GIVEAWAY: 2 VFD tube sets from Akihabara

We’re giving away the two VFD tube sets we bought in Akihabara this weekend! Each bag has 6 VFD tubes and a datasheet. We powered them with a single 5 volt 12 volt supply.

Leave a comment on this post with an idea for a VFD tube project, and one of these could be yours. We’ll announce the winner tomorrow evening.

Join the Conversation


  1. Loving it! Like to do a old school headphone amp with this as a display. The rest will use tubes so it would look spot on!

  2. My next project is a fermentation monitor to measure temperature, rate of gassing, and, hopefully, approximate alcohol content of a beer as it brews. These would make some darn nifty displays for it!

  3. I will use part of them for displaying visits count on my coming soon web app and rest of them i’ll use to build clock with temp sensor for my room

  4. I already have a platform for these! A wristwatch that uses a Atmel 32u chip at the heart and a small RTC combined with a li-ion with charging/boosting chip. One button activation so that you do not burn out your tube or battery.

    You could also use this as a tweet counter with an easy button to activate you performing new actions like retweet, follow, etc. I always thought that would be fun to pull those live stats and hvae it change while you are going through your interactions. Also have it tell you how many people are currently looking at what you are looking at online.

  5. I’d hook them up to one of these. I have a “bluebird cam” that I use to monitor my visiting bluebirds when they are ready to lay their eggs. With some “egg detection” software analyzing the video feed, I’ll get a count of the number of eggs. I’ll use the tubes to display the time the last egg was laid and also display the current egg count. Neat, eh?

  6. I’d put them on an Arduino shield and then stack it on top of my ethernet shield and thenimplement a keyword searching twitter client on the arduino and scroll the messages on the tubes.

    Most characters can be easily be recognized on a 7-segment display and the ones that are hard you usually can recognize from the context. I did scrolling text on 7segment display on my kim-1 single board computer back in 1978-79. Maybe these vfd’s are from the same era?

  7. Cool! I want to use them as a status display for my reprap 3d printer. I’ve already ordered an evil-mad-scientist-style knife switch for the power, and this would top if off quite nicely! :)

  8. Clearly, 6 VFD tubes is the perfect number for a VFD tube clock to sit amongst my other clocks. although an old school voltmeter would be pretty nifty as well :D I’d most likely take the clock approach :D

  9. Perfect for a nice multimeter.
    With a 24 bits ADC 5.5 digit is doable, and all cool multimeters use VFD (Agilent 34401A anyone?)

  10. A Email /twitter message notification with the possibility for subject preview using a retro steampunk style box with VFD tubes will be awesome

  11. I’d LOVE some of these!

    I’d use these as a status display for my home server… I’m thinking cpu load, ram usage, hdd space, etc.

    Or better yet, As the basics for my HUD I’m installing in my car! :D

  12. A GPS sourced clock for the mantle. Mount the tubes on the top of a nice piece of stained hardwood and put all the electronics inside the base. Add a simple 433 Mhz radio for wireless outside temp reception.

  13. there is no way id ever be able to buy these so im hoping i can win them but i cant even win a free board so …

    id like to make a clock, i know so simple

  14. They run off 12 V alone? That would be sweet. I’d probably try a desktop display (UART/USB) or a funky voltmeter (ADC) that could be adapted to measure whatever. Counters and clocks. All the obvious stuff.

    Tube shaped… That’d look nice over the guitar/keyboard kit, showing patch numbers, MIDI messages, controller values, pattern counts or tuner display.

  15. I would use them to create a 6 digit display module, controlled using spi or i2c (possibly both), so that I can have a pluggable module that I can attach to different projects (i.e. an alarm clock or display for a power supply), the main advantage being that they could be used on many projects.

  16. I love the look of these things. I would love to build a kitchen timer with one of these things… the green glow of these would closely match that of the display on my stove.

  17. Many posters are forgetting one important thing: VFDs are power hungry, and the only
    reason an engineer would choose a VFD over an LED or LCD is if they want the display
    to be readable in bright lab lighting, or outdoors, and at large viewing angles.

    So the best application for 6 VFD’s would be something that is counting, and it’s used
    outdoors, and many people would want to gather around it and see it, thus the
    need for a large viewing angle.

