Introduction: DIY Heatsink for Small Transistors

Picture of DIY Heatsink for Small Transistors

Here's a little mini-instructable:

Want to squeeze a bit more current through those inexpensive TO-92 package transistors? Then add a small metal heatsink.

I made this for a PWM DC motor driver, as some 2N2222 bi-polar transistors were handy. It worked OK, but the 2N2222 was getting very hot (too hot to touch.)

This will work with any TO-92 device--but the device must have a flat part to contact the sink (as TO-92 cases do.)

It's not entirely crazy; commercial heatsinks are available for this package. And the 2N2222 specs include two power dissipation ratings, Tamb <= 25 C (500-800mW) and Tcase <= 25 C (1.2-1.8 mW) (being ambient air temperature and case temperature.) Keep the case at 25 C or below, and the current rating more than doubles.

Step 1: You'll Need...

Picture of You'll Need...


-- Heatsink material: copper, aluminum or other sheet metal
-- Heat shrink tubing
-- Thermal paste compound (for CPU heatsinks)


-- A nibbler (or tin snips)
-- Files and sandpaper

Step 2: Cut Out the Heatsink

Picture of Cut Out the Heatsink

The nibbler tool is a great way to cut shapes from any sheet metal material, even steel.

The heatsink should be large enough to soak up excess heat, but can be almost any shape. However, it must have a "tab," slightly wider and taller than the transistor.

It can contain a hole for attaching to a circuit board, if that's desired.

Step 3: Fine-tune the Shape

Picture of Fine-tune the Shape

In order that it doesn't fall right off, the heatsink should be shaped by adding a few notches or a narrower "throat" at the top of the tab.

This prevents the "tab" from sliding out of the heat shrink tubing, and off the transistor.

Note: to be honest, tapering the "throat" at the top of the tab seems to work better....the drawing illustrates this alternate method (which I used on the prototype.)

Step 4: Press, File and Sand Until Flat

Picture of Press, File and Sand Until Flat

The heat sink must be flat. The best way to achieve this is not to deform the metal during the process.

However, my aluminum was a nabbed from an old camping plate, and the tin snips deformed it somewhat. So, in order to flatten it for good contact with the transistor, a few more steps:

-- Press it. I used the end of a file handle. But using a good vice, perhaps between two pieces of flat steel would work better.

-- File it. Where the material resisted, filing took out the high spots.

-- Sand it. After filing, a smoother surface is need for full contact.

Step 5: Assemble

Picture of Assemble

-- First, cut a small piece of heat shrink tubing. It should be slightly longer than the tab.

-- Test fit all the parts.

-- Apply a small amount of the thermal paste to the transistor (flat side.)

-- Slip the heat shrink tubing over the metal tab, then carefully slide the transistor in, being sure the flat side contacts the heatsink.

-- Shrink the tubing to complete. A heat gun, electric stove or other heat source will do.

During initial use, the heat generated by the transistor will only shrink the assembly more, making a more solid unit.

Step 6: Use It!

Picture of Use It!

Ok, now the transistor / heatsink is ready for use.

I've been running mine for hours at about 2.75 watts, which is about 65% over the wattage specs for a 2N2222. So far, so good.

Note: While this certainly helps, the TO-92 package wasn't designed for use with a heatsink, so you cannot get the type of efficiency as you would from an integrated sink.

Maybe the right thing to do was to use a TO-220 package transistor, but this was fun and a learning experience, too.


Jared4 (author)2018-01-15

Very helpful! I was wondering if there are and effective alternatives to thermal paste.

chrisjlionel (author)2016-07-18

This instructable helped me. Thanks. I have to fix heat sink for my L293DNE ic.

KochiyaYamato (author)2016-06-26

65 percent above ratings, thats crazy man. Nice work.

مالحريرى (author)2015-11-12

I love it?

Ujwal Bhagat (author)2015-11-09

I'm gonna try it

Yonatan24 (author)2015-11-03

That's a good idea! Too bad I don't use transistors...

PabitraD (author)2015-09-30

I didnt use it in transistor , but it helped me a lot


gmoon (author)PabitraD2015-10-01


mgingerich (author)2012-05-26

Great little instructable. This should keep my CNC controller from melting itself :)

gmoon (author)2011-11-05


comodore (author)2008-02-28

How can I make a heatsink for a big transistor like this one in the pictures?

Xellers (author)comodore2008-04-29

Just find an old computer, rip out the CPU heatsink and fan, and get some thermal paste. Apply the thermal paste to the transistor and stick the heatsink and fan assembly to that. From there, if you really want to, you could wire the fan up to some sort of power supply and that would solve your problem.

_Scratch_ (author)Xellers2011-06-22

How big of a transistor is that?? New cpu heatsinks are designed to dissipate a LOT of heat.

gmoon (author)comodore2008-02-28

Those TO-3 packages are meant to be bolted to an aluminum heatsink, and those are pretty common. Thermal compound is a good idea here, too.

Here's a link with a nice visual...

beehard44 (author)gmoon2010-03-27

well, i salvaged a lotta devices wid heatsinks, and some use thermal mat or some sort. instead of thermal paste, that is used. It is like rubber, but not rubber

comodore (author)gmoon2008-02-28

Thank you!

