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Meet The Designer: Bad Dog Designs

Posted on Sep 3, 2017 by

From wristwatches to time machines Bad Dog Designs offer an eclectic collection of modern, contemporary and steampunk inspired designs handcrafted from recycled materials and original vintage items. In this week’s Meet The Designer series we sit down with founder Paul who explains a little about his process and where he finds his inspiration.

"Although the technology is very old, the designs and the clocks are very new to most people..."

“Although the technology is very old, the designs and the clocks are very new to most people…”
Image courtesy of Bad Dog Designs

Welcome to our Meet The Designer series! Can you tell us a little about Bad Dog Designs?

Bad Dog Designs is a bit of a unique business, I take bits of defunct electrical and scientific equipment and turn it into Nixie clocks, in effect upcycling them. The Nixie tube itself is a relic of history, designed in the 1950’s and looks like an old radio valve but with numbers inside that light up when you apply an electrical charge. They were the main method for early electronics to display numerical information – think old Calculators and Petrol Pumps. However, once the LED was invented in 1960 it effectively stopped Nixie tubes in their tracks! I started upcycling these pieces as a hobby in early 2014, making them into clocks in the spare bedroom – I soon discovered people liked my original designs and now only 3 years later the business runs as a Ltd company, has its own premises and has allowed me to quit the day job to pursue making clocks!

We decided to name the business Bad Dog Designs after our Golden Retriever ‘Max’. One day Karen and I were out walking Max trying to think of a name for the clock company. We got a little bit preoccupied and did not notice Max had sneaked off, to do what he does best – find the deepest, muddiest puddle he can.. he did very well that day and so ‘Bad Dog’ Designs has stuck ever since!

For our readers that might not know, what is Steampunk? How would you describe the style?

Steampunk is a style quite hard to describe exactly. Think of over complicated Victorian engineering in natural materials such as timber, brass, and glass, but absolutely no plastic! A lot of my clocks are made in the Steampunk style, however, some other good examples of the genre would be the Nautilus from 2001 Leagues Under the Sea or the Time Machine from H.G.Wells – machinery and devices from the past that have a definite purpose, even if you are unsure what that actually might be!

What inspired you to work with salvaged and vintage pieces such as Nixie tubes?

I am an out and out Geek is the honest answer! As a child I loved taking things apart – toys, the TV, basically anything with screws in it. I remembered these Nixie tubes from my childhood and was interested in finding out if anyone was still using them. A search on the internet showed hundreds of little clocks, all the same though – a circuit board in a clear plastic box with either 4 or 6 Nixie tubes on there. I don’t like throwing away electronics so I thought about combining the two, creating an entirely different type of Nixie Clock. I now have the excuse of collecting old bits of equipment as I can turn them all into clocks!

"Most people who visit the workshops describe it as an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. It is packed full of weird and wonderful items..."

“Most people who visit the workshops describe it as an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. It is packed full of weird and wonderful items…”
Image courtesy of Bad Dog Designs

Can you explain a little about your process in upcycling and designing the clocks you produce?

I can look at an old piece of equipment and see straight away what it would look like as a finished clock. A lot of the work goes into removing the original parts out of the old equipment and then restoring all the wooden casings. This provides a bare shell to work with from which I start fitting all the Nixie tubes and electronics. I very much enjoy the challenge of either getting everything to fit inside or just working out in my head how the clock will work. A lot of clients want little features – such as motorised gyroscopes or Dekatrons so I have to then integrate these all into the overall design. Once I have the piece working, I then draw up the designs for the engraved parts and have then fit to the clock. I try and keep as much of the original equipment or vintage item in tact, so as it is not hidden in any way. People like to look at a piece and wonder of its previous use.

The pieces you source must have an interesting story or two behind them, is there anything you can share?

Most people who visit the workshops describe it as an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. It is packed full of weird and wonderful items. One of the things I have is a radio from a Russian MIG 21 jet fighter, complete with a bullet hole in the top! There are a lot of historic bits of equipment, however, I do remember a couple of years ago receiving a call out of the blue. A gentleman told me he had a couple of pieces that may be of use – and asked if I would like to come around and have a look? I was expecting a couple of Volt Meters, or a Resistance decade box perhaps, but I was ill prepared for what I saw! The man used to work at a local University in the physics department and had subsequently retired many years ago. In the 1980’s the University went ‘digital’ and the man was in charge of throwing away all the old 1950’s equipment they were replacing. He must share some genes with me, as he could not bear to throw them away, so, over many trips, he squirreled the whole lot away in his loft at home. Over 30 years later, it was still all there and his wife was concerned the ceiling would collapse, or what on earth they were now going to do with it all. I became the rather surprised and very grateful owner of it all!

What’s in the pipeline for Bad Dog Designs? We’ve heard you will be exhibiting at 100% Design this September! What can we expect to see?

I would expect you will see a very nervous and slightly terrified me! I will be bringing a selection of designs from the very small Steampunk Pandora clock to a contemporary, stainless steel design I call Amidala. The Bombe will be spinning away in the background and I also will be bringing Wilson the Robot to keep his eyes on the proceedings. I’m hoping for a good response, although the technology is very old, the designs and the clocks are very new to most people. A lot of people have told me that I will be very busy, so I hope that is the case!

"The Nixie tube is a relic of history, it looks like an old radio valve but with numbers that light up when you apply an electrical charge..."

“The Nixie tube is a relic of history, it looks like an old radio valve but with numbers that light up when you apply an electrical charge…”
Image courtesy of Bad Dog Designs

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