Hacked CCFL Inverter becomes an Arc Lighter

[GreatScott!] needs to light off fireworks with an arc rather than a flame, because “fireworks and plasma” is cooler than fireworks and no plasma. To that end, he attempted to reverse engineer an arc lighter, but an epoxy potted high-voltage assembly thwarted him. Refusing to accept defeat, he modified a CCFL inverter into an arc lighter, and the process is pretty educational.

With his usual impeccable handwriting and schematic drawing skills, [GreatScott!] documents that his CCFL inverter is a resonant Royer oscillator producing a sine wave of about 37 kHz, which is then boosted to about 2400 volts. That’s pretty good, but nowhere near the 15 kilovolts needed for a self-sustaining arc across electrodes placed 5 mm apart. A little math told him that he could achieve this by rewinding the transformer’s primary with only 4 turns. After some testing, the rewound transformer was fitted back into the Royer circuit and with a few modifications the arc was struck.

It’s not a finished project yet, and we’re looking forward to seeing how [GreatScott!] puts this to use. For now, we’re grateful for the lesson is Royer oscillators and rewinding transformers. But if you’d rather hack an off-the-shelf arc lighter, there’s always this arc lighter pyrography pen, or this mini plasma cutter.

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Fixing a broken CCFL Backlight

When you work at Tektronix and they make a difficult to refuse offer for their ‘scopes, you obviously grab it. Even if the only one you can afford is the not-so-awesome TDS1012. [Jason Milldrum] got his unit before cheaper, and better ‘scopes appeared on the market. It served him well for quite a long time. But keeping it switched on all the time took a toll, and eventually the CCFL backlight failed. Here’s how he replaced the CCFL back light with a strip of LED’s and revived the instrument.

Searching for an original replacement CCFL backlight didn’t turn up anything – it had been obsoleted long back. Even his back-channel contacts in Tektronix couldn’t help him nor could he find anything on eBay. That’s when he came across a video by [Shahriar] who hosts the popular The Signal Path blog. It showed how the CCFL can be replaced by a thin strip of SMD LEDs powered by a DC-DC converter. [Jason] ordered out the parts needed, and having worked at Tektronix, knew exactly how to tear down the ‘scope. Maybe he was a bit rusty, as he ended up breaking some (non-critical) plastic tabs while removing the old CCFL. Nothing which could not be fixed with some silicone sealant.

The original DC-DC converter supplied along with his LED strip needed a 12V input, which was not available on the TDS1012. Instead of trying to hack that converter to work off 6V, he opted to order out another suitable converter instead. [Jason]’s blog details all the steps needed, peppered with lots of pictures, on how to make the swap. The one important caveat to be aware of is the effect of the LED DC-DC converter on the oscilloscope. Noise from the converter is likely to cause some performance issues, but that could be fixed by using a more expensive module with RF and EMI filtering.

This is not an original hack for sure. Here’s a “Laptop backlight converted from CCFL to LED” from a few years back, and this one for “LCD: Replacing CCFL with LEDs” from even further back in time. Hopefully if you have an instrument with a similar issue, these ought to guide you on how to fix things.

A cold cathode audio visualizer


Finally, cold cathode lights can be used for much more than illuminating the inside of your computer or making your whip look like it can hover. [James] discovered if he varied the voltage going into the inverter, only a certain amount of the tube would light up. Give a hacker an interesting observation and enough time, and eventually he’ll come up with something really cool. In this case, it’s a cold cathode audio visualizer, powered by fluorescent tubes doing unexpected things.

The build details are a little scant, but we were able to coax an imgur album of [James]’ build. He’s using these 20″ CCFL lights with the stock digital inverters replaced with TDK CCFL inverters.

The digital control of this build is provided by an Arduino Mega and a custom shield. We’re guessing the graphic EQ is provided by an MSGEQ7 chip, and the inverters themselves are powered through the Mega’s PWM pins. It’s a lot like an IN-9 Nixie graphic EQ, only much, much bigger. [James] is planning a larger version of this build, dubbed the Mega speKtrum and we can’t wait to see that build along with a proper writeup.

