Introduction: Huge Vacuum Tube Light Fixture.

Picture of Huge Vacuum Tube Light Fixture.

[IMPORTANT CREATOR'S NOTE] Many vacuum tubes contain toxic substances and gases (mercury, uranium, thoriated tungsten, etc.). You are well-advised to handle these valves with care, to ensure that they do not break, or react unsafely to the heat generated by the lighting. It is incumbent upon you to do the requisite research on each valve you employ, and by proceeding with this Instructable, you do hereby assume full responsibility for your actions, choices, and mishaps, and do hereby release the creator of any liability arising from your actions, choices, mishaps, or my design ideas. [END OF NOTE]

I own an award-winning luxury LED lighting firm in Texas (MINIMIS), and despite being on the bleeding edge of lighting technology, I have always been fascinated with vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes, or thermoionic tubes (or valves) were the predecessors to transistors, integrated circuits, digital displays, etc. and were used from the 1920's all the way up through the fifties and sixties (some are still in use in some legacy equipment, and high-end audiophile stereo equipment). Their shapes conjure up images of the jetsons, and other fifties space-age movies and shows.

I wanted to make a light fixture that would adequately pay high homage to these fantastic relics, sparing no expense in making an art piece. Because the wattage required to light the heaters is so high (multiplied times seventy valves for this fixture!!), I opted out of making the streetlights dim in a 36-block radius, instead lighting them from underneath, using LED / lens modules from my own company's stock.

Step 1: Select and Purchase Your Vacuum Tubes

Picture of Select and Purchase Your Vacuum Tubes

I first searched for the most unusual, exotic vacuum tubes available and ended up with a stunning selection of all sizes and shapes. I was lucky to find out that a gentleman in Santiago, Chile (the country where I live) is actually a world-famous collector and seller of vacuum tubes, with a breathtaking array of options.

Google "Francisco Mella tubos" and rest assured he ships worldwide in extremely well-protected packaging. Mr. Mella was exceedingly patient and accommodating of my uneducated questions, and unorthodox requests ("Send me pictures of your strangest specimens!")

Step 2: Design and Build the Base.

Picture of Design and Build the Base.

I then designed a wooden base that doubled as a box to hide the wires and 12vDC transformer. I chose to repurpose the scraps of an extremely hard wood from the Amazon, called Dipteryx micrantha, and employed biscuits and all hidden joinery, so that once the box was assembled, it would look like one solid ingot of wood.

The walls of the box were one inch (25mm) thick, enabling plenty of leeway in future drilling depths. Do not be cheap and only go 1/2-inch thickness, it will not work with this design.

Step 3: Measure Tubes and Recreate Them in SketchUp

Picture of Measure Tubes and Recreate Them in SketchUp

I then measured the diameter of each tube's base (most of which I had removed their plastic (bakelite) socket bases to allow for light transmission through the valves. Some valves were not able to have their bases removed When measuring these diameters, round up to the next millimeter, to accommodate for heat-generated expansion of the wood. As the heat expands, the holes will shrink and some tubes are fragile enough that they could break from the pressure.

I used SketchUp to re-create the approximate form / shape of each valve. This enabled me to experiment with various arrangement schemes. The challenge with the layout of the tubes was that I wanted them to look random, yet also have a purpose, and also be arranged in such a way that would best display all the tubes, and avoid dimensional conflicts among the tubes.

Step 4: Drill Template and Drilling

Picture of Drill Template and Drilling

Once I concluded upon the final layout, I exploded the entire SketchUp drawing, and deleted all of the forms of the vacuum tubes, save for the diameters of the bases. I then exported the template to a vector .EPS file, editable in Adobe Illustrator. I opened the template in Illustrator and resized the template until it was the actual size of the base. I then printed the template out (I had to print it across three sheets of paper, then stitch them together.

