500,000 volt Van de Graaff Generator Using Cheap Parts

Lets build a 500,000+ volt Van de Graaff generator!!

I built this one in about a week, using scrap parts from a sewing machine and materials ordered from

I have seen the larger machines in operation at my local science museum and this one does just as well. I have made hair stand on end and even pie pans float up and off the machine.

For an explanation of operation go to Wikipedia:

ALSO, note that this machine can generate enough static to stop a pacemaker and any other digital device, keep people with heart problems away. Also if you dont wont to blow up you sensitive electronic devices make sure you either use the machine on a separate circuit or unplug everything you want to keep. I have also stopped watches and killed cell phones with it. The current is low around 27micro amps but that's a thousand times whats needed to kill say your flat screen TV or pc/laptop.

Well if your know anything about Van de Graaffs you know that the bigger and smoother the sphere or collector the bigger the charge. Any bump or lip on the sphere and all the charge will run to it and bleed off. 

The recharge rate or time it takes to build up a charge high enough to jump from the sphere is determined by belt speed and width.

I used an art program to generate some diagrams and several pics of the completed unit, its a simple mechanism and you could upscale it for a larger machine easily topping 1,000,000 volts. all you need to do it increase the sphere size and belt width.

This one is an upscale version that I used to test equipment at work and I used the little one to determine the best belt material.
I tried plastic tape, rubber, fabrics, and the hands down best was a plastic coated fabric used in hotel shower curtains. Its easy to cut and glue and lasts for a long time. The charge it carries was easily 50% better than everything I tried.

Also to get the most of your machine you will need to get your hands on some Teflon and some nylon to make the rollers out of. I ordered mine from Granger (links in parts list) I used the Teflon for the top and nylon for the bottom or drive roller. You can also get the Teflon from stacking little half inch thick disks cut with a 2" diameter hole saw from cutting boards. You could also make the top and bottom roller out of the same material and coat the top roller with Teflon tape.

Also if you want to boost your storage and spark a bit build this:
Leyden jar of DOOM!

I will try to list as many tips threw this process as I can. Its been several years since I built the machine and its worked well so far.

Zachary M.
Clinton, TN

Next up a parts list......

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JamesH81 month ago

How large is your metal ball?

He said it was a 12 Inch Steel gazing ball in one of the pictures

Would it be fatal to discharge it using my body? As in connecting the negative to my ankles and arcing the negative charge through my hands to the positive charge on the globe.

I should add that I want to constantly discharge the electricity while the machine is on.

Can I use this motor ?

ninnjamonkeyy4 months ago

Would foam PVC sheet work well or would that be too weak? How do you recommend I attach the PVC sheet "box" (with the bottom roller in it) to the base? Screws/glue/both?


mmiller649 months ago

Hi I have built the Van de Graaff generator to the best of my ability. I have one problem. The bigger pulley near the bottom roller has a inner diameter that is slightly than the diameter of the rod used. Because of this the pulley isn't able to roll the roller which is a crucial par to this. What can i do to fix this? I cant get a different pulley as there aren't any other sizes available.

jreuter10 months ago
Help! I'm stumped! I build a VDG following these nickademuss instructions with a few ideas from the Mark Rehorst site. I used a rubber belt (Sports Authority exercise band) and nylon rollers, one wrapped in Teflon tape. I used the IKEA bowls for the dome. It is definitely generating charge, I can even see a blue glow around the bottom roller before the belt passes the pickup comb. But around the dome I can only get about a 1/2 inch spark. However, I can get much bigger sparks against the column below the dome. I added some vanes going down the column to try to help (disposable plastic plates), and now I can get even bigger sparks (6 inches) down the column (and through the plates, it seems), but still only 1/2 inch anywhere else on the dome. Anyone have any ideas what I'm doing wrong?

nickademuss (author)  jreuter9 months ago

sorry for the delayed response, As mentioned in this instructable vinyl belts work best with my design.

ANY raised edges on the surface of your collector cause the voltage to bleed off into the air, it has to be a smooth dome or torid to hold the charge. First try the right belt, then get yourself a garden gazing ball like the one I used.

Also if you don't have the copper ring for the collector to sit on, you will lose allot of the charge at the base of the sphere. Hope this helps

Thanks for the response! I could not find the vinyl fabric to use for belts locally, so I went with the rubber belts. I don't think that's the problem, as I can draw a 30cm hot visible spark down the column, just not out perpendicular to the unit.

I have the dome on a copper ring, but it's 3/8 inch tubing, not 3/4. I could not find any 1/2 or 3/4 inch that I could bend without breaking. What did you use?

