The orange-red glow of the numbers in a Nixie tube can be a strangely addictive thing. The Nixie bug first bit Paul Parry in his young days when – at the age of four or five – he played with a Nixie calculator. Although he didn’t know what these glowing number tubes were called, he hasn’t forgotten their enchanting look.
After a career as an electronics engineer, Paul found himself in management, and removed from the actual engineering that he enjoyed. Looking to re-engage with practical electronics, and having rediscovered Nixie tubes, he bought a frequency counter from eBay to convert into a clock.
Wanting to make another, he put this first clock on eBay for the (according to Paul) cheeky price of £250. When that sold within four hours, he realised that there was demand for this work, so he re-invested the £250 in a set of six more frequency counters. These six sold and the business was born.
Paul has slowly left his old job, first dropping to four days a week, then three, and now he spends all his time working on these clocks. In 2017 he became a full time clockmaker.
“I see myself now as retired, but I get to go down the workshop every day and play with Nixie tubes, electronics, and God knows what I’ve got there.”
Some of Paul’s clock enclosures are built from scratch, but many are upcycled:
“I love old bits of electrical equipment. Rather than copy it, I found it much easier to just use an original piece of equipment … so many people throw them away. There’s a mountain of voltmeters from the 1940s and 1950s. They’re no use to anybody now – you can’t calibrate them … they’re beautifully made out of solid oak and mahogany and dovetailed. I use them because they’re there. I appreciate the work that went into them when they were built – all I do is put a clock movement in and maybe a little bit of steampunk decoration.”
The Bad Dog store rooms are overflowing with equipment waiting to become clocks:
“I’ve got a stock room full of just about every bit of test equipment from the 1890s onwards. People have a look through and choose a picture and ask me to convert it into a clock … between us we turn it into a design.”
Upcycling old bits and bobs is a great way to give your makes a vintage charm while keeping stuff out of landfill. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can join Paul and other people who give old things a new lease of life on Twitter every Tuesday for Upcycled Hour. It’s a chance to see what other people are up to and chat with other makers. Join in on Twitter by following @UpcycledHour.
Nixie Clock Kits
Paul uses the gubbins available from pvelectronics.co.uk to make the internals of his clocks, so if you want to turn some old electrical equipment (or anything else for that matter) into a clock of your own, you can do it using exactly the same electronics as Paul.
The Nixies run on quite a high voltage (around 170 volts), so you do have to be a little careful when putting everything together, but provided you take appropriate precautions, most people with some electronics experience should be able to build one of these fantastic-looking clocks.