TUCoPS :: Hardware Hacks :: jacobldr.txt

Build a High-Voltage Jacob's Ladder

O                                                                            O
O              How to Construct a High Voltage Jacob's Ladder                O
O                                  by                                        O
O                      ..oooOO Count Zero OOooo..                            O
O                                                                            O

   Greetings...I assume all of you have at one point seen the old Frankenstein
movies where the lab is filled with an assortment of electronic gadgets, all
of them sparking and hissing furiously...Well, if you remember, one of these
consisted of a V-shaped piece of wire, where a spark would form at the base of
the V and slowly crawl up the wires, expanding until it reached the top..where
it would bow out and disappear while a new spark formed back at the base...
Such a device is known as a Jacob's Ladder (from the Bible, I think, where this
dude named Jacob has a vision of Angels climbing some celestial, firey ladder)
and was designed especially for special effects use in Frankenstein movies...

   ANYWAY, such a device is SIMPLE to create, and the total cost is only about
$50....but FIRST I want to explain the theory behind its operation (what's the
use in building something if you have no CLUE why it works?!?).  The term
VOLTAGE refers to potential, or like water pressure (a decent analogy).......
CURRENT refers to electrical flow, or like the volume of water flowing thru a 
pipe...a DIELECTRIC is something that resists the flow of electricity until a
high enough VOLTAGE is created, sort of like fish clogging a pipe until the 
water pressure builds enough to BLAST the fish and rush thru (hehehe..mebbe I
should have been a plumber)...OK...well, AIR is a DIELECTRIC...and when two 
points in space build up enough VOLTAGE between them, a spark jumps between 
them (like lightning)..AIR is a tough dielectic...it takes about 1 thousand
volts to create a spark only 1 millimeter long!...BUT..just because you have
a high voltage DOESN'T mean your CURRENT is large...remember rubbing your feet
on rugs in the library then going up to the class dweeb and touching his arm?
Remember that spark that jumped from your finger?..well, you built up a VOLTAGE
of about 2 thousand volts (2 mm distance, usually)..but the CURRENT was very
LOW...remember, HIGH VOLTAGE does not always mean HIGH CURRENT...
High currents KILL....a car battery, with only about 12 Volts, packs some
SERIOUS current...enough to kill you QUICKLY....while that spark from your
finger packed HIGH VOLTAGE..but no killing current....remember the old maxim

            "Volts jolt, but mills (as in milliAmps) KILL" *

*Unfortunately, when you get up to a Voltage in excess of 10 thou, it IS 
enough to kill you...several times over..

BTW, Amps are the measure of current magnitude...

  Now, a Jacob's Ladder works by building up a Voltage of AT LEAST 10 thousand 
Volts at the base of the V...this initial spark will heat and ionize the air
directly above it, REDUCING the BREAKDOWN Voltage (normally 1kV/1mm) of this 
air..........basically, it becomes easier for the spark to form in 
this heated, ionized air, and the spark CLIMBS up the ladder..while the spark
gets LONGER AND LONGER (as a result of the reduced breakdown voltage).......
This spark grows longer and climbs, hissing and writhing between the wires
..... until it reaches the top of the V and bows out, extinguishing itself..
after which another spark immediately forms back at the base.....got it? good.

  ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION....simple...ALL you need is a high voltage transformer..
this transformer will BOOST the Voltage of your house current from 120V to 
10kV or higher...but, "Where can I get a high voltage transformer?"...simple..
find a Neon sign manufacturer/seller and ask them if they have any OLD Neon
sign transformers lying around...tell the dude you NEED an OLD one that has
an output of AT LEAST 10 thousand Volts...the Current output doesn't matter..
DO NOT buy a NEW Neon sign transformer...it will not work properly..new Neon
signs typically use transformers of a low output Voltage, and the Voltage is
later stepped up with an array of capacitors, etc....SO...if you're lucky,
the guy will pull out this black, oily, rectangular thing (probably will look
like a battery)...with 2 ceramic standoffs (those things you shoot with BB guns
on top of power lines..)..these ceramic standoffs are the OUTPUT...look for 3
bolts..they will be the INPUT...(and ground)...ASK THE GUY to TRY THE THING...
make sure he tests it before you buy it...don't get ripped off...OK..now,
you've got this thing...what do you do?...FIRST..clean it up a bit...if it is
leaking oil a bit, seal any leaks...this oil inside is NECESSARY to dissipate
heat...NOW...get TWO coat hangers....straighten them up...attach them to the
ceramic standoffs like this...
                 ----- X   - 4"-   X                 
                 |      X         X                   
                 |       X       X                           
             12"          X     X                                       
                 |         X   X <------------------ coathangers
                 --------   X X                            
                           X   X                                                                    
                          X     X                                                                  
                          I     I                                                         
                         OOO   OOO <------------ ceramic standoffs (OUTPUT)
                      |             |       
                      | transformer |         
                      |             |oooooooooooooooooooooE
                      |             |        ^cord and plug to wall socket

The hangers at the base of the V should be about 0.5" apart...Bend the hangers
with a pair of needle nose pliers...

