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.

[Thanks Patrick]

32 thoughts on “11,000 Volt Jacob’s Ladder Sounds Like a Lightsaber

    1. Hehe, well it’s a bit hard to tell from the angle, but there’s about 6 feet between the ladder and the curtains. I was more worried about how close the arcs would be to the ceiling as they break off the top of the ladder.

      I have a couple of decent length copper pipes I’m going to set up outside when I get a nice calm evening to try it. Should be interesting.

  1. Gotta love a guy who keeps things that would kill you instantly in his living room. God help the burglars who break in and trip over something and fall into this guys hi voltage playhouse late at night. Good luck getting that smell out…. yuck!

      1. Yeah, I just found the clip on youtube. The sound tech recorded a projector & a TV to get the baseline hum, played it back, and then swung a mic in front of the speaker to generate the change in pitch for swordplay. The clip has some cool concept art in it too.

  2. The “odd sound” is at least partially from the 50hz mains – for we Yanks, the transformers, high voltage lines and distribution yards all sound just a “bit off”.

  3. Very nice! I’m impressed with the power, 32Amps at 280 is a LOT of power! 10KW wow. I wonder if the hydro company would let you build a ladder with their 500KV lines? Might have to use something heavier than pipes? I-Beams?

  4. Jaycar (mob in Australia) sells a Jacobs kit based on a 555. I’ve got Mk1 running with a standard car ignition coil (unknown Kv) and does about 50mm, 75mm is maxing it. MK2 kit apparently needs a Commodore (Aussie made car) ignition coil which could potentially put out 60Kv. Anyone built one of these MK2 kits?

    1. Just built and tested the Mk2 today, need to straighten the wires but otherwise she works pretty well. Added a cut up drink bottle over the wires to help get a flue going too.

  5. Seeing as a light saber is a silly fictional concept from that flaccid star warped universe, luckily, far far away. I’d say that the fictional light sabers sound a bit like jacobs ladders.

  6. Just Think of what Star Wars would have been like if their were Jacobs Ladder and Tesla Coils included. Maybe make engine rooms look a bit like Frankensteins Laboratory.

    1. Years ago in ambulance training, the subject of explosive gas leak hazards came up in class. I quipped, “No problem! Got my Irish Gas Detector!” and held up the cigarette lighter. But there was a problem. Nobody else in the class shared my sense of humour. So here’s some probably useless advice…. Never light your farts in an ambulance training class.

  7. My high school Physics / Electronics teacher set one of these up in the classroom. He put a piece of paper in the arc to show it catch on fire. It did sound like kinda like the light sabre. It was very memorable. This was early 80s. I’d imagine some schools would disiplne/fire him for it, but it was very memorable.

    He also did a lab with: a 6-10′ straight glass tube, a metal trash can to put one end of it in, a lit candle in the bottom and flour around the candle. You blew into the tube to kick up the flour, the candle ignited the flour and you had a flame 2-4′ high.

  8. Years ago, I built a Jaycar Mk1 Jacob’s Ladder with the older cylindrical ignition coil. Yes, I was able to get arcs up to 75 mm. Great device and Ozone has valuable medical applications. Also, it made a novel, but very effective cigarette lighter and with anything like that in the gap, you could move the arc up or down the ladder. Gave the device to a nephew. Probably a mistake, because I now require one to experiment with Ormus transformation into noble metals. Mk2 versions are still available, but apparently not the Mk1 and yes, any case, they use one coil unit from the Commodore VN or VP V6 model’s triple ignition coil set. This vehicle is called a Buick in the US, but should actually be badged as a Chevy. Over the last three days culminating on 10th August 2015, I built a Mk3 ladder. It’s more compact and supposed to pack more wallop than its two predecessors, but using the alligator clips, close proximity of the two spark terminals on the ignition coil is making configuration of the ladder a real headache. So far, although it works, performance has been been somewhat disappointing. I’m lucky to get 25 mm arcs and the arcs are not climbing the ladder satisfactorily. Instead, there are arcs across the spark terminals, either intermittently, or constantly. Does anyone have Mk1 schematics lying around they could send me?

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