I then set the printed template on top of the wooden base and made center-punch marks, and wrote the diameter for each valve location. I located special woodworking drill bits called Forstner bits for all the diameters that I required. I was able to locate these drill bits on Ebay for an average of USD $3 per drill bit. Forstner bits are excellent for this application because they create perfectly clean, shiny-sided, flat-bottomed holes. With a professional drill-press, set to perfectly plumb, I then drilled each hole to a specific depth that was appropriate for each valve. Most holes were 12mm deep (note that I did not drill all the way through the box material. For the huge ZD1000F Tesla amplifier tube, I had to make geometric measurements to determine not only the diameter of the socket posts, but their relative positions on an arc from center.

Once I had drilled all of the holes, I then took a 3/8-inch diameter drill bit and drilled through the remaining material, in the center of each of the existing holes. These 3/8-inch holes would be for future placement of the LED/Lens modules. Note that some larger valves required that a full-sized hole be drilled all the way through the material, to allow for secure seating of the valves.

Step 5: Install the LED/Lens Modules, and Wire Them Inside.

Picture of Install the LED/Lens Modules, and Wire Them Inside.

I then inserted the LED/Lens modules into the 3/8-inch holes - which turned out to be sixty in total. They were able to be pressed in with a nice friction hold. Once all lights were in place, I turned the box over and wired all of them in parallel scheme to a series of european-style nylon terminal blocks that I had bridged in parallel fashion.

Once the pigtails of the LEDs were properly seated in the terminal blocks, I installed a 12vDC transformer of 100 watts - suitable wattage for the consumption of my sixty 1-watt 0.083 amp LED/lens modules. I located a transformer that was 110v-277v in, enabling this fixture to be operated in any country. I secured the transformer to the inside of the bottom plate of the base. I then spliced a wall-plug pigtail to the transformer and ensured suitable strain-relief.

I installed a small rocker switch on the top of the box, to be hidden by all the valves, once completed. I plugged the transformer to the wall socket and turned the switch on to verify that all LEDs were operating.

I then placed the bottom plate of the box into place, drilled small pilot holes and countersinks, and screwed four wood screws into place, securing the bottom plate to the box.

I then located an acrylic paint of a light, light orange (think something close to the color of a Fritos bag), and hand-painted the lenses of the LED/Lens modules. This color would impart a very warm, low-kelvin color, suitable for the old "heaters" of working valves. I tested on one LED/Lens module, and was delighted to find that I did not need to thin the paint at all; the light transmitted nicely through the acrylic paint.

Step 6: Seat the Valves.

Picture of Seat the Valves.

I then lined each hole with contact cement, then lined the bases of each valve with contact cement, and set the valves into their respective holes, and allowed the cement to set.

For the ZD1000F, because of its size, I drilled tiny holes in its socket posts, and then set the ZD1000F into its respective hole, then ran galvanized baling wire through the holes, effectively securing the ZD1000F into place.

Step 7: Turn It On, and Enjoy.

Picture of Turn It On, and Enjoy.

Once all the cement has set, turn the fixture on, and prepare to be inundated with complements, amazement, and endless, interesting conversation.

Step 8: Names, Descriptions, and Data Sheets of the Valves.

Picture of Names, Descriptions, and Data Sheets of the Valves.

Below is a near-complete list of the more exotic valves in this fixture, including their model number, description, and link to PDF datasheet.

CV2739 - TRANSMIT/RECEIVE SWITCH WITH TUNABLE CAVITY RESONATOR http://www.shinjo.info/frank/other/CVspecs/cv4-2/CV2739.pdf

V241C/2 - VELOCITY-MODULATED OSCILLATOR https://frank.pocnet.net/sheets/061/v/V241C-1K.pdf

CV2161 - External cavity reflex klystron http://www.ase-museoedelpro.org/Museo_Edelpro/Catalogo/tubes/records_nw/CV2161/CV2161.pdf

CV82 - GROUNDED GRID TRIODE OSCILLATOR http://www.r-type.org/pdfs/cv82.pdf

CV298 - SINGLE-POLE DOUBLE THROW HIGH INDUCTANCE SWITCH https://frank.pocnet.net/sheets/141/f/FA15.pdf

