Low-End Parts Make Tesla Coil with a High-End Look

We all know the saying: cheap, fast, or good — pick any two. That rule seems to apply across the spectrum of hackerdom, from software projects to hardware builds. But this DIY Tesla coil build might just manage to deliver on all three.

Cheap? [Jay Bowles]’ Tesla coil is based on a handheld bug zapper that you can find for a couple of bucks, or borrow from the top of the fridge in the relatively bug-free winter months. The spark gap is just a couple of screws set into scraps of nylon cutting board — nothing fancy there. Fast? Almost everything needed to build this is stuff lying around the house, and depending on the state of your junk bin you may not even have to order the polypropylene caps [Jay] recommends. Good? That’s a relative term, of course, and if you define it as a coil capable of putting out pumpkin-slaying lightning bolts or playing “Yakkity Sax”, you’ll likely be disappointed. But there’s no denying that this Tesla coil looks good, from its Lexan base to the door-pull top load. And running off a couple of AA batteries, it’s safe to use too.

[Jay] put a lot of care into winding and dressing the secondary coil neatly, and the whole thing would look great as a desktop toy. Not into the winding part? You can always etch a PCB Tesla coil instead.

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PCB Tesla Coil Is Perfect Desk Toy

A Tesla coil easily makes it to the top spot on our list of “Mad Scientist” equipment we want for the lab, second only to maybe a Jacob’s Ladder. Even then, it’s kind of unfair advantage because you know people only want a Jacob’s Ladder for that awesome sound it makes. Sound effects not withstanding, it’s Tesla coil all the way, no question.

Unfortunately, winding your own Tesla coil is kind of a hassle. Even on relatively small builds, you’ll generally need to setup some kind of winding jig just to do the secondary coil, which can be a project in itself. So when [Daniel Eindhoven] sent his no-wind Tesla coil into the tip line, it immediately got our attention.

The genius in his design is that the coils are actually etched into the PCB, completely taking the human effort out of the equation. Made up of 6 mil traces with 6 mil separation, the PCB coil manages to pack a 25 meter long, 160 turn coil into an incredibly compact package. As you might expect, such a tiny Tesla coil isn’t exactly going to be a powerhouse, and in fact [Daniel] has managed to get the entirely thing running on the 500 mA output of your standard USB 2.0 port.

In such a low-power setup, [Daniel] was also able to replace the traditional spark gap pulse generator with a PIC18F14K50 microcontroller, further simplifying the design. An advantage of using a microcontroller for the pulse generator is that it’s very easy to adjust the coil’s operating frequency, allowing for neat tricks like making the coil “sing” by bringing its frequency into the audible range.

For those looking to build their own version, [Daniel] has put the PCB schematic and firmware available for download on his site. He also mentions that, in collaboration with Elektor magazine, he will be producing a kit in the near future. Definitely something we’ll be keeping an eye out for.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time [Daniel] has demonstrated his mastery of high voltage. He scared impressed us all the way back in 2010 with his 11,344 Joule capacitor bank, perfect for that laptop-destroying rail gun you’ve been meaning to build.

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Salvaging Your Way to a Working Tesla Model S for $6500

If you possess modest technical abilities and the patience of a few dozen monks, with some skillful haggling you can land yourself some terrific bargains by salvaging and repairing. This is already a well-known ideology when it comes to sourcing things like electronic test gear, where for example a non working unit might be purchased from eBay and fixed for the price of a few passive components.

[Rich] from Car Guru has taken this to a whole new level by successfully salvaging a roadworthy Tesla Model S for $6500!

Sourcing and rebuilding a car is always a daunting project, in this case made even more challenging because the vehicle in subject is fairly recent, state of the art electric vehicle. The journey began by purchasing a black Tesla Model S, that [Rich] affectionately refers to as Delorean. This car had severe water damage rendering most of its electronics and mechanical fasteners unreliable, so [Rich’s] plan was to strip this car of all such parts, and sell what he could to recover the cost of his initial purchase. After selling the working modules of the otherwise drenched battery, motor and a few other bells and whistles his initial monetary investment was reduced to the mere investment of time.

With an essentially free but empty Tesla shell in his possession, [Rich] turned his attention to finding a suitable replacement for the insides. [Rich] mentions that Tesla refused to sell spare parts for such a project, so his only option was to purchase a few more wrecked vehicles. The most prominent of these wrecks was nicknamed Slim Shady. This one

The Donor

had an irreparable shell but with most electronics preserved, and would serve as the donation vehicle. After painstakingly transplanting all the required electronics and once again selling what he did not need, his net investment came to less than 10% of a new car!

