[AMRadio] Tube Life

Geoff/W5OMR ars.w5omr at gmail.com
Tue Jan 9 16:50:33 EST 2007

I had my final out of it's rack today, to clean the 250TH tube sockets.  
With a dremel tool and a miniature wire-wheel brush, I cleaned off the 
tube-socket spring-leaf type pins and then bent them slightly upward 
into the socket again, so that they make better physical contact.  I 
also cleaned the pins on the bottoms of the tubes, as well. 

All of this socket and pin cleaning got me to thinking "I've been 
through this before..." and I got to looking around.

A while back, there was a great technical discussion on the AM Reflector 
about Tube life, and the effect of filament voltage on the life of the tube.

Bob (Bacon) Bruhns/WA3WDR posted a page chocked full of GREAT information.

With the indulgence of the list, I'd like to re-post his message, in 
case some missed it the first time around. 

I think it's -that- important.  Besides, some of us might not have been 
on the air at the time, but still interested in AM Radio. 
Things like this tend to have more meaning, when you're actually 
operating rigs with these Big Tubes in 'em.

So, without further fanfare, I present you with.....

(...drum roll, please...)

On Fri, 20 Aug 2004 10:46:16 -0400 (EDT), Bob spake thusly:


I looked at the 250TH specs, but I really can't make a solid judgment on
acceptable filament voltage at reduced specs for long life.  Generally I
would be conservative; where you might reduce filament voltage a great deal,
I recommend that you only reduce it slightly.

Emission falls off very rapidly with reduction in filament voltage, and a
small reduction probably has a large effect on tube life.  I really can't
specify how much you can safely reduce filament voltage, but with
thoriated-tungsten filamentary cathode tubes, I would recommend that you
don't reduce operating filament voltage more than 10% from spec.  And make
sure your socket connections are clean, etc.
Ref: http://www.bext.com/filament.htm
http://groups.google.com/groups?q=%22reduced+filament+voltage%22&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&selm=3kp9s8%24o68%40indy-backup.indy.net&rnum=9 <http://groups.google.com/groups?q=%22reduced+filament+voltage%22&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&selm=3kp9s8%24o68%40indy-backup.indy.net&rnum=9>

Some recommend not reducing filament voltage on large oxide-cathode tubes
such as the 8877, etc.  
Ref: http://www.w8ji.com/vacuum_tubes_and_vaccum_tube_failures.htm

Others claim remarkable improvements from filament voltage reduction. Ref:
(Note: I believe the 4CX20000 is an oxide-cathode tube.)

Other factors probably have as much effect on tube life.  Excess current, of
course, or operating before full emission temperature is reached, and
thermal shock at turn-on. 
ref: http://lists.contesting.com/archives/html/Amps/2001-06/msg00213.html

Burn-in: cook long-unused tubes at rated filament power for 100-200 hours.
The idea is to allow the "getter" elements to absorb gas that has leaked
into the tube or out of the materials in the tube.  In tube operation, gas
becomes ions which attack the cathode.  
Ref: http://www.rfparts.com/tubeapp.html

Filament and cathode structures do not like thermal shock.  The sudden
application of filament voltage to a cold filament is a significant shock,
because the resistance of a cold filament is much lower than its resistance
when it is hot.  A gradual application of filament power is best.  This can
be done with a resistor in series with the filament transformer primary, a
small filament transformer that overloads at turn-on, etc.

Filament voltage regulation is a good idea. 
Ref: http://www.vt52.com/diy/tips/tt_filaments.pdf

But, be careful not to make the turn-on shock situation worse.  Basically, I
suggest one or two big constant-voltage transformers and a few small
filament transformers, possibly with a series resistance of a few ohms in
their primary circuits.  The little transformers will overload on turn-on,
limiting thermal shock to the tubes, yet the system will maintain operating
filament voltage nicely, over a wide range of mains supply voltage.  Then
you can tweak the filament voltage to extend emission life, and the voltages
will stay put, and turn on will be gentle.  The gentler, the better.

  Bacon, WA3WDR


Thanks for the (re)read.

73, etc

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