The poor-man’s Klein Lantern

Posted by medicinestorm on Tuesday Sep 21, 2010 Under Nearly Pointless Contraptions
Klein Bottle

(Fig. 1) Acme Klein Bottle

Once upon a time, we were pondering 4 dimensional shapes (as we often find ourself doing, for no reason we can think of). Namely, the Klein bottle. For those of you unfamiliar, a Klein bottle is a mathematical concept of a bottle who’s neck curves back around on itself and comes out the base of the bottle. Because there is technically no transition point where the surface of the bottle goes from being the outside of the bottle to being the inside of the bottle, by definition the bottle has no sides. There is no definable inside and no definable outside of the bottle, so it is said to be a container that has no volume. Any liquid you put in it would rest on the “outside” of the bottle.

Although a true Klein bottle can’t really exist in only 3 dimensions, a three-dimensionally immersed four-dimensional object is acceptable. (See Fig. 1 left) Such bottles are available from the Acme Klein Bottle company. Knowing that such an inconceivable shape is actually tangibly obtainable, we found ourself trying to think of some practical applications for a Klein bottle, or at least some “not entirely pointless” applications. Fascinating decanters, no doubt, but not exactly the easiest jug to drink from. “Hmm…a practical purpose…” we thought to ourself. Then it hit us. We quickly responded to ourself with “Self, why not combine our two favorite things: 1.) Stuff that is impossible to represent in this plane of existence and 2.) Fire!”

Klein Lantern diagram

(Fig. 2) Klein Lantern diagram

The five of us (ourselves and I) quickly formulated a design for a decorative and functional Klein Lantern. Fueled by isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol, a Klein lantern is very cheap to maintain. There are no moving parts, no wicks, and no filaments. All it needs is a starter flame to it get going. After that, it will perpetuate its own operational need for a heat source. (See Fig 2. right)

  1. Obtain a Klein bottle and choose a place to hang it. Keep in mind that you want it away from any flammable material and you will want to use wire or other non-melty hanging devices.
  2. Fill the bottle with your fuel of choice. This can be tricky. Here are a few good ways to do this:
    1. Turn the bottle upside-down and pour a small amount of fuel into the neck. Turn the bottle right-side up such that the fuel will go into the body of the bottle. Repeat until the bottle contains the desired amount of fuel.
    2. Or insert a slender hose into the bottle and pump or siphon the fuel in through the hose.
  3. Hang the lantern and place a candle or other flame beneath the lantern to get it going.
  4. The fuel will quickly begin to boil, vaporising the fuel.
  5. The vaporized fuel will travel out the only way it can; around the neck and out the bottom of the bottle.
  6. The vapors will be ignited by your starter fire and will hug the lantern in a loving corona of light and heat (and pain. Keep your hands a few feet away from the lantern at this point)
  7. Now that the fumes are lit you can remove the starter fire. The burning fuel vapors will keep the fuel inside the lantern boiling, thereby making more vapors, thereby keeping the corona fire going, thereby keeping the fuel boiling, and so on until the lantern runs out of fuel or until you extinguish the corona.

Although the self-perpetuating heat/fuel cycle is nifty, the part that makes this lantern unique is the fact that the flame is entirely on the outside of the gizmo (or is it the fuel that’s on the outside? Non-orientable lanterns can be so confusing!) A concentration of at least 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or at least 140 proof ethyl (liquor) alcohol is recommended. Due to it’s potential as a fire hazard, this is not recommended for indoor use.

Prototype parts

(Fig. 3) Prototype parts

The only drawback is the cost of the Klein bottle. As awesome as we think they are, we can’t afford even a small one. So we set out to make a proof-of-concept prototype using nothing but junk found at a dumping site. Since 2-D manifolds are not exactly something people just throw out (or possess in the first place) we needed to recruit an expert in the field of MacGyvering. Richard Dean Anderson was busy that weekend so we contacted our very close second choice, Ventor24.

After consulting his massive mental rolling inventory of every piece of scrap gadget in a 14 mile radius, we discussed a design that would emulate the function of a Klein bottle, but consist entirely of discarded objects. Ventor dispatched us out into a land of “another man’s treasure” to find the components we would need: A soda can, some fuel, a piece of copper tube, a rubber cork, an old candle, and a burnt out light bulb. (See Fig. 3 left)

We didn’t actually find any isopropyl alcohol in the junk site, but we did find some turpentine that Ventor was able to siphon out of a broken-down tractor. Ventor tells us turpentine tastes awful. We had to carve the rubber cork out of a chunk of old tire. We found the light bulb inside an old refrigerator and the copper tubing came from a calcified swamp cooler. We used Barqs Root Beer for the soda can. We don’t think the brand made much of a difference, but Ventor and us both agreed the extra “awesome factor” of using a Root Beer variety of soda improved the overall quality of the prototype.

