Building with Nixies, Dekatrons and Other Unusual Display Tubes

A Dekatron Tube in ActionA Dekatron Tube in ActionA Dekatron Tube in ActionA Dekatron Tube in ActionA Dekatron Tube in Action

There is a whole wonderful world out there of really interesting display tubes from the 1950′s on that used a variety of methods to display numbers, control displays and in some cases like the Dekatron even count data and display the results.

You can do a web-search on any of the tubes and come up with various websites ranging from offers to sell artwork grade clocks featuring the retro-tubes driven by modern circuits to do-it-yourself projects.

One website that has a great amount of explanation on how the tubes work and includes some of the least common interesting tube type is

Roland’s Electronic Project Site

Roland covers an amazing variety of of these vinatge tubes with repeatable projects. His father started him on the path by bringing home strange tubes and taking the then young Roland to the speciality shops where they could be found.That youthful introduction has lead to lifetime of building and experimenting with the neatest of vintage display tubes!

Some of the Tubes that Roland Explains and Builds with in a Montage

I found that I have returned to his website many times as we design our Nixie Tube clock project.

Recommended Website!



The Rambling Series – Crumhorns Ahoy

Some of you will know that in addition to Amateur Radio I pursue several musical interests.

Often I can be found playing Baritone Saxophone or its larger sibling the Bass-Saxophone with various groups, occasionally doing arrangements & leading a saxophone ensemble, and building early instruments.

Currently I am mid-stream in building a Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass consort of Crumhorns.

An Angel Playing a Crumhorn

I’ve started with a set of NOS (New Old Stock) kits from the Renaissance Workshop in the North of England.

Renaissance Workshop

Back in the mid-1980′s I had helped a Workers’ Cooperative of early instrument makers that later sold their strings & products to RW and knew the quality of the kits on offer.

The Bass and the Alto are nearing completion, with the Bass having made some growling noises already. 

This winter seems realistic for the first two to be finished into playing form.

Crumhorn resources are a bit few and far between, and here are some of the best I’ve found:

Building a Cornamuse in F (Alto)
Crumhorn Home Page

Expect more on the Crumhorn Build!



Proto Shield Kit for the Arduino

Following up on the previous Arduino articles:

Flexible Electronic Bits – The Arduino Electronics Prototyping Platform


Arduino Arrives & First Programs

I’ve been working with an Arduino Board from Adafruit. adafruit industries logo

To make experimentation easier I purchased the starter kit which included a Prototyping breakout-board and facility to layer onto that daughterboard a regular wiring breadboard. Adafruit calls this their “Proto Shield Kit

The “Proto Shield” was developed my Lady Ada (of Adafruit) and is explained at

Pictures tell more:

Proto Shield for Arduino with Mini Breadboard

This simple setup breaks out all the input/output (i/o) pins, and every other controllable connection of the Arduino (which is underneath the daughterboard if you look closely at the picture) and with the mini-breadboard makes a nice tidy package.

Very cool!

More as I work through the tutorial. My son Tom KC9JGD and I have 30 or 40 potential Arduino projects from our brainstorming while traveling the last few days looking at engineering schools. Now I’ll have to see which can be implemented.



Arduino Arrives & First Programs

As I first mentioned in Flexible Electronic Bits – The Arduino Electronics Prototyping Platform an Arduino Starter Kit from Adafruit was on its way.

Well it has arrived! 

Here is the Arduino successfulling running the first program I compiled and downloaded to it – a Blick the LED program:

Arduino Hooked Up to the Macbook 

Here is an up close look at the board:

Arduino up close  

And of the software running:

Arduino Software Running on the Macbook (OS-X Intel)

I will be working my way through the Arduino Tutorial – have Lessons 0, 1 & 2 done this evening.

I won’t have too much time to play with the device until I get caught up on chores around the house, but first impressions are very positive!

More to follow!



Flexible Electronic Bits – The Arduino Electronics Prototyping Platform

Rather than operating in the shack, I’m nursing a rather sore throat and have maybe 1/4 my usual voice (it is bonus time for XYL to get extra instructions to me) and I was watching the lastest Make: Makezine Podcast “Intro to the Arduino – Weekend Project Podcast”


Hmmm…. this looks way cool – and I can think of dozens of things I could do with something like this in the HamShack.

The Arduino electronics prototyping platform Board

Per the Arduino Website:

What is Arduino?

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board is programmed using the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring) and the Arduino development environment (based on Processing).

Arduino projects can be stand-alone or they can communicate with software on running on a computer (e.g. Flash, Processing, MaxMSP).

