Introduction: Plasma Display Steampunk

Picture of Plasma Display Steampunk

This was a week-end project I created from a 6" black and white TV and a large neon bulb a friend sent me from overseas,
the smaller bulbs I found at a second hand store, I wish I didn't have to say this, but this project uses VERY HIGH VOLTAGES,
it uses the out put voltage of the TV's flyback I'm not sure the exact voltage but I'm guessing around 20,000 volts, it can burn, cause a heart attack and is just plain miserable.

The total cost to me for this project was about 20.00 dollars, the TV was 5.00 and the wood and doo dads the remaing cost.
These little TV's are in all the junk shops they no longer work without a digital converter, and B+W is too boring for most people now.


Step 1: Find the Parts and Test, Safety.

Picture of Find the Parts and Test, Safety.

Because it's been 30 years since I studied electronics I took the easy way out, I just used the whole circut board from the TV chassis.
I cut off the leads to the vertical and horz magnet drivers, and the heater in the tube, this left me with a single board which had the coveted flyback, I also cut off the tuner section of the board because it stuck out another 3'

To be simple I cut every wire to the tube, the large single wire to the side of the tube is what you want to use, if you didn't know that, then don't start this project.
Pay attention! TV Tubes store their voltages for quite a while, days, weeks, months, so when you disconnect the flyback wire from the side of the tube treat it as if it is on running at full voltage, I grounded mine with a pair of gloves and a screw driver connected to the TV ground,
then I put tape over the hole on the side of the tube so as to not acidently discharge it into me.

If you are going to get shocked this just might be the time, get help if you need it please! 

Step 2: Modify the Bulb

Picture of Modify the Bulb

I used copper foil from stained glass work to make a grid on my large neon bulb, the design you use is up to you, keeping the spacing within 1/2 and inch will make it glow best, don't put any foil strips near the base, an arc can very easily form.

I enjoyed this project because it held lots of mystries, for example when voltage was applied to the base of the bulb it glowed very softly, when applied to the threaded part it was quite brightly, I exploited this by making a high low switch to change the bulbs out put.

The two pictures here show the base and side connections, the second picture is much brighter but the camera adjusted it back, but trust me it is bright. Can we all say overvolt!

Step 3: The Box.

Picture of The Box.

I made a box of 9 ply Baltic birch and covered it with oak vanieer.
The face plate is copper sheet over 1/4" scrap plywood.
Spray contact cement was used to stick the copper and vanieer to the box.
I had pre-drilled the holes in the wood face and did a pre-fit to make sure it would work and look good
the copper is to expensive to waste by mis-drilled holes, just ask Miss Betsy.
To make the switches I used a scrap piece and fitted the switches to it to make sure it would all  fit and work
I made my own switches because of the high voltages, that will be covered in the next step.

Step 4: Switches, Arc Generator.

Picture of Switches, Arc Generator.

You need arc points to get the full voltage from the flyback, I thought it would be fun to make them adjustable, I also made a high low switch for the large bulb out put.

With the points seperated the voltage flickers and has a very desirable effect, (it's freakin cool man)

The pictures show how I did it, it's crude but it works and does not short out, I did make it so when the control for the points is fully
relaxed the points are still slightly apart, you don't want a dead short. (that is the job of the small block of wood above the brass wire
where the string attaches, pretty high tech, yuk yuk. 
You will notice the points are pulled apart by a long thread of NON-conductive material.
The high low switch uses an inch of plastic to prevent shocks and shorts. 
Carpet tape holds the copper contacts to the board. 

Step 5: Battery Final Pics, Fun Stuff About It.

Picture of Battery Final Pics, Fun Stuff About It.

I used 4 X 3.5 volt rechargable battries, in series  I wanted to fit them in the case but alas it was too small so I made a holder on the back
the battries are held in two 3/4 copper tubes with contacts on the ends, a nice system that is easy to do is to use velcro to hold the battries in the tube then shoved a copper wire through the velcro in the center to make contact, when they need it undo the velcro to change the batts.

