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”

Retrotechtacular: Step Up and Get Your Transformer Training

Whether you’re just getting into electronics or could use a refresher on some component or phenomenon, it’s hard to beat the training films made by the U.S. military. This 1965 overview of transformers and their operations is another great example of clear and concise instruction, this time by the Air Force.

It opens to a sweeping orchestral piece reminiscent of the I Love Lucy theme. A lone instructor introduces the idea of transformers, their principles, and their applications in what seems to be a single take. We learn that transformers can increase or reduce voltage, stepping it up or down through electromagnetic induction. He moves on to describe transformer action, whereby voltages are increased or decreased depending on the ratio of turns in the primary winding to that of the secondary winding.

He explains that transformer action does not change the energy involved. Whether the turns ratio is 1:2 or 1:10, power remains the same from the primary to the secondary winding. After touching briefly on the coefficient of coupling, he discusses four types of transformers: power, audio, RF, and autotransformers.

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Transformer Inductive Coupling Simulation is SFW

[James] has a friend who teaches at the local community college. When this friend asked him to build a transformer coupling simulation, he was more than happy to oblige. Fortunately for us, he also made a video that explains what is happening while  showing the output on a ‘scope.

For the simulation, [James] built primary and secondary coils using PVC pipe. The primary coil consists of 11 turns of 14AWG stranded wire with 4V running through it applied. The first secondary he demonstrates is similarly built, but has 13 turns. As you’ll see, the first coil induces ~1.5V in the second coil. [James] first couples it with the two windings going the same way, which results in the two 2Mhz waveforms being in phase with each other. When he inserts the secondary the other way, its waveform is out of phase with the primary’s.

His second secondary has the same diameter PVC core, but was wound with ~60 turns of much thinner wire—28AWG bell wire to be exact. This match-up induces 10V on the secondary coil from the 4V he put on the primary. [James]’ demonstration includes a brief Lissajous pattern near the end. If you don’t know enough about those, here’s a good demonstration of the basics coupled with an explanation of the mechanics behind them.

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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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Black Knight Transformer — A Military Octorotor You Can Ride In

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We saw this pop up a few times before and to be honest, we weren’t sure if it was actually real or not. This is the Advanced Tactics Black Knight Transformer — the world’s first VTOL (vertical take off and landing) aircraft that also doubles as an off-road vehicle.

Designed and built in California, it just received government approval and Advanced Tactics has released the first driving and flight test video. It was apparently designed as a rapid-response evacuation vehicle for wounded soldiers in war affected zones. It features a whopping eight individually driven rotors that swing out on “transforming” arms during flight. It also has a removable ground drive-train which can be swapped out for an amphibious boat hull, or even a cargo pod!

At the forefront of large-scale multicopter design and manufacturing, we poked around Advanced Tactic’s website a bit and found another one of their projects, the Transformer Panther sUAS — a miniature version of the Black Knight, designed as a small unmanned aircraft system that is also capable of land and sea use.

Stick around after the break to see them in action — and let us know what you think!

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Rebuilding A 50,000 Volt Power Supply

Spark

The theory behind building power supplies is relatively easy, but putting it into practice and building a multi-kilovolt supply is hard. A big transformer in air will simply spark to itself, turning what could be something very cool into something you just don’t want to be around. [glasslinger] over on YouTube is an expert at this sort of thing, as shown in his 50,000 Volt power supply build. That’s a 55 minute long video, and trust us: it’s worth every minute of your time.

[glasslinger] began his build by taking an old 15,000 Volt neon sign transformer and repurposing the coils and cores for his gigantic 50,000 volt transformer. There was a small problem with this little bit of recycling: the neon sign transformer was potted with tar that needed to be removed.

To de-pot the transformer, [glasslinger] made a small oven from a helium tank, melting all the goo out with an old school gasoline torch. From there, hours and hours of cleaning ensued.

The transformer cores were cleaned up and cut down, and a new primary wound. A small-scale test (shown above) using the old secondaries resulted in a proof of concept with some very large sparks. The next step was putting the entire transformer in a box and filling it with transformer oil.

The money shot for this build comes when [glasslinger] assembles his transformer, rectifier, and all the other electronics into a single, surprisingly compact unit and turns standard wall power into a 50,000 Volt spark. You can literally smell the ozone from the video.

 

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“Professor Kill A. Volt” Shocks Pumpkins with his Tesla Coil

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[JJ Dasher] is back again this year, shocking some pumpkins! (Volume warning). We featured [JJ] two years ago for his Halloween candy shocking Tesla coil. He apparently has been busy in his mad scientist laboratory doing some upgrades. This year his coil is producing 5 foot long streaming arcs!

[JJ’s] Tesla coil is a uses two microwave oven transformers as a power supply. He also uses an Asynchronous Rotary Spark Gap (ASRG). As the name implies, a rotary spark gap uses a motor to turn a rotor. At certain points in the rotation, the rotor creates a small enough gap that a high voltage spark can jump across, energizing the primary coil. This idea is similar to an automotive ignition system distributor. [Pete] gives a great example of an ASRG in this video. Most ASRG based Tesla coils use the small motor to spin up the spark gap. Varying the speed of the motor creates the characteristic “motor revving” noise heard in the final arcs of the Tesla Coil.

[JJ] made things a bit more interesting by installing a couple of fluorescent bulbs inside a pumpkin near the coil. The coil lights them easily, and they glow even brighter when the pumpkin is struck. Still not satisfied, he also donned his grounded chainmail gloves and drew the arc to himself. We always love seeing people safely taking hits from massive Tesla coils, but this definitely falls under the “don’t try this at home” banner.

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