Category Archives: Nixie
Over the past few days I have nearly completed the Nixie clock…but not without some help from the kits creator Peter Jensen. I had some difficulty with the micro-controller (due to my own mistake, not due to Peter’s kit design) and Peter provided me with excellent service, including some "free" replacement parts.
The clock is now functioning and keeping time perfectly, and it looks as cool in person as it does on Peter’s website. Next step for me is to build the case, and then the clock is complete! I will post some photos when the case is finished.
This project did exactly what I wanted it to do, it taught me to work with SMDs, and next time my workmanship on these tiny solders will be much prettier! I highly recommend this kit.
The Nixie clock project is requiring me to learn a new skill – Surface Mount Device (SMD) soldering.
An SMD is a small electronic component with many small pins down to 0.5mm that need to be individually attached to contact pads on the surface of a printed circuit board. The pads are very close together, and you must be very careful to not cause solder "bridges" between the pads.
For a machine, this installation is an easy job. For a human it is more difficult…and for me it is VERY difficult. But that’s why this blog is called "A Learning Adventure." Soldering SMDs is my "adventure" for the Nixie project.
The following two web sites have SMD hand-soldering tutorials. Several different methods exist for soldering SMDs, and I will try a couple of them on this project.
This website has three different methods:
This website shows the "flood and suck" method that Peter recommends for the Nixie kit:
The Nixie kit has two driver chips that require SMD soldering, and I successfully used the "flood and suck" method to install the first one, but I permanently damaged the second driver chip using this method. I learned that you NEVER use a sharp, pointed instrument to scrape out a solder bridge…you will destroy the chip (or at least "I" will). Always use the copper braid removal method instead.
So, I’ve ordered a replacement driver chip from Peter Jensen, and when it arrives I will try again.
A good definition of a Nixie tube is found on Wikipedia (click here). According to Wikipedia:
“The Nixie display was developed by a small vacuum tube manufacturer called Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and introduced in 1954 by Burroughs Corporation, who purchased Haydu and owned the name Nixie as a trademark. Similar devices that functioned in the same way were patented in the 1920s, and the first mass-produced display tubes were introduced in the late 1930s by National Union Co. and Telefunken. However, their construction was cruder, and they failed to find many applications until digital electronics reached a suitable level of development in the 1950s.“
“Nixie tubes were superseded in the 1970s by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), often in the form of seven-segment displays. LEDs are better suited to the low voltages that integrated circuits used, and are much smaller and sturdier without needing a sealed glass tube. Nixie tubes now only exist as a novelty for electronics hobbyists.”
Regardless of their history or practicality, they look really cool, and I couldn’t resist building one of Peter’s clock kits for my office.
I ordered one from Peter, and the kit is of excellent quality with well labeled parts and great instructions. I began the kit a couple of night ago and will report again as I make progress. Peter’s kits use new (but old-stock from the space race era) Russian made Nixie tubes, and they definitely have that cold-war aura about them.