Various 1 Hz Oscillator Methods


During the fun and enjoyment of experimenting with electronics there will come a time when you need a nice 1 Hz oscillator to generate a square-wave signal to drive something in the circuit. On… off… on… off… for all sorts of things. Perhaps a metronome, to drive a TTL clock, blink some LEDs, or for more nefarious purposes. No matter what you need that magic 1 Hz for – there’s a variety of methods to generate it – some more expensive than others – and some more accurate than others.

A few of you may be thinking “pull out the Arduino” and yes, you could knock out a reasonable 1 Hz – however that’s fine for the bench, but wild overkill for embedding a project as a single purpose. So in this article we’ll run through three oscillator methods that can generate a 1 Hz signal (and other frequencies) using methods that vary in cost, accuracy and difficulty – and don’t rely on mains AC. That will be a topic for another day.

Using a 555 timer IC

You can solve this problem quite well for under a dollar with the 555, however the accuracy is going to heavily rely on having the correct values for the passive components. We’ll use the 555 in astable mode, and from a previous article here’s the circuit:

555 astable 1 Hz circuit

 And with a 5V power supply, here’s the result:


As you can see the cycle time isn’t the best, which can be attributed to the tolerance of the resistors and capacitor C1. A method to increase the accuracy would be to add small trimpots in series with the resistors (and reduce their value accordingly by the trimpot value) – then measure the output with a frequency counter (etc). whilst adjusting the trimpots. If you’re curious about not using C2, the result of doing so introduces some noise on the rising edge, for example:


So if you’ve no other option, or have the right values for the passives – the 555 can do the job. Or get yourself a 555 and experiment with it, there’s lots of fun to be had with it.

Using a GPS receiver module

A variety of GPS modules have a one pulse per second output (PPS) and this includes my well-worn EM406A module (as used in the Arduino tutorials):


With a little work you can turn that PPS output into a usable and incredibly accurate source of 1 Hz. As long as your GPS can receive a signal. In fact, this has been demonstrated in the April 2013 edition of Silicon Chip magazine, in their frequency counter timebase project. But I digress.

If you have an EM406A you most likely have the cable and if not, get one to save your sanity as the connector is quite non-standard. If you’re experimenting a breakout board will also be quite convenient, however you can make your own by just chopping off one end of the cable and soldering the required pins – for example:


You will need access to pins 6, 5, 2 and 1. Looking at the socket on the GPS module, they are numbered 6 to 1 from left to right. Pin 6 is the PPS output, 5 is GND, 2 is for 5V and 1 is GND. Both the GNDs need to be connected together.

Before moving forward you’re probably curious about the pulse, and want to see it. Good idea! However the PPS signal is incredibly quick and has an amplitude of about 2.85 V. If you put a DSO on the PPS and GND output, you can see the pulses as shown below:


 To find the length of the pulse, we had to really zoom in to a 2 uS timebase:


 Wow, that’s small. So a little external circuitry is required to convert that minuscule pulse into something more useful and friendly. We’ll increase the pulse length by using a “pulse stretcher”. To do this we make a monostable timer (“one shot”) with a 555. For around a half-second pulse we’ll use 47k0 for R1 and 10uF for C1. However this triggers on a low signal, so we first pass the PPS signal through a 74HC14 Schmitt inverter – a handy part which turns irregular signals into more sharply defined ones – and also inverts it which can then be used to trigger the monostable. Our circuit:


 and here’s the result – the PPS signal is shown with the matching “stretched” signal on the DSO:


So if you’re a stickley for accuracy, or just want something different for portable or battery-powered applications, using the GPS is a relatively simple solution.

Using a Maxim DS1307/DS3232 real-time clock IC

Those of you with a microcontroller bent may have a Maxim DS1307 or DS3232. Apart from being pretty easy to use as a real-time clock, both of them have a programmable square wave output. Connection via your MCU’s I2C bus is quite easy, for example with the DS1307:


Using a DS3232 is equally as simple. We use a pre-built module with a similar schematic. Once you have either of them connected, the code is quite simple. For the DS1307 (bus address 0x68), write 0x07 then 0x11 to the I2C bus – or for the DS3232 (bus address is also 0x68) write 0x0E then 0x00. Finally, let’s see the 1 Hz on the DSO:


Certainly not the cheapest method, however it gives you an excellent level of accuracy without the GPS.