I used a 2 prong plug so I can easily recharge them,
the legs are made from candle holder parts,

The box is really fun to play with because you can "tune" it by moving the points apart, this makes it spark and causes the light to jump around in the large bulb, the smaller bulbs have a small removable copper wire ring that causes them to light up quite brilliantly,
or with them removed you can use your fingers to make the light chase to them.
If you look at the bulb behind the one I'm touching it has a ring while the one my fingers are on does not.

The center brass ring has a magnifying glass that shows the arc in action, it was made from a candle holder drilled out and a binocular lens.

I really need to give credit Junopor for all his wonderful projects using neon bulbs, without his influence and many projects I would never have been inspired to make this one.


Grunambulax (author)2013-11-29

This is awesome. Brilliant design and execution.

zomfibame (author)2013-09-13

wow, you are a rare breed, someone with electrical skills, artistic imagination, an ability to cleanly execute the idea, and be able n' willing to share how it's done.. ... this piece is great.

longwinters (author)zomfibame2013-09-13

Glad you like it I still love the thing it's on my night stand going to do a quick transformer addition no reason to run it on batteries
You may enjoy the camper I just posted too thanks for the kind words

andrea biffi (author)2013-09-07

Impressive work! I love it!

BrefelanDesigns (author)2012-04-18

I must say! You have done a extendedly great job on this! One is curious on a few things though. Where did you procure the copper sheeting from? Do you know any of the specs on the large neon bulb? I am guessing that it was Junophor who sent you that bulb.... I recently picked up a small B/W tv myself. (I paid 20$, a bit much, but I haven't seen any others lately.) Though I am thinking of actually using it like a screen, as it has (mono) audio and (composite) video RCA inputs.
BUT as always I have several other projects in various stages of completion... including my tabletop amplifier and also anouther lamp, this time it's a desk lamp...
Anyways enough of my pitiful excuses!
I have saved this one in both my favorites here and I booked-marked it too!
As always, Good Wishes and Happy Making!

p.s - Did I mention I am slowly working on (trying to) make some vacuum bulbs of various sorts, including Geissler tubes? I need to work on my glass working skills though first!

I got some bad news last night, that the large bulbs are no longer availible, at least at the present time, the copper was give to me by a friend, but I purchased a chunk last month from a sheet metal store, 20.00 a square foot for the thick stuff, sometimes a thinner variety can be found at the hardware store for flashing.

Yes my buddy sent me the bulb.

Computer monitors (tube type) also use the same style of flyback they are everywhere sometimes for free.

I would be very interested in your tube work, test tubes have nice working characteristics, possibly you could develop a concept without fire,
I am currently checking around for a small quanity of Argon or Neon because I
would like to make my own bulb someday.

jcisking (author)longwinters2012-11-22

Greetings from England!
I am in love with your work!
Over here in the uk you can buy Argon gas quite cheap for use in TIG welding...
Don’t know if that’s any help?

Thank you for sharing your beautiful work with us!

longwinters (author)jcisking2012-11-24

Greetings from across the pond, since this project I found a supplier for the rare gases, I also visited a neon sign shop, to say the process is difficult is a grand understatment. (at least without all the proper equipment.)
Glad you like the project...

raven1913 (author)2012-05-06

So I am new to instructables and wanted to say I love your device and wanted to make one but I am not sure about the bulb will an aerolux bulb do the trick? or will it not handle the fly back voltage and the little bulbs are those pilot lights or whatever they are called my second hand stores do not get these very often I have personally never seen them so I guess what I am asking is what should I look for on ebay. Thanks and awsome

longwinters (author)raven19132012-05-07

Sorry I don't know what an aerolux bulb is, the large bulb I used is said to be discontinued, but I bet there are still some out there.

The small bulbs can be found by mailing or calling Buy the Pound here in Anchorage, his store will Google up.

I should point out again, none of the bulbs are fed full flyback voltage through their designed terminals, the base is used for one contact, and the foil the other on the large bulb, the small ones just use the air, if you were to put full voltage through the designed terminals they will burn out almost instantly.

Good luck, PM me if you want specific details about how to get the small bulbs, plus I do think he has some on E-bay

bricabracwizard (author)2012-04-18

I love what you've done here! Is there any chance of more detail in the wiring, I would love to make one of these and install it into a 1930's clock case I have.

Thanks to everyone I have read all of the comments and am surprized at your reactions, I didn't know so many people liked getting shocked.

