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.

35 thoughts on “Spark-Up Your Halloween Party With This Double Helix Jacob’s Ladder

    1. A cordless drill could probably provide a very uniform helix. Chuck up a dowel or pencil in the drill. Tough to say whether you try and wind two identical, or wind two wires simultaneously. Though a helper would make it easier.

    1. I noticed that now that we have everything digital and up high in frequencies we came to a point where interference is less of an issue. This is purely my own experience and not some official study result though.

        1. Neither Marconi or Tesla discovered radio. The theory was developed years(as far back as 1802 it would seem 1831 to be conservative) before a man named Hughes is the first to use what we now know are radio waves to send intelligence. In his work Hertz constructed the first tuned circuits. Even Bell(photophone) beat Marconi, Tesla. For his part Tesla didn’t appear interested in furthering wireless communications, and appeared unconcerned that Marconi was building on Tesla’s own work. Perhaps Tesla was aware that his own work had a foundation of the work of others as well Personally I find the Marconi fanboys and the Tesla fanboys equally insufferable.

  1. I would never bring something like that to a halloween party, and I suggest you don’t do that either. Imagine someone stumbling on it after some beers, or someone who doesn’t know how dangerous it is poking it.

  2. Steveo and dave, is my sarcasm detector broken today? This is less dangerous than using a knife in the kitchen provided you have enough sense to not touch it while it’s turned on, and not leave it on unattended. As for rf interference, maybe if his next door neighbor is a ham operator and he runs it for hours at a time, somebody might notice. Maybe.

      1. You may be surprised at how quickly the interference dies out. If he is operating this inside a house, I doubt that a car passing by the front of the house listening to AM would hear much by way of interference. Your car’s AM radio can already compete with the spark plugs and alternator under the hood just fine.

        I had a tesla coil with a spark gap driven by an almost identically-sized neon sign transformer. My friend and I tested how far away the noise from it could be heard on a car’s AM radio, while operating it outside. It was a shockingly short distance, about 30 feet.

    1. Knives in a kitchen is a poor analogy. Most adults know that handling a knife carelessly isn’t a great idea, very few adult probably understand the voltage that is present with a Jacob’s ladder. Even an initiated child’s first experience with knife isn’t likely to be a deadly one. The current limiting that is incorporated many if not most safety measures is a compromise. What turns out to be the maximum current that is safe for any indidual is relative to a combination of factors.

  3. Modern neon transformers are current limited to 30mA so they’re not particularly deadly or dangerous. I’ve been hit many times during my time working at sign shops and it does hurt like hell. If you want to make it deadly, get an old unlimited neon transformer or one from a microwave.

    Awesome jacob’s ladder too! Great work!

    One might also try to make this out of solid grounding wire available at any home improvement center. I had a 3′ tall ladder (with an unlimited 15kV supply) for a while. It would maintain the spark even with a 4″ gap.

    And as far as RF interference goes, no more than a neon sign in operation.

    1. What turns out to be a deadly current is relevant to many factors, the voltage, the individual, in what manner the individual makes contact with the device. I wouldn’t be surprise if neon signs incorporate RFI suppression techniques. Even at that RFI from neon signs has never been an unknown problem. Yes anawesome jacob’s ladder.

  4. I don’t have any neon transformers available right off. I do have some florescent light fixtures that I can scrap. Though not quite the same thing, would those work for something like this?

    Can a tiny one be made by tapping the ready-light on a disposable camera flash?

      1. That should work just fine, and will probably have more oomph than an neon sign transformer. But one I played around with a long time ago was not made for continuous use, and died after fifteen minutes or so. I guess an oil furnace igniter only needs to run for a few seconds.

    1. I don’t think a camera flash circuit would work. Those typically only produce something like 300V, which likely isn’t enough to break down the air and make any significant sized spark. I could be wrong though!

      1. There is a tiny autotransformer in the camera flash that kicks the 300v up to (beyond?) 1500V to fire the xenon strobe. But like the oil burner igniter, it isn’t designed for continuous use.

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