# How to Measure the Dielectric Constant for DIY Capacitors

Every now and then you need to make your own capacitor. That includes choosing a dielectric for it, the insulating material that goes between the plates. One dielectric material that I use a lot is paraffin wax which can be found in art stores and is normally used for making candles. Another is resin, the easiest to find being automotive resin used for automotive body repairs.

The problem is that you sometimes need to do the calculations for the capacitor dimensions ahead of time, rather than just throwing something together. And that means you need to know the dielectric constant of the dielectric material. That’s something that the manufacturer of the paraffin wax that makes it for art stores won’t know, nor will the manufacturers of automotive body repair resin. The intended customers just don’t care.

It’s therefore left up to you to measure the dielectric constant yourself, and here I’ll talk about the method I use for doing that.

Once upon a time I was a real mad scientist. I was into non-conventional propulsion with the idea of somehow interacting with the quantum vacuum fluctuations, the zero point energy field. I was into it despite having only a vague understanding of what that was and without regard for how unlikely or impossible anyone said it was to interact with on a macro scale. But we all had to come from somewhere, and that was my introduction to the world of high voltages and homemade capacitors.

And along the way I made some pretty interesting, or different, capacitors which I’ll talk about here.

## Large Wax Cylindrical Capacitor

As the photos show, this capacitor is fairly large, appearing like a thick chunk of paraffin wax sandwiched between two wood disks. Inside, the lead wires go to two aluminum flashing disks that are the capacitor plates spaced 2.5cm (1 inch) apart. But in between them the dielectric consists of seven more aluminum flashing disks separated by plain cotton sheets immersed in more paraffin wax. See, I told you these capacitors were different.

I won’t go into the reasoning behind the construction — it was all shot-in-the-dark ideas, backed by hope, unicorn hairs, and practically no theory. The interesting thing here was the experiment itself. It worked!

I sat the capacitor on top of a tall 4″ diameter ABS pipe which in turn sat on a digital scale on the floor. High voltage in the tens of kilovolts was put across the capacitor through thickly insulated wires. The power supply contained a flyback transformer and Cockcroft-Walton voltage multiplier at the HV side. As I dialed up the voltage, the scale showed a reducing weight. I had weight-loss!

But after a few hours of reversing polarities and flipping the capacitor the other way around and taking plenty of notes, I found the cause. The weight-loss happened only when the feed wires were oriented with the top one feeding downward as shown in the diagram, but there was no weight change when the top wire was oriented horizontally. I’d seen high voltage wires moving before and here it was again, producing what looked like weight-loss on the scale.

But that’s only one of the interesting capacitors I’ve made. After the break we get into gravitators, polysulfide and even barium titanate.

# Plastic Plate Capacitors

We have been featuring some home made capacitors this week, and [Mike] wrote in to share his with us. While rolled capacitors are nice, they can be somewhat difficult to construct and grow to unwieldy sizes as capacitance and voltages increase. His solution is to stack the layers up using plastic plates.

In this forum post he explains that using disposable plastic plates and tinfoil you’re able to quickly make a capacitor, that for him was valued at around 12.2nF, using eleven layers . Applying pressure to the stack capacitance grew to about 14nF, though he is having a bit of trouble holding it with just glue.

Testing was conducted with high voltages charging the capacitor up, then its leads were shorted for a nice spark and a good pop. Definitely fun for the next family cook out, though we don’t know how some left over potato salad goo would effect the end results.