3D Printed Wimshurst Machine

Steampunk extraordinaire [Jake von Slatt] has released his latest creation. This time he’s built a Wimshurst machine from mostly 3D printed parts. The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator and was originally invented in the late 1800’s by James Wimshurst. It uses two counter-rotating disks to generate an electrostatic charge which is then stored in two Leyden jars. These jars are also connected to a spark gap. When the voltage raises high enough, the jars can discharge all at once by flashing a spark across the gap.

[Jake’s] machine has a sort of Gothic theme to it. He designed the parts using Autodesk’s 123D Design. They were initially printed in PLA. Skate bearings were used in the center of the disks to ensure a smooth rotation. The axle was made from the fiberglass shaft of a driveway reflector. The vertical supports were attached the base with machine screws.

The Leyden jars were made from sections of clear plastic tube. The caps for the jars were 3D printed and are designed to accept a short length of threaded 1/8″ pipe. Copper wire was used for the interior contacts and are held in place with electrical tape. The metal sectors on each disk were made from pieces of cut aluminum tape.

You may be wondering how this machine works if it’s almost entirely made out of plastic. [Jake] actually painted most of the parts with a carbon paint. This makes them electrically conductive and he can then use the parts to complete electrical circuits. Unfortunately he found this to be rather ineffective. The machine does work, but it only produces sparks up to 1/2″ in length. For comparison, his other machine is capable of 6″ sparks using similar sized Leyden jars.

[Jake] actually tried rebuilding this project using ABS, thinking that the PLA may have been collecting moisture from his breath, but the result is still only 1/2″ sparks. He suspects that the bumpy surface of the plastic parts may be causing the charge to slowly leak away, preventing a nice build up. He’s released all of his designs on Thingiverse in case any other hackers want to give it a whirl.

Whimsical Homemade Wimshurst Machine


Got some empty plastic bottles in your recycling bin or cluttering up your desk? Then you’ve got a large portion of the material you need for building your own Wimshurst machine like [Thomas Kim] did. This demonstration and build video is one of the many treasures of his YouTube channel. He shows the machine in operation and then spends several real-time minutes showing how he made the heart of it using plastic bottles, the conductive brush from a laser printer, discarded CDs, and a bunch of copper wire. As a bonus, he removes the conductive material and paint from a CD with a homemade taser. As a super special bonus, there’s no EDM soundtrack to this video, just the sounds of productivity.

The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator that slightly predates the Tesla coil. It works by passing a charge from one spinning disk to another disk spinning in the opposite direction. When the charge reaches the collecting comb, it is stored in Leyden jars. Finally, it gets discharged in a pretty spark and the cycle begins anew. Once you’re over shocking your friends, use your Wimshurst machine to make an electrostatic precipitator.

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Producing Ozone at 3500 RPM


Motors are fun, and high voltage even more so. We’re guessing that’s what went through [brazilero2008]’s mind when he put together an electrostatic motor using upcycled parts he found lying around.

The electrostatic rotor works by connecting a very high voltage, low current power supply – in this case an industrial air ionizer – to a set or rotors surrounding a plastic rotor. The hot electrodes spray electrons onto the rotor, which are picked up by the ground electrodes. If the system doesn’t arc too much, you have yourself a plastic rotor that spins very, very fast.

[brazilero]’s device is made out of an aluminum turkey pan, a few acrylic tubes, and a few cardboard disks; all stuff you can find in a well-stocked trash can. After completing the device, it was taken apart and finished and screwed onto a beautiful painted jewelry box. Very cool for something you can make out of trash, and dangerous enough to be very interesting.

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Make any scrap of paper sticky with 2000 volts

Who needs chemistry when a little bit of physics will do? Instead of brewing up a batch of weak adhesive to make his own post-it notes, [Valentin] built this handheld device to add an electrostatic charge to bits of paper. Just give them a couple of seconds to charge and they’ll stick to the wall with ease.

The charging circuit is pretty simple, involving a transformer, transistor, resistor, and four diodes for rectification. He walks us through the build process, free forming the circuit using the transformer housing as a base. Once the circuit is fully assembled, a 9 volt battery connector is added and the fragile parts are hot-glued in place. It boosts the output voltage all the way up to 2 kV, but it’s still safe because it’s at a very low current.

The concept is akin to the high-voltage bulletin board seen last month. We wonder how long the notes will stay in place without an active electrical connection to keep the charge?

20 kilovolts replaces push pins on this bulletin board

Electrical Engineers don’t need push pins. That’s because they know how to control electrons! [Sven] put his knowledge of these subatomic particles to use when building his high voltage bulletin board. It uses a set of vertically strung wires to keep paper pinned against the board. The wires have high voltage at low current travelling through them. They’re in front of the board, but not touching it, and the board is serving as a ground plane. In this way an electrostatic charge pushes (or should that be pulls?) against the paper to keep each sheet right where he places it.

In the video after the break [Sven] gives us a tour of the hardware at work here. It starts with a 12V psu which feeds a buck converter. The regulated feed is patched into a high voltage supply which was designed as a CCFL driver. Finally, a voltage doubler is used to reach the final voltage, measuring about 20 kV per wire.

Don’t worry, [Sven] says the bare wire is “almost completely safe” because of the low current being conducted.

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Electrostatic computer interface

[Justin] sent in his 1st place winning project from Northeastern’s Electrical Engineering Senior Design Capstone. It’s an interface that uses electrostatics to detect your hand position above it. As you can see in the video, it has decent resolution and can detect position on all 3 axes. When they uncover it, you can see the sensors arranged in a grid. They point out that each sensor isn’t just like a button, but rather detects a range of motion. They are using a pic 18×4550 to handle the sensors, which then communicates to the PC via USB. This could be pretty useful for musical performances as well as an alternative interface for people who can’t use a mouse.EO