Dekatron Kitchen TimerApril 5, 2009 10:43 pm Projects
Recently I completed the construction of a Dekatron-based kitchen timer. A Dekatron is an electronic counting device used in the middle of the 20th century for counting pulses or dividing input pulses. You can find a very good introduction to the devices at Mike’s Electric Stuff. My timer is certainly not the first. This gentleman has created a rather military-looking kitchen timer that uses three Dekatrons.
Dekatrons are relatively difficult to find, so I decided to use a single Dekatron in my timer. Actually this project is an old one that I revisited. The original project was just going to be a spinner, but I had trouble with the driving circuit (it never worked reliably). For the 2008 Maker Fair I dusted it off and tried to power it up–with 12V instead of 5V. The power supply and microcontroller did not appreciate it and the whole thing stopped working. The second time around I decided to turn it into something useful. Here it is.
The driving circuit in the Dekatron kitchen timer is based on a circuit drawn up by Mike Moorrees. You can find the circuit at the NEONIXIE-L mailing list files section. There’s a good excuse for you to join. If you’re interested at all in antique display devices (not just Nixie tubes) you need to join.
There are twenty minutes remaining on the timer. You can read the time using the scribed lines on the brass ring around the Dekatron. The ionized gas in the tube glows purple because of the high argon content.
In this side view, you can clearly see the high voltage power supply. It has a copper-wound ferrite toroid. The power supply converts 5V up to 450V by a MAX845 that pulses the transformer at 535KHz, and the 150V output of the transformer gets stepped up to 450V through a 3-stage voltage multiplier.
Time is kept and the clock is controlled by a PIC16F84. The brass bell at the end rings once the timer expires. After ringing the bell, the PIC turns off the high voltage supply and enters sleep mode. Pressing a button wakes up the microcontroller and begins a timing cycle.
You can see the socket more clearly when the Dekatron is removed. My homebrew drill press for my Dremel tool helped tremendously to drill accurately-placed holes for the pins.
On the right side the power connector provides 5V to the timer from an old cellphone charge adapter. Don’t throw away these adapters! The small ones often contain a very simple off-line isolated power supply that can be modified to produce other output voltages. You can recycle them for projects quite easily. Perhaps I will write an article on this.
The 5-pin connector on the board is used to program the PIC. The PIC16F84 is old enough that it does not support in-circuit debugging. It was Microchip’s very first product on their flash process which has made them so much money over the intervening years.
Here is the extent of my Dekatron collection. They are all type GS10D, which is a decimal selector tube with two sets of guide electrodes. The Dekatron in the front of the timer does not work. Can you see why?