Put Plasma to Work with this Basic Toolkit

Fair warning: [Justin Atkin]’s video on how to make plasma, fusors, and magnetrons is a bit long. But it’s worth watching because he’s laying a foundation for a series of experiments with plasma, which looks like it will be a lot of fun.

After a nice primer on the physics of plasma, [Justin] goes into some detail about the basic tools of the trade: high voltage and high vacuum. A couple of scrap microwave oven transformers, a bridge rectifier, and a capacitor provide the 2000 volts DC output needed. It’s a workable setup, but we’ll take issue with the incredibly dangerous “scariac” autotransformer, popularized by [The King of Random]. It seems foolish to risk a painful death mixing water and line current when a 20-amp variac can be had for $100.

A decent vacuum pump will be needed too, of course; perhaps the money you can save by building your own Sprengel vacuum pump can be put toward the electrical budget. Vacuum chambers are cheap too — Mason jars with ground rims and holes drilled for accessories like spark plugs. Magnets mounted below one chamber formed a rudimentary magnetron, thankfully without the resonating cavities needed for producing microwaves. Another experiment attempted vapor deposition of titanium nitride.

It’s all pretty cool stuff, and we’re looking forward to more details and results. While we wait, feel free to check out the tons of plasma projects we’ve featured, from tiny plasma speakers to giant plasma tubes.

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Heavy Lift Electromagnet from Microwave Oven Transformers

It’s OK, you can admit it — from the time you first saw those huge electromagnetic cranes in scrap yards you’ve wanted to have one. While it may not fling around a car, parts donated from scrapped microwaves can let you build your own electromagnetic lifting device and make that dream finally come true.

We recently watched [MakeItExtreme] turn a couple of microwave oven transformers into a somewhat ill-advised wall-climbing rig. It looks like that may have been the inspiration for this build, and the finished product appears to be a tad more useful this time. The frames of three MOTs are cut open to remove the secondary coils and leave the cores exposed as poles for the future magnets. A shallow dish is fabricated out of steel and the magnets are welded in place.

With the primaries wired together, the magnets are epoxy potted, the business end is faced off cleanly, and the whole thing put to the test. [MakeItExtreme] doesn’t go into control details in the video below, but the website mentions the magnet being powered off a 24V 15A power supply with battery backup in case of mains failure.

They’ve lifted 200kg so far, and it looks like a pretty cool addition to a shop already packed with other builds, like their MOT spot welder and a propane tank sandblaster.

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Microwave Ovens Turn You into Spiderman

Want to climb a wall like Spiderman? No problem – just whip up a climbing rig with microwave oven transformers. And find a steel building. And rewrite the canon so that Peter Parker is bitten by an electromagnetic spider instead of a radioactive one.

Back in the reality-based world, you’d probably be taking you life in your hands if you use [Make It Extreme]’s rig to get more than a dozen feet above the ground. The basics are pretty sound, but the devil is in the details. Four MOTs are cut and stripped of their secondary coils and attached to fixtures for the feet and hands. A backpack full of gel cell batteries powers the rig, and simple normally closed switches in the handholds control both the foot and hand magnets on a side.  A click of a switch releases the magnets on one side, allowing the climber to reach up.

And therein lies our safety beef: what happens when you make a mistake and push both buttons at the same time? Seems like this build is screaming for some control circuitry that prevents this most obvious failure mode. We’re not ones to throw an Arduino at every problem, but in this case it may make sense, especially when it could monitor your time left before cratering the charge remaining in the battery pack.

Still, like most dangerous stunts, this looks really cool. If you’ve got any ideas for improvements in the controls, leave them in the comments below. And if you’re interested in transforming yourself into a superhero, learn from a guy who’s actually doing it – our own [James Hobson]. Check out some of his builds, like the Captain America shield or his car-lifting exoskeleton.

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Making Lichtenberg Figures in Wood

Ever heard of a Lichtenberg Figure? It’s the branching electrical discharge you can sometimes see on an insulating material… That’s right — when the voltage is high enough — it’ll find a way. Using one of our favorite low-cost high voltage transformers from a microwave, [TheBackYardScientist] shows us how to make our own Lichtenberg Figures!

It’s actually pretty easy. All you need is an old microwave, some plywood, and water with baking soda mixed in. First, you’ll need to take the transformer out of the microwave — a simple hack we’ve covered many times before — you’ll need to wire it in a way that allows you to get a few thousand volts out of it.

Then by mixing baking soda in water, you can increase the conductivity — let the wood soak it up overnight, and now you’re ready to go! By attaching the leads to either side of the wood, it’s now conductive enough to allow the electricity to branch across the wood, burning awesome patterns as it goes — just take a look at the following video!

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The Nicest Home Made Spot Welder We’ve Ever Seen

By golly, look at the build quality of this homemade spot welder.

Just about everyone on here knows it’s quite possible to build one of these things using a re-wrapped microwave transformer, but they’re usually made of wood like the one we swap on Friday, and we often wonder how much real use they get other than “hey look I built a spot welder!”. I myself made one, but then ended up buying a professional one because it works better. Not [Matthew Borgatti] though, his looks better and has more features than even the one I bought!


Why? Because he put some serious thought into his design. He even 3D modeled the whole thing in SolidWorks.

Beyond the excellent laser cut enclosure (complete with ratcheting work piece clamping), [Matt’s] also added an Arduino to create a timing circuit. Most times you just squeeze the clamp, press the button, and watch the metal heat up — “I think that’s good…”

But with an actual timing circuit you can calculate how much time you need versus current and electrode size to produce a good quality weld.

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A Professional Spot Welder Made out of a Microwave Transformer

Spot welders are one of the very few pieces of metal working equipment that are actually very much cheaper to build yourself than to buy commercially. In fact, between salvaging a transformer out of an old microwave and buying some of the other components, it’s doable for under $100USD in most cases.

We’ve shared this hack quite a few times before, but [Albert van Dalen] has really taken the cake on creating a very detailed and extensive guide to not only building his, but how to properly use it for various purposes.

[Albert] designed it in a way that allows it to be configured in both opposed and series electrode positions which means besides being able to spot weld sheet metal together, you can also spot weld battery tabs while on cells!

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