Wesley666 (author)comodore2009-12-22

You can buy heat sinks for these.  All they are is a square with sides bent up like this:


*If the picture above doesn't work this should:


All the way around.  Then cut down the sides every .6cm or so and drill 2 holes for the pins and 2 more for screws and the collector connection and that's it.

Wesley666 (author)Wesley6662009-12-22

Nvm both pictures work...

Jodex (author)comodore2009-12-14

Stupid question comes here, but I have to ask because I'm not sure. Is the casing of that transistor its base or something? Thanks for the answer.

omnibot (author)comodore2009-05-06

Drill a hole in a big metal plate and screw it in.

comodore (author)omnibot2009-05-07

Nah, that is to easy... ;D

omnibot (author)comodore2009-05-09

Not if it's six inches of steel and you use a handpowered drill it isn't.

comodore (author)omnibot2009-05-14

Well... :D

steven123654 (author)comodore2008-03-21

I will soon add a instructable on how to do so (with a CPU fan and it heat sink)

comodore (author)steven1236542008-03-21

OK. Thank you!

beehard44 (author)2011-01-04

lol nice idea
finally i can use my lm317l to give me 1A

rocketman221 (author)2009-12-22

Good idea. I have used aluminum tape before, but it gets bent out of shape easily. 

Capt. Howdy (author)2009-04-25

Nice. I'm gonna use this on an upcoming project.

Koil_1 (author)2008-11-09

On this same kind of transistor I usually just cut the heat sink with a tab that wraps around the IC. I can definitely see how this would work pretty well. I like the heat transfer from a crimped on heat sing a little better. It can easily get out of hand though, if you crimp it to hard. If you do, it breaks the chip which is considerably bad if you still want to use it. Kudos on the innovation. It's a much safer way to apply a heatsink to a small chip without a mounting hole.

Prometheus (author)2008-03-04

I like the project, but I suggest that the heatsink actually wraps around the casing to improve heat-transfer to it. Aluminum is best for this, and I can suggest using a soda can for scrap aluminum that is sufficient for this task. Also, keep in mind that thicker heatsinks are for handling surg3es, thinner ones are for more continuous duty. There is no such thing as a heatsink too big. Employ as much surface area as you can, and you can see results far beyond expectations until you actually start burning-out junctions. Crazy as it may sound, heatsinking the leads themselves can actually help too. Solder copper foil to the pins over the surface-mpount, and even more power can be pushed through, just make sure they don't touch.

gmoon (author)Prometheus2008-03-04

Yes, only the prototype was copper. The heatsink in the 'ible build was aluminum. These are all excellent points. Thanks!

flagbuff (author)2008-02-22

Very Clever! thank you!

gmoon (author)flagbuff2008-02-22

Yup. :-)

acaz93 (author)2008-02-13

Very useful , specially if you have to switch some motors , Cool pictures Btw

gmoon (author)acaz932008-02-13

You might think that little guy couldn't drive a 12V motor. But it does pretty well. Thanks.

acaz93 (author)gmoon2008-02-13

im using it for controlling a Relay actually , it heats up quickly since it's hardcore Fast switching!

BTW:have you seen(*)The Solenoid Concert ? (8)

1up (author)acaz932008-02-15

Dude! That is awesome! I should do that using a parallel port...

gmoon (author)acaz932008-02-14

No, I hadn't see that. It's great!

Maxx1 (author)2008-02-13

I feel bad for that poor transistor. I understand when your in a pinch for a part but I would rather get a part that is more rated for the task.. Good instructable tho....

gmoon (author)Maxx12008-02-14

Yes, of course-- it's always best to use the correct part. But "heatsinking" is a primary way of extending the power dissipation of any semiconductor, so this isn't a radical technique.

Besides, it's fun to test components to failure (and to be surprised when they don't fail.) Especially if you've got 20 or 30 of 'em, and they were $0.10 a piece....

rc jedi (author)gmoon2008-02-15

Testing to failure? that's what i do to my cars!

charper (author)gmoon2008-02-14

I also couldn't help but thinking "poor breadboard". Excessive current can be very destructive to them too.

gmoon (author)charper2008-02-14

No doubt. That wouldn't be an issue here: drawing about 230 mA of pulsed 12V, and it's never at 100% duty cycle.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-02-13

Awesome Instructable! Pictures are great too.

gmoon (author)GorillazMiko2008-02-15


anachrocomputer (author)2008-02-14

Just thinking about the last photo, where it shows the heatsink held on with heat-shrink sleeving. Now, if the thing gets REALLY hot, the sleeving will melt and the heatsink will fall off, making a bad situation much worse. Could you hold the heatsink on the transistor with metal, somehow, so it would never fall off?

gmoon (author)anachrocomputer2008-02-14

You could adapt this to your needs, for sure. A twisted wire, to hold everything together might work (I'm pretty sure the transistor would fail before the plastic melts--I'm not even sure heat shrink tubing will melt, it might just crumble and burn.)

There are other options, too. Arctic Silver makes a thermal adhesive, essentially a thermally-conductive epoxy. I used what was handy...

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-02-13

Cool! Easy and useful. Great explanation, great macros.

gmoon (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-02-13

Thanks--didn't really take long to build or to photograph, either.

uguy (author)2008-02-13

Excellent idea, well executed. Thanks for sharing.

About This Instructable




Bio: Go sit in the Faraday cage and think about what you've done...
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