Was all of the effort worth it? We certainly think it was! The car was deemed road worthy and even has functioning Super Charging capabilities which according to [Rich] are disabled by Tesla if such a Frankenstein build is detected.

At this point it would probably be instructive to ask [Rich] if he would do it again, but he is already at it, this time salvaging the faster self driving P86. We suggest you stay tuned.

[Thankyou to Enio Fernandes for sending in the tip]

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Tesla Coil uses Vintage Tube

We’ve seen a fair amount of Tesla coil builds, but ones using vacuum tubes are few and far between. Maybe it’s the lack of availability of high power tubes, or a lack of experience working with them among the younger crop of hackers. [Radu Motisan] built a vacuum tube Tesla coil several years back, and only just managed to tip us off recently. Considering it was his first rodeo with vacuum tubes, he seems to have done pretty well — not only did he get good results, he also managed to learn a lot in the process.

His design is based around a GI-30 medium power dual tetrode. The circuit is a classical Armstrong oscillator with very few parts and ought to be easy to build if you can lay your hands on the tricky parts. The high voltage capacitors may need some scrounging. And of course, one needs to hand-wind the three coils that make up the output transformer.

Getting the turns ratios of the coils right is quite critical in obtaining proper power transfer to the output. This required a fair amount of trial error before [Radu] could get it right.

The use of a 20W fluorescent tubelight ballast to limit the inrush current is a pretty nice idea to prevent nuisance tripping of the breakers. If you’d like to try making one of your own, head over to his blog post where you will find pictures documenting his build in detail. If you do decide to make one, be extremely careful — this circuit has lethal high voltages in addition to the obvious ones, since it operates directly from 220 V utility supply.

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Make a Tesla Coil Winding Rig with K’Nex

Instructables user [birdycrazy] built a winding rig from a PVC pipe and a bunch of K’Nex. He had recently started a Tesla coil project and needed an efficient way to wind the secondary coil. All of the designs for DIY winding rigs he found on the Internet required parts he didn’t have or simply cost a bunch of money. Then he realized he’d been building with K’nex a lot, and why not build a tool to help him?

He ended up investing only his K’nex elements and a length of 4” PVC pipe for the project. He used a K’nex 12V motor because it plugs in rather than requiring batteries. After the coil had been completely wound he set it to rotate the assembly over a period of several days while the varnish coating dried.

[birdycrazy] has several cool K’nex projects including a couple of automatic transmissions and a differential, all made with the toy. Also be sure to check out the K’nex whiteboard plotter, the Citadel monster K’nex castle, and the K’nex skeeball table we published in the past.

Little eBay Tesla Coil Gets an Upgrade

Like so many of the projects we feature, this one started with a cheap eBay module purchase. In this case, it was a little Tesla coil that made decent sized arcs but wasn’t quite good enough. The result was a super-sized solid state Tesla coil with better results and room to grow.

As [GreatScott!] discovered, the little eBay Tesla coil has a pretty neat design. The exciter is a Slayer circuit, a super simple one-transistor design. His reverse engineering revealed that the primary coil is simply a loop trace on the PCB under the secondary coil. Sadly, his attempt to replace the primary and reproduce the Slayer exciter resulted in anemic performance. What’s a hacker to do in that case except build a bigger coil? Much bigger — like “build your own winding jig” bigger. Twelve hundred secondary turns and an appropriately menacing-looking primary later, the results were — still anemic. It turns out the Slayer is just not up to the task. He turned to an inverter circuit that was previously used in a wireless energy transfer circuit, and we finally get to see a little of the Tesla coil magic. But wait! There’s more to come, as future videos will tweak the circuit and optimize the coil for better performance.

It’s no surprise that Tesla coils are a popular project around here, especially the musical kinds, from the tiny to the large. Music doesn’t seem to be on [GreatScott!]’s mind, though, and we’ll be watching with interest to see where he takes this build.

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That Sucks! Death of a Tesla Coil

[Electroboom] always has some entertaining videos. He recently tried to run his Tesla coil in a vacuum. The video shows some interesting results, along with his usual bleeped out expletives as he drills into his hand and suffers other indignities in the name of electronics.

Unfortunately, a bit of extra bolt caused the coil to arc internally, eventually leading to the impressive device shuffling off its mortal… um, well, let’s just say its untimely demise. Along the way, though, you get to see some interesting techniques for building a silicone seal for the vacuum chamber, and some neat Tesla coil tricks with a closed off syringe.

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