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Melles-Griot 05-LHP-141-15 Helium Neon Laser Head & Tube Extraction

Melles Griot
He-Ne Laser Head
He-Ne Laser Head

Looking through eBay recently I came across a great deal on some Helium-Neon laser heads from Melles Griot. While definitely not new, these gas lasers are extremely long-lasting & I figured the tubes inside would make a nice addition to my laser collection. Doing some searching on the model number, these heads are rated at an optical output of 4mW, but depending on how much milage is on the tubes, the output may be a bit higher.

Data Label
Data Label

I got a pair of the heads, this one was manufactured in July 1988, the other March 1989.

OC End / Classification Label
OC End / Classification Label

The OC end of the head has the laser classification label & the beam shutter. Once I’d tested the laser heads to make sure they survived the post intact, I set at extracting the plasma tubes from the aluminium housings.
The end caps are fibre-reinforced plastic & are secured with epoxy resin, so some heating & brute force released the caps from the housing, giving access to the laser tube itself.

Glue Holes
Glue Holes

The laser tube is secured in these heads by hot glue – this was squirted into the housing via two rows of holes around the ends. (Some are secured with RTV silicone, which is substantially more difficult to remove).

Copper Tube
Copper Tube

I’ve no photos of the actual extraction process as it’s difficult enough as is without at least 5 hands. A heat gun was used to warm up the housing until the glue melted enough to slide the tube out of the housing. Since everything was hot at this stage, a piece of copper tubing (above), was slipped over the OC mirror mount, so I could push the tube out of the housing while the glue was soft. This also protected the mirror from damage while the tube was being removed.

Extracted Tube
Extracted Tube

After a few minutes of gentle pushing while keeping the housing hot, the tube was released! It’s still pretty well covered in the remains of the hot glue, but this is easily removed once the tube cools down to room temperature with Isopropanol. The line of Kapton tape running down the tube to the cathode end is insulating a start tape electrode, which is supposed to make the laser strike faster on power-up. Instead of being metal though, the electrode appears to be a carbon-loaded plastic tape.

Start Tape & Adhesive
Start Tape & Adhesive

Here’s the HR end of the tube, which also serves as the high voltage anode electrode. The start tape is clipped onto the mirror mount, but all this will be removed.

OC End
OC End

The OC end of the laser, where the beam emerges. What I think is the mW rating of the tubes is written on the end cap, probably from when the tubes were manufactured.

Tube Energized
Tube Energized

Applying power from a He-Ne laser PSU confirmed the tube still works!

Modular He-Ne Laser Power Supply

Description and Schematic

SG-HM2 is a modular He-Ne laser power supply based on IC-HI1 with some minor enhancements. The first version is for laser tubes up to approximately 1 mW (2 mW with trivial modifications) but it should be straightforward to go to 5 mW or even higher power tubes by replacing the SG-HM2 HV Module (HVM2-1) with one with a higher voltage and current rating, along with a higher power MOSFET and minor component value changes to the Control Module (suggestions below). I have added an adjustment for tube current, a current limiting resistor and Zener to protect against output short circuits, an enable input (ground to turn on), a bleeder resistor to virtually eliminate the shock hazard after the power supply is turned off, and power and status LEDs.

  • Get the schematic for SG-HM2 (1 mW version) in PDF format:ย [download id=”5610″]

Modifying SG-HM2 for Higher Power He-Ne Laser Tubes

The following are guidelines for modifying SG-HM2 to drive various power He-Ne lasers. The PCB layout below with two versions of the HV Module should accommodate He-Ne laser tubes up to 10 mW. All assume input of around 12 V though a higher power system can generally run lower power lasers at reduced input voltage. If operation at rated power on another input voltage is desired, the number of turns on the inverter transformer can be adjusted accordingly. As noted above, the 1 mW HV Module (HVM2-1) should run tubes up to about 2 mW, though increasing the ยตF values of some of the HV capacitors may be desirable to reduce ripple at the higher tube current. Minor changes may also be needed in the components on the SG-HM2 Control Module including using a higher power MOSFET for Q1 and reducing the values of R7 and/or R8 for the higher tube current. Or, just populate the Control Module with Q1 being an IRF644, R7 being 150 ohms, and R8 being 750 ohms for compatibility with all the HV modules. For that matter, the HVM2-5 PCB HV Module should be usable with lower power lasers.

