Introduction: Mad Scientists Light

Picture of Mad Scientists Light

A Maker friendly version of the Tube Lamp by Nik Willmore. a captivating Light source suitable for normal usage and able to be dimmed down like a nice relaxing night light

Step 1: Intro / Disclaimer

Picture of Intro / Disclaimer

*Disclaimer* This Project involves Live electrical current and wiring, although it is not too complicated, if you are nervous about such a project i suggest you skip this one, I'm not a professional electrician, and just because i didn't burn my house down and kill myself with this setup doesn't mean it can't happen to you. Please take the proper safety precautions when working with electricity, IT CAN KILL YOU. I'm not responsible if you shock/electrocute yourself, burn your house down, burn out your eye sockets or disrupt the space time continuum. and please do not try to reproduce this project for the purpose of making money, to do so would hurt the original designer Nik Willmore whom inspired this wonderful project.*

A few years ago i saw this little beauty [ The Tube Lamp] pop up online, designed by Nik Willmore and decided it was exactly what i needed for my little Mad scientist Laboratory. unfortunately i couldn't spare the disposable cash needed (or justify it) to purchase such an item, though i would still like to some day as his still has a captivating hold on me :)

This is project to show you how to make a much more cost effective version of the tube lamp design to get you by for the meantime. Rough estimate of the costs involved in this project is totaled at around or under $20 depending on the supplies you choose.

NOTE: I Have updated some of the steps to help clarify some things and changed the way certain things are setup so they are more efficient and easier to understand. and from now on i also won't wait as long between doing a project, taking the pictures, and then making the write up as that leaves too much room for error :) thanks for reading.

Step 2: The Base

Picture of The Base

A simple unfinished Pine box with sliding lid (Removed for this photo) That I picked up at the local arts and crafts store (Michaels) for about $2 a box it was the perfect size to fit the four light sockets, i sanded it all down and painted it after cuting the holes for the sockets in the bottom.

to make the lamp the box was flipped over and the bottom became the top so if i have to make any adjustments or replacements i can turn the box on it's side and slide open the "Lid"

Step 3: Box Continued

Picture of Box Continued

Outside of the simple Box I used for the base of the lamp, actually i bought two and this is the second one, i liked the finish of the other box much more so i went with that one to fashion the lamp out of.

Originally there was going to be wrap around text as you can see in the photo that was a quote "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." -- Alan Kay

Step 4:

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Here is the insides of the box/base where you can see the back side of the light bulb sockets as well as the back end of the dimmer switch and all the interconnecting wires. the Sockets were wired in parallel (one linking to another like a daisy chain) with one end of the power cord connected to the daisy chain of sockets, and the other end of the power cord connected to the dimmer switch.

Step 5:

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Another shot of the guts of this lamp.

The most expensive part of this whole project was the standard Dimmer wall switch (push in to turn on and off, rotate to dim or brighten) (the black box on the left) which ran me about $7 at the Home supply store.

There are three wires running out of the back of the dimmer switch unit, two black and one green, the green wire is for grounding, and since the box is wood and since i didn't use a three prong grounded electrical cord i just removed the green wire.

*Okay i've revised this a bit and made a much simpler and effective way to wire up the sockets, i could have sworn i wired it up one way and not another, but i completed this project a few months ago and just did the write up now, so i forgot about that change in plans sorry for the confusion*

... take all the black wires coming out of the sockets and bunch them together, i used wire ties to keep them all together, do the same with the white wires coming from the sockets use a wire nut to connect all the white wires together and have them connect to one of the wires from the power cord...

connect all the black wires from the sockets together as well and wire nut them together with one of the 2 black wires coming from the dimmer switch... then connect the remaining black wire from the dimmer switch to the other wire on the power cord

Step 6:

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Simple 40w Tube Display Case Lightbulbs Available at most Home supply stores (I Purchased Mine at Lowes), you can also look around online and find other display case lightbulbs with different fillament patterns inside some are quite bland, but others look spectacular when dimmed down and you can trace the path of the filament in them .

Step 7:

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The light bulb sockets set in the cut out holes, i made sure when i cut the holes they were just too small and then lightly hand sanded them till the sockets just fit in properly with a few millimeters of the white socket exposed, then used a light bit of clear glue around the entire socket and the inside of the hole to attach it as well as a thicker ring of glue around the sockets on the inside of the box.

The light sockets themselves were purchased from Lowes and are fairly cheap as well ($2 or so) and are designed for ceiling lamp repair and replacement.

Step 8:

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Heres a shot where i tried to get a close up of the insides of the bulb, didn't turn out perfect but you get the idea

Step 9: Finish

Picture of Finish

The finished Product with it's Glamour Shots, it lets off a nice glow and is certainly an eye catcher, everyone wants to know what that is and where i got it from, not bad for a lamp i made under $20 (not included the sweat and blood you may or may not donate to said project)

In the second shot you can see the finished product, along with a nice black Radio Knob replacing the big boring beige knob that comes with the dimmer switch.

