Building An X-Ray Machine

a very slapdash x-ray machine on a table

While we typically encourage hackers to make their own tools or machines when practical, x-ray machines don’t usually make that list. Despite the risk of radiation, [William Osman] has done just that and built a homemade x-ray machine. After receiving an eye-watering medical bill, [William] resolves to make his own x-ray machine in the hopes of avoiding future bills. Thanks to his insurance, the total owed was smaller but still ridiculous to those who live in single-payer health care countries, but it got William thinking. What if he could make an x-ray machine to do cheap x-rays?

Armed with a cheap high voltage DC power supply he acquired from an online auction house, he started to power up his x-ray vacuum tube. A smaller power supply energizes the cathode and forms an electron beam. Then the high voltage (30-150kv) is applied as a tube voltage, accelerating the electrons into x-rays. Safety measures are taken somewhat haphazardly with Geiger counters and lead sheets. With a finger bone cast in ballistic shell [William] made his first x-ray with a long exposure on a DSLR. The next items to go in the x-ray “chamber” were a phone and a hand. The results were actually pretty decent and you can clearly see the bones.

We’ve seen homemade X-Ray machines here at Hackaday before, but not one that is constructed perhaps so haphazardly — his approach makes this obvious: don’t try this at home. Video after the break.

56 thoughts on “Building An X-Ray Machine

    1. He’s not, but that’s not why people watch his videos. The haphazard, careless manner in which goes about all of his projects lends his videos that “can’t take your eyes off the train wreck” feel, while still being self aware enough to be comical.

      I also love the way caretaker reacts to 99% of what he does in either disgust or horror. It’s the perfect mirror for what the viewer is probably feeling.

  1. I created x-rays back in the 2000s, using all homemade equipment. I was experimenting with homemade gas discharge tubes, using an HVAC vacuum pump. I had created a “tube” from a clear ball point pen case. I had two small coils of copper wire, one at each end. One end was sealed around the wire with epoxy, and the other end was connected to a piece of plastic tubing which I connected to the vacuum pump. For the high voltage, I used a negative ion generator module.

    Once the vacuum reached a low enough pressure, the glow would stop. I realized there was the possibility that x-rays were being generated, so I brought my Geiger counter nearby. The Geiger counter went crazy – instead of ticking, it sounded like a screech. I then tried putting various amount of paper between the tube to see how much the x-rays were attenuated. One piece had little effect, but 50 pieces totally stopped the x-rays. My finger also totally stopped them, so there would be no way to get an x-ray of bones due to the low voltage (say 10kV or less) from the ion generator circuit.

    I still have a (low resolution NTSC) camcorder recording of this somewhere.

    1. What a jackass. I hope that nobody is actually _influenced_ and that his insurance premium skyrockets.

      That said, what about building a decent enclosure and putting a camera module inside it to inspect multilayer PCBs?

  2. Ben Krasnow (“Applied Science” youtube channel) had a visit from the government about his unlicensed X-ray backscatter imaging system (CT scanner). I amconfident that William Osman will have a visit a little chat about his unlicensed X-ray machine as well.

    1. O_O

      In US you are not allowed to create and use a simple tool for viewing what is inside objects around, and you could be punished if you try to do it without authority permission? Bloody hell…

      Seems that one day I woke up in a parallel reality, where everything is upside down, where US is some totalitarian state with total surveillance and every tiny bit of living have to be authorized, from routing electricity inside your property or building a house on your own land to the simple satisfaction of your curiosity and Russia is a stronghold of freedom, rights and privacy where you could build, own and use any devices you want, do what you want on your property and study how things works without authorization unless it physically harms some third-party person not participating in your

      Something is definitely wrong with the world. Never seen safety trolls in such frightening amounts on the site about hacking for hackers.

      Can I return back to my reality?

      1. Not true. It´s the land of freedom because you can say anything you want (has been largely demonstrated at the highest level in lhe last 4 years) And you can wear a device that can kill most living being at a distance. Also in some places you can carry it around openly and don´t need any licence to own it. Seriously,, WHAT freedom you want MORE than that ?

