As Ann Arbor, Michigan, resident Peter Mills puts it in his excellent project writeup, “Nixie tubes are cool. They have great aesthetic appeal with their difficult-to-photograph, warm orange glow, and dem curvy numerals.” Although he’d been an admirer of this technology for some time, he avoided using them because of the complexities of making them work (175 volts DC requirement, for example).
After seeing a nixie clock build online that didn’t look too impossible to make, he decided to build his own. In his own words “I think I succeeded, but I definitely underestimated the work involved.” This large amount of work included a good deal of programming, circuit design, and even some basic woodworking.
One of the challenges that had to be quite frustrating was the fact that the documentation on the tubes was incorrect. Mills designed a custom board for his clock, making the reasonable assumption that the accompanying documentation was dimensionally correct. The tubes are, instead, turned 180 degrees when compared to the datasheet, so this had to be corrected. Unfortunately, the first boards were already in the mail by the time he realized this, so a corrected order had to be placed.
After a few more challenges, including the 5 volt DC regulator overheating, he did get his clock to work, as seen in the video below. If this inspires you to build your own, definitely check out his page to see the commitment required to get this done. On the other hand, he does have some spare boards that are apparently for sale, so that could be a good shortcut.
The case seen in the video is a work in progress, but Mills has a “vision for the case [that] involves dovetails, radii, and a glass front panel — possibly etched.” Personally, I think it looks really cool as it is right now, but in the interest of protecting the electronics (and human observers), a more involved case is probably a good idea!