Making A Miniature X-Ray Tube From Scratch

We know that most of you will have no reason to ever make a miniature X-ray tube. However, we also know that many of you will find this video mesmerizing like we did. [Glasslinger] does a fantastic job of explaining the entire process of creating the mini x-ray tube from, procuring the uranium glass and tungsten stem, creating the filament from scratch, all the glass work, and the testing.

Admittedly, most of us here at hackaday won’t go any further than admiring the craftsmanship, though we’re curious to see what [Adam Munich] has to say when he sees this story.

If you enjoyed the tube construction in the video, be sure to check out [Glasslinger’s] other videos. He makes all kinds of tubes in his shop and usually shares so much information along the process that each one has useful information beyond that particular project. Another crazy part is that he has made most of his own tools, including his glass lathe.

We really shouldn’t have to point out that X-Rays are dangerous. Don’t mess with them unless you have researched how to do it safely.

39 thoughts on “Making A Miniature X-Ray Tube From Scratch

  1. Tell me this guy isn’t actually making x-rays. He’s gonna get a big ol’ tumor doing this!

    Nice craftsmanship. I always wanted to make a homemade incandescent bulb.

  2. Even if there is reason for him to believe his exposure is low, or that the emission is confined to a safe direction and he never passes through the beam, to not even comment on the X-ray exposure danger is completely irresponsible!

  3. This goes back to the days of the old florascopes in the shoe stores and the technicians that would go out to tune up the devices by putting their hand in the divide and making adjustments and they knew they were getting max output because their hand would turn red.
    and they wondered why the skin fell off weeks afterwards.

  4. Seriously HAD? This guy is demonstrating the absolute worst safety I’ve ever seen around x-ray equipment. Sure, awesome craftsmanship, but damn. He be sterile soon. And possibly have further health complications. That glass won’t block the lower-power x-rays. The lower power x-rays are actually the most dangerous to organic matter. Please edit the post to note how extremely dangerous this can be, or even take it down. I hate to be that guy, but damn…

    1. Another “danger” story – here in Soviet Russia we had a smart boy who played with soft X-Ray tube few years ago. It was all fun and lolz, he was even posting video(!) showing how his bones move inside his hand.

      2 weeks later he get to hospital. All videos were removed. He didn’t died though, but that was a hard lesson.

  5. wow, thats a lost art. I love how he get the getter hot with induction. but…

    though i didn’t watch the full video, i’m a bit surprised he don’t say something to justify the lack of shielding or larger spacing from the tubes.

  6. So many alarmist comments and not a lot of appreciation to his skills. The guy shows you the entire vacuum tube glasswork, you can use this technique to build a nixie, an incandescent bulb, a crt, a thermionic valve, whatever. Got nothing better to say? He’s frying his own balls, not yours.

  7. i see more and more this like this on hackaday.
    i think this video must have a big warning that say
    not to do this it is extreem deadly lethal and you must not do it. a lot of pepole are stupid to copy this we can only wait to the first dead that have copy one of this video,s i think youtube must put warning on this kind of video

    1. Maintaining proper safety practices is essential. But, not being alarmist is also essential. The activities in this article are not “extreme deadly lethal”, nor should people be prohibited from doing it if they so choose.

      What is important, in any scientific discipline, is to have a good grasp of what it is you are doing before you start doing it. Even when experimenting in areas of which very little is known, know everything you can and then procede with caution and understand that being a pioneer might bring sideffects that you haven’t thought of. If people are willing to educate themselves thoroughly and then accept the risk that might come with their activities, there’s nothing more that we can do. Science is about learning… learning of the good that can come from a discovery and of the bad that can come from a discovery. Our consciences guide us in channeling that good or that bad for various purposes. It is up to each of us, as scientists (whether amateur or professional), to consider carefully the ramifications of our actions, and to respond responsibly. Being alarmist and bringing out the “oh noes” doesn’t help us reach that end.

