Portable Jacob’s Ladder for When…You Know… You Need a Portable Jacob’s Ladder

When do you need a portable Jacob’s Ladder? We don’t know, but apparently [mitxela] doesn’t want to leave home (or the laboratory) without one. So he built a portable unit that works for a few minutes on a battery. In the video (see below), he says he wouldn’t presume to claim it was the smallest Jacob’s Ladder ever, but he thought it might be a contender.

The battery is a LiPo cell and although it might last up to four minutes, [mitxela] points out that the transistors probably wouldn’t survive that much on time, despite the heat sinks he put in place. The whole device is 45mm square and 17mm thick. Of course, the wires add some height (about 150mm total).

We were hoping to see more of the insides, but we presume this uses one of the cheap high voltage modules you can procure from the usual Far East sources–or, at least–it could. The rest is just laser cutting and workmanship.

If you haven’t encountered them before (outside of old monster movies), a Jacob’s Ladder lets high voltage ionize the air down at the bottom of the narrow gap. The ionized air is hot and rises, and the current flows through it, despite the electrodes getting further apart. Of course, that means you shouldn’t put on in your zero-gee space station.

You might think a portable Jacob’s ladders is unique. Turns out, it isn’t. If you want something easy (and perhaps not as portable), you can’t get much easier than this one.

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A Portable Jacob´s Ladder

A Jacob´s ladder is a favorite project of high voltage enthusiasts. It makes a visually attractive and fun display of a high voltage electrical arc climbing a pair of electrodes. [Keystone Science] shows us how to make a Jacob´s ladder that runs on 9 V batteries.

The ladder itself is pretty easy to make. It is nothing more than a pair of stiff wires in a V shape, connected to a high voltage power supply. The more difficult part is the HV power supply. [Keystone Science] explains how to build one using a flyback transformer from an old CRT tv and a few other components. It is a pretty simple circuit and can be powered by a 9 V battery. The ladder works because, when HV is applied to the electrodes, an arc is established at the bottom, where they are nearest each other. The arc is at high temperature so the air rises, and the arc starts to climb the ladder. Since the electrodes are further away from each other as the arc rises, at a certain point the distance is too large to sustain the arc and the process repeats.

This is a nice weekend project if you want to try it. In case you don´t want to make your own HV power supply, you can try another ladder project that uses a commercial one.

Really Easy Jacob’s Ladder

There was a time when making a high voltage project like a Jacob’s ladder took time to build or scrounge some kind of high voltage circuit. The neon sign transformer, Marx generator, or voltage multiplier was the hard part of the project. But nowadays you can get cheap high voltage modules that are quite inexpensive. [PaulGetson] picked up one for under $20 and turned it into a quick and easy Jacob’s ladder.

Honestly, once you have high voltage, making a Jacob’s ladder is pretty simple. [Paul] used a cheap plastic box, some coat hanger wire, and some stainless steel bolts.

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A Scary Powerful Jacob’s Ladder

What to do with an extremely high voltage transformer and power supply… what to do…  what to do… Short it out Jacob’s Ladder style of course! Fresh from [Gristronics], a team of hackers had the opportunity to play around with a 11,000V transformer… and some copper pipe.

It’s 2.5m tall (just over 8′) and produces an awe-inspiring electrical arc. The transformer takes in 240V and spits out 11,000V. To help stabilize it, they’re even using some microwave oven capacitors to act as a ballast. The transformer is affectionately named “Betsy”. They even have a giant contactor (think relay with steroids) to act as the main switch.

During the initial setup, they noticed it wasn’t working very well, so they setup a camera to record at 240fps to see what was going on — turns out the coils were shorting to each other. After fixing the insulation, they got it working consistently — and holy cow is that a big arc.

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11,000 Volt Jacob’s Ladder Sounds Like a Lightsaber

In the high-voltage world, a Jacob’s ladder is truly a sight to behold. They are often associated with mad scientist labs, due to both the awesome visual display and the sound that they make. A Jacob’s ladder is typically very simple. You need a high voltage electricity source and two bare wires. The wires are placed next to each other, almost in parallel. They form a slight “V” shape and are placed vertically. The system acts essentially as a short-circuit. The voltage is high enough to break through the air at the point where the wires are nearest to each other. The air rises as it heats up, moving the current path along with it. The result is the arc slowly raising upwards, extending in length. The sound also lowers in frequency as the arc gets longer, and once [Gristc] tuned his system just right the sound reminds us of the Holy Trilogy.

We’ve seen these made in the past with other types of transformers that typically put out around 15,000 Volts at 30mA. In this case, [Gristc] supersized the design using a much beefier transformer that puts out 11,000 Volts at 300mA. He runs the output from the transformer through eight microwave oven capacitors as a ballast. He says that without this, the system will immediately trip the circuit breakers in his house.

In the demo video below, you can see just how large the arc is. It appears to get about 10 inches long before breaking with a sound different from any Jacob’s ladders we’ve seen in the past as well. Continue reading “11,000 Volt Jacob’s Ladder Sounds Like a Lightsaber”

Jacob’s Ladder Using a 10kV Oil Transformer

Jacob's ladder using an Oil Furnace Transformer

Jacob’s Ladders are a staple experiment in any self-respecting mad scientist’s lair — err, a hacker’s workshop. And why not? High voltage, arcing electricity, likely more than enough to kill you even — brilliant! But in all their awesomeness, Jacob’s ladders really aren’t that complex.

In [Kevin Darrah’s] latest tutorial he shows us how to make one out of a transformer taken from an oil furnace. Why exactly does an oil furnace even have a high voltage transformer in the first place? They’re actually used as the ignition source, like a pilot light!

The one [Kevin] has is a 110VAC to 10,000VAC transformer, which puts out about 20mA (probably enough to kill you). And to turn it into a Jacob’s Ladder, you’ll just need a two long stiff wires (copper is a good candidate). The wires are closest at the bottom where the transformer can easily arc — this arc then ionizes and heats the air causing it to rise, carrying the arc with it. As the arc continues up the ladder it gets longer and longer as the wires become farther apart, becoming more and more unstable until it breaks. When this happens the arc forms again at the lowest point of resistance — the bottom.

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Hackaday Links: December 8, 2013


Let’s start off with some high voltage. Here’s a sweet Jacob’s Ladder build from [Robert]. The site hosting his short writeup has been up and down for us so here’s a cache link.

Speaking of high voltage, if you want to switch mains with your project [Tom] has a breakout board for cheap mechanical relays. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

[Dario] made his own version of an electronic Advent calendar [translated]. There are no numbers, you must solve the mystery of the flashing LEDs to figure out which package goes with each day.

If you ever work with lighted arcade buttons here’s a guide for swapping out the light for an RGB LED. This hack uses through-hole LEDs. We’ve actually seen a surface mount hack that includes a PCB to mimic the old bulbs.

Next time you stay overnight at an event you can give yourself the best view in the campground. This tiny little camper was mounted on a scissor lift! That first step on the way to the Porta Potty is a doozy! [via Adafruit]

[Žiga] was nice enough to demonstrate this smart-watch hack by displaying our name and logo (we love pandering!). It features the MSP-WDS430 which is a surprisingly stylish offering from Texas Instruments. In addition to analog clock hands it has an OLED display driven by the MSP430 inside.

Here’s a quick PIC-based metal detector which [Nicholas] built.

And finally, [Chet] saw the oil tank level sensor we featured this week. He built a nearly identical system earlier this year. The oil level sensor works in conjunction with the custom thermostat he built around an Android tablet.