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

hackaday-links-chain

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.

Spark-Up Your Halloween Party with this Double Helix Jacob’s Ladder

Double Helix Jacobs Ladder

Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory wouldn’t be complete without some electrical sparks. So for [Rick’s] final Halloween DIY hack this year he gives us just that, but with a twist. This time it’s a double helix Jacob’s ladder. The sparks are flying as they twist and turn their way up this unique design, powered by a standard neon sign transformer. If you can get your hands on a 15,000 V 30 mA transformer, you might have just enough time to build one for Halloween.

The build is quite simple. Other than the transformer, you will need a few feet of ¼ inch flexible copper tubing and a piece of ¾ inch PVC pipe. After twisting the copper tubing around the PVC pipe to form the double helix, [Rick] mounts the tubing to a block of wood and removes the PVC form. In his video, which you can watch after the break, [Rick] demonstrates a standard Jacob’s ladder, as well as his double helix design. The double helix version has a much nicer and slower traveling arc even stopping at times.

You don’t want to set this up anyplace someone might touch it as it can be quite deadly or cause burns. [Rick] mentions not to use wood to mount your ladder because the wood will burn as it did during his testing. And do not operate unattended. Otherwise, it adds some spark to your great Halloween fun.

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Halloween Hacks: A Jacob’s Lantern sure to win the carving contest

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jacobs-ladder-pumpkin

[Matt] entered himself in a pumpkin carving contest this year, even despite the fact that his artistic skills were a bit…lacking. He knew that he had very little chance of winning the contest unless he had a great gimmick to make his creation stand out, so he started brainstorming.

[Matt] figured that since his design would have to be somewhat simple, he needed something eye catching that he could add to the pumpkin after it went under the knife. Like a bolt of lightning, inspiration struck, and he set off to fetch an ignition transformer along with some wire coat hanger.

He built a makeshift Jacob’s ladder that would fit perfectly inside his hollowed out pumpkin, and proceeded to carve the pumpkin with the “Caution, risk of electric shock” logo, familiar to most anyone that works with electronics. You can see the final result in the video below, which we think looks pretty neat. If he didn’t end up winning the contest, we’d be shocked!

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Who knew Jacob’s Ladder builds had so many options?

High Voltage Theme graphic

[Grenadier] has a thing for the high voltage and, as you can see, he’s found multiple ways to build the icon of HV toys – a Jacob’s Ladder.

The three look similar, but they use different means of generation the voltages necessary to get a spark to jump through the air. The exhibit on the left uses a neon sign transformer, the one in the middle is based on a transformer from an X-ray machine, and the example to the right uses a microwave oven transformer. [Grenadier] discusses the pros and cons of each method, then links to his in-depth posts about working with each one them. There are also videos for all three. We’ve embedded the video for the microwave oven transformer after the break. That version of the Jacob’s Ladder requires some way to start the spark and in the video he’s doing it manually. There is always the option to add a solenoid to do the job but he does mention that you can’t just let it run because that cheap transformer will burn out before long.

If you like what you see here, perhaps you’ll be entertained when he runs HV through some soda cans.

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3-phase Jacob’s ladder

Two sparks are better than one, a sentiment that was never more blindingly illustrated than with this three-conductor Jacob’s Ladder. The build centers around three-phase power, which uses a trio of alternating current sources sharing the same frequency, but offset by 1/3 from one another. If we’re reading the schematic correctly, [Jimmy Proton] is using normal mains as a power source, then connecting three transformers and a capacitor to set up the different phases. Two of the transformers, which were pulled from microwave ovens, are wired in antiparallel, with their cores connected to each other. The third transform is connected in series on one leg of the circuit.

The video after the break starts with the satisfying hum of power, only to be outdone by the wild sparks that traverse the air gap between conductors of the ladder. After seeing the first demonstration we kind of expected something to start on fire but it looks like all is well. We’ll probably stick to a less complicated version of Jacob’s Ladder.

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Jacob’s Ladder makes itself at home in a floppy disk box

[Plasanator] adds a bit of safety to his Jacob’s Ladder by housing it in a familiar enclosure. It doesn’t take very many components to make one of these, but to get the high voltage you’ll need some type of coil. He’s using one from the electrical system of an old car, then building around it with a big 15mf 220V capacitor, a dimmer switch normally used in household wiring, terminal blocks, and some braising rod or coat hanger for the spark to traverse.

The video after the break shows this in operations, and we’d agree with [Plasanator] that this is a wonderful addition to your Halloween decor. Of course you want to keep fingers away from the dangerous bits and that’s where the enclosure and key lock come into play. Were not sure what he made the upright cylinder from, but the base is a blast from the past. Remember when one of those used to sit proudly on every desk as a tribute to how important the information you had on had really was?

Don’t want to play with high voltage like this? You can build a fake using EL wire.

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