Neon transformers should not kill you?


Around a week ago I took down some neon tubes and transformers from my Dad’s car wash he sold (they are ripping it down to build a CVS).  I decided to test the transformers because my Dad said they didn’t work.  I also borrowed a transformer that worked from Greg to make sure the tubes were actually good.


So I take the transformers out of their boxes and observed the connections but I am not really sure how to hook up the neon.  I searched around the interwebs and still could not figure it out.  The problem I am having is with the ground (green wire) and what it is connected to?

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The first step was to find a tube that worked using Greg working transformer.  I found a tube which lit up just fine.

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Next step: I tried 2 unknown transformers and got the same results, sparky fire looking things and the neon was not lit fully.  I then (this was a total mistake) grabbed both ends of the transformer (so the electricy could run all the way through my body) and shocked myself, then the neon was fully lit and there were no more sparks.  I did have it grounded on the plug though, the same as with the known working transformer.  So are my 2 transformers bad or the ground bad?  Not really sure.

One Reply to “Neon transformers should not kill you?”

  1. Yikes! You took one for your tubes there, sir! I’m glad you were unharmed!

    Ok, here’s what you want to do. Leads from the two ends with the big ceramic insulators go to the ends of the tubes. The green ground wire must go to earth ground — connect it to the electrical box/conduit or to the ground wire in the box, or both.

    Now… as for your tubes… it may be necessary to have them in proximity to a grounded metal object at some point. I can’t honestly remember if neon sign tubes like that need it, but most flourescent lights definitely do. This allows a little capacitive coupling of the high voltage AC between the gas in the tube and ground, and helps to get an ionized path open for continued discharge. When you took a shock from the system and caused it to light, you provided a little capacitive kick to the system that lit the tubes. Please don’t start your tubes this way again… I enjoy reading your blog posts!

    If you want a good demonstration of how a gas gets ionized and the ionized cloud migrates, build a Jacob’s ladder on one of the transformers! Just get two pieces of welding rod, and bend them up — do an image search for Jacob’s ladder and you’ll see what I mean. Kzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzap! Kzzzzzzzzzzzzzap! (Warning: Any neighbors trying to watch TV or listen to the radio will hate it.)

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