Transistor Bending

Here is one of my most recent projects. Of course I’m a huge fan of retro technology and re-using old items, but this newest craft project has been one of my favorites. It also seems to have garnered more interest by passersby than some of my other projects.

I’m taking old vacuum tubes from broken radios and television sets and converting them into jewelry. I have to do a lot of searching for good vacuum tubes, most tubes are too large, or boring looking, but you really start to appreciate how different the tubes can get, and sometimes find a gem in the form of a perfect size tube.

If they need it I’ll clean them up before I carefully bend the pins down. This is the part that requires patience, when working with glass you have to move slowly and can’t overwork the pins. I’ll admit that I have broken a few tubes, and gotten a cut up a bit while learning good technique.

I usually add extra pieces of jewelry that I incorporate into the bending process. In most of my pieces I will add boss jewels or metals. With some pieces I take the bending process and do more complex work, not always folding the wires inward, but trying different patterns and shapes.

I also use the pins to harness the necklace chain to the tubes, it’s usually pretty easy, but if I have a bigger piece of jewelry being held on top, then it can get more difficult. I spend a lot of time searching in Beyond Beads for the perfect fitting jewel for each tube, but I’m trying to get the chains and clasps off of older pieces of jewelry whenever possible.

I guess I’m stuck in a bit of a Miami Vice phase now, but I think these chains look best shiny and short.

Insert “tube tied” joke here.

On the right is a close up shot of two pieces. The one on the left is the one I gave to Jean Jacques Perrey to match his spectacular suit, the other one is one of my personal faves (made from a vintage wallet chain). Notice the difference in jewels on top AND the different types of bent pins.





20 responses to “Transistor Bending

  1. TJIC Avatar

    “Transistor tube” ?!?!?

    Is that some sort of regionalism for “vacuum tube”, or is a transistor tube in fact some sort of unique item I haven’t heard of before?

    The project is neat, btw!

  2. ssavitzky Avatar

    The correct term for the devices pictured is “vacuum tube” — a transistor is the much smaller and less attractive solid-state device that replaced vacuum tubes in modern electronic equipment.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I would think it kind of dangerous to wear an old glass television tube around your neck. Those things can break!

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I guess for woman’s attire you could call it a boob tube neclace.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Very awsome doc

  6. coal2k Avatar

    These are fabulous!

  7. VeronicaVibe Avatar

    Nice. But do they vibrate?

    You could probably sell a bunch at the Folsom Street Fair.

  8. Anonymous Avatar


    You’re hot shit!!!

    But you don’t need a bigger head, so I’m not telling you who I am.

  9. Doc Pop Avatar
    Doc Pop

    Thanks everyone, I did mislabel these tubes as transistor, instead of Vacuum.

    In regards to safety, there are a lot of breakable jewelry pieces out there, these tubes are actually pretty tough though.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Please, please, please say you are using trash TV tubes and not ultra-rare audio or short-wave radio tubes!!

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    If your such a fan of retro tech why are you destroying these things. Go and learn to restore the old radios if you really love the old tech so much! And yes please do not destroy
    any rare tubes. If you must do this try to find tubes that are no longer usable. People really do love this tech and don’t want it to see destroyed. Well i guess any radio coming your way is doomed. Yeah you know what? They don’t look good but nice job ruining the TVs tubes and radios that other people might of truly appreciated!!!!!!!

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Yeah I wanna wear a piece of glass fill with mercury and other toxic chemicals. I would take the high chance of a law suit when someone is injured from your um art? Save the tubes for the antiques that are still in service (many are if you didn’t know).

  13. Doc Pop Avatar
    Doc Pop

    I’m pretty annoyed with some of the recent anonymous comments regarding wasting of vacuum tubes.

    The tubes pictured above were taken from items waiting on the curb to be collected on garbage day. They weren’t on display in the antique radio repair shop. They were garbage.

    The idea that I’m wasting something is really absurd. Would the lives of these amateur TV repair enthusiasts be any different had the parts made it to the landfill? Maybe the original owners should have heavily researched the tubes in question, then put them up on eBay to be re-listed over and over with all the other tubes that never seem to sell there, but I’m not too surprised they didn’t.