This project was cheep and fun.

Your wish is my command, the heavy black line is the HV side, you will notice it shorts directly to ground through the arc points. the connection to the small bulbs is through both of the base contacts.

martiro7 (author)longwinters2012-04-23

Gorgeous looking project enhanced by the beautiful woodwork. Nice! But when I look at the "schematic", it looks like you are feeding the HV in parallel to all the neon bulbs. When I have used NE02 bulbs in the past, they fired on 60 volts. Won't the 15K volts from the flyback fry the smaller bulbs?

longwinters (author)martiro72012-04-23

Check my comments above, the flyback voltage is not through the two base contacts, it's through them connected togeather then the case acts as the circut completion, or your finger, and you are correct if you ran that high of a voltage through the cathode and anode plates sparks would fly and a burned out bulb would result.

I think if you look close you can see a removable copper ring that fits around the base of the small bulbs to make them glow brighter, it can be removed if you want to play track the neon with your fingers.

alicyn.wonderland (author)2012-04-23

How fun!

ynze (author)2012-04-19

Very, very cool.

solemnraven (author)ynze2012-04-22

Super cool

Flying_MashedPotatoes (author)2012-04-22

Where does one find such tv to make one of these?

Thrift stores, I have two of them I paid 5.00 each, there are also instructables on how to convert a high voltage flyback from a TV so you don't have to use the whole board, tube style computer monitors would work too, the large bulb is going to be difficult to find in the US.

spark master (author)2012-04-22

Schematic ?

lovely construction, your thingie is quite a looker. I humbly suggest a theremin inside it!


longwinters (author)spark master2012-04-22

There is a schematic posted in the comments section first page, when you adjust the arc gap there is a change in the very high pitch wine the arc produces, my daughter can hear it upstairs, but this "old" man can't.

spark master (author)longwinters2012-04-22

I are be olde too and when I loaded the view one page I saw all the commentary.

Since on me everything hurts and one doctor told me simply "you ain't young and this ain't Kansas"

I still can hear HV circuits(a la fuji flash camera's), somewhat. I wonder if you can add a diode voltage tripler at end of a fuji to make it run this?

longwinters (author)spark master2012-04-22

My fellow builder Junopor does quite a bit with those units, a bird has told me that he has a new project which uses the smaller lamps like in my display driven only by the flash unit.

I would wonder how much current it takes to make a healthy glow in the big bulb, intution tells me something more would be needed.

There are several fly-back conversion instructables here, if I do another HV project I will try and follow one.

You know the law, double the voltage halve the current, at full voltage the bulb must be pulling 8 to 10 watts, that is quite a bit for a flash unit, Junophor seems to be able to get them to do what ever he asks, while I burn them out like matches.

polochka (author)2012-04-19

надіюсь що мобільні телефони скоро будуть працювати на плазмі

Winged Fist (author)2012-04-18

I concur with Junophor and Horatius Steam... An absolutely amazing work of art! Truly steampunk at it's best, from the recycled parts to the shiny copper and rich wood... Another piece worthy of a museum...(And 5 stars;-)

Everett_McKinley (author)2012-04-18

wonderful job my good sir.

Notquitepinoy (author)2012-04-18

awesome job... watching hot glowing things is always a nice way to past the time... great job

thechocolatist (author)2012-04-18

Very nice!!!! Great design and perfect craftsmanship!!
Sincerely The Chocolatist

Junophor (author)2012-04-18

Hi longwinters

Once again FIVE stars;-)))))

This object deserves rather TEN stars!!!!!

Junophor (author)2012-04-18

Hi longwinters

You hit the point!!

That is really steampunk at its best!!!!

I am looking to find the right words. This is another masterpiece!!!!!

Very amazing!!


Cheers Aeon Junophor

Horatius.Steam (author)2012-04-17

WOW! This is absolutely amazing!

Great work and a great effect with the copper stripes!


Horatius Steam

poofrabbit (author)2012-04-17

WOW!! The craftsmanship on this project is simply awesome!

alicyn.wonderland (author)2012-04-17

That's cool Dad. I'm glad you found something cool to work on between projects.

About This Instructable




Bio: Happily married, self employed, full wood shop, some metal work as well as electronics, antique collector.
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