      This article is as much about creativity and ingenuity as it is a lesson in safety. Most of the commenters are reflecting this. We’d be wise to learn of both.

      1. Hence, my comment about “side effects you haven’t thought of” … you’ve identified a possible one. And that’s certainly something for others to keep in mind.

  8. The glassware and work is amazing indeed. The utter disregard for safety is downright disturbing. Lets not forget keeping your hand millimeters from 40kV is hardly a good safety practice either. The voltage is acutely deadly and the x-rays will surely be cancer causing over time.
    The commercial tubes are made of lead glass and have a lead shield envelope within which creates a directional emission path. Lead glass acts to minimize exposure to x-rays which would not otherwise be useful for radiology as they would be blocked by body tissue increasing exposure but not being useful for imaging. The only way I would run this system would be if I were behind 1 inch of lead glass and had complete remote control of the power supply. I really doubt he was wearing safety glasses too and tube implosion is a serious risk… I guess not that serious considering everything else!

    1. The angling of the tungsten electrode is what controls the direction that the X-rays exit the tube. The lead glass envelope in the commercial tubes only eliminates the softer X-Rays. In the video you can plainly see that he is aiming the tubes toward the Geiger counter and not himself. For those complaining about safety, keep in mind we only see his hands. He could be standing behind a lead shield wearing a lead apron and a face mask.

  9. It looks pretty scary, but in the comments, he said he uses a dosimeter which doesn’t show any serious exposure. Personally I’d be more concerned about the high voltage.
    Anyway, an incredibly impressive process, and I love his handmade equipment.

  10. I’ll never understand what compels people to complain about the lack of safety measures in HaD postings. Why does it matter?

    On topic though, awesome video. Seeing how components can be made from scratch is always interesting.

    1. It matters when a bunch of idiots kill themselves off, and some politician decides to overreact, “For the sake of the children”.
      Then you can’t do these sort of things even if you know how to do it safely.

  11. In the early 80’s, my 8th grade library still had an absolutely wonderful project book that featured two xray projects.

    Both used a model A spark coil to generate the HV. One was based on a lightbulb that had a vacuum. Aluminum foil (tin?) was shellac’d to the outside surface. It was pretty simple.

    The other had much higher output and was based on a high voltage TV tube. They provided model numbers of several tubes that had high xray output. The build included a lead lined plywood box. It was supposed to be powerful enough to mutate plant seeds.

    I built my favorite project from the book many times. It was an arc furnace built from carbon electrodes salvaged from D cell batteries. A fantasically fun and inexpensive hack. What’s more fun than plasma? I had dreams, even back then, of manipulating and confining the plasma with a magnetic field.

    (note: do not stare at hot plasma with remaining eye)

    I actually operated this thing in my apartment bedroom (“Johnny, why are the lights flashing? What are you doing in there?!”, “Nothing Mom!”).

    Using what I learned from that project, I used the same basic setup to arc weld a broken stainless steel film developing reel. Yes, in the bedroom.

    That book was so f’n awesome!

    1. I think I read the same book (70s for me, though.) “Salt-water rheostat” direct off the mains for the carbon arc? Our local library had a bunch of such “project” books.

  12. Not seeing a separate indirectly heated cathode, I assume the filament is a directly heated cathode of sorts. I know that tubes with a directly heated cathode did/do exist, but have no experience with equipment that used them. In that it appears that in this home shop constructed tube has both a heating and HV currents applied to the filament, they must be isolated upstream of the tube, I have to wonder how that is accomplished.

    Very few would make the HV power supply, much less the tools to construct the tube. I really doubt the world is going to read of modern day hackers suffering from exposure to excessive X ray radiation. The HV is likely to check out hackers prematurely, but only one other comment made note of that so far. In the end one more fine example of what people can do in their personal shops.

