My Jacob's Ladder
a few images and instructions

Video and Sound
Jacob's Ladder in action

Garage Science Philosophy
a little philosophy, no extra charge



Last modified June 14th, 2003
Welcome to my high voltage site. Here you can see and hear my Jacob's Ladder, get a few tips on building your own, and even be subjected to some of my garage science philosophy. I am new to experimenting with high voltage. So far I have only made a Jacob's Ladder, hacked a transformer out of a dead television, and made a few weak starts towards a Tesla Coil. So check out this site and follow my progress from simple Jacob's ladder to either a successful Tesla coil or my untimely death due to electrocution. Either way, I'll try and fill this site with interesting stuff.

Me next to the ladder for scale, not vanity

My Jacob's Ladder

Here is my Jacob's Ladder. It works great and I love to show it off to guests or just watch it late at night. Here's how I did it...

Disclaimer: Every HV page I've seen so far has had some kind of disclaimer, so I don't want to break with tradition. Electricity can kill you. That should do it. Oh, wait. It can kill your friends, too.

Jacob's Ladder, lower viewThe jacob's ladder is pretty straightforward, you need:

  • a neon sign transformer (from a sign shop)
  • heavy duty power cord (your favorite hardware store)
  • heavy copper wire or copper tubing (I used 4 gauge copper wire, but it's a little bendy, if you're good at bending narrow copper pipes, that's probably the way to go.)
  • something to make a box or frame to support the whole thing (of course, not metal), I used scrap wood.
The hard part is finding a good neon sign transformer. I had the URL page of some good guidelines, if I ever find it I'll put up a link, but essentially you want an older one and the highest voltage you can get. Apparently some newer ones have some kind of stepping circuit and they don't work very well.

Fortunately my wife is a great shopper and she called ten or so sign shops before she found one that had old ones, and ended up paying around $30. If it was me it would've cost more, but I had heard before that you could get them for $20 bucks, so there you go. I don't know the make of the transformer, it's pretty old. It has a piece of masking tape that says "Good 1/5/71", so it's been around awhile. According to the owner of the sign shop, it puts out 15kV.

After that, I simply used some scrap wood to make a frame to set it in and support the wires, and got a heavy duty electrical cord, and some four gauge bare copper wire to make the electrodes. The wire in front is a ground wire. That's all there is to it. The copper electrodes could probably use a little straightening.

An arc, in slow motion

Video and Sound

Garage Science Philosophy

I've taken up high voltage experiments as a hobby, having recently lost interest in robotics, pirate radio and vacuum tube radios.  Having received my undergraduate degree in physics, I can probably give you a fairly good explanation of how an inductor and even a transformer work, and probably end up talking about how spectacular Maxwell's equations are.  However, give me a bunch of resistors and stuff and assemble them with a circuit diagram, it will take me days to figure out what goes where, I will burn myself with the soldering iron, kill some transistor with heat or static, and in the end, nothing will work.  But I think things will be different with high voltage stuff, for the following reasons:
  • High voltage stuff is big - big heavy transformers, big ceramic insulators, big old four gauge bare copper wire.  Sure there's a few prissy integrated circuits, but there's also capacitors the size of plates and tanks of water for resistors.  There's a 'big science' feel to high voltage experiments, something we've lost in our microelectronic age.
  • High voltage stuff comes from junk - old neon sign transformers, old TV fly back transformers, bits of PVC pipe, ignition coils from junkyard, and stuff from around the house like old wine bottles, motor oils.  I'm not some recycling nut, I just like to be able to make cool things out of things other people would just throw away.
  • High voltage is dangerous - I admit there's something exciting about insanely intense electric fields setting up in your garage, about having to watch your apparatus from behind a metal screen 10 meters away, to risk your life to see plasma displays that few have ever seen.  OK, maybe I'm getting carried away, but there's something to this.


Tesla Coil Ring This is the Tesla Coil Ring I used to be a member but they wanted me to put some javascript crap on my page so forget them. You can still find lots of good sites on the ring though.