High Voltage Protects Low Denominations

How do you keep people out of your change jar? If you didn’t say with a 3D printed iris mechanism and high-voltage spark gap, then clearly you aren’t [Vije Miller]. Which is probably for the best, as we’re not sure we actually want to live in a world where there are two of these things.

Regular Hackaday readers will know that [Vije] has a way of using electromechanical trickery to inject a bit of excitement, and occasionally a little danger, into even the most mundane aspects of life. His latest project is an automated change jar that uses a pinpad to authenticate users, while everyone else gets the business end of a spark gap if the PIR sensor detects them getting to close.

You can see a demonstration of the jar in the video after the break, where he shows the jar’s ability to stop…himself, from getting access to it. Hey, nobody said it was meant to keep out real intruders. Though we do think a similar gadget could be a fun way to keep the kids out of the cookie jar before dinner, though we’d strongly suggest deleting the high-voltage component from the project before deploying it with a gullet full of Keebler’s best.

[Vije] was able to adapt a printable iris design he found on Thingiverse to fit over the mouth of the jar, and uses servos in the base to rotate the whole assembly around and open it up. The internal Arduino Nano handles reading from the pinpad, controlling the stepper, and of course firing up the spark generator for 1000 milliseconds each time the PIR sensor detects somebody trying to be cute. Just the sound of the arc should be enough to get somebody to reconsider the value of literal pocket change.

Some of the design elements used in this change jar’s high voltage components were influenced by the lessons learned when [Vije] was building his plasma-powered toilet air freshener. There’s a sentence we bet you never expected to read today.

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3D Printing An Old-School Coherer

Coherers were devices used in some of the very earliest radio experiments in the 19th century. Consisting of a tube filled with metal filings with an electrode at each end, the coherer would begin to conduct when in the presence of radio frequency energy. Physically tapping the device would then loosen the filings again, and the device was once again ready to detect incoming signals. [hombremagnetico] has designed a basic 3D printed version of the device, and has been experimenting with it at home.

It’s a remarkably simple build, with the 3D printed components being a series of three brackets that combine to hold a small piece of plastic tube. This tube is filled with iron filings, and electrodes are inserted from either end. Super glue is used to seal the tube, and the coherer is complete.

The coherer can easily be tested by measuring the resistance between the two electrodes, and firing a piezo igniter near the tube. When the piezo igniter sparks, the coherer rapidly becomes conductive, and can be restored to a non-conductive state, or de-cohered, by tapping the tube.

Coherers and spark-gap sets are fun to experiment with, but be sure you have the proper approvals first. Video after the break.

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The Comforting Blue Glow Of Old Time Radio

When you think of an old radio it’s possible you imagine a wooden-cased tube radio receiver as clustered around by a 1940s family anxious for news from the front, or maybe even a hefty 19-inch rack casing for a “boat anchor” ham radio transmitter. But neither of those are really old radios, for that we must go back another few decades to the first radios. Radio as demonstrated by Giulielmo Marconi didn’t use tubes and it certainly didn’t use transistors, instead it used an induction coil and a spark gap. It’s a subject examined in depth by [The Plasma Channel] and [Blueprint], as they come together to build and test a pair of spark gap transmitters.

This is a collaboration between two YouTube channels, so we’ve put videos from both below the break.They both build simple spark gap transmitters and explain the history behind them, as well as running some tests in RF-shielded locations. The transmitters are fairly crude affairs in that while they both use electronic drives for their induction coils they don’t have the resonant tank circuitry that a typical early-20th-century transmitter would have had to improve its efficiency.

They are at pains to remind the viewer that spark gap transmitters have been illegal for nearly a century due to their wideband interference so this is definitely one of those “Don’t do this at home” projects even if it hasn’t stopped others from trying. But it’s still a fascinating introduction to this forgotten technology, and both videos are definitely worth a watch.

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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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Wimshurst Machines: High Voltage From The Gods

Wimshurst machine demo
Wimshurst machine demo

The Wimshurst machine is one of the oldest and best known electrostatic machines, consisting of its iconic two counter rotating disks and two Leyden jars. Most often you see someone hand cranking it, producing sparks, though we’ve seen it used for much more, including for powering a smoke precipitator for cleaning up smoke and even for powering a laser.

It works through an interesting sequence of events. Most explanations attempt to cram it all into one picture, requiring some major mental gymnastics to visualize. This often means people give up, resigned to assume these work through some mythical mechanics that defy a mortal’s ability to understand.

So instead, let’s do a step-by-step explanation.

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A Portable Jacob´s Ladder

A Jacob´s ladder is a favorite project of high voltage enthusiasts. It makes a visually attractive and fun display of a high voltage electrical arc climbing a pair of electrodes. [Keystone Science] shows us how to make a Jacob´s ladder that runs on 9 V batteries.

The ladder itself is pretty easy to make. It is nothing more than a pair of stiff wires in a V shape, connected to a high voltage power supply. The more difficult part is the HV power supply. [Keystone Science] explains how to build one using a flyback transformer from an old CRT tv and a few other components. It is a pretty simple circuit and can be powered by a 9 V battery. The ladder works because, when HV is applied to the electrodes, an arc is established at the bottom, where they are nearest each other. The arc is at high temperature so the air rises, and the arc starts to climb the ladder. Since the electrodes are further away from each other as the arc rises, at a certain point the distance is too large to sustain the arc and the process repeats.

This is a nice weekend project if you want to try it. In case you don´t want to make your own HV power supply, you can try another ladder project that uses a commercial one.

Measuring High Voltage In Millimeters (and Other HV Probe Tricks)

I work a lot with high voltages and others frequently replicate my projects, so I often get asked “What voltage is needed?”. That means I need to be able to measure high voltages. Here’s how I do it using a Fluke high voltage probe as well as my own homemade probe. And what if you don’t have a probe? I have a solution for that too.

How Long Is Your Spark?

The simplest way to measure high voltage is by spark length. If your circuit has a spark gap then when a spark occurs, that’s a short-circuit, dumping all your built up charge. When your spark gap is at the maximum distance at which you get a spark then just before the spark happens is when you have your maximum voltage. During the spark the voltage rapidly goes to zero and depending on your circuit it may start building up again. The voltage before the spark occurred is related to the spark length, which is also the spark gap width.

The oscilloscope photo below shows this changing voltage. This method is good for a rough estimate. I’ll talk about doing more precise measurements when I talk about high voltage probes further down.

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