Category Archives: Nixie clock

Nuclear waste clock

Just before Christmas I was contacted by Paul over at Bad Dog Designs who wanted me to put some of my own skills to use on one of his nixie clocks. The theme? A nuclear waste dump, complete with glowing barrels, barbed wire and some nice gloopy toxic waste.

Well… who wouldn’t say yes to such an interesting theme. So, heres how I tackled this slightly unique request.

Firstly Paul sent me a sketch with some rough layouts and we chatted about what the client wanted, the wire, barrels and some toxic goop, beyond that I had a fairly loose brief.

The starting point

Over Christmas I got some floral wire and set about making the barbed wire by twisting two strands together and then wrapping other strands around it to make the barbes. It hurts by the way when you stab yourself with it, a lot.

After the New Year, Paul sent over the wooden box and I popped by my local makerspace to make use of a pillar drill to drill out some of the resin barrels I have. I then broke up a few up to look damaged and battered about. I then roughly placed them where I thought they’d look good while making sure they didn’t block the spot the tubes would go. To give that space some detail, I added some barrels chopped up to look like they’re on their side and stuck in the mud.

It was around this time I started messing with mud. I bought some Modeling paste and mixed it with sand, paint, grit and tea. Yes I bought a load of tea leaves (green and black ones) and settled on a nice mix of brown paint and tea as my mud. Getting the right balance between texture and smell was interesting. My cellar smelt like a cup of tea for days as I mixed and tested different amounts to see the outcome.

At my local craft shop I found a perfect paint for the toxic goo and it had a nice gloopy texture when mixed with PVA glue. This was going to be my nuclear waste.

Time to start laying down some paint. The whole thing had a spray of black, then a coat of silver, finally the sides had a coat of olive drab. Once the olive was dry I scratched it with wire wool to simulate wear to the outer layer.


Now comes the fun. Weathering. As a model maker, nothing makes my heart sing more than covering a model is grime, filth and rust. Truly, tis an art. The barrels had layers of red sponged on to simulate their original paint. Then they had Typhus corrosion over parts, before Ryza rust was drybrushed on. Once dry, silver was drybrushed in places where the metal may not be as corroded such as newly broken spots or part that may have been worn away.

The trick with weathering is it must tell a story. Rust will build in certain places such as around the bases or where rain will fall on it. You can’t just throw effects at something without it making sense.

The olive green had some weathering as well as I coated it in a few different colours of oil paint. After 20 minutes it was wiped away. Leaving smears and discolouration, simulating the grime built up over it.

Next came the nuclear waste goop, dribbled on carefully.

You’ll notice I also started to get the barbed wire in place. The posts had been drilled beforehand and I fitted the posts in before adding the mud.

As I went along, I was adding more details to the base. Rocks made from cork (a good way of recycling all those ones from Christmas). A broken pipe made from aluminium tubing which I bent and mangled before glueing down. There’s a metal plate half sunk into the base. Some small tubes made from rolled green stuff. Tufts of brown mangy grass and a one cheeky little face, peeking out from behind a one of the tufts.

I’d been trying to tell small stories as I went along with the barrels as well. Theres a half melted one which I thought would be going straight down. A few had cracks and holes in them which is where the nuclear waste was oozing out. Some had their lids on but only just. The barbed wire even had some weathering thrown at it with rust, dust and blood smeared over it. Not real blood obviously, I’d cleaned that off after stabbing my thumbs so often while making it. I used a few drips of the ‘Blood for the Blood God’ paint across parts. I did other bits with inks, washes, weathering powders and some careful painting.

Finally, the LEDs. Paul supplied a few for me to fit and they had a quick test before being hot glued into place. To simulate some of nuclear waste bubbling in the barrel, I used small plastic beads which then had a liberal coat of paint to ensure they’d look nice and toxic.

Big finish

And that was my part. I packed up the finished piece, crossed my fingers and sent it off. Fortunately, the postal gods smiled that day and it arrived without any damage allowing Paul to do his magic.

The final piece has switches to light up the barrels, a geiger counter sound effect and the bulbs in the middle which not only tell the time but the date as well. You can see it in action on his YouTube channel.

A full gallery is available in my Google Album.