Cover image for Homemade lightning : creative experiments in electricity
Homemade lightning : creative experiments in electricity
Ford, R. A.
Personal Author:
Third edition.
Publication Information:
New York : McGraw-Hill, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 257 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QC573 .F67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



One of the best books on electrostatics for the hobbyists, inventor, or experimenter is updated and expanded to include newly uncovered information on electrostatic generators and complete instructions for building various types, including Wimshurst and Van de Graaff generators. Throughout the book, the author provides hard-to-find information on electrical anomalies, which represent the frontier of electrostatic research.

Covering theory and presenting electroscope and other construction projects and experiments, this handbook also includes experiments with electrohorticulture, gravitation and electricity, cold light, and electric tornadoes. Homemade Lightning is both an excellent first book for the building electrical experimenter and a superb book for accomplished experimenters who haven't spent much time with electrostatics.

Author Notes

R.A. Ford is an electrical experimenter and inventor specializing in turn-of-the-century electrostatic devices. An avid researcher, he developed his own electrostatic generator, which is detailed in the book. Ford also has served as a technical consultant to manufacturers of Wimshurst and Van de Graaff generators. For many years, he has devoted himself to introducing students of all ages to the science and history of electricity. For the past five years, he has worked to develop high voltage equipment for use in high school science fair projects as well as in physics labs and lectures.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Lightning/electrocution safetyp. xiii
Part 1 Design and Construction
1 Types of electrostatic generatorsp. 3
2 Elements of good designp. 5
Winter's electrical machinep. 5
3 James Wimshurst's influence machinep. 9
Wimshurst's machinep. 13
Modified Wimshurst machinesp. 14
4 The author's generatorsp. 17
The stand and upright supportsp. 17
Motors and mountingp. 20
The discsp. 24
Bosses and bushings for discsp. 25
Neutralizer blades and mountingsp. 26
Power supply and wiring hookupsp. 30
Charge collector support systemp. 32
Charge collector combsp. 34
Discharge handles and terminalsp. 35
Charging the generatorp. 40
Discharge tongs and safetyp. 43
Leyden jar condenser set and hookupp. 44
A large Wimshurst for the university physics lecture roomp. 48
The stand and upright supportsp. 48
Motors and mountingp. 50
The discsp. 50
Bosses and bushingsp. 50
Neutralizer and mountingsp. 50
Power supplyp. 50
Charge collector support systemp. 52
Charge collector combsp. 54
Discharge handles and terminalsp. 54
Leyden jarsp. 55
Troubleshooting and general maintenancep. 56
5 Unusual generator designsp. 61
Improved designsp. 61
Sparks from condensing steamp. 65
Kelvin's waterdrop generatorp. 66
General plan for a Kelvin waterdrop generatorp. 67
Experimental design modificationsp. 69
Experimental disc materialsp. 69
Precision construction techniquesp. 77
Liquid, gas, and vacuum chambersp. 77
6 Theories of generator operationp. 79
7 Van de Graaff generatorsp. 85
Prehistoryp. 85
Theory and constructionp. 86
Modifications and improvements in designp. 88
Support columnp. 89
Base housingp. 91
High-voltage terminalp. 92
Pulleys and axle bearingsp. 93
Beltsp. 95
Motor drivep. 95
Useful accessoriesp. 97
Triboelectrification and contact electrificationp. 98
Part 2 Accessory Instruments, Experiments, and Applications
8 The electroscopep. 103
Building electroscopes using tin boxesp. 107
Mounting gold leafp. 109
Building a cookie-tin electroscopep. 111
Directions for building the cookie-tin electroscopep. 112
Electroscope anomaliesp. 114
Research avenuesp. 119
9 The Leyden jar condenserp. 121
Dielectric constantsp. 122
Methods of coating jarsp. 123
Making large capacitorsp. 124
Design modifications of Leyden jarsp. 128
10 The electrophorusp. 131
The grounded electrophorusp. 133
Electrical shock from a sheet of paperp. 133
Making the traditional cake electrophorusp. 133
Baking a cakep. 134
The author's electrophorus designsp. 135
An electrophorus for physics laboratory classesp. 136
A large lecture room electrophorusp. 139
Semiconductive stonesp. 141
Some avenues for electrical pioneersp. 144
Summaryp. 145
11 Electrostatic motorsp. 147
Building an electrostatic motorp. 147
The Jumping Electrostatic Top by R. A. Fordp. 148
1983 experimentsp. 152
1992 experimentsp. 154
Spinning top constructionp. 154
Experiment procedurep. 155
Supplies for experimentsp. 158
Why do aluminum oxide grinding wheels work so well?p. 158
12 Electrohorticulturep. 159
13 Electrotherapyp. 163
14 High-voltage humansp. 167
15 Cold lightp. 171
The auroral lightp. 171
Earthquake lightsp. 172
Invisible phosphorescencep. 174
The "electric egg"p. 175
Phosphorescent lampsp. 176
16 Miscellaneous experimentsp. 179
A hair-raising experimentp. 179
The levitating rocketp. 180
Various aluminum foil satellitesp. 182
17 Electroaerodynamicsp. 185
18 Countergravitationp. 187
Kinetic gravitational theoryp. 187
Dr. Nipher's deflection experimentsp. 189
A countergravitational force in nature?p. 196
19 Exploding wire experimentsp. 199
A history of EWPp. 199
Exploding wire experimentp. 200
Warningp. 200
20 Unusual electric dischargesp. 205
Lightning shadowgraphsp. 205
Tornadoes as electrical machinesp. 205
Electrical signature of tornadoesp. 210
The electrical entities (fireballs)p. 211
Historic entity experimentsp. 213
Extract of a letter from Mr. Ardenp. 216
Theoretical implicationsp. 219
Addendump. 221
21 Some philosophical conclusions and insightsp. 231
Visualizationp. 231
Intuitionp. 232
Qualitative anatomyp. 232
Some useful surroundingsp. 234
Appendixp. 237
Research Bibliographyp. 241
Indexp. 249