How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

Chained Lightning

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

In this article, I'll show you how to create a simple yet accurate demonstration of the "rising ionized gas" principle. In other words, a transformer, two metal prongs and lots of evil laughter. Remember those large "towers" in the background of Frankenstein movies with a "lightning bolt" rising upwards every few seconds? That's called a Jacob's Ladder; one of the coolest awe-inspiring demonstrations of high voltage. Here's a video of the final product: 

Materials and Tools

1) A neon sign transformer. These are quite difficult to find, but with determination and a little patience, nothing is impossible. Try asking for an old one at a neon sign shop, or just keep your eyes open for a warehouse renovation/sign replacement, often the ones removed work just fine. They look something like this: 

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

2) Some straight copper tubing or thick wire (available at most any hardware stores).

3) 1' long two-by-four (purchase at a hardware store, they'll probably just give it to you).

4) Two 1" screws.

5) Insulated wire.

6) Screw-on wire connectors (available at most hardware stores, they look like this): 

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

7) Pliers. 

8) Screwdrivers (depending on the two screws mentioned earlier).

Procedure

1) Cut two equal lengths of wire or copper tubing at around 3' each (or longer, depends on your preference).

2) Secure them to the wood like so: 

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

3) Bend an indent in the wires, like so: 

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

4) Attach the HV output lines from your transformer to each copper tube (or wire) as seen in the photo above. 

5) VERY CAREFULLY, use trial and error to find the perfect distance of the spark gap and distance of the "V" arc guides. 

6) Laugh madly! >:D

If you're interested in other electrical projects, check out my High-Lighter Stun-Gun and  Electricity from Kinetic Energy.

Warnings

  • DO NOT attempt this unless you are experienced in electricity, high voltage, and safety around lethal levels of power! 
  • NEVER touch the Jacob's Ladder or arc while the transformer is on! 
  • Don't bring electronics near the Ladder in case of electrical damage.
  • I am not responsible for any harm or damage you cause!
Photo by esorensen

8 Comments

Woah. This is very cool. What's the voltage coming out of your transformer? What kind of insulated wire are you using? Most insulated wire used for general commercial and residential wiring isn't rated for high voltages and usually max out at 600 volts or something. Or does it not matter in this application? I might be over analyzing.

hmm, no those are great questions! the voltage is about 12-13 kV, which is 12000 volts. The current is about 30mA, which is very little. As long as the wire is insulated and not closed to the ground of the transformer, there should be no issue. Of course, with any high-voltage transformer, its always a good idea to use thicker insulated wire.

Nice. Thanks for explaining. I figured it would be okay, but I pay attention to every detail, for better or worse.

Could you put tCould you put ts in a glass case and still have it work fine?

Then I might try this next time I am home

wow this is so cool i might try this as soon as i get a neon sign transformer

Just found this neat website: WonderHowTo!

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