What if I shot my TV?

Every now and again as you're driving down the freeway, you'll see that famous bumper sticker that says, "Shoot Your Television." And many times as you're watching television, the thought of a well-placed shot may cross your mind. Whether it's a bad game for the home team, a bad sitcom or a bad commentator spouting off about something, there are lots of reasons to kill the tube.

What if you did actually take it out back and shoot it? We are, of course, talking about a standard television with the huge glass picture tube so there's something big and meaty to aim at. TVs in the 25-inch and greater range have a massive piece of glass that weighs between 50 and 100 pounds.

Here at HowStuffWorks headquarters we actually tried this experiment.

Since it is a vacuum tube, there's been a lot of discussion in the urban legend community about a massive implosion that would occur when the bullet first cracked the glass. The idea is that the vacuum would suck the glass fragments in and then they would rebound at shrapnel speed.

At least when we tried it here, nothing like that happened. The bullet went in very cleanly, punched a very neat hole through the glass, and air quickly filled the tube through that hole. There certainly was not an implosion.

Will TV ever be the same?

After you've taken the shot, there's no good reason not to take the whole thing apart and explore the interior. So that's what we did. A hammer cracked away the rest of the glass, and here's what was inside:

  • The front glass - The front glass is an extremely thick, sturdy piece of work. It's actually leaded crystal, like optical glass, to give it great clarity and consistency. The front piece contains between 1 and 2 percent lead.
  • The phosphor - On the back of the glass is a phosphor coating. It's a white powder that flakes off.
  • The shadow mask - Right behind the screen is the shadow mask. You don't need the mask in a black-and-white TV, but in a color TV, you need it because there are three electron guns and three different colors of phosphor on the screen. At each pixel on the screen, there are tiny dots of red, green and blue phosphor, and the mask makes sure that the right electron gun aligns with the right dot. The most common way to make the shadow mask is to take a thin piece of metal and punch hundreds of thousands of incredibly tiny holes in it.
  • The electron gun - At the back of the tube is the electron gun. Once you chip it out, it's a very elegant looking piece of metal and ceramic. Three things happen in the gun: Filaments at the back of the gun heat up to produce the electrons, then the electrons get accelerated, and then they get focused into a tight beam. When the electron beams (three of them in a color TV) leave the electron gun, the electrons are moving at about a third of the speed of light. That gives them enough energy to light up the phosphor when they hit it.

So that's what would happen if you actually shot your television. It's probably not an experiment that you need to repeat, because what you end up with is 50 pounds of leaded glass fragments all over the yard, and it makes a big mess!

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