Making Neon Trees The Easy Way With No Oven Pumps Required

Neon lamps are fun and beautiful things. Hackers do love anything that glows, after all. But producing them can be difficult, requiring specialized equipment like ovens and bombarders to fill them up with plasma. However, [kcakarevska] has found a way to make neon lamps while bypassing these difficulties.

[kcakarevska] used the technique to great effect on some neon tree sculptures.
The trick is using magnesium ribbon, which is readily available form a variety of suppliers. The ribbon is cut into small inch-long fragments and pushed into a borosilicate tube of a neon sculpture near the electrode. Vacuum is then pulled on the tube down to approximately 5 microns of pressure. The tube is then closed off and the electrode is heated using an automotive-type induction heater. In due time, this vaporizes the magnesium which then creates a reactive getter coating on the inside of the tube. This picks up any oxygen, water vapor, or other contaminants that may have been left inside the tube without the need for an oven vacuum pumping stage. The tube is then ready to be filled with neon. After about 24 to 48 hours of running, the getter coating will have picked up the contaminants and the tube will glow well.

It’s a useful technique, particularly for complex neon sculptures that won’t readily fit in an oven for pumpdown. If the glasswork is still too daunting, though, you can always use other techniques to get a similar look. Video after the break.


[Thanks to cnlohr for the tip!]

26 thoughts on “Making Neon Trees The Easy Way With No Oven Pumps Required

      1. I watched a neon making video on youtube couple months ago. It doesn’t seem that complicated for simple letters, but requires practise. Obviously making a tree like that requires quite a lot of skill, i’d say, but this technique for doing the neon stuff-part with less complicated equipment makes the whole process a lot simpler and accessible.

    1. Do you know if a magnesium-based getter like this will work for vacuum tubes? Most of what I’ve seen in DIY tubes involves salvaging getters from existing vacuum tubes, which seems pretty unsustainable.

  1. Cool! By “the other ways” i would try to buy a cheap bag of neon bulbs and connecting them in a plastic pipe or hose. Would not look as a real glass neon tube, but it will probably look cool enough from the distance.

    1. The cool thing about real neon tubing is that you can backfill it with a variety of gases to get different colors. All my neon bulbs are the same yellow-orange color like they have sodium in them, although apparently that’s just the color of penning mix fill.

  2. I took a class on neon at the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to be a glass bender at a neon shop for ten years before leds took over and i never saw anything like this. I kinda want to reread all my books on neon. This is exciting. So many ideas.

  3. This looks to be pretty much identical to Wayne Strattman’s methods. Nice to see another person doing it. I love my bombarder- it makes tubes so nice and clean and its so fast. Butr ovens certainly open up other design avenues. You could really make life sized trees with this method. Now I just need a really strong vacuum pump and manifold on wheels! Oh and a 300 watt plasma inverter. I hope there is no one with a pacemaker or AM radio nearby ;)

    Wayne’s site-

  4. One of those variety of gases is mercury, which makes the whole “neon” tube into a fluorescent lamp, at least when paired with the proper electrodes that come with a pre-measured charge of mercury that gets released when the tube is first powered. Phosphor-lined borosilicate tubing is made just for this, with each manufacturer having its own secret formulae for the many colors available that way. Also, using this stuff means you can have a single tube that has different colors in different parts, just by splicing together tubing with different phosphors.

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