If you liked this one, be sure to check out the smoke stack lamp instructable that i'll be posting up where i used some of the things i learned from this project, right now i'm still putting the finishing touches on that project but you can see some shots of how it's coming along in my Flicker Photo stream
Thanks for checking out my first Instructable!


PHOBoS (author)2009-08-28
here is my version made from some stuff I had laying around

frenzy (author)PHOBoS2010-07-14

Congrats! This project has won today's I Made It Challenge. For this you will receive a pro membership!

Temporalis (author)PHOBoS2010-02-25

 OK, that is just cool.  You wouldn't happen to be willing to share the schematics for this, would you?

PHOBoS (author)Temporalis2010-02-25


I don't have any problems with sharing the schematics, as a matter of fact, I'd love to =) (all information should be free) That's why you can find it at my website: (take a look at the original sketch). I noticed I still haven't provided any additional information on the site so here some extra notes; The flashing is done using ordinary fluorescent light starters. and I used a very basic dimmer ciruit in series with the rest of the circuit (that is switches, starters and bulbs).

The components for the dimmer are:
- standard Diac (like a DB3)
- Triac (anything will do as long as it can handle the power of the bulbs, like a TIC 206 or BT136)
- 470K potentiometer
- 0.1uF capacitor (50V type should do fine, but I usually use a 250V or 400V type just in case one of the other component should fail)

you can find the dimmer circuit at the bottom of the sketch.

If you have any questions just let me know.

Ow, and if you build one yourself, I'd love to see it!

jtillman5 made it! (author)2015-12-20

super cool looking and really easy! I made my own box from done reclaimed oak I had in hand and added a toggle switch. I really enjoyed the finally look of it. a lot more rustic. thanks for the great idea!

RafayJ (author)2015-05-21

wAh g wAh!!

lbspivey made it! (author)2014-02-13

This project was so much fun! I made it as a Valentine's gift for my husband.

twopussez (author)2014-01-28

Love it. I think there's a load of fun to be had 3D printing customised shells for stuff like lighting, provided the plastic doesnt get too close to the bulb or it'd melt. I quite like the idea of scanning a heat-melted PLA and printing that in harder finish ABS

whiplash18 (author)2013-12-21

Just finished this as a gift for my brother. Thanks!

CFLlamp (author)2013-07-14

This is not the first time the State is launching a campaign to promote compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).
In early 2009, the then Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) tried to implement Bachat Lamp Yojana (BLY), a nation-wide scheme of replacing incandescent bulbs (ICBs) with CFLs.

elikope (author)2013-01-05

Thanks for the awesome idea! made mine today out of an old cigar box.

Two Raven (author)2012-07-02

So happy that you posted this!
I am a novice at electrical stuff, so your guide really helped me to go above and beyond once I understood the principals. The Box on the right is my first, the second is made with Christmas lights and vintage doctor office test tubes and the third has a dimmer, stand-by light and working clock. I couldn't have done it without this instructable!!!

Two Raven (author)2012-07-02

So happy that you posted this! I am a novice at electrical stuff, so your guide really helped me to go above and beyond once I understood the principals. The Box on the right is my first, the second is made with Christmas lights and vintage doctor office test tubes and the third has a dimmer, stand by light and working clock. I couldn't have done it without this instructable!!!

Dusk Shadows (author)2012-06-11

that looks really cool

itsjustdoc (author)2012-05-03

Y'know, I was planning on using Nixie tubes if ever I took this 'ible on; the bulbs look enough like Nixies that I got confused before I got to this stage. On a side not, could we get a wiring diagram? The pictures you have elsewhere look like black spaghetti and it's hecka hard to figure out what goes to where.

JKPieGuy (author)2012-03-24

It would look really cool if you used a cotton covered cord! :]

abstracted (author)2012-01-16

here is my version...took a while to build, due to the bulbs were "intermediate" base (smaller than standard, but bigger than a night light bulb) so i built my own bulb sockets. i used a pine craft box from the dollar store and a few parts frm a victorian replica phone. i wanted the victorian steampunk look. i made the sockets from clear lexan tubes from discarded "under car" neon lights and 14 guage household wire, by wraping the "bared" solid copper wire arounf the base of the bulb creating the coiled threads for the socket. I then JB quik welded the coils inside the clear lexan tubes, as well as the center pin conductor pieces. as the sockets are made of clear tube i was thinking of adding a red light inside that will cause the clear ring of the sockets to glow. the outer rings on the sockets are made frm aluminum spacer rings frm discarded hard drives painted with "brass" colored spray paint. thnx 4 all the inspiration!

