High Tech Pancake Tesla Coil Brings The Lightning

For several years now we’ve been following [Jay Bowles] as he brings high-voltage down to Earth on his Plasma Channel YouTube channel. From spark gaps made of bits of copper pipe to automotive ignition coils driven by the stalwart 555 timer, he’s got a real knack for keeping his builds affordable and approachable. But once in a while you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone, and although the dedicated DIY’er could still replicate the solid state “pancake” Tesla coil he documents in his latest video, we’d say this one is better left for the professionals.

The story starts about nine months ago, when [Jay] was approached by fellow YouTuber [LabCoatz] to collaborate on a PCB design for a solid state Tesla coil (SSTC). Rather than a traditional spark gap, a SSTC uses insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) triggered by an oscillator, which is not only more efficient but allows for fine control of the primary coil. The idea was to develop an AC-powered coil that was compact, easy to repair, and could be controlled with just a couple dials on the front panel. The device would also make use of an antenna feedback system that would pick up the resonant frequency of the secondary coil and automatically adjust the IGBT drive to match.

Being considerably more complex than many of the previous builds featured on Plasma Channel, it took some time to work out all the kinks. In fact, the majority of the video is [Jay] walking the viewer through the various failure modes that he ran into while developing the SSTC. Even for somebody with his experience in high-voltage, there were a number of headscratchers that had to be solved.

For example, the first version of the design used metal bolts to attach the primary and secondary coils, until he realized that was leading to capacitive coupling and replaced them with acrylic blocks instead. If his previous videos surprised you by showing how easy it could be to experiment with high-voltages, this one is a reminder that it’s not always so simple.

But in the end [Jay] does get everything sorted out, and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Even on the lower power levels it throws some impressive sparks, but when cranked up to max, it offers some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen so far from Plasma Channel. It was a lot of work, but it certainly wasn’t wasted effort.

Fascinated by the results, but not quite ready to jump into the deep end? This affordable and easy to build high-voltage generator featured on Plasma Channel back in 2020 is a great way to get started. If you still need more inspiration, check out the fantastic presentation [Jay] gave during the 2021 Remoticon.

4 thoughts on “High Tech Pancake Tesla Coil Brings The Lightning

  1. That is so cool, err, hot? Nothing like arcs and sparks (as long as not seen on one’s motherboard) to jump start creativity in the sciences. Being a mad scientist looks like hair raising fun! I think most everyone has a plasma ball in the house if remotely interested in science. I do and have to fire it up now and then. Nothing quite like seeing all those streamers being attracted to your fingers.

    Hats off to this pancake plasma generator. Neat project.

  2. Aww, I’m not sure I agree that solid state coils are best left to the pros… yes, some proficiency with analog electronics will need to be achieved, with knowledge of power supply fundamentals being particularly helpful. Anyone who’s worked with tubes should have no problem. And of course familiarity with all relevant safety practices is as important here as with any hobby that carries inherent danger.

    But I think in terms of complexity and difficulty it is no different than a decent foray into robotics for example, or something like home automation, or CNC machines built from scratch. Plenty of info out there both nuts and bolts and theory, and some cool design variations.

    I’ve built one, and eventually got it working very well indeed, but I can’t imagine anyone who took a look at the junk heap medusa machine that it morphed and mutated into thinking a professional had anything to do with it :)

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