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A novel twist on a vintage set of soviet neon fairy lights (Christmas lights) that I saw online. I've already made a version with loose resistors and multiple layers of heat shrink sleeving, but thought that a tiny PCB with surface mount resistors on it would make it easier to build.
The PCBs are double sided and have a large pad for soldering the looped power cables to, with a section of the fibreglass PCB at the base designed to provide good separation of the ends of the cables in case of cheeky strands or sleeve meltage. The live is on one side, and the neutral on the other, to provide excellent separation.
There are two 1206 sized resistors on either side, which could be classed as overkill, but spreads the heat dissipation and also increases the electrical rating.
The neon solders to the end with one leg on either side of the PCB, and the whole assembly is then covered with one or two layers of heat shrink sleeving.
This string of neons is only really aimed at the geeks who love novel lighting items. It is way less efficient than a set of diffused orange LEDs. It also has a spicier voltage running along it.
Assembly was easy, but a touch of flux could be a good idea while reflowing the pre-soldered pads during installation of the wires and neons.
It was an easy, and pleasant string of lights to make, and the resultant diffused orange glowing lamps are very gentle on the eye.
I used four 56K resistors in series for a total of 224K on a 240V supply. For 120V the value will be much lower.
Here's the PCB file. Note that it is a single PCB and not a panel of them. It seems a lot cheaper to order them individually anyway.
The PCB is so small that JLC's page doesn't fill in the size. It's 8mm by 24mm.
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Project time this is a satellite that was inspired by an ancient soviet set of christmas lights, which were based in neons. It doesn't mean it's a christmas project originally was intended as a christmas project, but it's good for all year use. I have refined it though, whereas they had a little plastic form of the wires going in and then the wires were twisted and soldered with resistors inside and then the name sticking out the end and heat shrink and the plastic kept the sort of the mains voltage Connections apart in my case, i decided to implement it as a circuit board and if i zoom down you'll, see that this actually contains a large number of the circuit boards and it's the snap apart ones, it's v-grooved. I was hoping originally to go to glc pcb and get the set of two dollars for five pounds.

Offer that did not happen. It turned out. It would have been cheaper just getting the manufacturers as individual circuit boards, because there was so much extra charge for the uh, the panelization and the uh. The such a small circuit board that the price went through the roof, uh glc pcb, not a sponsor.

I find out what the price actually is when you order these things, so i'm going to try. Should i snap these apart right now are not tipped out i'll show you the theory behind this. It's based around little neon lamps, any two lamps as they're sometimes called, and the idea is, if i'll, zoom out again here that the circuit board has this large pad here for the mains connections and the wires are going to come in and they're going to come Up to this there's a war command and there's a wire going out and they're going to be twisted together and soldered, zigzaggy, twisty, twisty and they're going to be sorted onto that and then the other side say that's alive. On one side, the neutral will be in the other side of the circuit board and idea is it provides much better electrical separation and there's also a good decent gap from the bottom of the pad down to the bottom here.

Just so all this can be insulation. Then there's a couple of resistors on either side. The reason i went for so many resistors was just safety really so there's four 56k resistors in series for our normally our value of resistor would be 220 k. I wanted these to run as cool as possible because there will be heat shrink over it and then the neon to actually mount the knee in there's the same on both sides and the knee in one lead goes to one side.

One lead goes to the other, so the pad is in this side for this leg of the knee and then the other pad is on the other side so that when i'm actually soldering them i'll place, the knee in on like that and twist it and then Just solder onto those pads keeping taking care not to do it too slowly, because i you shouldn't really solder too close to the pinch of nails, then the whole lot will be sleeved in heat shrink and that should make it relatively safish. I had hoped to use glue, lined heat shrink. I bought glue, lined heat shrink from ebay. I don't think they sent glue-lined heat shrink.

This is what happens - let's just throw in keywords, so the cable i'm going to be using. Is this let's zoom down this because uh you'll see more the cable i'm using is double insulated. It's meter, cable for like test leads and meter leads and uh. It's got an inner white core and an outer black curve.

The reason i use this is simply because it's rated for mains voltage, it is double insulated, it's the same as they use on british christmas lights, so i just thought it would be a good idea. So let's have a go at this and see how how it's going to be. I've not tried building any of these. Yet so i'm going to take two and i'm going to twist the wires together twist them together and then throw some soda on not even sure if this is the correct sequence to do things, but it is how i will be doing it.