705 - HALF-WAVE HIGH-VACUUM THORIATED TUNGSTEN RECTIFIER http://www.shinjo.info/frank/sheets/127/7/705A.pdf

ACORN - VHF/UHF INDUCTANCE

327 A - UHF POWER TRIODE http://www.ase-museoedelpro.org/Museo_Edelpro/Catalogo/tubes/records_nw/327A/327A.pdf

6322 - SEPARATE CAVITY TUNABLE NARROW BAND TRANSMIT/RECEIVE TUBE https://frank.pocnet.net/sheets/201/6/6322.pdf

707B - EXTERNAL CAVITY REFLEX KLYSTRON http://www.ase-museoedelpro.org/Museo_Edelpro/Catalogo/tubes/records_nw/707B/707B.pdf

721B - EXTERNAL CAVITY DISC-SEAL ANTI-TRANSMIT / RECEIVE TUBE WITH KEEP ALIVE ELECTRODE http://www.ase-museoedelpro.org/Museo_Edelpro/Catalogo/tubes/records_nw/721A/721A.pdf

2C36 - SYLVANIA UHF TRIODE PULSE MODULATED OSCILLATOR http://www.serkel.net/tube/2C36-SYLVANIA-UHF-TRIODE-PULSE-MODULATED-OSCILLATOR.pdf

2K28 - EXTERNAL CAVITY REFLEX KLYSTRON LOCAL RADAR OSCILLATOR http://www.serkel.net/tube/2K28-EXTERNAL-CAVITY-REFLEX-KLYSTRON-LOCAL-RADAR-OSCILLATOR.pdf

6322 - TRANSMIT/RECEIVE SWITCHING TUBE http://www.serkel.net/tube/6322-BOMAC-TR-SWITCHING-TUBE.pdf

813 - THORIATED TUNGSTEN FILAMENT BEAM POWER TUBE http://www.serkel.net/tube/813-RCA-THORIATED-TUNGSTEN-FILAMENT-BEAM-POWER-TUBE.pdf

832 - DUAL TETRODE PUSH PULL RF BEAM POWER AMPLIFIER http://www.serkel.net/tube/832-DUAL-TETRODE-PUSH-PULL-RF-BEAM-POWER-AMPLIFIER.pdf

866A - HALF WAVE MERCURY VAPOR RECTIFIER http://www.serkel.net/tube/866A-HALF-WAVE-MERCURY-VAPOR-RECTIFIER.pdf

CV67 - VELOCITY MODULATED OSCILLATOR http://www.serkel.net/tube/CV67-VELOCITY-MODULATED-OSCILLATOR.pdf

E1148 - VHF OSCILLATING TRIODE http://www.serkel.net/tube/E1148-VHF-OSCILLATING-TRIODE.pdf

GR10A - NEON FILLED 10 WAY REGISTER TUBE (DECATRON) http://www.serkel.net/tube/GR10A-NEON-FILLED-10-WAY-REGISTER-TUBE.pdf

ORP30 - CADMIUM SULFIDE FLAME+SMOKE DETECTING PHOTOCONDUCTIVE CELL http://www.serkel.net/tube/ORP30-PHILIPS-CADMIUM-SULFIDE-FLAME+SMOKE-DETECTING-PHOTOCONDUCTIVE-CELL.pdf

QQV07 - 40 RF POWER TWIN BEAM TETRODE TUBE - DIMENSIONS http://www.serkel.net/tube/QQV07-40-RF-POWER-TWIN-BEAM-TETRODE.pdf

ZD1000F - RADIATION COOLED POWER TRIODE AMPLIFIER http://www.serkel.net/tube/ZD1000F-TESLA-RADIATION-COOLED-POWER-TRIODE-AMPLIFIER.pdf

ZM1020 - COLD CATHODE 10 DIGIT (NIXIE) INDICATOR http://www.serkel.net/tube/ZM1020-COLD-CATHODE-10-DIGIT-INDICATOR.pdf

Comments

NoelM36 (author)2016-08-16

I haven't seen them called valves sense my navy days.