  13. impressive building skills!

    but not nearly as dangerous as people make it out to be.
    … and at full power! lolz

    and any children not ready for the safety aspects probably arent going to have the equipment to actually build the TOOLS to make this tube. or the tools to make the tools to make the tube…

    and the professional tools to make the tube are 10000’s of dollars, FAR out of reach for a 16 year old. so cool it. it wont _actually_ get built by anyone not willing to spend WEEKS and WEEKS building those tools to build the tube. or they have WAY to much money to spend and such…

    so safety? cut off the fronts of pic. tubes and line a bunch of em up, (leaded glass, ~1? inch thick) remember x-rays are bad if you “PLAY” with them all day. for 5 seconds its harmless, unless you do it EVERY day!

    1. PS: i made a small amount of x-rays by overvolting various regular tubes, but i only did this for 5 seconds at a time,
      the x-rays were minimal (10kv NOT 100kv)
      and i only did it a couple times, and only on one day a year

      im still here (years later) and havent goten cancer yet :)
      eventhough i could feel it heating up my skin from far away enough that the filiment heat wouldnt have been felt (fan cooled)

      PS: i guarentee people who are not educated about x-ray safety but still have the time/money/tools dont give a flying (“care”) about using x-ray tubes at home or what happens when you crank up the power on one …
      they’d rather get drunk or(and?) play bumper cars with old lawn tractors, and they dont need/want anyone telling them that THAT is unsafe ;) lolz

      PPS: need i mention alcohol and bare 100kv wires is a bad mix? no, obviously not.

    2. Yep and half the nuclear scientist from the past who ‘knew what they were doing’ died of cancer, but they were experts though not to worry…

      As for hospitals, I recently saw a guy from a prestigious medical school talk about how they are overdoing scans these days and how a certain amount of patients who do CAT scans will get a tumor, and when it’s only 1 in 10000 it still means that after 100000 scans you got 10 people in a whole lot more trouble than they were before checking if they had something.
      These are statistical facts and not ‘alarmist’ nor ‘paranoid’, and yeah you have a fair chance of not being the one, but it’s smart to not try your luck for no reason but shit n’ giggles.

      1. Got a source for those statistics (“half”, “1 in 10k”)?
        I had a prof once claim some microwave exposure regulations were routinely violated at any gathering of more than N people. All those 34C blackbody emitters, you know.

  14. Great stuff. Tube building like that is almost a lost art. I used to work in a facility that manufactured X-Ray tubes. Despite a large degree of automation elsewhere, the tubes themselves where still done manually on a glass lathe.

    And really, cut out the alarmist crap. It makes it really hard to sift out the useful comments.

    I really think HAD should institute a no-scaremongering or no-“lol he’s sterile” comment policy. Have any of you naysayers actually manufactured, or even operated X-Ray equipment? Do you honestly think somebody would get to the point of being able to irradiate themselves without ever learning the dangers? Do you think you’re actually saving someone by comment spamming every dangerous project?

    Honestly, you could probably choke on an arduino if you tried hard enough, should we point that out every time also?

    1. Considering lowering education levels and the fact that HaD time to time just forgets to mention the basic safety concerns then I would not mind when there are alarmists here.

      What I do suggest is that maybe check before you post a alarming comment that maybe already 10 similar comments apperead during the time of your writing.

  15. It’s not a lot of x-rays… Single doses for a moment would be less than you get in a flight on an airplane.

    Did you people know that you can produce x-rays with just tape in a vacuum? No fancy generators or such. Just a strong vacuum pump and some transparent tape. And yes, this is old news. (Google it) There’s also a way to produce light by cavitation in water. Sonoluminance has been known for even longer by the US Navy (among others).

  16. In theory you can generate X-rays from water with a crossed field of ultrasound, laser light and induction heating a small nickel or iron microsphere which makes the bubble larger via the Leidenfrost effect and thus collapse far faster than normal.

    The energy release when that >3mm bubble implodes is violent enough that the electrons hitting the sphere generate X-rays in all directions, at least in theory.

    Someone should build it to see what happens..

    1. I built one of those yesterday and this morning I woke up and discovered that I had five eyes… I’m gonna build me a bigger one tonight and see if I can get a few extra arms!

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