So i've got to throw some soda onto these and then crop them down to size, because i've got a feeling that when you heat cables like this, the heat the sleeving tends to peel back a bit. This is where i completely miss the solder, because i all the light is from the other side. That's all right, so i shall do this as a test. One first crop that down and then, since i've now flowed soda onto this, i shall put it onto this pad down here and i'll reflow.

It hold it at a good height. So there is plenty of insulation for the wires and we'll see how that goes. That looks alright, it could be more central, but i was trying to get the wires more central, i'll be more careful next time then i repeat: by taking this lead here and twisting onto the next one along soldering that and then sold it onto the next circuit Board along, they might be better separated for this. I'm not really sure this is the prototype you're, seeing the first one being built right now, crop it off.

This is where the snips make a loud, clack noise that makes the the microphone pop sometimes happens, and then i shall place that down there and i shall re-flue it. He said showing some slight indecision with the iron now am i getting any sharp spikiness here for the heat shrink? No, it's it's feeling pretty good right, we'll tell you what i'm going to pause while i sew the other ones along and then i'll soda. The other polarity on the other side and then i'll be back and we'll try putting the names on and see how that works and yep i'll do that right now. Well, that turned out to be so therapeutic and easy to do that.

I just went the full section and did them all the way along here now the resistors i'll zoom down and show you the resistors here the surface mount resistors are 1206, it's just a nice big chunky size and i, like those big chunky, resistors, and i tried Two techniques for soldering these on i tried manually, soldering them on, and i tried the solder paste just applying it manually onto that. I'm just actually seeing one of the resistors that doesn't look like it as any soda. One moment please: where is the: where is the soda uh? Where is the soda? There is, but i found that for both of them. I i quite liked reflowing them with a a bit of fresh um flux and the hot air gun yeah.

This is going to work a lot better if i solder this resistor, that would be a lot better. The hot air air gun is uh, definitely making them reflow and make them all sit down. Properly was better and i'm going to check the others yeah these ones. All look pretty good, now comes a bit where i try and put the names on, so i'm going to have to snap it along the v slot here and now comes the moment of truth for putting these on.

What sort of length do i want on the? I want roughly six millimeters, which is about quarter of an inch, so i shall crop this neon at that distance and i shall pre-tin its leads. I'm also going to grab some more soda shortly, but let's try this one first. Is this going to be as easy as i was hoping? It was going to be a little blob of soda on each lead, and then i shall start at that end. Making sure i don't push it right down onto the resistor.

If anything could have been a bit shorter, but you know this is the prototype. I want to leave the leads relatively longish, so i'm going to flow that solder on that seemed to work okay and then i'm going to turn it over and position that lead and i'm going to flow that lead on which also worked. Okay. That is a very easy thing to do: right, okay, next to neon and then i'll pause uh.

While i do the others just so you don't have to have to watch me soldering every single one on. Let me crop this. Just a little tiny bit shorter grab. The solder it's a new rule of soda, it's an old rule of soldier of unknown origins.

It feels different, although it's a prominent brand. I think it is old. I don't know if that flux ages, i don't think it ages. So now, oh, this is going to get a bit tricky because uh, maybe i should snap that one off first, so i shall snap this one off the end of here.

First, that's better, and then i shall put this one on. That is better. That leaves a lot more room for soldering. You see, okay.

Here i think you can see. Okay, technically speaking, i should zoom down further, but there is a limit before it all goes. A bit pixely yeah, that's kind of close to the resistor down below. I may have to experiment with the spacing of this.

It is a prototype, though. That's all right, though it is very low current. It's only about one milliamp. If that i like to keep the current low with names.

Oh i've just snapped off one of the other circuit boards. Well, that's going to give me a chance to uh. Try! Oh, is this piece v cut actually going to work? I may have to grip this in another way hold on. Where is a pair of long nose pliers? I shall grip it there.

Without going near the resistors and just snap it there. We go it's not too bad. It's not too bad grab another knee, and then i shall pause follow to the others. This is just uh, trial and error at the moment to see how it all goes together.