    So I propose an odometer, mounted on my power wheelchair (it has 24Volts via two 12V
    lead acid batteries). This thing would be so cool and never before seen on a wheelchair,
    that everyone would gather around just to see it in action. :)

    It will be PIC based, with a PONG-style screensaver when I am not moving for a while.
    The odometer will use an optical encoder wheel to count revolutions of the main tires.

    It can double as a trip-distance counter, and would also have a clock, of course.
    At night, I can read a book by the light of 6 VFDs in segment test mode 888888.


  18. Since my kid will arrive in about 5 months, I would use them as a counter for remaining hours (yes, the doc provided a date), and after that, who knows, not a clock any ways, there’s too much of them. Thanks.

  19. I have an arduino in a weather shielded case outside on my bird feeder. Currently, I have a data logger shield keeping a count of when birds visit the feeder. I’d like to connect this outdoor arduino via xbee to an arduino inside my home. I’d shield up these VFDs to the indoor arduino and display the number of visitors to the feeder, which would be updated in realtime. The count would be reset to 0 every night, but I’d be able to hit a button to get previous day/week counts.

  20. I would use them as a temperature display for my 3D printer. That would give it some kind of steampunk style :D .

  21. I have for quite a while been wanting to build a colorcycling bubbling wall to put on my desk. seeing these made me think – as they are glass-covered – that they could be incorporated into the build in such a way that the bubbles will vaguely obscure the VFDs (which will be showing the time and/or possibly other data like unread emails or the temprature from – another future project – indoor/outdoor thermometer)

    I can already imagine the beauty blinking 12:00 (vcr-style) slowly bubbling, with smooth colors cycling…

    If I do not win these, you will be responsible for another broken dream! (and I will forever be depressed because of the lack of pretty lights – nevermind never being on time)

  22. Many people get a clock when they retire. This would be my “countdown to retirement” clock in hours, with capability to extend in case I want to or need to retire later.

  23. I can put a lens in front of those and make a neat projector clock. Also the obligatory minimal case just because I like to see tubes.

  24. I would use them as the readout for a tube-based radio/turntable/cd player. It would display the currently tuned frequency for the FM radio, volume, time, track number, time played and time remaining.

  25. Amazing! I already have one and was looking for another one everywhere but with no luck. I would like to build to most cumbersome intervalometer for cameras with them!!!

  26. I already have a nixie clock, and I recently got some bigger nixies for a second model I was planning to make. I would use the nixies for the hours display, and the VFD’s would be really really nice as the date display.

    I’m also desigingn a single nixie tube keychain (would incorporate a nixie, a lithium 1/2 AA cell and a PIC microcontroller to do some stuff i’m still planning. The power supply unit would step up the voltage to 142V using an HV boost controller and a 3-stage voltage multiplier. It would also be nice to have an VFD version, and the PSU would be cheaper and easier to make. Maybe I could use 4 of the tubes for the clock’s date display and the other two for single tube keychains, if they’re not too big (they look small enough)

  27. Another idea would to make a display showing how many computer there are currently in line for service where i work

  28. It would be kind of cool to somehow get these hooked up to display data from a computer. For example, if you are going for a steampunk mod/feel, you could use them to display unread mail as well as other data like CPU temp, etc. Would be really great to get the whole steampunk effect.

  29. Would like to make a wicked PC case, a nice cold war era design with the nixie tubes being a sort of “doomsday” clock but actually displaying inside tempature

  30. my girlfriend and i tend to forget when we last cleaned the litterbox. i know, it’s disgusting. but i think i could easily implement a “days since” display that would really quickly tell us.

    that, or a pomodoro clock.

  31. I would like to build a general-purpose VFD display shield for the Arduino (could be used for time, temperature, voltage, current, etc. with the right circuitry).

    Or a second choice would be a slick looking VFD clock (with a time chip) for my car since it can be powered from 12 volts.

  32. I would want to modify a microwave to display it’s time using these tubes, as well as the microwave being controlled via text, phone (using dial tones), and twitter.

  33. I’m currently building a Tesla Coil (DRSSTC), and a set of VFD tubes would be perfect to display the Power / Current / Voltage it’s turning into sparks.

  34. I would use them in my replacement car radio build, as a frequency/ time display. And since the car already supplies 12 volts, they are just begging to be used!

  35. Since we are now into 2012, a countdown timer to show how much time we have left before the end of the world would be cool.