The CRITICAL thing here is the distance and angle of the coathangers....you
will have to play with them to get them right...the distances given are 
approximations......when you get the distances right, the spark should
climb all the way to the top..!

 OK..."How do I plug this sucker in?..is it safe for my house?..will I blow
every fuse on the block?"...first of all, it drains only as much juice as
an average TV set, so it won't blow any fuses..but it WILL fuck up radio
and television broadcasts.....(fun with the neighbors!!!!)

The next thing to do is make a trip to Radio Hack and buy a 3-prong
plug...YOU MUST GET A 3 PRONG....with exposed wires ..like this...

            oooXXX                         ....... < to input       
     plug > ooo  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX./....... < to input        
            oooXXX                        \............ < to ground   
 Attach this cord to your transformer...be sure to ground this sucker!...if you
aren't sure about which is the input and ground, ASK THE DUDE YOU BUY IT FROM!!
Wrap all exposed wires on this cord with electrician's tape...(heheh..DON'T 
WRAP the coathangers..they need to be BARE)
If your coathangers have paint on 'em, sand it off....

OK..now..PLUG IT IN?...NO...also buy at Radio Hack one of those surge 
suppressing power strips..the kind with a switch built in..ok...plug the
strip in..make sure it is OFF...then plug in the transformer cord...then stand
back and turn it on..probably, nothing will happen...UNPLUG the transformer
and adjust the coathangers (move 'em a bit closer)..try, try again..you will
eventually get it right!..

WARNING: I don't think I need to tell you how DANGEROUS this thing is...as long
as you remain AT LEAST 3 feet away from it, you are in no danger...transformers
don't blow up....they are very simple devices...BUT, as the sucker is sparking,
you might notice a strange smell in the air..this is OZONE, produced by the
ionization..OZONE is DEADLY to humans..at least when it is inhaled....this
is the same smell you notice after an electrical storm..ALSO, Ultraviolet 
light is produced during the spark's creation...if you STARE at this thing all
night, your corneas will be phucked up...so if you must, wear UV shades..!

A note of warning.....high voltage like this will cause every muscle in your
body to contract...since this is AC high voltage, they will contract 
spastically...let me illustrate...

"Bob sets up his c00l new Jacob's ladder at a party...Wayne is amazed by it and
reached out to adjust the coathangers...when he gets within about an INCH of 
hangers, a brilliant blue spark jumps to his hand...Wayne's hand spastically
clamps shut on the coathangers...all the muscles in his body contract 
violently...with a gutteral scream, his diaphram expells all air from his 
lungs..he empties his bowels, as well as shits his pants...his brain shuts 
down within seconds, but his muscles keep fibrillating...his heart merely
quivers in his chest, as Waynes eyeballs turn opaque and wither....if Wayne
is lucky, his leg spasms propell him away from the transformer..breaking the
connection..but he probably will land on the floor already dead"..

                          Get the picture?

  I don't want to scare anyone off, but this IS a SERIOUS device..not a CUTE 
PLASMA SPHERE..not a mythical Blotto box...this thing is REAL and WILL WORK..
but you must use it carefully and with respect...if you do, you have nothing
to worry about...heck, it's probably safer to use than to drive down the
Interstate!....just don't leave it on for more than 5 or 10 min. at a time..
otherwise it may overheat a bit...

OK...now you have it...what do you do with it?...show it off at Halloween
parties....impress your friends...impress your enemies...use it as a project
for a Science class....generate ozone to replenish the Earth's ozone layer...
turn it on, turn out all the lights, and marvel at the POWER of electricity..
we forget what electricity looks like in its RAW form....make it part of an
art project..a monument to the age of electonics!


  Some Neon sign manufacturers that PROBABLY have such transformers
in the Boston area (I live in Boston) include
                           Neon Williams 
                           93 Hano St., Allston

                           Jim Did it Signs
                           465 Cambridge St., Allston

The price for an OLD Neon sign transformer should be about $40-50....
Look in the yellow pages under "Neon Signs"..make some phone calls..
you shouldn't have too much of a problem locating one....

Well, it's been PHUN, dudes...this is my first textfile about high-voltage
gizmos...I plan to write more...too many textfiles out there are full
of SH!T or outdated or BOTH in regards to electronic devices...I plan
to try and remedy that situation...I know what I'm talking about..and 
I BUILD everything I talk about....if you have any questions, contact
me at any decent board in MA.....

Special Greetings to Darby, JT, Muppet, Magic Man,Madmike, Falcon, George Bush,
 FBI Agent, Canine, Plutus, Old Pink, the Knight, and anyone else I forgot..

Call ATDT!...Life w/out ATDT isn't worth living!   (617)PRI-VATE

Keep the faith, share the knowledge, and drink Jolt cola...

                      ..oooOO Count Zero OOooo..,MCWS                   


TUCoPS is optimized to look best in Firefox® on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2024 AOH