Fixietube - Fake Nixie Tube displays

30ml jam jars turned into beautiful LED displays - nixietube like looking without the higher voltage fuzz

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My mum gave me some tiny little jam jars and I instantly thought about nixie tubes. Nixie tubes look great but I have too much respect for the voltages right now and love to work with LEDs and displays. But since I saw a nixie clock sitting on the desk of young Alec Sadler in "continuum" I had to have one.

Starting with the jars we have the first standard to google. TO-43 is what we're looking at, when we hold the jars. TO stands for "twist-off" and the 43 stands for an inner radius of 43mm, round about 47,7mm of outside radius. 30ml is the volume of interest.

So I measured the jars and made two boards, first a display board which helps holding the orange/amber LEDs in place and solder them.

The second one is a base board for the display board with a ring for blue LEDs and a 74hc595 as the display "controller".

I spent about 40$ for the boards - had to order 6 of each because I needed 4 and OSHPark orders only come in 3-times batches. The resistors for the LEDs "driven" by the shift register are chosen to meet the max output current according to the datasheet. A first test showed that the 3mm LEDs will glow bright enough in scanning mode with a 265ohm resistor at 5V. A BC547 will control the led ring and also be able to be triggered with a PWM signal. The 3 by 5 led matrix leaves enough room for recognizable characters and numbers, as you can see here

As soon as the boards arrive I will make a project out of it, but I feel bad for neglecting my other projects... I just love circular and stackable pcbs...


321 is minus

ABCDE is plus

in code

MPEG-4 Video - 767.32 kB - 01/29/2023 at 20:55


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 1.60 MB - 09/25/2016 at 13:41


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 2.20 MB - 09/25/2016 at 13:41


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 261.12 kB - 09/25/2016 at 13:41


123dx - 60.85 kB - 09/25/2016 at 13:41


View all 7 files

  • 1 × Arduino Mini 5V
  • 1 × DS3231 or DS1307 Real-Time Clock
  • 8 × 1x4 pinheader male
  • 4 × 1x7 pinheader male
  • 8 × 1x4 pinheader female

View all 14 components

  • unix time and some miliseconds

    davedarko01/29/2023 at 20:57 0 comments

    Finally managed to solder some more boards so I can put them into this 3d printed case, printed on a CR-30 belt printer with rainbow filament. Now I'm only sitting on 48 more jam jars, I guess. Well they sit in a shelf. The displays are controlled by a D1 mini (with USB-C socket!).

  • new bulb and missing schematics

    davedarko01/06/2022 at 19:38 0 comments

    Lot's of older projects I designed in Eagle, but I'm not using that anymore. Recently I found some cool jars and wanted to make a new bulb, but had no idea what the correct arrangement of LEDs was. So here are screenshots of the schematics to work with, done on my old computer. 

  • preparing for kits

    davedarko01/06/2018 at 15:00 2 comments

    I've revisited the base board and the LED board today. 

    This will be all through hole to sell it as a kit. I know there are smd kits for everything, but this felt more right. Along with a 3D printed socket and one of the jam jars I've recently acquired, this will make one digit.

  • mqtt and ArduinoOTA is running - muahaha

    davedarko09/25/2016 at 19:02 2 comments

    right now it listens to "setTimer" and I can update the software over the air - nice!

    Also the case is quite nice - I even designed a back piece this time :D only thing missing is the 'fence' between the glass and LEDs.

  • Temperature / egg timer thingy

    davedarko09/25/2016 at 08:46 0 comments

    so I had two spare sets of jam jars, boards and LEDs left and started this beauty. Using one of my #Ignore this ESP8266 board for controlling stuff.

  • 5x5cm2 boards

    davedarko06/17/2016 at 07:58 0 comments

    Since the the socket fits a 5x5 dirtypcb board perfectly and the cabling job was kind of annoying, I thought of also revisiting the base design. Maybe I'll fit an esp8266 on it as well. Maybe not.

  • Definitely better viewing angles

    davedarko06/14/2016 at 16:14 4 comments

    So while I was in Austria for an installation the 3mm diffuse LEDs came in and I had to solder one of the left over boards together. The blue LEDs might need a diffuser as well andI still want them to turn off at night. Actually I could just fix that right now in software.

  • additional thoughts on progressing

    davedarko05/27/2016 at 10:29 0 comments

    This project collected some dust for a while, but now with a dedicated spot on my table, I want to give it some thoughts and love, starting with some different LEDs. I've ordered diffuse orange LEDs and I will try them out on a spare board, testing if this will increase the readability. I'm close to putting an ESP8266 in there and play around with the "program over air" code or connect it via serial to my Raspberry PI. I like the thought of working on it without taking it apart to get to a serial/usb thing on there.