Grampa

dvigatel (author)NoelM362017-05-01

They are called thermionic valves in British English, and vacuum tubes in American English.

wynkin (author)2016-12-14

Non-working valves can be bought cheaply from companies that sell tested valves, they are irreparable so they are only to happy to get rid of useless valves. The place I bought the valves from were surprised that there is now a market for non-working valves.

SoakedinVancouver (author)2016-08-16

Uber Geeky, I love it.

Some of the tubes, those with an upper or sideways projecting pin, used doped glass, in an attempt (usually successful!) to better match the dissimilar thermal expansion of the metal and the tube glass envelope. This intermediary glass is also known as "Vaseline glass", as it contains Uranium oxides and glows a nice "Radioactive Green As Seen In Sci-Fi Movies!" green. A high powered U.V. Led of 395 to 425nm wavelength will make these section of glass glow easily, as my wife discovered and demonstrated to me at the electrical museum in Bellingham (Ya gotta see that place!), Washington. Yeah, we travel around carrying U.V. LED sticks, just for the purpose of "discovering" odd glassware... Anyway, try your lamp from the top side, you might discover some oddities in both the external and internal glass section. Watch your eyes with high power U.V. LEDs or fluorescent tubes, sunglasses ensure safety. You can look directly at the green glow (lazy-er photons ;) ) but not directly at U.V. sources, ideally...

This said, your setup is gorgeous as it stands. Wonderful work!

The data about the tubes is like another of layer of ice cream on top of a well made banana split.

j88k (author)SoakedinVancouver2016-08-16

Thanks for your kind words! Yes, your knowledge of these valves is quite impressive! The 327A indeed features uranium glass. I can't wait to try your UV idea.

SoakedinVancouver (author)j88k2016-09-03

As of September 3rd 2016, Electronic Goldmine has 3 watts UV LED's, two wavelength bands (420-425nm and 356-395nm) on sale. Just in case you did not already have some on hand... ;)

http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com/prodinfo.asp?number=G21546&mc_cid=1e52458243&mc_eid=ed82fe2680

SoakedinVancouver (author)j88k2016-08-16

Let us know how it goes :)

zappenfusen (author)2016-08-17

800 amps! Great oogly moogly! Most buildings I service lack that kind of power. Looks great and must have cost a fortune for the tubes.

zapp

gm280 (author)2016-08-15

While I am sure you seriously enjoy your project, and it looks nice as well, but I have to say I cringed to see the number of tubes you destroyed to make this. So many tubes these days are lost never to be re-manufactured again. I would have figured out their respective filament pins and voltage needed and supplied them such voltages to light up the tubes for real. It would have looked equally well if not even better. But to each their own. I am not saying your project isn't interesting, only that I hate to see good operational vintage tubes destroyed, that's all. JMHO

j88k (author)gm2802016-08-16

Excellent armchair quarterbacking from the Vacuum Tubes Lives Matter section. GM280, for everyone's benefit here, why don't you download and analyze all the datasheets I provided, and calculate the total wattage, voltage, and components required to suitably power the actual heaters in all the tubes. Your conclusion would result in a project that nobody would be inclined (or brave enough!) to build. For what it's worth, save for the 866a, it was only the small, dime-a-dozen tubes that had their bases removed. Keep in mind the original spirit of Instructables is to provide designs and guidance that are democratized enough that virtually anyone could rise to the challenge and build them.

foxpup (author)j88k2016-08-16

I'm sorry if my comment caused any distress. I agree with the spirit of your posting. I was just trying to be funny, that's all. Please take it as such. :-) You're right, it was armchair quarterbacking. :-) All that said, I'll admit that I do find it hard to destroy perfectly good devices that I haven't used in decades to build other things I need now. Sentimentality? mayby. Seeing a "spirit" in the machinery? silly imagination. Still, its hard to do it or see it being done, for me. Then I go and do it anyway but still feel a bit guilty, but its a guilt I can live with. :-) People are wierd creatures.