Bulb diagram

(Fig. 5) Bulb diagram

Bulb & dremel tool

(Fig. 4) Bulb & dremel tool

The first thing we needed was a reservoir for the fuel. Light bulbs are the right shape and size and are designed to get pretty hot without breaking. We found that higher wattage bulbs work best since they are designed to handle the excess heat that comes with being a brighter bulb.

  1. Using a hacksaw, we cut the tip off the end of the bulb. This required some delicacy since we didn’t want to crack the glass in the process.
  2. Using some needle-nose pliers, we then carefully broke out the inner portion of the bulb that holds the wire and tungsten lighting filament. By placing one end of the pliers’ jaw on the metal exterior of the bulb and the other end of the pliers’ jaw on the glass edge, we were able to crack the interior component all the way around the inside without harming the rest of the bulb.
  3. Next, Ventor was able to smooth out the inside edge of glass using a Dremel tool. (See Fig 4. right) After dumping out the broken interior glass and washing out the bulb, it was ready to be filled with fuel.
Rubber cork diagram

(Fig. 6) Rubber cork diagram

In order to prevent the fuel vapors from leaking out and escaping uncombusted, we needed a way to seal the gap between the vapor tube and the neck of the bulb. At first we were thinking of wrapping the copper tubing with duct tape before jamming it into the end of the bulb, but Ventor pointed out that, once ignited, the flaming corona would melt the tape and quickly break the seal.

  1. We found an old tire and cut a chunk of rubber out of the soft bead portion.
  2. Using a Dremel tool, we drilled a hole through the center of the rubber chunk. We used a drill-bit that was slightly smaller than the diameter of our copper tubing so it would fit in snugly and not slip off or leak.
  3. With a pocket knife, we carved off the sides of the cork at a tapered angle so we could jam it into the neck of the bulb without it falling in.
  4. Using the Dremel tool again, we smoothed out the sides of the cork until it was a smooth tapered cylinder. We found the wire brush polishing attachment worked best.

A conduit was needed to get the fuel vapors from inside the bulb to the bottom where they would be ignited as the corona fire.

Fuel Tube diagram

(Fig. 7) Fuel Tube diagram

Although we had an excess of plastic and rubber hoses, we decided on copper tubing mainly for its ability to not melt, whereas plastic tends to lack that ability.

  1. After measuring out some tubing approximately 3 times the length of the bulb, Ventor cut the segment with a hacksaw.
  2. With his bare hands, he then bent 2 gentle 90-degree angles into the tube, making a wide U.
  3. Ventor bent 2 more 90-degree angles on each end of the tube, creating an elongated C shape.

Yay! The basic parts were complete, now to fill the bulb with some fuel that Ventor had siphoned earlier and put the pieces together. At this point we had no idea if all our hard work would amount to anything. It might do nothing more than puff once and go out… or worse: It could explode, showering us with flaming fuel and broken glass!

Assembling the prototype

  1. Pour fuel into the bulb. We don’t recommend filling it beyond the body of the bulb.
  2. Firmly jam the cork into the open end of the bulb, being careful not to break the glass.
  3. Insert the copper tube into the cork. You may have to bend one end of the C-tube away so you can get the other end in. Once it is firmly in place, gently bend the other end of the tube back into position beneath the bulb. The completed assembly should look something like what Ventor is holding (See Fig 10 below far right)
  4. Hang the lantern with wire (not string! it will melt.) or place the bulb on the optional soda-can-lantern-stand (see video below).
  5. Light the starter fire candle and place it under the bulb. We forgot to bring matches, so we soaked a piece of cloth in turpentine and rubbed a 9-volt battery on some steel wool to create a spark.
  6. Fuel takes much less time to boil than water, so we saw bubbles pretty quickly.
  7. Vapors begin to generate…
  8. …and viola! The corona is lit. Remove the starter candle and enjoy!
Assembled prototype diagram

(Fig. 8 ) Assembled prototype diagram

Ventor with prototype

(Fig. 10) Ventor with prototype

Lantern with corona

(Fig. 9) Lantern with corona

Lit lantern at night

(Fig. 11) Lit lantern at night

One Response to “The poor-man’s Klein Lantern”

  1. medicinestorm Says:

    UPDATE: We did finally get a “real” klein bottle from the Acme Klein Bottle company. It arrived just in time for our camping trip. As soon as it got dark we filled it with alcohol and set it ablaze! Worth. Every. Cent! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ6v0MkaJ9I

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