By no means is this list exhaustive, however hopefully it was interesting and useful. If there’s any other methods you’d like to see demonstrated, leave a comment below and we’ll see what’s possible. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.


In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in 1 hz, clocks, timebase, tronixstuff, TTL, tutorial5 Comments

Clock Kit Round-up – December 2011

Hello Readers

If there’s one thing that I really like it’s a good clock kit. Once constructed, they can be many things, including:

  • a point of differentiation from other items in the room;
  • a reminder of the past (nixie tubes!) or possible visions of the future;
  • the base of something to really annoy other people;
  • a constant reminder to get back to work;
  • a source of satisfaction from having made something yourself!

So just for fun I have attempted to find and list as many interesting and ‘out of the ordinary’ kits as possible, and ignored the simple or relatively mundane kits out there. If you are in the clock kit business and want a mention, let me know. So in no particular order, we have:

adafruit industries “ice tube” clock

Based around a vintage Soviet-era vacuum IV-18 type fluorescent display, the ice tube clock is a rare kit that includes a nice enclosure which keeps you safe from the high voltages as well as allowing the curious to observe your soldering skills. I reviewed this kit almost a year ago and the clock is still working perfectly. Here is a video of the ice tube clock in action:

After some travelling meeting various people it seems that quite a few of us have an ice tube clock. There is something quite mesmerising about the display, perhaps helping to recall memories of our youth in the 1970s and 80s.

nootropic design Defusable Clock Kit

As recently reviewed, this kit allows you to build a simulated ‘countdown’ timer for a hypothetical explosive device that also doubles as a clock with an alarm. For example:

Whatever you do, don’t make a ‘fake bomb’ and leave it out in public! Only bad things could happen 🙂

ogilumen nixie tube kits

Not a clock kit as such, however they have made doing it yourself very easy with their power supply and IN-12A nixie board kits. We made one ourselves in a previous review, as shown below:

Alan Parekh’s Multimeter Clock Kit

This is certainly one from left field – using the analogue multimeters to display hours, minutes and seconds. See Alan describe his kit in this video:

Certainly something different and would look great on the wall of any electronics-themed area or would easily annoy those who dislike the status-quo of clock design.

akafugu VFD Modular Clock

The team at akafugu have created a modular baseboard/shield kit which holds a shield containing four IV-17 alphanumeric nixie tubes to create your own clock or display system:


Unlike some of the other nixie tube kits the firmware has been made public and can be modified at will. In the future different display shields will be available to extend the use of the kit. kits

This site has two kits available, one using either four or six Soviet-era IN-12 type nixie tubes:


… and another kit using the Soviet-era IN-14 nixie tubes:

You have to hand it to the former Soviet Union – they knew how to over-produce nixie tubes. One rare example where we can benefit from a command economy!

evil mad science clocks

The certainly not evil people have two clock kits, the first being the Bulbdial Clock Kit:

This uses a unique ring of LEDs around the circumference of the clock face to create shadows to mark the time. It is also available in a range of housing and face styles. Their other kit of interest is the Alpha Clock Five:

The photo of this clock doesn’t do it justice – the alphanumeric displays are 2.3″ tall, making this one huge clock. It also makes use of a Chronodot real-time clock board, which contains a temperature-controlled oscillator  which helps give it an accuracy of +-/ 2 minutes per year. Furthermore you can modify this easily using an FTDI cable and the Arduino IDE with some extra software. Would be great for model railways (or even a real railway station) or those insanely conscious about the time.

Kabtronics Clock Kits

This organisation has several clock kits which span a range of technology from the later part of the twentieth century. These guys can only be true clock enthusiasts! Starting with the 1950s, they have their Nixie-Transistor Clock:


Look – no integrated circuits, leaving the kit true to the era. If you need to hide from someone for a weekend, building this would be a good start. Next we move onto the 1960s and the Transistor Clock:


The 1960s brought with it LEDs so they are now used in this kit, however the logic is still all analogue electronics. However next we can move to the 1970s, and finally save some board space with the TTL Clock:


This would still be fun to assemble but somewhat less punishing for those who don’t enjoy solder fumes that much. However you still have a nice kit and something to be proud of. Finally, the last in the line is the 1980s-themed Surface-Mount Technology Clock:


So here we have a microcontroller, SMT components, and a typical reduction in board size. Their range is an excellent way of demonstrating the advances in technology over the years.