        1. > It´s the land of freedom because you can say anything you want

          Seems legit only if you have same access to audience as, say, MSM has. If you don’t, what is the point of that freedom if you have no access to the audience?

          > And you can wear a device that can kill most living being at a distance

          What is the point of wearing a gun if you can’t really use it? And what if I don’t want to kill most living beings?

          > WHAT freedom you want MORE than that ?

          Freedom of doing anything you want on your property with your property, f.e. Build a house on your own land without any permit and asking anybody. Create and use any device you want without obtaining a license from authorities. Share any information with any other person without all that DMCA and other crap. What about right to have untraceable unlicensed means of transportation? Right to use space above and below your land for anything you want? Right to hack absolutely anything you bought and share results with others? Right to use RF frequencies without limitations? There are much more freedoms you might think. Some are supresssed everywhere, but some are supressed more in US than in other countries. And it seems that now US is not as free as it marketed. Of course, Russia is not a freedom heavens too, but at least nobody comes here after you for creating X-rays source, for making any changes in your house, for reverse engineering some “licensed” or “patented” stuff, or for the sharing of a movie or a book with your friend.

          1. I find it hilarious how people crow anf whine, “why can’t I do what I want on my own property?”

            Because someone else owned that property before, and they did what they wanted to: created some restrictions on future use. Whether they created an HOA because they thought it would help property values, or voted with other land owners to created some kind of mutual safety pact; they chose what they valued and had restrictions put into place.

            Of course you can’t just come along and change that, that would be impinging in their right to do what they wanted. If you can’t stand the restrictions, should have bought property someplace else.

        2. I do think that the people who don’t want to carry a device that can kill most living beings at a distance, feel that their freedom is being limited by those who do.

          But I guess I look too much at the big picture and am stupid to include the silent majority into my opinions and judgements. At least to some people.

  3. Actually, that fictional health insurance story is true for other people that aren’t so lucky to not have health insurance in the US.

    Man I love mandatory affordable health insurance, with even no “patients responsibility” .. yeah btw. medical isn’t all about x-ray-machines.

    1. Affordable? 30% of your sapary or some 30k a year whether you need medical attenton or not is affordable? Givw me the option to save for a rainy day tyvm.

      Not everyone should be penalized for the inability of some people to plan for the future.

  4. I’m a nuclear physicist. Do not attempt this at home! Even when everything seems great initially you still increase your chance of cancer later in life. In labs we have serious adminstrative and engineering controls in place to prevent operators from getting irradiated.

  5. It’s like Nick from New Girl does science…

    Also, screw Hello Fresh (his sponsor in case you didn’t get to the end of the video), *** don’t sign up ***, they have some seriously shady “affiliates” that will keep spamming you (they are paying spammers to around up customers and get you to register).

  6. Oh lord, where to start. First, the reason the tube was in the head and full of oil was….. To prevent x-rays from leaking out in the wrong direction(s) (the head) and to prevent high voltage flashover (the oil). Why did you take the head apart? Also, the other few wires coming out of the tube.. I could not see up close but I suspect you have a rotating anode tube. Yup, a vacuum tube with moving parts inside of it. The anode spins around to prevent it from getting too hot in any one spot. You may wanna be careful with that oil too depending on it’s vintage.

    As far as being a safety Nazi. If you live out where I live I would say go for it. There is a reason a lot of us mad science people live a good ways from anybody else. If you live in an apartment, that is not so cool. I have got past worrying about adults killing themselves and pretty much stick to reminding them that if they do their science in a populated place and shit goes wrong, it creates a mess for the rest of us who limit the damage to ourselves. I have no idea where you live so you may or may not have got my safety ire.

    I have a friend who up to his passing would pop off an antique x-ray tube from a Wilmshurst machine and a quartet of very large laden jars and make a nice image of his hand. He did it thousands of time with seemingly no ill effects, and died of something totally unrelated. On the flip side he let someone else try it and that person has weirs skin issues on that hand to this day.

