Nixie-ify me.

I love the warm glow of Nixie displays, probably as much as everybody else.

A few years ago, I was given by an uncle, an old nixie tube he had lying around from school (he’s a teacher) and I was told I could light it up with a 220/125V transformer. And I did it, and it was awesome. I had never seen that near, such a warm glow. It reminded me of those old candlelike bulbs I remember seeing, like 20 years ago:


Fast forward some years. I remembered that Nixie I had lying around, and, that many years later, I thought I might give it a go to make a pendant. I  also had this friend in a low moment, and I dediced to improvise a Dieselpunk photoshoot to cheer her up a bit. (and also have a nice model for the pendant, if I managed to get it to work.

Since it was improvised, I didn’t had much time to get the nixie working. I happened to have a used electroluminiscent driver from work, rated at 5/100V, and supercharged it with 12V, thus having around 200V at the output. Yeah, you guessed it, efficiency went down the drain in there, but it worked:

Playing with nixies

Here’s the part I most proud of.
I didn’t had time to properly dress the nixie the day before (because  you really shouldn’t hang the glass bulb as is, it’s not honorable). So, I carried with me some thin double sided tape, solder wire and other bits and tools. While my friend was aplying some makeup, I sat down at the bar and improvised. (if you have read  other blog entries, you already know I’m really good at improvising).
I must acknowledge that the driver got quite hot (around 70ºC), but went through the day with no problems at all.

Some solde wire, double sided tape, foam bits and 30 minutes later, I had this on the table:

(Not the actual bar table, but the best close-up I have)

It’s so beautiful!! I might not say that…but it is!)

Gorgeous pendant in a beautiful woman, a creator can’t ask for better match:


The trick there, is to use the actual solder wire to hang the nixie (using the double sided tape as insulator) and have the 12V RC Li-Po battery and driver, hanging in the back.  Yep, the girl has 200Vac around her neck, however, was well aware of the fact, and we were careful not to let it touch her skin.

Part 2:

Recently, I found the nixie again(with the solder wire still around it) and altough that was a while ago I thought I might give it a second round, with more time, resources and knowledge. And because a nixie pendant/pin, would be awesome.

If you look at the old EL-transformer, it was big, bulky and, well, not suited for the task. In the meantime between that hack and this one, I had been playing around with flash tubes and drivers. I learned tons of things about flash, high voltage and xenon lamps (besides NOT discharging 10 photoflash caps in your finger, it HURTS).

Flash grenade 001

That was a flash grenade for airsoft, but never worked reliably because the ionizing transformer was too small. But when it did…well, imagine:

Grenade not all out

Anyhow. I already had experience with photoflash transformers. Those pump 300V from 1,5V, so it should work. (later, I found some people driving nixies with a disposable camera as is). I picked a transformer I had lying around from those experiments, and using a simple 2N3904, driven by my DsoNano frequency generator, proceeded to check it’s output.

As you might remember from old cameras, flash had this high pitched sound that indicated charging. That means it was operating at some audible frequency, or at a multiple of it. Altough it is cool for a flash grenade to sound like that, having that whine around didn’t appeal to me, so I was relieved to see that the transformer worked at 20Khz 50% duty with no problems.

Adding a 1N4007 for half wave rectification and a ballast 120Ω resistor to limit current was enough to do the job. At 0,25W, nothing gets hot, so we’re ready to go.

That botched montage consumes 70mA from the 3,4V cell.

Now that it works AND the power source is small, I plan to drive it from a 12F pic. Given that the transformer is actually smaller than my index fingernail, I will be able to put it underneath the tube and easily conceal it, so you only have 3,5V around your neck. Also, limiting the battery output to, say, 100mA, will protect the wearer against water inmersion. (we all know how parties end, and this is something you only wear in parties).


18 responses to “Nixie-ify me.

  1. So I’ve made it this far: I removed the transformer from the PCB but now attaching a current on one side is not giving me a different current on the other side. The transformer worked on the PCB and I was very gentle when I resoldered it….back to the breadboard!

      • Thank you, it was not familiar to me. I’m using flasher circuit parts as well to power a single Nixie cathode to make a very small necklace.

      • Haven’t had a chance to build it yet. I’m trying to come up with a schematic from your picture and a schematic I have from the flash circuit. What are your black and white microclips attached to? Are you checking amperage? I’ll post pictures when I actually do it. I want to do it like yours with only four components.

  2. Beautiful project! I have a tiny filament display (like these) that someone gave me years ago, and I’ve never known what to do with it. I think you’ve inspired me!

    The filament display doesn’t look quite as cool as the nixie, but it does have the advantage of being able to display letters (well, most letters), so it could have a need scrolling display. Thanks for the idea!

    • That sounds awesome!
      I don’t think that it looks less cooler than the nixie. In the end, they are different technologies, so, as coolness goes, I’d put them in the same place, however, for me, the round tube of the nixie allows for more creative “dressing” than the flat filament display (but that’s only a personal opinion, please, prove me wrong by doing something awesome ^^)
      I’ll look from time to time your blog to see what do you come up with.

  3. Cool! Looks like an IN-16 tube?

    I’d also be interested to see the final product/schematics, when you complete it.

    • The actual serial number LD-955A from’s about the size of a pinky finger. Not sure if it is an IN-16, but the measurements look pretty similar.

      As for the schematic, sure!, altough there is not much in there, really. ^^

      • Yeah, as-shown in the final photo is pretty basic, but I’m interested in seeing the final product, driven by the PIC.

  4. I would definitely like to see that as well, I am a also trying self teach electrical engineering. Disposable camera transformers are something I have been trying to master.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s