The GPS FLW Display Clock

Wow – this clock makes use of huge Burroughs B7971 15-segment nixie tube displays and a GPS receiver to make a huge, old-style/new-tech clock. Check out the demonstration video:

This thing is amazing. And it is actually cheaper to buy a fully-assembled version (huh). The same organisation also offers another GPS-controlled clock using IN-18 nixie tubes:


Again, it isn’t inexpensive – however the true nixie tube enthusiasts will love it. This clock would look great next to a post-modern vintage hifi tube amplifier. Moving forward to something completely different now, we have the:

adafruit industries monochron®

Almost the polar opposite of the nixie-tube clocks, the monochron uses an ATmega328 microcontroller and a 128 x 64 LCD module to create some interesting clock effects. For example:

Many people have created a variety of displays, including space invaders and the pong game simulation. The clock also includes the laser-cut acrylic housing which provides a useful and solid base for the clock.

Spikenzie Labs Solder : Time™ watch kit

Technically this is a watch kit, however I don’t think that many people would want to walk around wearing one – but it could be used in more permanent or fixed locations. Correct me if I’m wrong people. However in its defence it is a very well designed kit that is easy to solder and produces a nice clock:

It uses a separate real-time controller IC to stay accurate, and the design However this would be a great suggestion as a gift for a younger person to help them become interesting in electronics and other related topics. The asm firmware is also available for you to modify using Microchip MPLAB software if that takes your fancy.

Velleman Kits

The Velleman company has a range of somewhat uninspiring clock kits, starting with the Scrolling/Rolling LED Clock:

… the 2¼” 7-Segment Digital Clock:

This clock includes the housing and also accepts an optional temperature sensor, and therefore can display this as well. There is also the aptly-named – Digital LED Clock:


It tells the time and would be useful in a 1980s-era idea of the future movie set. The final velleman clock kit is the Jumbo Single-Digit Clock:

In all fairness this one looks quite interesting – the LED display is 57mm tall and the time is display one digit at a time. It is powered by a PIC16F630 however the firmware is proprietary to velleman.

Nocrotec Nixie Clocks

This company has a range of kits using nixie tubes and numitrons (low voltage incadescent displays in tubes). One particularly lovely kit is their IN-8 Blue Dream kit:


The blue glow at the base of the nixie tubes is due to an LED mounted at the bottom of the tube. Another aesthetically-pleasing kit is their Little Blue Something nixie clock. Check out their demonstration video:

More IN-12 nixie clocks from Germany, the first being the Manuela_HR. You can buy the kit without an enclosure, or choose from the ‘office’ style:

… or this funky number:

You can specify it with RGB LEDs which colour-cycle to provide the effect shown above. For those not too keen you can also buy the kits pre-assembled. Their other kit is the Sven:


It is available with IN-8 or IN-14 nixie tubes. The design quality of the enclosure is outstanding, a lot of effort has been made to produce a complete kit that “won’t look like a kit” when completed.

Minty Time

This is a small binary clock kit that fits in an Altoids tin:

This is a nice little kit as it is inexpensive, easy to make and very well documented. You could also mount this in a variety of flat surfaces, limited only by your imagination.

The Chronulator

Here we find a unique design that uses analogue panel meters in a similar method to the multimeter clock detailed previously. Here is an example of the completed kit:


The kit contains the electronics and meters (or you can delete the meters for a discount if you already have some) however the housing is up to you. Furthermore, this kit has some of the best instructions (.pdf) I have ever seen. They are a credit to the organisation. Our final clock kit is the …


This is another clock kit in the style of ‘suspicious bomb timer’-looking – and it pulls this off quite well. Consider the following video demonstration:

As well as a normal clock it can function as an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer and lap counter. The instructions (.pdf) are well written and easy to follow. Furthermore the Denkimono is also well priced for the kit and delivery.

Hopefully this catalogue of clock kits was of interest to you. If you have found some other kits to add to the list, or wish to disagree or generally comment about this article please do so via the comment section below. This article was not sponsored in any way.

Have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in clocks, kit review, nixie, review, TTL, VFD8 Comments

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