j88k (author)foxpup2016-08-17

No distress! The spirit is better served by employing these tubes in some way for people to gawk over, rather than keeping them in a box for decades. Best,

Ninzerbean (author)j88k2016-08-17

You joined Instructables this year and are making a claim I have never heard of - that the site's original spirit is to democratize designs so anyone can build them. Does that mean to dumb them down? I love this site for the opposite reason - that people of all abilities share how they made something. Many subjects or projects are out of my scope of ability but I read them the same way I would read a cookbook, not to make them but to enjoy leaning about the process. It's a very harsh claim you are making, I want to know where you got your info.

foxpup (author)gm2802016-08-16

Tube Lives Matter! So many good tubes sacrificed to the false gods of aesthetics.

zelkclv (author)foxpup2016-08-16

I have boxes of old tubes and a tube tester. I would test them and use the bad ones only. Saving the good ones.

foxpup (author)zelkclv2016-08-16

:-)

foxpup (author)2016-08-16

Gotta love that orange glow, like gazing into the heating elements of the toaster. Warm and wonderful, especially in the cold winter.

broe23 (author)2016-08-16

Nice room heater. The Klystron tubes are still used even today for Microwave transmissions and for television signal transmission.

geopro (author)2016-08-16

A wonderful instructable. Now I'm going to be thinking about this all day.THANKS

j88k (author)geopro2016-08-16

I thought about it all my life. Getting it done is like a relief.

ynneb (author)2016-08-16

I bought a tube from an op shop once. The guy sold it to me for 10 bucks. Out of interest I search for some specs about it online and discovered it dated back to 1930s. I also saw that collectors were paying upwards of $450 bucks for them. I'm still yet to sell it.

ynneb (author)2016-08-16

I love tubes too. Always have. I have done an underlit project as well (Not as bit as yours though. I must admit that the gow of the actual filaments in the tubes, beats underlit. Keep in mind that its not the filament section of the tube that uses all the eneregy, and if you wire up just that part it wont use much electricity.

MarkN97 (author)2016-08-16

Purely asthetic. And I love it!

TonyF65 (author)2016-08-16

Neat

ElegantAndrogyne (author)2016-08-16

Nice, but I'd rather use the tube filaments as the light source. Of course it's more heat than light, but nothing beats seeing the whole heater glow, especially on directly-heated tubes. The tube must have good vacuum (no leaks - otherwise the heater will oxidize or even burn through and become useless) and you must know the proper voltage or current (some tubes had heaters meant for serial connection, you had to hook them to a constant-current source). Anyway, it's still better to have a nice vacuum tube hi-fi amp on the shelf; not only does it look good, but sounds good too :).

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2016-08-15

This is so awesome! It gives me a really crazy idea. I want to try to make some kind of pendant light display with hanging tubes. Thanks for sharing.

They are made of glass that clang and can shatter.

That's already on my radar.

JamesOdin (author)2016-08-15

HI I love this! I am an artist and I have been making paintings and sile point drawings of Edison Light Bulbs and Vacuum tubes. Please check out my website for a few images! www.melissaparhm.com

j88k (author)JamesOdin2016-08-16

Beautiful work. What is the average size of those paintings? And prices?

cuyler1 (author)2016-08-16

At age 10 in 65 I remember riding my bike back and forth to the 7-11 checking tubes at their tube tester machine for dad as he was repairing our family (1) TV.

Thank you for your project as it provides History and Entertainment in one package!

j88k (author)cuyler12016-08-16

Thanks Cuyler. This project was the culmination of a childhood dream of mine.

arubedao (author)2016-08-16

Una preciosidad de presentación.

j88k (author)arubedao2016-08-16

Muy amable. Gran saludo de Chile.

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Bio: Principal and founder of MINIMIS
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