  7. No dosimetry or QA of any kind and he sticks a hand in it. Good job, moron. Judging by this video he’s probably going to get killed by a HV supply long before cancer though so at least he’s got that going for him.

    1. Cancer is a statistics game. Even if he managed to irradiate his hand long enough to get burns, it would be unlikely that C. would get him. Sure, its stupid to do it, but so is smoking, drinking, mountain climbing, scuba diving, eating processed foods, living in a megalopolis. Some do it anyways.

  8. if i understood it right the hospital wanted to charge 69k but his insurance ended up paying 10k only. he said they have a price bargaining system there.
    in the EU we typically pay 10-19% of our salary for mandatory public insurance that pays “everything neccessary”, is that cheaper? anyways awesome (!) project I would definitely xray myself rather than pay that much. not sure about radiation therapy and the likes tbough;)

    1. We pay about 200 euro for a family of five, that includes everything, except teeth, because the powers that be decided that teeth are a luxury item.

      Of course nothing is free and I pay an ungodly amount of taxes, so everyone else can get decent healthcare as well.
      But I think it’s a fair deal for not having to worry about bankruptcy when calling an ambulance.

  9. A health care bill of 69.000 dollar? Welcome to the USA. Well, having to sell your house to afford medical costs is better than living in a country with “communist health care”, i guess? Seriously, friends in the USA, when will you ever learn?

    1. … or take a ~20% wage rise (once you factor in the hidden employer-paid chunk of national insurance which doesn’t appear on your payslip), and save some of it for health care.
      You’ll probably be better off provided you don’t smoke or do drugs, but YMMV depending on what sports you do.

      But the NHS does mean that when you’re at your lowest, you don’t have medical bills on top of the stress. Which is good.

      Eh, it’s not perfect either way.

      Market forces should have brought down medical costs in the US, but something is clearly stopping that happening.

      But doing your own X-rays is probably not the solution in either case.

      1. Market forces work well when there’s both meaningful competition and people can choose to not purchase if they don’t want to.
        When your choices are death or paying the nearest hospital whatever they ask, there’s very little room for market forces.
        There’s even less when every service in the hospital is its own bill and you don’t get to a la carte when you need a room, surgeon, anaesthesiologist, nurses, surgical supplies…

      2. In some countries (e.g. Germany) you do have the option of going fully private.I think you can do it once you start earning >50k per year. Depending on options, you pay a fixed amount between 200 and 600 per month. That’s 4.8% to 14.4% of that ‘minimum’ salary. The options are pure luxury for most people, the basic coverage gets you 99% of the way.
        The public insurance covers the complete family, the private one just one person (usually).
        Also, the public insurance is capped at 700 or something, per month, so you don’t end up paying more as you go above ~75k per year.

      3. “Market forces should have brought down medical costs in the US, but something is clearly stopping that happening.”

        Healthcare in the us isn’t a free an open market, nor is health insurance. So why would “market forces” have any impact?

  10. Not all people live in single family isolated houses. Make a fairly strong x-ray machine in your apartment, accidentally leave it on for a few days while you go on vacation, give your neighbor cancer.

    In this world there is no deficiency of technically advanced people who are either foolish, careless, ignorant, intransigent, or possessed of numerous other flaws that make them deadly.

    1. Someone *might* pour chemicals down the drain therefore to protect the public we must necessitate the licensing and tracking of all chemicals.

      Someone *might* stab someone with that object therefore we must ban all knives and forks and even spoons just in case, you know, to protect the public.

      Someome *might* offend someone somehow, therefore we must track and regulate all speech to make sure it is state certified as GoodSpeech(tm)

  11. I made a similar generator using a particularly “hot” 9V gas lighter module and what turned out to be a Mg getter radio tube, a DAC32. I had enough X-rays to affect 16 and 32GB memory cards as well as affect counters 20 feet away. Needless to say, it had shielding.

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