February 9

Things to Do With a Microwave Magnetron | Don’t Let It Go to Waste


Author: Colin Ma
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One thing to do with a microwave magnetron is to get the most out of its use. For example, pop some popcorn or heat a plate of leftovers, and get ready to impress your friends. A working microwave magnetron is the heart of a microwave oven and emits microwaves, allowing an oven to heat food efficiently.

Microwave ovens use electromagnetic waves to heat food rather than using heat to warm it up. This process is much more effective because microwaves penetrate the food and are absorbed by water molecules present in all foods.

However, microwave frequencies have many uses beyond simply heating food, and the microwave magnetron in a working oven can be manipulated to create interesting effects. A high voltage capacitor is used to produce the microwaves, but this voltage can also run other devices.

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What Is a Microwave Magnetron?

A microwave oven magnetron is a vacuum tube that emits microwaves that cook food. It is one of the electronic components in a microwave oven. The microwaves are created when an electric charge is applied to deflector plates within the magnetron. When the power supply flows between two plates, it creates an electromagnetic field which causes the heated cathode to emit electrons to circle certain areas of the plates.

The first time an atom of barium ever became "alive" was when it was created in a laboratory by smashing together some calcium atoms, which is easy to do. The first time one ever becomes "dead," i.e., stops glowing, is when it hits the floor or some other surface at high velocity after accelerating up to that speed in the tube of a working microwave oven.

Once you've got your microwave oven apart, its true purpose will be revealed. The parts for creating microwaves are quite simple: there's nothing more than the modern magnetrons (the thing with the fins poking out), a high-power diode, and an antenna of some sort. So the simplest way to make your microwave oven is to nix the magnetron, diode, and antenna, attach a filament transformer to the high voltage lead (the one connected to the antenna), plug it in, and turn on the juice.

A non-essential part of every working microwave oven is its door latch assembly. This heavy-duty interlock switch prevents microwaves from escaping the resonant cavities when the door is open. To turn your oven into a plasma ball, you will need to defeat this safety mechanism.

Microwave oven part

What Else Can a Magnetron Be Used For?

The beam of microwaves is then propelled into the cooking chamber, which is mediated by a waveguide. Finally, the electromagnetic waves are absorbed by food placed in the oven, thus heating it. However, microwave ovens have many uses beyond simply heating food, and the microwave magnetron in a working oven can be manipulated to create interesting effects.

How Dangerous Is a Microwave Magnetron?

Some things to do with a microwave magnetron are incredibly dangerous when not handled properly. For example, when running, the microwave oven's magnetron emits 2.4 GHz microwaves at about 100 watts. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing, meaning they have too little energy to separate electrons from atoms or cause direct molecular damage. Therefore, the microwaves emitted by a microwave oven are safe, but they can cause injuries if handled improperly.

Beryllium oxide is sometimes used in place of metal to make magnetron tubes. It is a ceramic, and it has the useful ability to be piezoelectric; this means that an applied voltage will cause the beryllium oxide to contract and thus change shape.

How Powerful Is the Magnetron in Your Microwave Oven?

One of the most powerful forces in the universe is magnetism, and it has many applications on Earth, from electric motors and generators to high-powered lasers.

The magnetron in your microwave oven is a high-powered device designed to produce electromagnetic waves that rotate at around 2450 MHz (2.45 gigahertz). This movement produces heat inside the food, heating it quickly and efficiently. Since microwaves heat food from the inside out, they are particularly effective against thicker foods and can easily penetrate up to 2 inches into the center of a thick piece of food.

Microwave ovens have many uses beyond simply heating food, and the cavity magnetrons in a working oven can be manipulated to create interesting effects. A high voltage capacitor is used to produce microwaves, but it can do incredible damage when the capacitor fails.

A man fixing the microwave oven

How to Make a Plasma Ball Using Your Microwave Oven

What you'll need:

  • A microwave oven with a working magnetron
  • A metal coat hanger
  • Some insulated wire (at least 15 feet)
  • A high voltage transformer from an old TV or monitor
  • Two alligator clips or pieces of wire
  • A glass or metal bowl.

What to do:

1. Open up your microwave oven and locate the high voltage lead coming from the magnetron tube (usually purple).

2. Unwind a little bit of it and temporarily connect one end to the ground terminal on the side of the HV capacitor (black) using an alligator clip or piece of wire.

3. Remove the HV capacitor from its housing and unwind all its wires. Then, connect one wire to the point where you previously attached the lead from the magnetron to the ground (if your TV or monitor has multiple capacitors, as most do, each will be labeled - pay attention as you detach them).

4. Set the bowl on a non-conductive surface and remove the insulation from the wire connected to your capacitor. Make another connection to its other end with an alligator clip or piece of wire and attach this new lead to one of the two terminals of your HV capacitor (positive and negative do not matter).

5. You can place some metal in the bowl to use as a conductive surface and place your hand on it, or hold it over the bowl.

The Plasma Ball:

When you flip on your microwave oven, be very careful since microwaves will begin to flow through the magnetron tube almost instantly.