  36. I’d use them for the display of a function generator that I’ve been working on. Since that wouldn’t use the rest of them, I’d use the rest in a display for a acceleration sensing project that i’ve been thinking of.

  37. A good old tried and tested clock to stay true to the old style of these displays the clock would be designed using only logic ICs. It would be a great way to learn about logic devices.

  38. These would make a terrific display for that bundle-of-road-flares alarm clock/time bomb simulator I’ve been meaning to build.

  39. I think those are great for a clock project. I always look at the clock throughout the day and these things are very nice to look at so it’s a perfect project for nice things like these.

  40. Man, the things I would do with a few VFDs. Gauges for feedback from our autonomous sailboat would be first up. A backlit LCD for map graphics and the tubes for readings all mounted in acrylic. They’d make a bitchin display for an amp. A multimeter would certainly put them to frequent use, a nixie clock would be nice but isn’t really necessary these days with so many digital clocks around and it’d be a shame to waste them.

  41. Hmm, 12V nixies? I’d have to encase them in a metal box for EMF, but they could be used for an old-school nixie readout / computer casemod.. Fan controller / Temperature display / etc.

  42. It’s using phosphor right ? By tweaking around a pickup plate one could do 9 bit memory units with proper drivers. It kind of work like magnetic core memory but instead of checking the magnetism, you check the the charge on the phosphor.

    57 bits.

  43. A countdown timer to special occasis would be great. Shows abbreviated next special event then displays time left until in days and hours. When event passes pic loads next event data.

  44. Grab an old alarm clock radio, gut them out, and place a new modified guts with the VFD. These things juts out from the top of the radio, for nostalgic effect.

    What are the new modified guts?

    1.) PIC32 processor (PIC32MX795F512L) with FreeRTOS inside. Controls everything, including brightness of the VFD tubes.
    2.) A seperate driver for the VFD.
    3.) MP3 decoder + SD-Card slot. Load it up with the nostalgic 80s and 90s.
    4.) Add a Bluetooth inside or a Remote control to control the system in a wireless manner.
    5.) Finally, a normal DS1307 we have all been talking about to keep time if it’s turned off!


  45. Also, if you have an old beaten up vinyl player, hack/modify it and place these VFDs to show the status of the machine, like playing the song. If it’s in standby? Show the time instead. Put a small AM/FM decoder + favourite microcontroller inside, you get an all-in-one classic music player. Ah! The good old days! :D

  46. How about a cool frequency display for a valve based / hybrid tuner (perhaps with a valve amp)? It could be a hybrid using a modern micro for the display and perhaps some of the front-end stuff, but intermixed with valve amps. Setup with the valves exposed on the polished metal chassis like some of the very cool looking Valve amps and it would look pretty awesome.

    Design challenges would be interfacing new LV gear with the HV valve stuff, noise from the micro (though could be shielded off) and various other stuff, but would be great to merge the very old with the very new. If only I had time to build this :/

  47. Hi Ian,
    My desktop has been relooked into a stempunk machine. The case is made of varnished wood. Bubbles like Windows have been created in the wood case in order to see the heart of the beast, lighted by candle like orange led. It looks great but I wouild like to add some old fashion display (in order to display and commute information about the processor frequency, mail notifier, voltage, Temperature, network speed … ). VFD tubes would do the job very nicely…
    Thank you very much
    Wish you a nice day

  48. I’m building a ‘futuristic’ front panel(with capacitive touch buttons to operate the mechanical ones and LEDs etc to show various status-es and more)for an old tape deck and amp,as part of resurrecting the vintage piece which has been in my family for long
    These would be great for for showing time elapsed/remaining/tape track number(yes,that is part of the plan too.) and such things.
    Hope I score ’em!

  49. Do anybody know, leaving a cool idea here for the nixies is how infectious.
    To come up with a great project idea, we’ve to think a lot and finalize more than 50% of the project and our mind gets stuffed about the project. Then when we loose, still the project’s influence makes us buy the product and complete the project anyhow.

  50. These look like a vary nice set of tubes. Do they require a voltage boost or are they powered by straight 12v?

    1. @Floodedbasement – VFD in this instance means Vacuum Fluorescent Display – A type of display, commonly found on clock radios, Audio gear (Car Audio gear especially), very old calculators, old test equipment, etc. and quite common still on Microwave Ovens and the like. Most commonly green, but other colours also.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.