SG-HM2 Inverter Transformer

The inverter transformer for HVM2-1 is wound on a ferrite pot core with a small air-gap (about 0.005″). It is 18 mm in diameter by 11 mm high. While specified to use a 9 turn primary and 450 turn secondary, these values can be adjusted somewhat to handle various input and output requirements. Don’t go much lower on the primary as this may result in core saturation. The 9/450 transformer should be fine for 1 to 2 mW He-Ne laser tubes running on 8 to 15v DC input. With 9/300, it will operate on about 12 to 20v DC. Increasing the number of secondary turns (e.g., 9/600) may result in operation on a slightly lower input voltage, but probably not by much. The 9/450 transformer may even run He-Ne laser tubes larger than 2 mW but I haven’t yet tested this since I haven’t built a prototype of HVM2-5 as yet.

It doesn’t matter very much whether the primary (P) is wound first or the secondary (S) is wound first though the former appears to work slightly better, running the tube at about 8v DC input instead of 9v DC input for the same 9/450 transformer. P over S is slightly easier to wind since the primary doesn’t get in the way and increase the lumpiness of the secondary layers. However, with S over P, insulation is somewhat less critical since the HV lead is out away from anything else. With the P over S, additional insulation is needed between them. Also, since the primary coil is larger diameter, it will have more resistance and there will be greater inter-winding capacitance (though probably not significant). The secondary should be constructed as multiple layers of about 50 or 60 turns each, with insulating tape between layers. Each should be wound in as close to a single layer as possible with alternating layers staggered to prevent arc-over. This doesn’t have to be perfect but try to go gradually from one side to the other to keep wires at high relative potential away from each other. Make sure the HV output leads (particularly the one away from the dot) are well insulated as they exit the transformer. And, as noted, if the primary is over the secondary, there must be high voltage insulation between them. The peak output voltage when the MOSFET turns off (the flyback pulse) may be more than 5 times higher than what would be expected from the DC input voltage and the turns-ratio alone – several kV and this *will* try to find a path to ground! There are more detailed transformer construction instructions in the next section.

Note that this transformer is slightly larger physically than the one from IC-HI1. This is for two reasons: (1) It is easier to wind with more space and a larger wire size for the secondary, and (2) continuous operation should be possible with 2 mW laser tubes, which might have been marginal with the original transformer used in IC-HI1. A by-product of the larger core is that its 9 turn primary should be roughly equivalent to the 12 turn primary of the smaller core in terms of inductance and core saturation limitations.

Interestingly, a similar transformer found in a different commercial power supply, had no insulating tape anywhere. It would appear that with very precise machine-wound HV secondary, done first, the voltage is distributed so uniformly that this is unnecessary.

I’ve now built and tested several transformers in IC-HI1, removing the original transformer and installing socket pins so either the original or an adapter board can be plugged in. This setup is then equivalent to SG-HM2 with the HVM2-1 HV Module. The minimum input voltage values that follow are when driving a 0.5 mW He-Ne laser tube:

*The number of turns on the original (#1) is not really known exactly and may be lower or higher by up to 25 percent based on the measured secondary resistance (45 ohms) and estimated wire size (somewhere between #38 and #40. (Even with the larger wire, the amount of bobbin area taken up by the wire is less than 50 percent so it should fit even with many layers of insulating tape. The transformer is Epoxy impregnated and likely to be impossible to disassemble into any form that can be analyzed!)

All of these transformers will drive He-Ne laser tubes of up to at least 2.5mW using the equivalent of the HVM2-1 HV Module which is part of IC-HI1. Even with the 2.5mW tube, the minimum operating voltage was only about 0.5v higher than for the 0.5mW tube. There is a good chance they would drive even larger He-Ne laser tubes (though possibly at a slightly higher input voltage) but I don’t dare try using the existing HV circuitry as it might not survive for long. I suspect that transformers #4, #5, and #6 would run on an input voltage of less than 8v DC but the salvaged cores I am using have a larger air-gap than might be optimal and I don’t have anything to reduce it without heavy losses. They attempt to start the tube at around 6v DC but are unable to maintain it and flicker rapidly. (#2 and #3, which use the same style core, would also benefit somewhat.) Operation using #1 and #5 is virtually identical, with the original running at perhaps 0.5v DC less input. I expect they would be even more identical if the air-gap on #5 were smaller, and #6 with its smaller air-gap does indeed run at the lower input voltage. I haven’t actually confirmed that anything blows up above the maximum voltages listed above, which were arbitrarily chosen. But I am guessing that bad things might happen at some point. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have also constructed a transformer which will need to be used with HVM2-5: 12/1200, P over S, on a 30×19 pot core. I will also construct a 9/900. S over P, on a 30×19 pot core (or on a 26×16 if I can find one). Testing of these will have to await an HVM2-5 prototype.