Hopefully, i'm managing to remain in focus. There is a certain focal zone on my bench. How is it for just a bare circuit board on its own? It's not too bad. Actually, it's not too bad on pre-separated circuit boards, so reflowing the solder here and reflowing it here.

That's working right! I shall pause while i sodor all the other neons on and then i'll come back when we're putting the heat shrink on one moment, please so far. So good, this is a very pleasant task. Now it is time to put the heat shrink on the heat shrink covers the neon, make sure there are no spiky points pointing up that could damage the heat shrink. Adhesive lined heat shrink would add an extra layer of shall we say, uh cable restraint, i'm not sure it's official cable restraint, but it's good enough for me and i'm going to keep these up.

I may turn the amount of hot air up just a wee tad and we'll shrink this shrink down onto the circuit board and see how it looks so far so good, quite slow, a proper big hot air gun would really do this so much better. Maybe i should slide it down a little bit more over the neon uh, but so far so good that looks all right, but tell you what this one has the four wires going into? Is it gon na be harder to get the heat shrink over? I shall zoom down just a little bit just a little bit, so you can see what's happening here and slide this down, maybe just a bit further. If i can it, it doesn't feel like it's sliding down very easily there. It goes i'll leave the pip of the neon just sticking out the end this time, hot air gun.

I shall just preheat it and then shrink it on double check that there are no pointy bits or soda strands or peaks in the soda or wire strands. Sticking up just in case they pierce the the heat shrink, although to be honest, it couldn't be any worse than a lot of the chinese gray import lights, you get at christmas time. This feels pretty good. This feels okay right next sleeve and then i shall pause momentarily while i put the others on so you don't have to watch me basically.

Well, it's not so much watching wet paint dry. It's watching hot heat shrink, shrink. That'll do what's your pen part of a generic chinese yahuwah uh soldering station, possibly not the very best in the world, but actually okay, certainly it does the job in this situation. I'd probably want a proper.

If i was doing a lot of these, i might want a bigger hot air gun, but having said that, this does give better control and reduces the risk of uh melting on the insulation. Right. Tell you what i'm gon na pause momentarily. While i finish this one moment, please, okay, it is time for the moment of truth, i'm going to just zoom down onto the the bench here, i'm going to double check that i have heat shrink them all.

I did that the last time that i i did. One before they're all hard wired with inner bits of sleeve over resistors and at the end i was thinking of going. Oh, they look pretty good. I didn't realize one of them didn't have heat shrink on it.

I didn't make contact with it, but it was pointed out by many people who viewed the video and were holding their breath when i was a fingering near live connections. These things happen. I try not to let them happen right here. Let's plug this in and see how it looks for extra safety, it might be an advantage to put an extra bit of a short bit of sleeving over here and shrink it on before putting a larger diameter bit across just as an extra layer, i shall bring Up the flickering hopper the flippery and we shall stuff the wires haphazardly actually, no i'll.

I shall unplug it before stuffing them a haphazardly into the flickery hobby, i'll zoom out for this. This is the completely non-compliant electrical connection point and theoretically they're either gon na go. Bang, if i've got a uh george michael, a careless whisker or they will glow orange, they are glowing orange. They are all glowing orange.

It's not super mega bright power. Consumption for the whole string is 2.6 watts. Power factor is 0.962. Current is about 11 milliamps, which is just under 1 milliamp per knee, and let me just uh turn exposure off and uh click this off and you can see the neons and the non-frickery hoppy.

They are very nice. These were generic chinese neons. Well, i guess they're probably all made in china, but these ones came from a seller on ebay, slight flicker yeah, as you can see a slight flick of my shaker as they do a very soft diffuse color. They look nice.

They look very nice and that's of roughly about one milliamp is pretty good uh, so that is it um. Those circuit boards, i, if i'm just interested i'll, put the design up, but the design is literally oh, i'm gon na have to bring the light back. One minute, please, the light is coming back. Watch your eyes.

The light is back uh. I could put the design up but um. It is just a single circuit board. You kind of get it panelized by whoever you get it made check the prices.

As i say, with glc pcb it went through the roof um the resistors for 232 40 europe, australia, uk uh, the resistors. I use i'm going to have to check what resistors are usually 56k or something 56k 5602. There are 1201 size, resistors 56k, four of them. If you were doing this, in america, for instance, you'd have to find the recommended resistor value for a neon indicator and then divide it by four for each of those resistor positions or put links in some of them, because uh there's much less dissipation in the 120 Volts for the neon than there is in 240..

