plan for the role these relays have to play in this enterprise, but we'll leave that for a future column. Now, before I plunge headlong into the fray with a project of this type, I typically start by constructing a paper and cardboard mockup as illustrated below.

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

In the fullness of time, the cabinet for this clock will be made out of wood. I want this to look antiquated and sumptuous and splendiferous — possibly a dark cherry-red-brown color with some intricate carving. In the image above we can see where the relays will be positioned on the front panel. On top we see the location of the brass plaque that will surround the Nixie tubes (the paper versions of these tubes are seen lying flat on the table waiting to be cut out).

Observe the donut-shaped representation on the end of the cabinet. The dark ring will be brass, while the white center will be glass. Behind this glass will be slowly-turning metal-looking gears from a clock that was fortuitously to be found on another shelf in my office (I tell you, it's like an “Aladdin's Cave” in here).

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

What? Yes, of course there will be lighting effects. I'm surprised you even thought to ask. In the case of this geared mechanism, I'd originally consider having two white lights at opposite sides from each other racing round and round the circle (I will be using NeoPixels for all of this). I'd also considered having a steady dull red glow, or perhaps a “breathing” effect with red light.

However, based on the success of the camp fire effect we're using in our Caveman Diorama project (see Quest for fire ), I'm certainly going to incorporate this effect into the clock. In reality, I'll probably go with all of these modes — and more — and select the effect du jour as the mood takes me.

OK, let's pause for a moment and take a look at this video showing the mockup in its early stages (observe the gears from the clock slowly rotating and imagine seeing these through a flickering furnace lighting effect).

I only took the above video a short time ago, but things have moved on, as they do. Take a look at the more recent photograph below. In particular, note the three reclaimed telephone switches I'll be using and their intended location on the bottom row, just to the right of the left-most relay.

(Source: Max Maxfield / Embedded.com)

Also observe the five 3/4″ diameter circles associated with each relay (also the three circles under the switches). The ones with the dark centers will host wires, while the ones with the light centers will hold LEDs. More specifically, I'll be using antique-looking cloth-covered wires, and plastic (mother-of-pearl style) “dots” in front of the LEDs. Furthermore, I'm not going to use rubber grommets for the surrounding circles; instead, I'm planning on using hand-carved wood rings (creating these will be a problem for the future).

Of course, the pièce de résistance of this whole thing will be the hand-crafted Nixie tubes created by Dalibor Farny, whose R|Z568M creations are pin-compatible with the legendary Z568Ms.

(Source: Dalibor Farny)

Dalibor kindly sent a non-functional tube for me to play with as shown in the picture below. The base is aluminum and the anode cage inside is some sort of steel (I think). You can just see the wires forming the numbers inside the tube, but I have no idea what these are made of.

(Source: Max Maxfield)

The really exciting thing is that Dalibor is currently creating a custom set of tubes for me. These will have bronze bases and copper anodes and they will positively “ooze” Steampunk. I've also added a few more touches to the prototype as you'll see in this video.

Andy and Mandy are already working on the brass plaques, so the next step is for me to start working on the cabinet. Watch this space…

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