gotanysparecake (author)2011-12-27

Nice! Now to figure out how to make a bunch of them into a numerical display for keeping track of the divergence percentage of the current universe!

justjimAZ (author)2011-08-22

I started with a pink Barbie wardrobe and wired the lights in series to eliminate the dimmer. I actually used aquarium bulbs, which were much cheaper and had a glow I liked.

jkx (author)2006-05-02

I'm unable to find this kind of buld here in France. Do you have any tips to help me.?

sschindle (author)jkx2011-08-16

just picked up 10 of these beauties for a project

billgeo (author)jkx2011-04-23

You could check out EBAY for "aquarium bulb"
Something like this, though I don't know that voltage you have in your country.

Digmymustache (author)2011-08-09

Hey, this is great! I want to make one, however this tutorial isn't beginner enough for me. Can someone point me in the right direction to learn how the wiring works?

tic tac man (author)2011-07-23

instead of a cord i used a computer plug from an old power supply so that the cord could be unplugged.

dracothered (author)2011-05-24

Here is my Mad Scientist Light, made from a cigar box and 4 light sockets with a dimmer and toggle switch.

sycboi (author)2010-07-18

I work at a lighting store and managed to scrounge enough parts to build my own. I used an led for the "danger" buttton and an in-line switch to separate the little lamp from the larger ones, it has an on-off rotator switch as well as a dimmer that runs them all. Love this site, thanks to everyone for the inspirations.

stkyfingur (author)sycboi2011-05-20

Syc- do you have a wiring diagram for your bulb box w/switches? Thanks!

sycboi (author)stkyfingur2011-05-21

At this point no I do not, but it is a very simple layout, although my expertise in not in electricity but in the fixtures, so no ohm meters or laws willbe mentioned in anything I do! I will take a picture and label the wiring.

stkyfingur (author)sycboi2011-05-23

Labeled pics would be great. Thanks!

NANOBOT-404 (author)2011-03-25

Really nice work.
How are these bulbs named ? I dont find them in my local hardwarestore.

regards from Hamburg (DE)

sycboi (author)NANOBOT-4042011-05-21

The universal designation for the bulbs is a Edison base or E26 base with a T10 shape or Tube shape, the 10 refers to diameter of the bulb in 8th's of an inch so that might be differant. Also they should not be under any regulation if you buy 25 or 15 watts, however 60watts will be hard to find.

brainpuddl3 (author)NANOBOT-4042011-04-10

Look for aquarium bulbs. Just ordinary fresh water aquarium stuff, not the fancy salt water equipment.

inhaos (author)2011-05-11

looks cool
but too hard for me
for my baby would touch anyting in my room.

DAS-Machina (author)2011-04-10

Looks very cool! I was getting ready to do 2 or 3 fixtures like this (Except with 6 bulbs each). I am building a Frankenstein lab. I like the Idea of Wiring in series to eliminate the dimmer. I also like the idea of making the lights dim up and down using a circuit anyone know what the title of that article is?

stregoi (author)2011-01-02

that's looks great :)

Weissensteinburg (author)2011-01-01

Here's my version. Sad as it is, this is the most experience I have with working with wiring. Hopefully it's the first of many.

anim8er (author)2009-07-07

Before getting to this page, I was going to suggest wiring the bulbs in series and do away with the dimmer altogether. As you found out, wiring the bulbs in series causes them to be dimmed. If that is how you want it, the dimmer is then unnecessary. (You would still want a regular switch.)

garrys newman (author)anim8er2009-11-24

series wiring decreasse the voltage to each bulb (divided by 4 in this case) but also decreasse total consumption in AMPs (divided by 4 in this case)
so wiring in paralel have advantages: 4times more power to each bulb
and wiring in series also have advantages: 4times less power consumption thant series wiring

brian3140 (author)garrys newman2010-03-14

"garry" its possible you have it right in your head, but what you wrote was a little confusing and sounded wrong so i just wana clarify for people referring to this instructable for learning purposes...

Volts x Amps = Watts
Wattage=Power Consumption

The power consumed by the lights will not change dramatically by wiring the lights in series or parallel. The lights "require" a specific wattage, eg. 60w, and besides adding a dimmer, will just "automatically" get it.

By wiring the lights in series, you increase the amount of resistance in the circuit, and this reduces the voltage like was pointed out already. But it does NOT reduce the amount of power you are using. If you refer the the formula I wrote above and keep in mind the Wattage is going to be constant, you can understand how when the voltage decreases the light will respond by increasing the amount of amperage. In fact this is how many house fires are caused because amperage causes heat. The old christmas lights without the fuses could get so hot they'd melts when you plugged to many strings into eachother like this.