Laptop backlight converted from CCFL to LED


[Lee Davison] acquired an Acer laptop that didn’t have a display anymore. He had enough parts on hand to add in an LCD panel and give it a CCFL backlight. But when he started looking for an inverter to drive the backlight he couldn’t find one. What he did have on hand were some smashed screens that had LED backlights and so the CCFL to LED backlight conversion project was born.

He tore into the LED display and found the driver board. Unfortunately he didn’t locate the datasheet for the exact LED driver, but he found one that was similar and was able to trace out the support circuitry on the PCB. This let him cut away the unneeded parts of the board without damaging the driver. He didn’t want to pull out the CCFL tubes until he was sure the LED conversion would work so he tried it out on another smashed panel (where does he come up with all these parts) and it worked great. Once he got everything in place he was very happy with the results. The only drawback to the system is that he doesn’t have the ability to dim the backlight.

Workshop lights so bright, they will give you sunburn


There are few things more frustrating than trying to tinker at your workbench with suboptimal lighting. [Jeremy] was toiling away in his workshop one afternoon when he decided that he finally had enough, and set out to overhaul his lighting setup.

His workshop is incredibly bright now, sporting a handful of under the shelf CCFL tubes to complement the mixture of cool and warm LEDs that are mounted on the ceiling. One thing we really liked about his setup is that he added a handful of LEDs to the bottom of his workbench, aimed at the floor – perfect for those times when a tiny screw or SMD component goes missing.

Everything is controlled by an ATMega 328 that he shoved into a project box, allowing him to tweak the lighting to suit his needs using a few simple buttons and a small LCD panel.

[Jeremy] says that the entire thing is “overkill” and that it is decidedly the messiest wiring job he has ever done. For something that was put together hastily in an afternoon, we think it’s just fine. The only thing we’re left wanting is some schematics and source code.

As far as the overkill comment goes, say it with me: There. Can. Never. Be. Too. Many. LEDs!

Stick around to watch [Jeremy] give a demonstration of how the system operates.

[via Adafruit blog]

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LCD: Replacing CCFL with LEDs

[Fileark] had the backlight on his digital picture frame go out one day. These are generally Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps which require an inverter to source the voltage necessary for proper operation. When they stop working, the inverter is usually to blame. Since that circuit is made up of pretty small surface mount circuitry, he decided to replace the backlight with LEDs rather than repair the inverter.

In the video after the break [Fileark] will walk through the entire project. After snooping around inside the picture frame he sizes up a strip of LEDs on a flexible substrate. The metal retaining bracket that hosts the LCD must be altered to fit the new light source and for that, he’s included a hacking montage in his video. The final result looks stock and he estimates the screen is around 97% as bright as with the original backlight.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an LED edge-lit upgrade. The last one we saw even used a custom PCB to host the LEDs.

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LED backlight conversion using recycled CCFL inverter parts


[Ammon] repairs busted LCD monitors as a side hobby, so replacing burned out CCFLs and inverter circuits is something he can do in his sleep. One Dell monitor he received had him so perplexed, that he simply gave up on trying to repair the inverter circuit. He still wanted to get it working, so he had some narrow PCBs made and started working on his LED replacement backlight.

He built a driver board for the LEDs, populated with left over components that he stripped from the LCD panel’s inverter circuit. He needed space to insert his driver board, so he simply cut out a chunk of the inverter board and slipped his replacement driver board in its place. As you can see in the picture above, his board (in green) takes up far less space than the original inverter circuit it replaces.

He provides a schematic for his circuit as well as a PCB layout file, so it should be fairly easy to replicate his work. He has not posted schematics or layout information for his LED strips, but we’re betting he will if someone asks nicely.

Check out this pair of posts if you are interested in reading more about replacing your burned out CCFL with LEDs.