You can also, i wouldn't recommend overdriving names because uh it does shorten the life greatly, but you can also under run them significantly and it does decrease the brightness, but it also makes the arc unstable. It will actually waver up and down electrodes, which is actually quite nice. It gives it a slight candidly flickery effect, but that's it. I am happy with that.

It's a nice little string, it's a fairly compact and well sleeved string of uh the name indicator lights, um that i would comfortably use on a tree. The wiring is kind of thick, but that's just because it's double insulated wire um but uh. I suppose you could use thinner wire if you had confidence or there weren't people eating bits of the tree if you put it on your christmas tree, kids, pets whatever, but yeah 11 milliamps for what turned out to be 13 neons. That's about the one million per million, so that's pretty good yeah! I like that.

That project worked out pretty well.

12 thoughts on “Pcb based neon fairy lights”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Joseph S says:

    This type of project seems to be right for me, but is it economical? I'd be happy to hand solder all the lights for my home decorations but it would be a hard sell to the missus if it meant was going to be more expensive than buying from a local box store.

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars andymouse123 says:

    How many panels did you buy ? its a minimum of 5 so you did get 260 PCB's and if you look at the price in the right hand panel it changes in 'real time' and its immediately obvious if you select something that is not covered by the offer, there is no excuse for not being aware what your being charged for and I'm not sponsored either but its a very good deal…cheers.

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Treeline Research says:

    I kinda ran into the opposite problem with panelization once, fab was like we're going to upcharge unless you panelize these because we don't want to deal with routing out and handling every single one. Snapping out like 2000 boards isn't pleasant on the fingers, but it's free.

  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Willyarma says:

    I ordered some panelised boards and mine were quite a lot too. I was quite surprised how much it was. They were some tiny cdce913 PLL clock synthesiser ICs + a crystal + regulator made to fit in the footprint of a normal oscillator module (DIP 14).

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Phonotical says:

    Ahh, this was your cancelled Christmas plan?

    Why don't you rectify the incoming power, so more of the bulb glows and can run at a lower voltage

    We use that cable on our lights? All I've seen I'm pretty much has been recycled speaker cable ๐Ÿคฃ

    Did you add extra solder first to the pads the others seem to have next to nothing

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Steve Perry says:

    The price went through the roof due to the engineering charge for V gooves les than 20mm apart. For sizes below 20mm use "panel by stamp hole". You can combine the two methods 10 get 20mm x 10mm boards ๐Ÿ™‚ Do not tick any panel options when ordering the std 100 x 100 pcb's !
    For solder paste, use a stencil !

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars No no says:

    Panelizing does make the cost go up, but its still cheaper than if you tried to buy all those as individual pcbs.

    Also I don't think you can get individual circuit boards that small. The minimum dimensions for a pcb (whether it's a one circuit board or many circuits in a panel) is larger than the minimum dimensions for the individual circuit boards that can be v-cut into a panel.

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Aeroworcx says:

    Nice job Clive! Those are quite nifty. I am always amazed how fast and easy your solder works. I am a noob at soldering and I always have trouble with it flowing. I may need to research the proper equipment more.

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Paul Smith says:

    Looks like the complete panel was over the jlcpcb special offer size of 100mm by 100mm? I use Fritzing PCB design software which doesn't support vscores unfortunately. Seems cheaper to buy multiple PCBs than to pay for the panelisation.

  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Caggius says:

    I am still using a reel of RS multicore solder from the 80's with no problem – so I don't think the flux ages that much – its basically rosin or pine tree resin and amber seems to last for millions of yearsย 
    according to Jurassic Park….

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Gregory Thomas says:

    I would very much like to see you video the entire build/soldering process…it is very relaxing and therapeutic…I actually rewatch many of your hour plus build videos…usually multiples.
    The project is really nice…might be able to make some up for my mum…she loves the little neon bulbs as much as I do ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Joey Strong says:

    They remind me of those super expensive ws2811 strings only way cooler.

    Clive I've had one of those cheap heat guns melt in my hand and burn me. It was at 30 percent airflow and 300 degrees and on for a half-hour in which 25 minutes were spent in sleep mode.

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