Microwave ovens heat food by causing molecules to rotate very rapidly; the resulting friction generates heat.

Microwaves are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They cannot separate electrons from atoms or cause direct molecular damage (which makes them preferable to x-rays). However, the waves emitted by a working microwave oven are absorbed by water, fats, and sugars molecules in food, inducing the movement of electrons, producing heat.

The moving electrons generate friction between themselves and nearby molecules, which causes heat through normal thermal conduction. The non-ionizing feature also means microwaves are relatively safe for humans to be exposed to. However, too much exposure can warm a person up so much that it boils body moisture and cooks them from the inside out.

The microwaves will pass harmlessly through glass or plastic; however, any metal in your bowl will become superheated and emit visible light if your experiment is successful. Metal objects such as coat hangers, paperclips, or forks will begin to glow and may even catch fire. They will also retain this charge for a very long time; you could potentially pick up molten metal right out of the microwave with no ill effects!

When your experiment is over (if you do not burn yourself or start a fire), disconnect one wire from the HV capacitor, turn off the microwave and disconnect the other wire. It will deactivate your magnetron and stop the flow of microwaves.

How Does It Work?

The capacitors we use to store electricity in our TVs and microwave ovens contain many thin metal plates separated by a non-conductive material (usually plastic). The HV capacitor is like an oversized battery, storing much more charge than a regular one.

When you connect the capacitor to your magnetron (the microwave generator), the flow of electrons through the tube rapidly increases, producing microwaves. The non-conductive material between the plates prevents short circuits and allows them to build up very high voltages of about 2 million volts each. The maximum voltage of a capacitor never changes.

The HV (High Voltage) terminals and any exposed wiring in the microwave oven's HV section will be very dangerous to you and should not be touched. If you need to test or measure anything while plugged in, make sure you unplug it first.

Our Recommended Microwave Oven

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  • Ideal small-space solution
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What Can You Do With an Old Microwave Oven?

For starters, you can have a lot of fun burning things to a crisp. You can also experiment with microwaves and magnetrons yourself.

Try lighting a candle or incense stick from afar by aiming the beam at it. Although some people can see microwaves using certain camera obscuras, organic materials such as bread will quickly toast in a microwave oven. You can try turning on the magnetron without anything in the oven and see if you can feel any heat (which usually happens after 10-20 seconds).

Can You Scrap a Magnetron?

Yes, a cavity magnetron is a vacuum tube that contains a pair of plates separated by a small air gap. When the air has been removed, this acts as an insulator, and not much happens.

However, when gas at low pressure is introduced into the tube, the air molecules become ionized (electrically charged) and conduct electricity. The charged particles are accelerated by an electric field between the plates and collide with neutral air molecules, causing them to ionize too. A self-sustaining stream of charged particles is formed, which can be used to cook your food.

In addition, as far as microwaves go, if you'd like you to explore more about them, we conveniently reviewed different types of modern microwaves, so you can check out what model best suits your needs. Check out the extracts from those reviews we shared here:

Microwave Types

Microwave ovens sorted on the shelves in a store

Best Convection Microwave

Convection ovens have great cooking power, a child safety lock to prevent accidental usage of the microwave, and different cooking levels. Like we mentioned before, choosing a convection microwave for your needs will be influenced by these 3 main factors - capacity, features for your budget, and your counter space.

Best Microwaves For Home Use

The more features you choose to have, the more expensive the microwave oven for home use would be. The good news is that you can choose to keep things very economical by simply going for a microwave oven with minimal features that meets the size and power requirements as stated earlier.

Best Simple And Basic Microwave Ovens

To reiterate this, a basic microwave oven, in our opinion is a small to midsize, non-inverter solo countertop microwave oven. Why? because a microwave such as this is easy to operate, is affordable, does not occupy much counterspace and is easy to install.

Best 1200 Watt Microwave Ovens

Most of the ovens in this category are quite expensive. This is generally due to two reasons: high powered microwave ovens are heavy duty and thus feature expensive components, secondly, they are very large. Some of the premium ovens in this power category though offer cutting edge technology, albeit at a higher cost.

Best Midsize Countertop Microwave

A midsize model is excellent for a regular family. The smaller models are generally reserved for offices, dorm rooms or garage like spaces. Larger microwave ovens are reserved for commercial spaces, so if you are have regular sized family or 4-5 members, then a midsize microwave oven would work perfectly for you.


The microwave oven is a marvel of engineering and has become an indispensable kitchen appliance in modern times. While they may not be much to look at, inside the case of your oven lurks something quite amazing, an intense source of non-ionizing microwaves! So perhaps we should think twice before turning it into a trashcan or roasting marshmallows on the door.

Please Note: Please do not attempt to start a fire in your microwave oven or remove its door; this will result in injury or death. Always unplug your microwave oven before opening its case.

Our Recommended Microwave Oven

  • It has ten power levels with multi-stage cooking
  • Ideal small-space solution
  • Easy-to-view interior lighting

About the author

Colin Ma

An avid home chef, Colin is equally passionate about delicious meals as well as the latest cooking appliances. He's also a keen writer about cooking-related topics.


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