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Continuing his brilliant series of videos on the unappreciated wonders of engineering that surround us, here’s Bill Hammack, aka Engineer Guy, on the truly amazing process required to produce a common incandescent light-bulb filament. Bill has a fantastic ability to produce short, engaging, entertaining video segments that will appeal to and educate both the totally uninitiated and those who, like myself, are foolish enough to think we know a thing or two. [Thanks, Bill!]

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.



  1. Anonymous says:

    That’s delightful – Do more!
    notice the the first level of coil is left-handed and the super-coil is right-handed …that’s so the electrons don’t become net-dizzy [wink]

  2. Damien Kunik says:

    Really interesting indeed. Speaking about light bulbs, what is really amazing though, is how they illustrate the economic principle called “planned obsolescence” or “built-in obsolescence”. Bulbs from the beginning of the 20th century lasted about 3000 hours. Bulbs built today last 1000 hours thanks to the Phoebus cartel expecting to sell more and more bulbs every year.

    1. Anonymous says:

      older light bulbs ran hotter and gave off less light, but thinning the wire and adding more coils they made the bulbs brighter and cooler but ad the expense of longevity

  3. Anonymous says:

    Now if we could just find a way to make CFLs last somewhat remotely close to the life of an incandescent bulb…

    This isn’t a bash on fluorescent technology, but specifically on CFLs. The ballasts are absolute garbage made of the cheapest components possible. More often than not, you’ll have something like a cheap resistor on the ballast blow, taking the whole lamp with it. In my experience, it’s pretty darn rare to use a CFL bulb until the fluorescent bulb actually wears out.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I’ve had good luck with the bulbs Home Depot sells. A couple of years ago they were the top brand in a number of test I read(nvision – now re-branded “ecosmart” exclusively for home depot). I’ve only had one fail so far out of many I’ve installed over the last 3 or 4 years.

      I like the “bright white” specifically as a nice compromise between the “warm” incandescent bulbs and the daylight fluorescents which are quite blue by comparison.

      CFLs are a fairly new market, so there are some bulbs that are definitely better than others.

    2. Capt.tagon says:

      CFL Rule 1) Do not use CFLs in an enclosed fixture. While fluorescents run cooler, their electronic ballasts don’t. If there isn’t enough airflow, the ballasts burn out. Recessed unventilated ceiling cans are the worst, heat rises and the ballast is at the top of the can near the socket.

      CFL Rule 2) Read the attendant notes. Some of these things must be installed in a certain position (ballast up or ballast down) per manufacturer’s directions to have any significant life.

      CFL Rule 3) In rural areas, consider getting a whole house surge suppression system. There are units manufactured to plug in under the meter. The electronics last longer if you plug the lights into an APC or similar spike suppressor strip. Doesn’t work for fixtures though, so the house suppressor suggestion.

      CFL Rule 4) Attempt to buy CFLs from reputable manufacturers in the hopes the electronics are a little more robust (a little more, the first GE’s I bought experienced the first failure at 3 months, the next pair about a year. The one on the enclosed back porch in an open socket and surge suppressed is still going.) The rest of the stuff I’ve bought is so-so on life, expect a year at the most.

      Only approx 1 in 20 CFLs experience tube failure. Early on, I gutted one that had a shattered tube and use the ballast to spot check various burnouts. The sad tale is that CFLs are extremely wasteful of resources and while the fluorescent tubes will last 5-7 years, the electronic ballasts are across the board, just crap.

      I fear that LED systems will have the same problems, the constant current power supplies will faile from a spike leaving you with a fully functional LED element because the power supply ate it. The power supply needs to be divorced from the lighting element so we can replace the item that has failed.

  4. Erica Minto says:

    Bill H. is really a genious in terms of Engineering is considered, the video he has posted is really very useful to students of engineering as well as to others…Keep up the good work.