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Upcycled Technology: Nixie Tube Clock

We’re all familiar with some amazing upcycled creations! Perhaps an old chest of drawers that has been repainted and stencilled, or a sofa magnificently re-upholstered into a chic and desirable piece of furniture. Now, how about upcycling technology.

The precursor of the LED

Many years ago, before the LED and LCD displays of today’s modern age existed, Nixie tubes presented information to the human observer. The tubes look like old glass radio valves in appearance. Inside you will find the digits from 0 to 9 pressed out of little bits of metal; they are stacked up on top of each other. Applying an electrical charge would make the responding digit light up with a bright orange glow.

Nixie Tubes

This technology is now long out of production; the last tubes were made in Russia and the Ukraine in the early 1990s. Despite not being produced anymore, the tubes have a small following, and collectors will pay hundreds of pounds for a set of large tubes that are in great condition.

They have a certain retro charm and appeal, and unlike most modern electronics, the user is able to see inside and observe how they work. The name Nixie was derived from an abbreviation of ‘Numeric Indicator eXperimental No 1’. It is a term coined by the Burroughs Corporation who commercially developed a saleable tube in the mid 1950’s, and went on to trademark the name Nixie. Unlike radio valves, the nixie tubes do not have a heater inside and are cold to the touch: this explains why Nixies are often referred to as ‘Cold Cathode Tubes’.

Easy to source

Some of the more common tubes can be sourced online relatively easily, as some sites still have a small amount of tubes left in stock. These days, it is a great idea to transform the tubes into unusual and interesting clocks! You can buy some wonderful clock kits online to help you get started. The Norm for a Nixie clock is a small rectangular slab with 6 tubes poking out the top. Alternatively, it could be a clear plastic box with the circuit board and the tubes inside.

Nixie clock

Giving Nixies a new lease of life

Recycling this technology can also be taken one step further. A lot of old electronic equipment is dumped in landfill sites as it is beyond economic repair and no longer deemed useful. If you had an electrician come to look at your house wiring, and he pulled something from the 1940’s out of the tool box, it may well raise an eyebrow!

With a little imagination, however, a piece of equipment like this need not be thrown away! It has a solid wooden case and can be made to look quite decorative. Take it all apart, remove the insides, and it then has the potential to become something unique!


One guy specialises in transforming waste items into Nixie clocks. He collects old and unwanted equipment, takes it all apart, adds in Nixie tubes and rebuilds the item to create clocks that are completely out of the ordinary. He started in February 2014 by making Nixie clocks out of bits and bobs that are of no use to anyone.

The little voltmeter in these pictures turned out to look like this when the project was completed. You can still see the original Voltmeter, but it now has a new purpose as a clock! A lot of the old equipment collected was made before plastic was available, so the clocks are made in the same manner as these old inventions that were only constructed from brass, wood and copper. The decorative items added to the clock are again all recycled parts; bits of old mantle clocks or scavenged copper piping.

A little bit of Steampunk

This actual clock will be in Sky1’s Xmas production of “Fungus the Bogeyman” you’ll be able to spot it sitting on Eve’s Desk, along with another Nixie clock in Fungus’ workshop!

finished nixie clock

Many old bits of equipment have been turned into clocks in this way; a notable example would be one called Gemini. This plays on the Steampunk decoration and has a steam engine running on the top, twin clocks for dual time. It even allows the user to read the temperature! Interestingly it also has some aviation recycling going on as well. The centre of the clock features an old gyroscope taken from a Spitfire no longer certified for flight. It makes a great addition to the piece. The Gemini clock was made from an old combined Volt and Amp meter, a piece of 1940s technology now re-purposed and useful again some 70 years later.

Take a look at some of Paul’s creations here!

Paul Parry

Paul Parry

Community User

Paul Parry is 43 years old and enjoys a career in electronics. As a child, he took all his toys apart to see how they worked, and then started making new ones out of the bits. Nothing much has changed apart from him getting older! He creates Nixie clocks in his spare time from a small workshop at home.