Sometimes the decision to tackle a project or not can boil down to sourcing parts. Not everything is as close as a Digi-Key or Mouser order, and relying on the availability of surplus parts from eBay or other such markets can be difficult. Knowing if and when a substitute will work for an exotic part can sometimes be a project all on its own.
Building lasers is a great example of this, and [Les Wright] recently looked at substitutes for hard-to-find “doorknob” capacitors for his transversely excited atmospheric lasers. We took at his homebrew TEA lasers recently, which rely on a high voltage supply and very rapid switching to get nitrogen gas to lase. His design uses surplus doorknob caps, big chunky parts rated for very high voltages but also with very low parasitic inductance, which makes them perfect for the triggering circuit.
[Les] tried to substitute cheaper and easier-to-find ceramic power caps with radial wire leads rather than threaded lugs. With a nominal 40-kV rating, one would expect these chunky blue caps to tolerate the 17-kV power supply, but as he suspected, the distance between the leads was short enough to result in flashover arcing. Turning down the pressure in the spark gap chamber helped reduce the flashover and prove that these caps won’t spoil the carefully engineered inductive properties of the trigger. Check out the video below for more details.
Thanks to [Les] for following up on this and making sure everyone can replicate his designs. That’s one of the things we love about this community — true hackers always try to find a way around problems, even when it’s just finding alternates for unobtanium parts.