    After posting this article, friends (and even some folks I had never met) sent me tubes to modify into necklaces. They liked what I had made, so they sent me tubes that they found that otherwise would have just been thrown away.

    People like what I’ve done, and I haven’t ruined anybodies electronics to do it.

  14. Melissa Avatar

    I really love this style. I am also a jewelry designer, and want to get into this “steampunk”/”cyberpunk” style. So where to I find these vacuum tubes? Obviously it’s not something I can run to Walmart to get. I need to get them from old radios and tvs and stuff? Like, how old? I saw someone else reply that they replaced these in tvs and radios now… so I guess I just need to know the time era I’m looking at and where else I can find them. Can you find them online? And do they cost much? PLease, if you can help me out in any way possible, I’d love you forever! Thanks in advance!

  15. lane hartwell Avatar

    wow, i can’t believe some of the comments here…he can do what he wants with the tubes if he finds them or buys them. i think they make awesome necklaces. better on a chain around someone’s neck than in the landfill.

    if you want to save rare tubes, do it yourself but don’t piss on Doc’s parade.

  16. doc Avatar

    Thanks for all the comments everybody. This particular entry is pretty old (almost 2 years), but I saw a post on Craft today (read it here) that reminded me of it. I took that as a chance to clean up the post (which was formatted for blogger) and repost the images on flickr.

    I’m still trying to figure out the health issues related to vacuum tubes. I’m hoping to learn from a reliable source about what (if any) hazardous chemicals in these tubes may be bad to hang from your neck.

  17. jammit Avatar

    The most dangerous thing you’ll find in plain old generic vacuum tubes are thorium and barium. As long as the tube remains unbroken you should be fine, and if it does break simply wash your hands because this bad stuff doesn’t get into you through your skin but has to be ingested to do any harm. A few special tubes contain mercury and/or beryllium oxide, but those won’t be used in simple radios. The mercury ones are normally used as high powered switches, and the ones that use beryllium oxide will be for high powered transmitters as the replacement for the glass envelope (it’s coefficient of expansion is about the same as metal and won’t crack under high temperature and is the only insulator that can be hard soldered). The beryllium oxide tubes aren’t clear glass, but are made of a white stone like material. Don’t use the beryllium oxide tubes because it can cause cancer by skin contact if it’s broken into a powder. The ones with mercury will probably be basketball sized and make terrible jewelry, plus they’ll probably have a “this side up” message on them because they don’t work upside down. Some voltage regulating tubes add mercury but most radios don’t use regulation. The barium is added to tubes just to “soak up” things like free mercury because that stuff will mess up the vacuum tube. The barium looks like silver coating inside the tube.

  18. john Avatar

    The tv or radio might be broken but these tubes still good and valuable for their original purpose. It takes some skill to determine if they are good for their intended purpose. The same way autos that don’t work are taken to the salvage yard and sold for still usable parts so it is for tube electronics. Even if the device didn’t work because of a bad tube, though many other parts would fail long before the tubes would, the four or more other tubes would still be good.

    Barium, toxic, was used in just about all vacuum tubes as part of the manufacturing process, it’s the shiney still on the top inside of the glass.

    Nonfunctioning vacuum tubes can be an attractive object.

    Artists and craft people do what they want anyway. I’ve seen things like pipe organs dismantled and spray painted for art, even though the organ was still working, just because they got to it first. The caution is to not let them near anything still functioning or otherwise valuable.

  19. Jewellery Talk    Avatar

    I carefully bend the pins down. This is the part that requires patience, when working with glass you have to move slowly and can’t overwork the pins. I’ll admit that I have broken a few tubes, and gotten a cut up a bit while

  20. Jewellery Talk    Avatar

    I carefully bend the pins down. This is the part that requires patience, when working with glass you have to move slowly and can’t overwork the pins. I’ll admit that I have broken a few tubes, and gotten a cut up a bit while

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *