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Getting the Most Out of Vacuum Tubes

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"Types and causes of tube failures, what to expect from tubes, testing methods, and all about tube maintenance programs." Solid guidance about why tubes fail and what to do about it.
By Rober B. Tomer

Vacuum Tubes-The Important 4/5ths of Electronic Circuits
Over 80% of all electronic equipment defects result, directly or indirectly, from tube fail­ures. Why do tubes fail? What can be done to prevent them from failing before their time? How can you determine whether a tube is good or bad, or how well and how long it will work in a given circuit? Should tubes be replaced periodically, whether they've failed or not ... or should they be tested every so often, and replaced if indications show them to be below par? This book supplies the answers to these profound questions ... plus many, many more.

Like Watching a Play From Backstage
Author "Bud" Tomer, an international author­ity on tubes, is well-known for his candid "Tech Tip" bulletins and his slide-film pre­sentations to service, military and engineer­ing groups. Within these covers you'll find a virtual encyclopedia on vacuum tubes-yet the author has not delved into mathematical details that would be of interest to only a few tube engineers. Everything is focused toward the interest of those who use tubes-either for replacement purposes or in original equipment designs.
In his refreshing, down-to-earth style, Mr. Tomer sheds a bright light on such areas as, "Why so many tube types?" "What About Tube Testers?" etc.

PREFACE: The purpose of this book is not to add another volume to the many excellent ones available on what makes the vacuum tube work. Rather, it is intended to shed light on the almost completely neglected subject of why these versatile devices sometimes do not work.

Informed scientists and engineers have frequently stated that the life of a vacuum tube in normal service should exceed 5,000 or even 10,000 hours. The fact that some of them do not last this long is well known. The question then is, "Why do they so often give less than their predicted or possible potential?"

J. M. Bridges, Director of Electronics, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, speaking before the RETMA (now EIA) "Symposium on Reliable Applica­tions of Vacuum Tubes" at the University of Pennsyl­vania in May 1956, said: "It has been demonstrated by service tests that the average number of tube failures per operating hour in two equipments of equal complexity, having approximately the same tube complement, can differ by as much as a factor of ten, due entirely to dif­ferences in the thoroughness and completeness of engi­neering design."

If the failure rate of tubes in military equipment can vary as much as ten to one because of circuit design alone, what influence do maintenance practices have on over-all reliability and failure rates? For an answer to this, we refer to Aeronautical Radio's General Report, Number Two, on "Electronic Reliability in Military Applications;' July 1957, which states: "All available evidence indicates that this factor-the influence of maintenance personnel -is one of the dominant causes of unreliability in mili­tary equipments." Later in this same report we read, "The conclusion was reached that about one out of every three tubes removed from military equipment was a 'good tube.' "

What can we deduce from all this? It appears possible that more effective maintenance practices can in some instances, reduce over-all tube failure rates by as much as 90%. Extensive military records, covering thousands of tubes in all types of electronic apparatus all over the world, have shown that these results are entirely possible.

It is for the purpose of pointing out those engineering practices leading to premature tube failures, and those maintenance practices contributing to additional failures, that this book is written. I hope that, as a result of this knowledge, those responsible for the maintenance and servicing of home entertainment, business, industrial, and military equipment will gain a new appreciation of vac­uum tubes, so they can obtain greater satisfaction from them in the future. 

Getting the Most Out of Vacuum Tubes
By R. B. Tomer
Howard W. Sams & Co., 1960
Reprinted by KCK Media Corp., 2019
160 pages


Book Review by Jan Didden - Link
I ordered this book, Getting the Most Out of Vaccum Tubes, from KCK Media Corp. while I was researching tube service life issues. It is an unusual book, not discussing what you can do with tubes, how to use them in circuits, operating parameter calculations, or that sort of thing. Instead, it is solely devoted to factors that decrease useful service life or cause catastrophic failures. Its subtitle, aptly, is “Types and Causes of Tube Failures, What to Expect from Tubes, Testing Methods, and All about Tube Maintenance Programs.

Yes, and you’d be surprised how the wrong type (or too much) maintenance activity on tube equipment can actually damage individual tubes or decrease their service life. One example: I know of audiophiles who regularly “re-seat” their tubes in an attempt to make sure the pin contacts are OK. Robert B. Tomer, the book’s author, advises against that: If it works, leave it alone... more here


ROBERT B. TOMER, or "Bud" as he is known throughout the industry, has literally pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Starting as a helper in a radio store, Bud progressed to test­equipment builder, laboratory techni­cian, production foreman, design engineer, chief engineer, director of indus­trial engineering, and director of commercial engineering. He was manager of field engineering for CBS Elec­tronics, and a recognized authority on tubes, transistors, and a number of other subjects. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Bud (like many others during the Depres­sion) was forced to forego his formal education. In his own words: "My first major contribution to science was a reaffirmation that you must eat to live. I lost out in an attempt to prove otherwise!" Still, his profound knowledge is quite diversified (he holds several patents in photography and color television and, since 1932, has held a ham license with call letters WlPlM). Since 1944 his articles have appeared in numerous trade journals. In addition, he has published twelve papers on engineering and ham topics, is author of CBS Electronics' "Tech Tips," and has written ten major engineering bulletins on tubes and transistors. He also is co-author of the CBS Electronics Transistor Home Study Course. Most service technicians know Bud from his lectures, which he has conducted before more than 20,000 people in the past three years. He illustrates his lectures with slides he prepares himself, including the photography and sound. Copies of these slide talks have been presented by others to another 150 to 200 audiences, bringing the total who have heard his lectures to over 40,000. 

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