The boards can be assembled by hand or purchased preassembled; the software can be downloaded for free.

I’ve downloaded the OS-X Intel software and will have a study of this controller.

adafruit industries logo

I’m looking closely at the developer’s kit from Adafruit Industries as a quick way to get started prototyping with the Arduino.

More certainly to follow….



A Little Dab Will Do You – Sensitivity in Tuning the Bruce Array

At the Washington Island W9EVT QTH George W9EVT has been running a full sized 40 meter Bruce Array Tom KC9JGD and I built from the remainder of a previous Bruce Array that had been lost to the grounds keeping crew’s tractor. You can read about the Bruce Array at “A 40m Bruce Array for WI-001L Operations.”

This last trip we retuned the 10 month old Bruce Array to try and center its natural resonance as close to 7.268 as possible.

The previous array was better optimized for the effects of towers at each end supporting it, but alas those measurements were unavailable and there had not been enough of the original array left after the Bush-Hog “ate it” to get anything more than generalized measurements.

Underestimating some of the effects of the towers, ground situation and being at a 60 degree bottom-forward position, my calculations had lead us to build a usable, but electrically too short design.

So we set off to do a retuning.

My expectations were to roughly add wire in proportion to the amount.

Was not to be – the observed tuning effect was roughly 10 to 14 times more sensitive than expected.

(click on graphic to enlarge)

Bruce Array Tuning

I have to do some more research, but it would appear that altering the gap was more of an effect than the actual wire added.

Have some further experiments planned to further improve the SWR of the Array, but with only 9 inches added towards closing each gap the center of resonance moved from 7.500 to 7.260

Of course W9EVT teased me about missing our 7.268 target, but if the gaps are truly that sensitive it should be a simple matter to hit any desired center of resonance.



Rub a Dub Tub – Tower Base Electronics Box

A quick trip the local Lowes Builder’s Store and I’ve found a solution to my tower-base electronics housing problem.

The electrician terminated with a 12 inch x 12 inch by 4 inch PVC weather-proof box when they pulled my feed lines, rotor cables and switch control cables.

Though I had mentioned I wanted enough room for a full lightening protection area, a large 3Kw dummy load, antenna switches, eventual tower control area and room to expand, the little box was what they put on.

I soon understood why, as rated boxes the size I needed were a major investment, as the manufacturer’s assumption was that these oversized boxes would be carrying very heavy power loads. Wall thickness were silly – 3/8 inch plate (9.5 mm) steel construction resulting in serious weight issues. Costs were well over $800 for the bare cabinet.

Remember in my climate the box will see everything from -40c to +40c (from -40 F to over +105 F), hight winds, will be buried under snow, will see rains in excess of 1 inch per hour (over 25 mm per hour) and basically about anything other than salt spray & sand storms that Mother Nature can muster up.

Sp when I spotted at the Lowes GRP (Glass Reinforced/Filled Plastic) lockable outdoor chest about the right size, for $60, it was a “no brainer.”

Tipped on its end the box is a very good size for the project, and the GRP material is very workable for adding entries and mounts.

I’ve started making templates for the Plywood back wall (would be the bottom in conventional usage) and shelves. I’ve selected a waterproof glue smooth finished plywood, which will be sealed with marine (spar) varnish.

A word of caution, using treated plywood to avoid the wood rotting or catching fire is no longer recommended where the material will touch metals other than copper or stainless steel. A the antenna switches are in Aluminum Cases, and there will be galvanized and mild steel in the box, it is worth the effort to surface treat regular waterproof plywood to avoid the corrosion.

The Polyphasers that have been temporarily housed in heavy poly bags will move into the new cabinet, as will the Array Solutions RatPack 6n antenna switch. All junctions that can be moved will go in the box, as will the ex-Navy Dummy Load (provided I can confirm it can take the temperature range).

Forward space for Tower Control, a Second RatPack 6n, and the electronics for a dedicated receive antenna will be included in the layout.

Turned on it side the door may not be as watertight as I want, but the addition of an EPDM (synthetic rubber) flap will address that risk.

Over the Electronics an interior Elvaloy Plastic membrane curtain will provide a second level of protection. Elvaloy is a PVC-like material where the usual plasticizers that make PVC sheet flexible are not used, rather a patented DuPont process makes for an all solids plastic sheet that has very low reactivity. So unlike EPDM it is much cleaner, doesn’t shed particles and retains its fire resistance & chemical resistance exceptionally well.

In the next week or so I will be test fitting a cardboard mock-up before building the actual interior wood frame.

Pictures will follow as the project goes along.