SG-HM2 Transformer Construction

Here are details on construction of the inverter transformer for SG-HM2. With all parts and tools on hand, it takes about an hour start to finish. Only a small portion of this time is in the actual winding (at least if a coil winding machine is used). Most of the time is spent in adding the insulation tape and terminating the leads. After constructing a few of these, it does go quicker. ๐Ÿ™‚

Step-by-step instructions are provided for the HVM2-1 transformer. The changes needed for HVM2-5 are summarized at the end of this section. Some sort of coil winding machine is almost essential as #40 wire is extremely thin and easy to break. (Anything larger than #40 will not fit on the bobbin.) It doesn’t have to be fancy. Mine is probably 50 years old of the type that is (used to be?) advertised in the back of electronics magazines. However, a couple of spindles – one that is fixed or free to rotate for the wire supply and the other which can be turned for the coil being wound – are really all that are needed. Don’t use any sort of powered approach though (unless you have a *real* professional coil winder!) as it is all too easy to break the wire if there is no tactile feedback to detect snags.

  1. Parts required for T101 of HVM2-1:
    • 18×11 mm (1811) ferrite pot core with a small air-gap (no more than 0.005″) or no air-gap, and a single section bobbin. These are available from several manufacturers but surplus or salvaged cores may be easier to obtain. Radio Shack used to have a “ferrite kit” which included a variety of sizes of cores (only 1 each though so you’d have to buy two kits and there were no bobbins!). I doubt the kit still exists though.
    • Approximately 1.5 feet of #28 magnet wire for the primary (9 turns wound first) and approximately 60 feet of #40 magnet wire for the secondary (450 turns wound on top of the primary). I found both these size wire in various solenoids and relays I’ve discombobulated. ๐Ÿ™‚ Wire sizes aren’t critical but these are known to fit and the #40 can be handled with a reasonable chance of not breaking.
    • Sleeving to protect the primary wires where they leave transformer. I used approximately 2″ of insulation (each lead) from the individual wires in some 25 pair phone cable.
    • Wirewrap wire or other thin insulated wire to terminate the secondary wires where they leave the transformer.
    • Insulating tape. 1 mil Mylar or similar is desirable. However, I’ve found that thin clear (non-reinforced) packing tape does an adequate job, though it probably doesn’t have as much dielectric strength as real insulating tape so additional layers are required. It will also likely not stand up to overheating too well. Electrical tape is way too thick and would prevent enough turns from fitting.
    • A piece of Perf. board with holes on 0.1″ centers, 0.8″x0.8″. There should be 7 rows of holes each way so that one hole lines up in the center.
    • A Nylon 4-40 screw and nut to fasten the transformer to the board.
    • Four (4) machined-type IC socket pins or something similar to use as terminals.
  2. Wind the primary:
    • Slip a piece of sleeving over the start of the primary wire and position the sleeving so it extends about 1/2 turn inside the bobbin on the left side.
    • Wrap exactly 9 turns of this wire clockwise around the bobbin, left to right. The wires should enter and exit on the same angular position (slot) of the bobbin on opposite sides.
    • Slip another piece of sleeving over the wire end exiting the bobbin so that it too is about 1/2 turn inside the bobbin.
    • Wrap 1.5 to 2 turns of tape tightly over the primary winding to secure and insulate it.
  3. Wind the secondary:
    • Strip 1/8″ or so from the end of a 2″ piece of wire-wrap wire and solder the start of the wire for the secondary winding to it. Make sure the insulation on the fine magnet wire has been removed – usually just heating it while soldering will do this. Leave an inch or so of the magnet wire extending from the connection so that continuity can be confirmed with a multimeter, then snip it off. Install this in the opposite slot of the bobbin also on the left side with about 1/4″ of insulation inside the bobbin against the side and separated from the primary. Leave a little slack in the fine secondary wire so that slight motion won’t break it. Add a small piece of tape to protect and insulate this connection.
    • Using your coil winding machine (you do have one, correct?), build up the secondary in layers of about 50 to 75 turns in a counter-clockwise direction (bobbin being rotated clockwise). A single layer of wire won’t fit in the 1/8″ or so available (in the 18×11 mm core bobbin) so there will have to be some overlap. But, do this several times across the layer so that any given wire won’t be next to one with a much different voltage. In other words, wind a few turns and back up so that there will in essence be multiple sub-windings of 5 or 10 turns, repeated several times across the layer. Keep the wire at least 1/32″ away from either edge of the bobbin.
    • After each full layer or wire, add just over 1 layer of insulating tape making sure it covers the entire width of the bobbin. There should be just enough overlap to assure there is at least 1 layer of insulation but not much more as excessive tape will end up taking up too much space.The entire 450 turn winding will then require 6 to 9 full layers. Add another layer of insulating tape over the last winding layer leaving the wire end exposed.
    • Terminate the end of the secondary winding with another piece of thin wire by soldering as above. Confirm continuity with a multimeter. For the 450 turn secondary, the resistance should be about 60 ohms. Add a piece of thicker sleeving over this at the HV end if space is available. Else, use some bits of tape to insulate the wirewrap wire lead from the core and exposed inner layers that it may come near as it exits out the side of the bobbin. Add another layer of tape to secure the lead in place.
    • Add several more layers of insulating tape to complete the bobbin assembly.
  4. Prepare the mounting board:
    • Widen the center hole to 7/64″ to accommodate a 4-40 nylon screw.
    • Widen the holes at the 4 corners of the board to accept the 4 IC socket pins (if used) as a press-fit or glue them in place with 5 minute Epoxy or SuperGlue.
  5. Final assembly:
    • Install the ferrite pot core halves to the bobbin taking care not to crunch any of the wires. Orient it so that the primary and secondary leads are conveniently located with respect to the 4 pins, e.g., primary start: bottom left; primary end: top left, secondary start: bottom right; and primary end: top right.
    • Use the nylon 4-40 screw and nut to *gently* secure the transformer to the mounting board. The head of the 4-40 screw should be underneath the board. Don’t over-tighten or it may crack the core, especially if it has an air-gap in the middle.
    • Carefully remove the insulation from the ends of the wires. The secondary wires will still be fragile even with the wirewrap wire terminations. For the magnet wire, the easiest way to remove the insulation is to burn it off with a match or hot soldering iron and then clean with fine sandpaper.
    • Push the wires into their respective socket pins. (The wirewrap wires are too thin to be secure but they will make adequate contact for testing.)
    • Use a multimeter to confirm continuity of the primary (close to 0 ohms) and secondary (about 50 to 75 ohms).
  6. Testing:
    • Install the transformer in you HV Module. Attach a He-Ne laser tube and ballast resistor.
    • Power up on an variable DC power supply and check for reliable starting and stable operation. Adjust the core gap if needed. A smaller gap may result in more operating power available at a given input voltage. A larger gap will result in attempts to start on a lower input voltage. Somewhere around 0.005″ is probably a good compromise.
    • After testing the transformer (and adjusting the core gap if needed), use some adhesive to secure the pot core sections and to protect the transformer leads. Solder the leads into the socket pins.