The ONLY way to reuce the power consumption in a light circut like this is with a dimmer, and not all dimmers qualify. The modern Levitron dimmersw you pay about $20 a piece for DO reduce the power consumption, but the old style only reduce light output and not consumption.

Hope that was helpful :)

garrys newman (author)brian31402010-03-14

 if its writen 60w on a buld it will be 60watt on its nominal voltage ex:120v

let calc internal resistance of the bulb


R=120/0.5=240 omhs

now let see if at 60volts it stay at 60w (60volts 1 amp)

as you can see, according to ohm law, if voltage to buld decreasse, amp decreasse too

anim8er (author)garrys newman2010-03-14

Gary has it correct. In parallel, each bulb gets 120volts. Wired in series, for 4 bulbs, then each bulb only gets 30volts. The 120volts is divided across all 4 bulbs in series, but individually, they get a fraction of the total voltage drop.

The reverse is true. Standard batteries are 1.5 volts each. Wire them in series and the voltages add up. Lots of items use 3 batteries wired in series to produce 4.5volts. Close enough to power electronics meant for 5volts.

PKM (author)anim8er2010-06-29

Yep, Garry is right. Wiring multiple bulbs in series not only decreases the power consumption per bulb, it actually reduces power consumption overall.  The entire string taken as a single "entity" has a higher resistance, so draws less current.

It's not quite as simple as four times as many bulbs = four times the resistance = one quarter of the current, because the resistance of a lightbulb depends on its temperature, so a lightbulb driven at half the voltage will draw more than half the current.  With longs strings of bulbs in series (like the old christmas lights), sometimes you can see them initially turn on brightly when the string is cold and at a low resistance, then dim as they heat up and increase resistance.  In this case, the effect would be quite mad-scientist-y anyway :)

andybiker (author)PKM2010-10-14

I second this,
Put the bulbs in series, 2 in series will run them at half the voltage. They WILL take less power. If the brightness of 2 bulbs in series is the same as using a dimmer then the power taken should be the same.
Forget Ohm's law with bulbs, the resistance (R) is not constant! A hot bulb has a higher resistance than a cold one!
Also make sure the bulbs are the same wattage or the power (and hence brightness) will be shared unevenly.

I wired 2 sets of old Christmas lights in series for my parents (about 10 years ago) - the brightness looks about 50% less (approx !) but the bulb life is MUCH longer!
I remember quite a few of these old (approx 60 years!) bulbs failed when I was a kid, but none of them have failed since!

badideasrus (author)andybiker2010-12-28

im confused here. what brian said is true. voltage and amps have an inverse dependent relationship. (i hope i said that right) if one goes down, the other goes up. period. this is because watts are constant. this is why transformers work, if you decrease volts you get amps, if you decrease amps you get volts....... so if you wire them in series, the amps should go up because the resistence goes up. THIS is what causes the volts to go up, yes?

andybiker (author)badideasrus2010-12-28

Bulbs are not transformers, completely different
When the resistance goes up then the current goes down!
I(current)=V(voltage)/R(resistance) (Ohm's law)
If you have a 100W bulb running on 110v, it will take 100 Watts ONLY when running on 110v.
If you run it on a lower voltage then it WILL take less current!
Try this simple experiment...Switch on the headlights of your car then start the engine. As the starter is turning then the lights dim (the voltage of the battery is dropping) then the engine starts and they are brighter (higher voltage-battery on charge!)
The brightness IS proportional to the actual watts being consumed by the bulb.
When we put 2 bulbs in series, the same voltage is shared between 2 bulbs. Twice the resistance*, Half the total power consumption, each bulb running at a quarter of the wattage*

*I mentioned earlier that a cold filament is a lower resistance than a hot one so this isn't exactly true but it gets complicated here!
I hope this helps!

Betelgeus3 (author)2010-12-23

A cool thing would be to integrate a timer to make them glow on and off slowly. I saw a thing on here where you could pull that off with just an analog circuit.

Clear Contrast (author)2009-04-06

I thought I'd place some shameless self promotion. After getting in the instructables book with a treasure chest light box(first image below) I had many people asking me to build them a lamp so I decided to do some nicer boxes and put them up on

I'm particularly fond of the Aerolux lamp and you can actually use the treasure box. I sealed off all the components in the top.

Soon I'll have some other lamps with secret compartments and hand dremeled designs on them up. Let me know what you think.

What are the black rings you have around the base of the bulb? They make it look very clean.

They are the sockets. Black rubber sockets originally made for outdoor use. They work well because you can drill out the holes and then slide them right into the box.

diydept (author)Clear Contrast2009-09-29

Thank you for the answer. As a saw on you sold treasure box with the lions p.s. It was my favorite.Well done

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