Whimsical Homemade Wimshurst Machine


Got some empty plastic bottles in your recycling bin or cluttering up your desk? Then you’ve got a large portion of the material you need for building your own Wimshurst machine like [Thomas Kim] did. This demonstration and build video is one of the many treasures of his YouTube channel. He shows the machine in operation and then spends several real-time minutes showing how he made the heart of it using plastic bottles, the conductive brush from a laser printer, discarded CDs, and a bunch of copper wire. As a bonus, he removes the conductive material and paint from a CD with a homemade taser. As a super special bonus, there’s no EDM soundtrack to this video, just the sounds of productivity.

The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator that slightly predates the Tesla coil. It works by passing a charge from one spinning disk to another disk spinning in the opposite direction. When the charge reaches the collecting comb, it is stored in Leyden jars. Finally, it gets discharged in a pretty spark and the cycle begins anew. Once you’re over shocking your friends, use your Wimshurst machine to make an electrostatic precipitator.


[Thanks Niklas for sending this in]

13 thoughts on “Whimsical Homemade Wimshurst Machine

    1. I was thinking that, still if you have a voltage supply to hand, it is a little more fun that way.
      A brief look around and I haven’t yet found anyone has been brave enough to attempt a twelve foot diameter version. Perhaps they didn’t survive long enough to post…
      Speaking of stacks of CDs (Which usually contain more than two) I’m wondering how much of a nightmare it might be to construct something verging on a hole stack of 100.
      If the spark rate could be increased, maybe with a Dremel or similar, wireless transfer, with a pair of Tesla coils to receive and retransmit in a more stable form, could be an interesting prospect. Maybe with the right configuration a single could could be used.
      A stack of bifilar coils, configured to cancel their own self capacitance wired alternatively to also cancel between layers might be able to keep the size down. Maybe coupled with a 3d version of that new directional flat antenna with the scales in the shape of the radiation pattern I saw online the other day. It could make for an interesting experiment.

        1. I think if I were to make one larger it might be a little easier to make it horizontal. I wonder if these were built in space they could generate enough of a field in a super conductive coil to make it’s own magnetosphere. It would be simpler than something nuclear powered.
          Maybe not as efficient as tuning an array of very small Tesla coils to nanometre wavelengths to receive light but all together easier to build, if perhaps harder to deploy. I guess we could send people up with a lorry sized roll of sellotape and a tape player to match…
          If sellotape can apparently generate ~50KeV xrays in a half decent vacuum then I wonder if it could be possible to add some small brushes and store it before it discharges.
          On the other hand shopping trolleys seem quite adept at producing reasonable discharges in favourable weather.

          1. Scale becomes a huge factor when you turn your whimshurst horizontal. After a certain point your discs are going to sag. This will at best lower efficiency and at worst cause mechanical collisions.
            Using Cellotape(as in cellophane) to create X-rays while well documented will not create any useful energy. Any energy produced certainly won’t be picked up by conductive brushes as the phenomena is EM wave based and not particle based(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triboluminescence).

      1. I built one with 48″ discs, where the counter-rotating speed is 666km/hr. Nearish the sound barrier.

        Sparks are about as thick as my… wrist… and should be 18″ long when done (10″ [25cm] now). Sounds like a rifle being discharged. With lightning, comes thunder.

        The Mr. Teslonian one pictured above does not work. He’s a nutter, believes the pyramids were giant tesla coils and electricity flows constantly from the sky to the ocean via rivers… suffice to say he seems to have tried to build a Wimshurst by looking at a picture of one, rather than understanding how to build one. So, for the same effort it could have worked well, but instead works no better than one 1/4 the size. Expensive lawn ornament.

        I’m making a tutorial/demo video about mine, it’ll probably get Hack-A-Day’d when I’m finished the video because who doesn’t love giant sparks?

  1. Hah, that’s fun, I like how he didn’t use a single thing besides easily acquirable rubbish, besides the HV supply. It’s neat to see this kinda thing over the abundance of custom 3d printed/lasercut stuff.

    Also, anyone know if you could use really fine gauge wire for the brushes instead of laserjet brushes?

    1. I have no experience with this, but laser-printers / copiers have very soft bushes, it feels more like silk than metal. It would be hard to get the same low-friction with any metal brush. I don’t think there is any technical problem with a couple of very thin wires, but the thing could become very hard to crank (or just stretch the rubber band).
      Maybe cut a come from thin aluminium-foil ?

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