The final result is shown on an adapter below:

Photo of SG-HM2 HVM2-1 Transformer being Tested in IC-HI1
Photo of SG-HM2 HVM2-1 Transformer being Tested in IC-HI1

The instructions for winding the HVM2-5 transformer are similar except for the dimensions, wire sizes and lengths, and number of turns for the primary and secondary:

  • Differences in parts list for T501 of HVM2-5 compared to T101 of HVM2-1:
    • 26×16 mm (2616) ferrite pot core with a small air-gap (no more than 0.005″) or no air-gap, and a single section bobbin.
    • Approximately 2.0 feet of #26 magnet wire for the primary (12 turns wound first) and approximately 75 to 120 feet of #40 magnet wire for the secondary (600 or 900 turns wound on top of the primary).
    • A piece of Perf. board with holes on 0.1″ centers, 1.0″x1.0″. There should be 9 rows of holes each way so that one hole lines up in the center.
    • A Nylon 10-32 screw and nut to fasten the transformer to the board.

Since the peak voltage on the HVM2-5 secondary may be 2 to 3 times higher than for HVM2-1, extra insulation and clearances will be required on the secondary.

SG-HM2 Printed Circuit Board Layout

A printed circuit board layout is also available. The Control Module is 2″x1.2″. The HV Modules are 3.6″x1.2″ and 4.5″x1.8″ for the 1 mW (HVM2-1) and 5 mW (HVM2-5), respectively. The Control and HV Modules are connected by a 2 pin cable for transformer drive and a 3 pin cable for current sensing from the laser tube. The two boards can easily be merged if desired.

The layout of the 3 PCBs may be viewed as a GIF file (draft quality) as below:

Sam's Modular He-Ne Laser Power Supply 2 PCB Layout
Sam’s Modular He-Ne Laser Power Supply 2 PCB Layout


A complete PCB artwork package for SG-HM2 (all PCBs on one sheet) may be downloaded in standard (full resolution 1:1) Gerber PCB format (zipped) as [download id=”5612″]

The Gerber files include the component side copper, soldermask, and silkscreen; solder side copper and soldermask, and drill control artwork. The original printed circuit board CAD files and netlist (in Tango PCB format) are provided so that the circuit layout can be modified or imported to another system if desired. The text file ‘sghm2.doc’ (in describes the file contents in more detail.

Note: The netlist does NOT include wiring for the HVM2-5 HV Module. Also, part numbers on the HVM2-5 PCB actually begin with a “5” instead of a “1” since Tango PCB will not allow duplicate part numbers on the same layout.