It’s an undeniable fact that makers love Nixie tubes — they’re just plain cool. But they’re also a pain to find and work with. New Nixie tubes haven’t been manufactured in appreciable numbers in years, which makes buying old new stock expensive. Even then, they require high voltages and are tricky to safely control. But by following Gosse Adema’s guide, you can use electroluminescent wire to build your own Nixie-style clock.
Nixie tubes display letters or numbers in glowing filament, similar to what is inside of an incandescent light bulb. That filament is arranged in stacks, with each layer in the stack forming a specific character. When voltage is applied to a particular layer, the filament glows and you see the digit that it forms. Adema’s clock design works in the same way, except that EL wire is used in place of the filament. That’s easier to control, safer to work with, and doesn’t require any specialized tools to construct.
EL wire requires high voltage AC electricity, which is most often provided by a battery-powered inverter. But, in this case, that would mean you’d have to use an inverter for every individual segment of EL wire. So, instead, Adema’s design uses relays to switch the current going to the EL wire segments, which are easily and safely controlled by an Arduino. The EL wire segments are attached to a board with 3D-printed mounts, and power is controlled through the relays by the Arduino using a series of chained shift registers. It does require a lot of wires to work, but the finished clock looks fantastic.