Steampunk Vacuum Tube Night Light





Introduction: Steampunk Vacuum Tube Night Light

About: I like to tinker and experiment with electronics, robotics, programming, and photography. Along with my latest interest in Steampunk.

My 5 year old granddaughter wanted a night light for her bedroom. Recently I have been building things with a Steampunk look, so this give me an excuse to build another project. This project uses some recycled materials that can be found at your local thrift store. Vacuum tubes can be found on Ebay and other components such as resistors and leds can be purchased at Mouser, Digikey or Electronic Goldmine.

Step 1: Find a Box

I found a suitable box at a local Thrift store and paid about a dollar for it. You can re-stain and finish it if needed.

Step 2: Glowing Vacuum Tubes

I used surface mount white leds to illuminate the vacuum tubes. Even standard T1 or T1-1/2 leds would work too.  I cemented the surface mount leds with super glue. Standard size leds could be hot-melt glued on. I attached #30 enameled wire to the surface mount leds and super glued the led to the tube. When doing this, note the polarity of the led and mark a stripe on the wire with a sharpie. Then later, when connecting the leds, you will know the polarity. You can find the vacuum tubes on Ebay.

Step 3: Plan Your Layout

Layout the gears and tubes on the top of the box. Mark with a fine sharpie and drill and tap holes for the screws. I used #4 hex head allen machine screws to fasten the gears. Holes will need to be drilled for the tubes.  The gears were purchased from a local arts and craft store.  They are part of the Tim Holtz collection.

Step 4: Attach the Tubes

Series connect the leds and hold down the wire end to the top of the box with hot-melt glue. Drill holes for the tubes in the top of the box and secure down with hot-melt glue.

Step 5: Powering the Leds

Each led takes 3.13 volts. Total voltage drop is 9.39 volts. To power the leds, a wall-wort power supply and a series connected resistor is used. If a 12 volt wal-wort is used, it may peak to 16 volts at low current, as it did in mine. This leaves about 7 volts across the series resistor. I wanted to drive the leds to about 10 to 15 milliamps. Selecting a 560 ohm, 2 watt resistor ran the leds at 12 milliamps.  Just right.

Current in amps = Voltage / Resistance in ohms. 

I selected a 1 watt resistor to handle the load.  Actual power across the resistor is Current  X  Volts or in this case 7 X .012 = 1/2 watt. Always run your resistor at about half its rating to be safe.  The 1 watt resistor was just right.

I mounted the resistor on some perf board and added a 2.1mm power plug socket. Bore an oversized hole in the case to accept the plug from the wal-wort.

Step 6: Top View

#4 Allen Socket head screws hold down the gears on the box.  I tapped the hardwood box with a #4 tap. On softer wood, you can add a drop of wood glue to the screw thread to help hold it down. You may need to open up the holes in the gears to allow the screw to fit.

Step 7: Conclusion

You can use other items besides vacuum tubes to illuminate.  Such as toys, gem crystals, small light bulbs or test tubes filled with plastic chips. One of my next art projects is a 1000 watt mercury bulb turned into a night light.



    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest

    20 Discussions

    Very nice project. The box and gears are a nice touch. The only thing I would suggest is to use tube sockets to plug the tubes into, that way if one breaks it's easy to plug in a replacement. You might even be able to use a 9 volt battery as a power source. Overall great! I may try a similar approach. I did something kind of similar with 5 large tubes from the 1940's and LED's in the tube socket but not as nice a box. Your presentation is excellent.

    Many steampunk projects come complete with stories, here's one for yours. Let's imagine an alternative reality where vacuum tubes have heat exchangers to he heated externally. And many prefer to heat them with methane flames, because this source of heat is cheap. That's why they glow blue in this project.

    I'd love to be able to get my hands on some burnt out tubes. Where do you get them? I tried ebay but only see good tubes. I want the busted ones!

    I contacted one of the people selling valves on ebay. He only sells valves that are thoroughly tested. Because he carefully tests all his valves he has lots that fail his tests. He has lots of discarded non-working valves and was glad to let me have a large box very cheap. He wanted to know why I wanted them, when I explained he was happy to have found a market for his non-working valves as they have no other use.

    You have to look around for someone whos into repairing old radios. There is a fella aound my place that does that but he charges crazy prices $5 per tube still.

    could you email me some technical drawings and demensions? I am currently looking to build a similar light to go along with an old JC Penny stereo that i am going to overhaul and convert into a steampunk radio.

    I really like this project!

    Nice instructable.
    Do you know if a 1000 watt mercury bulb is pressurized when turned off.
    I'd like to open one up to use as a lamp after removing the insides.
    I'd hate to have it explode while opening it up.
    Keep us posted on your 1000 watt mercury bulb project.

    1 reply

    I have one of those bulbs too and have not opened it. I plan to project light through the top to make a lamp. I have seen others make lamps (Steampunk) out of them. It seems that they cut around the base stem and later connect it back with aluminum tape, so I doubt they have pressure. The light is generated in a different pressurized capsule inside.

    Good point! My granddaughter is requesting one in yellow. Perhaps a deep amber would be nice.

    Good point! My granddaughter is requesting one in yellow. Perhaps a deep amber would be nice.

    That's cool, but why not run current through the vacuum tubes so you don't need LEDs? I suppose it would waste a lot more electricity, but a real tube glow is awesome.

    1 reply

    That would be awesome, including the warmth from the tubes. I have some bigger tubes, perhaps this would become another project.

    This finished product is beautiful. I so need a reason to make this. It's inspiring! 6 stars!