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

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[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?

[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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Jacob’s Ladder using EL wire

For Halloween [Paul] wanted to build a Jacob’s Ladder without the peril that working with high voltage might bring. He was inspired by a sequencer board for electroluminescent wire and decided to build a Jacob’s Ladder simulator using the glowing material. What he ended up with is quite convincing. Eight segments of EL wire have been mounted between two diverging towers. When a PIR sensor detects motion in the room, an Arduino switches on the simulation, playing a recording of the classic sizzling voltage sound while using the sequencer board to flicker the wires from bottom to top. See for yourself in the video after the break. We give [Paul] bonus points for constructing the base out of Lego.

But if you’re not one for being cautions, there’s always this real Jacob’s Ladder build. Or maybe you just want to make something glow with the EL wire.

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Jacob’s Ladder


[jandgse812] shows us how to build a Jacob’s Ladder from mostly household parts.   The bulk of the instructions for this project are included in the downloadable document, there is a downloadable video as well. Be sure to follow to the end where he shows us a much safer and possibly better looking revision. The Jacob’s Ladder has become standard fair for any mad scientists laboratory. If you plan on having a workshop suited for world domination, it absolutely must have one of these in it. Be careful though, the high voltage can be deadly.