  • Some thoughts for revisiting

    davedarko02/14/2016 at 22:57 0 comments

    I still need those menu buttons and maybe an IR distance sensor to tell if someone stands infront of it. The lights are, although dimmed down, quite bright and I always have to pull the plug over night. Thankfully the RTC module is pretty accurate so far :)

    The LEDs also point down, so it makes sense to have the clock high and far away on a shelf somewhere, sadly.

  • git repository and DS3231 library

    davedarko03/08/2015 at 12:45 0 comments

    I wanted to use the "square wave out" from the DS3231 module for a blink-every-second LED, but the control register for the DS1307 and DS3231 were different, so I had to switch libraries a bit.

    I used an old cell phone charger and soldered it directly to the arduino, since I had no plug for the connector I wanted to use.

View all 23 project logs

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icewalker wrote 10/12/2019 at 22:08 point

Nice display, I am wondering what type of metallic mesh do you use to simulate the wire-mesh anode of the nixies?

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davedarko wrote 10/13/2019 at 13:01 point

that was some mesh for protecting rain gutters, iirc

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icewalker wrote 10/13/2019 at 17:37 point

thanks for sharing, I will have a look if there is such a thing in the local hardware store, this will avoid destroying kitchen equipment :)

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Alain Mauer wrote 06/15/2016 at 11:51 point

Thaks, I like the look of the display

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Alain Mauer wrote 06/15/2016 at 08:29 point

Is it possible to see a video of it?

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davedarko wrote 06/15/2016 at 11:39 point

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Thierry wrote 05/27/2016 at 14:54 point

Great project, loving it! Since you mention pulling the plug over night, maybe you could measure the ambient light with one of the LEDs to adjust the brightness. Not sure that's possible with your current setup though.

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davedarko wrote 05/28/2016 at 07:23 point

Thanks :) Sadly none of the leds are connected directly to the arduino, they are all "behind" a 4017 or a transistor. But I'm sure that there still is a free analog input onthe arduino.

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davedarko wrote 06/15/2016 at 13:54 point

fixed by software: from 23 to 7 there's no blue light :)

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Eric Hertz wrote 01/11/2015 at 19:42 point

That actually looks pretty groovy in those jars. While reading, I got an idea... what about using the nixie mentality of individual-numbers associated with individual inputs... I'm having a hard time puting that into words. Like, each number is a sheet of acrylic, (or even glass, using armor-etch?) edge-lit with the number etched/carved in the face. I have a bottle of armor-etch from a glasses-scratch-repair, kinda feeling tempted to try. Thanks!

LOL, there's a Lichtenburg Display shown in "similar projects" below...

did I see that subconsciously?

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davedarko wrote 01/11/2015 at 20:21 point

Thanks :) I've seen one or two blog articles on with edge-lit acrylic sheets, but they are rather rare. The cool thing about them is, that you are totally free in the choice of your font. My guess is that haters gonna hate a "MS Comic Sans" watch face sooo much :D Anyway, I had much fun with this project so far and I think you should try your idea. Sounds like you could also work with discrete logic like 4017 then. Hm, now I want to work with those.

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Eric Hertz wrote 01/11/2015 at 20:41 point

oh my, I haven't heard "4017" for quite some time... logic...? Isn't that only for glue and level-shifting? Man how times'ves changed. Heh, I had a lull in inspiration, lacking acryllic and thinking about how to cut a glass jar... then I was like "dude, what about etching the numbers around the jar, and rotating the jar to bring a number to the fore-ground..." oy, maybe. I'm already on nicotine and sugar, I think I'd better brew some coffee... maybe I'll have something to show this evening.

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davedarko wrote 01/11/2015 at 22:39 point

4017s are decade counters and I think it's possible to do that - but I can be totally wrong. So by taking 6 of them and each pinging the next a pulse further, counting to 10-6-10-6-10-2 and adding some transistors for 2&4 reset it could be a clock. Anyway - this rotating glass clock sounds great! It has some analog clock feeling (turning gears and stuff) and is quite unique!

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davedarko wrote 01/11/2015 at 22:48 point

Well at least one person did exactly what I meant :)

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Eric Hertz wrote 01/11/2015 at 23:24 point

I had some fun with 4017's a few years back, but nothing as cool as that, just a scrolling led-bargraph. Yahknow, you could probably drive your matrices with 4017's and a shitton of diodes... just to say you did :)

I've etched some letters into a jar and am working with edge-lighting

< and hijacking your project-comments with my own project-ideas! >

That analog-feel idea is pretty tempting... tempted. Thanks!

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zuul wrote 08/20/2014 at 00:04 point
hah, looks interesting enough to be a thing

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zuul wrote 07/16/2014 at 01:34 point
hmm i'd like to see how this turns out,.. not sure if it can beat a real nixie though

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davedarko wrote 07/16/2014 at 05:38 point
I feel exactly the same way :)

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