A 555 And A Lighter Make High Voltage

If you don’t have a ready source of high voltage, here’s an easy way to build one from the aptly-named [HVZapp]. The parts list is pretty simple to acquire, except for the transformer. For that, [HVZapp] raided a broken arc lighter. It took us a minute to realize that the MOSFETs are in parallel. The hand-drawn schematic shows a little “jump” from the drain lead to the source lead, but if you aren’t careful, it looks like the FETs are shorted out, which — of course — they aren’t.

The original arc lighter, of course, did a fine job of creating high voltage, although perhaps not as much as this circuit. Also, it would turn off every 10 seconds, which isn’t very useful if you want to use it as a power supply.

If you aren’t sure what to do with a high voltage, supply, there’s an associated quick and dirty Jacob’s Ladder in the video below. If you want your high voltage in a more natural way, consider harnessing lightning. There are many ways to generate high voltages.

21 thoughts on “A 555 And A Lighter Make High Voltage

  1. What a poor design! No feedback, no current limit, no nothing. Craptastic!

    There are plenty of better designs. There are ZVS self-oscillating converters for CRT HV transformers, a NE555 design with feedback loop, an easy ringing choke converter that can work with any voltage, etc. I did a few of them myself…

    1. @Moryc Could you please share some of your designs (instead of just complaining)?
      Just after school I tried to build my own 12″ monochrome CRT monitor (since I had a CRT). Never got the HV flyback circuit to last more than an hour, so I’d be interested to see what you did!

    2. There isn’t much point for a feedback as it drives a spark gap not a DC supply where it can coast.

      You might however want to use a proper switching regulator that can limit inductor current to not saturating the transformer. It also help to limit output power in case of something bad. e.g. coil shorting, output shorting.

      555 is not quite ideal as MOSFET driver. It can barely do the “200mA” drive and not switch quickly. Proper MOSFET drivers starts at 2A gate current and can drive it quickly enough so that your MOSFET don’t spend too much time in the transition where ti burns a lot of power.

    1. A random google search said that it takes about 3kV to jump 1mm. So at 1000kV your little generator should be jumping 33cm. I think they are overstating the voltage on that thing a wee bit. Unless I’m completely off in my understanding of how this stuff works.

      1. Interesting, here it states 3.4MV for 1m:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paschen%27s_law#Long_gaps

        I just tested with 7V/2.5A constant voltage generator. Maximal spark length I was able to achieve this time was 3cm. So yes, the value seems to be largely overstated.
        3400KV/m * 0.03m = 102KV “only” — still not bad.

        Unfortunately I killed that generator by trying a longer distance, and 2nd generator I found does not work either. I will have to find the other 3 generators I have.

        In the past I used them just to take pictures in the thread I pointed to. But I want to use generator as photographic light flash in the sub-microsecond domain:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_gap#High_speed_photography

        Reason is that my diy highspeed flash 5000lm is too dark for sub microsecond (but good enough for single digit microsecond global external shutter capturing of airgun pellet in flight with 109m/s with Raspberry v1 camera):
        https://github.com/Hermann-SW/Raspberry_v1_camera_global_external_shutter#comparison-of-commercially-available-and-diy-highspeed-flashes

      2. It’s not as simple as direct proportionally between distance and voltage.

        Other factors include atmospheric pressure, altitude, humidity and the mix of pollutant in the air.

  2. Warning— this question has nothing to do with the article, other than it relates to electricity.
    This has really been bugging me and I’m not satisfied with what my puny brain make of it. It is strictly theoretical. I have never and will never use the information for criminal purposes. I don’t even have high tension lines within 10 miles of my residence. Ok. Enough.. here goes.. the internet was a lot more free 30 years ago with a lot less censorship. I found an article that explained that you could run a copper wire on the ground under high tension power lines in a sine wave type pattern and obtain power. It went in depth as to how to identify which voltage, was carried on different lines by their physical attributes. It went so far as to give the math formulas for figuring the length and width of the waves in the copper to obtain the correct voltage and hertz. The article and any information relating to the above is no longer posted anywhere on line that I can find. Censorship really bugs me. I’m sure they measure the energy sent and received and would notice anyone attempting this, so why censor it?? Can anyone share this information?

    1. Hmm, my post pointing out that you should not attribute to censorship, that which can be explained by Yahoo Groups, Geocities hosting or Tripod hosting, seems to have been censored by HaD.

      So this doesn’t get censored, I won’t provide the link, but google

      “Can the wire of a high voltage power line be used as the primary coil of an air cored transformer”

      and

      “A Solution to the RWP for Exam 1 – Stealing Power”

      1. One can also ascribe it to google sucking donkey nads since about 2011 was it, they deprecated most of the advanced operators and stopped you being able to search within results to dig down. Now you definitely have to jump through hoops to outsmart the artificial stupidity, sometimes though you try a highly crafted keyword search and get nothing, and then a fairly complex natural language question works. Worst is when it thinks it knows best, and does the “you don’t really want that, you want this” thing.

    2. I don’t know which article you’re talking about, but the idea of harvesting wireless power off municipal power lines is old and doesn’t work in practice. There’s a number of factors that these free energy nuts conveniently ignore, like loss of energy through air, resistance of the wire, etc. Under the best conditions, you end up with $500 in copper wire harvesting enough energy to power a wristwatch.

      So, perhaps it isn’t censorship so much as removing articles that are just pseudoscience.

  3. A microwave oven transformer could easily outdo the Jacob’s ladder. All you gotta do is spot a dead microwave, open it up and remove xformer as well as the cord, so you know it handles the current. 120v in 2kv out. 2kv = about 2mm for the bottom and the current heats up enough air to ionize a big arc all the way up to the top. Also to be noted when doing Jacob’s ladder work, the curl at the ends of the electrode tops helps the arc break and restart the process at the bottom.

  4. … How did I get here? I made this circuit when it was around past midnight, so I was a bit loopy. Yes, the circuit is not efficient, but, as someone else has already said, the point was to make it very simple. The low quality footage was because I had just woken up the next day. The Jacob’s ladder was made in a pinch and there’s even a SOY SAUCE container in the background. I’m embarrassed. When I document my next project I should make it a bit cleaner.

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