Arc Lighter become Plasma Pyrography Pen

Wood burning can be quite a striking art form, but who wants to be stuck using an old-fashioned resistive heating element to char wood? You could go with laser engraving, of course, but that seems to take too much of the human touch out of it. So why not try a mini plasma pen and blow torch powered by a fancy cigarette lighter?

Arc lighters are rechargeable electronic lighters that look like a tiny stun-gun, and [NightHawkInLight] has been coming up with some interesting hacks for them. In this case, he extended the electrode leads out and mounted them to a wooden handle. The spark gap is only about 2mm, but the resulting arc is plenty hot enough to char wood with considerable precision. You’ve got to work fast, though, or the high voltage will start finding interesting paths through the char, producing Lichtenberg figures. And if a micro-scale blow torch is a tool you need, [NightHawkInLight] has got that covered too – a small brass tube with a pinched-off nozzle hooked to an aquarium pump provides the pressure for that.

Might there be other applications for this beyond pyrography? Maybe soldering or desoldering? Of non-ESD sensitive components, naturally.

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Electric Compass for a Plasma Cutter

If you are a Maker space or individual lucky enough to own a Plasma Cutter, this electric protractor compass could be handy. The folks over at [MakeItExtreme] built this circle cutting tool to help cut circles and rings in thick metal sheets using their plasma cutter.

The whole thing is built around an electro-magnet, so the jig will only work with magnetic metals. There are not a lot of design details, but it’s possible to infer how to build one looking at the video and the photos on their blog. There’s a couple of nice hacks along the way. Since the electro-magnet is stationary while the rest of the jig rotates, the main mounting bolt had a hole drilled through it to help route the cable. The rotating protractor arm is made from a slab of aluminium and holds all the other parts together – the drive motor, the central hub and the plasma head. The motor used appears to be a 60rpm AC synchro motor. These types usually have an RC phase shifting network between the two coils to allow direction reversal. Friction drive is used to rotate the jig, with the friction coming from a pair of rubber tube bands attached to the electro-magnet and the motor drive hub. The plasma head holder has a rod-end with a roller bearing attached, acting as a caster wheel, ensuring the arc gap is maintained as the jig rotates. A few switches to activate the electro-magnet, motor forward / reverse and plasma enable complete the setup.

Their blog, and YouTube channel has a lot of other interesting projects that they keep building. Check it out.

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VHS-Tape-Plasma Mirror Drives Tiny Particle Accelerator

When you think of a particle accelerator, you’re probably thinking of tens of kilometers of tube buried underground, at high vacuum, that uses precisely timed electromagnetic fields to push charged particles like electrons up to amazing speeds (and energies). However, it’s also possible to accelerate electrons in other ways, and lasers are a good bet. Although a laser-based particle accelerator can push electrons very effectively for a few centimeters, they top out at a relatively low maximum “speed” of a couple billion electron-volts, as opposed to the trillions of eV that you can get out of a really big traditional accelerator.

If only you could repeat the laser trick again, “hitting” the already-moving electrons from behind with another beam, you could boost them up to even higher energies. Doing so would take something like a one-way mirror that lets the electrons pass through, but that you could then bounce a laser beam off of. In a fantastic mixture of science and mother-of-invention-style hacking, these scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs use plain-old VHS tape to make plasma mirrors to do just that. Why VHS tape? Because it’s cheap, flexible, and easy to move through the apparatus at high speeds.

The device works like this: a first laser beam passes through a jet of ionized gas and pulls some electrons with it. These electrons are then focused into a beam and pass through some (moving) VHS tape. The electrons punch a hole through the tape. In their wake they leave a hot plasma of mid-90s TV shows you never got around to watching. The second laser beam is then bounced off this plasma mirror and further accelerates the electron beam from behind. In principle, you could repeat this second stage enough times to build up the energy you needed, but for now the crew is working to characterize their single-stage beam. Getting the timing right on the second-stage beam is, naturally, non-trivial.

Anyone who has spent some time in a science lab knows that there are millions of these tiny get-it-done-quick hacks behind the scenes, but it’s nice to see one take center stage as well. If you’ve got stories of great lab hacks that you’d like to see us cover, post up in the comments!

Thanks [Bruce] for the tip, via Science Daily.

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”

Illumination Captured in a Vacuum Jar

Experimentation with the unusual nature of things in the world is awesome… especially when the result is smokey glowing plasma. For this relatively simple project, [Peter Zotov] uses the purchase of his new vacuum pump as an excuse to build a mini vacuum chamber and demonstrate the effect his mosfet-based Gouriet-Clapp capacitive three-point oscillator has on it.

In this case, the illumination is caused due to the high-frequency electromagnetic field produced by the Gouriet-Clapp oscillator. [Peter] outlines a build for one of these, consisting of two different wound coils made from coated wire, some capacitors, a mosfet, potentiometer, and heat sink. When the oscillator is placed next to a gas discharge tube, it causes the space to emit light proportionate to the pressure conditions inside.


For his air tight and nearly air free enclosure, [Peter] uses a small glass jar with a latex glove as the fitting between it and a custom cut acrylic flange. With everything sandwiched snugly together, the vacuum hose inserted through the center of the flange should do its job in removing the air to less than 100 Pa. At this point, when the jar is placed next to the oscillator, it will work its physical magic…

[Peter] has his list of materials and schematics used for this project on his blog if you’re interested in taking a look at them yourself. Admittedly, it’d be helpful to hear a physicist chime in to explain with a bit more clarity how this trick is taking place and whether or not there are any risks involved. In any case, it’s quite the interesting experiment.

Cleaning Slides with Plasma

Plasma Cleaner

[Ben Krasnow] hacked together a method of cleaning sides using plasma. His setup uses a mechanical vacuum pump to evacuate a bell jar. This bell jar is wrapped with a copper coil, which is connected to an RF transmitter. By transmitting RF into the coil, plasma is created inside the bell jar.

Plasma cleaning is used extensively in the semiconductor industry. Depending on the gas used, it can have different cleaning effects. For example, an oxygen rich environment is very effective at breaking down organic bonds and removing hydrocarbons. It is used after manual cleaning to ensure that all impurities in the solvents used for cleaning are fully removed. According to [Ben], it’s possible to get a surface atomically clean using this process, and even remove the substrate if the energy levels are too high.

These machines are usually expensive and specialized, but [Ben] managed to cook one up on his bench. After the break, check out a video walk through of [Ben]’s plasma cleaner

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Taking picture of exploding wire


[Patrick] didn’t just want his name in lights. He wanted his name in glowing plasma explosions, made by sending thousands of volts through a very thin wire.

This project is an experiment in capturing high speed images of exploding wires. [Patrick] wanted to know if he could shape wires in such a way that they would explode into letters of plasma. Of course, photographic proof of this would be needed, and would make for an awesome logo in any event.

To get pictures of wire turning into plasma, [Patrick] first needed to construct the necessary electronics. A simple spark gap was constructed on a large plastic cutting board – an excellent high voltage insulator. The huge capacitors are charged with a pair of high voltage transformers, and the entire assembly is triggered with an optocoupler and a very beefy SCR.

Even though [Patrick] designed the system for a low propagation delay, there was still the matter of capturing an exploding wire on film. The camera delay varied by about 120μs, but with a really great camera trigger, [Patrick] eventually got some impressive pictures.

After getting the electronics and photography portion of the build down, [Patrick] turned to making letters out of expanding plasma. Simply shaping the wire into a letter shape before vaporizing it had no effect, so he turned to 3D printed channels to contain the plasma. After a few attempts, this actually worked, allowing him to form the letters L, U, and X in an expanding ball of vaporized wire.