My suspicion now is that the IKEA bowls are brushed stainless, not a mirror smooth finish, and that may be bleeding off a lot of charge diffusely. I can get a blue corona discharge from a pointed rod as far as a meter away from the dome, and a car ignition wire tester (neon bulb in a wand) will illuminate steadily even further away than that. So there is a lot of charge in the air, and a rod in the area must discharge that before enough can build up to make a big arc.

jreuter10 months ago
I found some great rollers at Walmart. They were nylon bed casters, about 2 1/4 inch wide, and fatter in the middle to keep the belt centered. I used on as is and wrapped another in Teflon tape. I drilled the rivet out of the caster and just used the roller on my own axle (it needs a 1/4 inch axle). Everything I could find about this product from other web sites says the roller is nylon, though you can't get that info from Walmart.

Here's the Walmart product link:
azhar1210 months ago
i am unable to find teflon roller an nylon rollers in my area now what can i use?can i wrap a bed roller in teflon tape to use it instead of teflon roller?THANKS IN ADVANCE
Beachley1 year ago
I just got done building mine and it works great! Thanks for the instructable.
Here's a picture
and another
nickademuss (author)  Beachley1 year ago
GREAT JOB! looks awesome!
I have one question: How did you get close to 900kv with this small 12" sphere? It is just impossible, for instance the absolute maximum theoretical voltage you could get out of a 12" sphere is V = 3x106r= maximum of 450kv but in reality it would fall below 300kv.... How come you got huge sparks, you see?
ccheung61 year ago
Is stainless steel positive or negatively charged or neutral and would it work for the gazing ball??
does anybody know how to make a discharge wand?
browntachi1 year ago
Hi, thank you for a marvellous instructable! I am planning to build a machine based on these instructions. I have a question: in your instructions, there is a platform implemented at the top of the tube to mount the roller and charge comb on. But my friend and I are thinking about mounting the top roller on an axle that simply rests in cutouts in the side of the tube itself. Of course, it would protrude a little meaning that the hole in the sphere would need to be enlarged a bit - at least where the axle pokes out. But can you think of any fundamental reason why it wouldn't work? The whole thing would be within the radius covered by the copper ring that the sphere rests on. Thanks so much for your opinion!
I have a doubt, if this Van De Graff generator can produce 900,000 volts, then why can't we use it for electric supply for a house? or other purposes?
it does not make energy, it feeds of a battery or wall power, and converts that into a high ponental static electricity.

even though the voltage is high, the current is super low. try to make a light bulb light up or a motor spin. this type of high voltage/low current will just shoot straight though any low-impedance load. (coils of wire in a motor, or a filament in a lightbulb).
Just because it's called a Van de Graaff generator doesn't mean that it's an electrical generator or "energy source" capable of producing a usable current like the ones in a power plant.
No we cant because eventhough its 900,00 volts, the current( I ) is low.
Study basic electronic theory.
and i forgot to say, a house needs like 50 amps so 0.2209 amps would power a 25 watt light bulb, it probably couldnt even power your laptop. And also van der graafs need to charge up to 900000v, its not constant. so powering a house would simply be impractical.
the amperage is also far too low: 900,000 volts at 27 micro amps will produce 110v at 220.9 milli amps (0.2209 amps) when a house requires far more amps then that. and not to mention the losses when converting 900000v to 110v
This generates static electricity, and voltage like this isn't that useful. It will jump through insulation on wires, and the amperage of this is also extremely weak.
dot1dot21 year ago
I built one similar to this in '92. I worked for a company that built very high power coax equipment for tv + radio broadcasting. The rule-of-thumb for electrical arc in dry air is 70000 volts/in. An engineer I worked with said "I'd be careful about spending much time with that", he did not explain why... later I read that electrical discharges (arcs) over 300000 volts generate x-rays (at 70k volts/in thats about a 4.3" arc). I used a 14" diameter globe and had visible arcs about 12" and non-visible ones snap at my knee when approaching at about 30". If you have one of these put a cheerio on top... it will build a charge, jump upright like a tire (from a lying flat position) and then the repelling charges will make it fly away. My kids found that white styrofoam particles would travel about 10ft through the air and cling to the sphere, then if you discharged the sphere (make it arc) all the particles would drop off for a moment and then jump back up when the charge returns!
For extreme Van de Graaff Generators check out

JDH_242 years ago
I am a little confused how did you calculate what your voltage would be for this generator
Nathan58022 years ago
I'm younger then 16, so I don't exactally have a lot of money, so I was wondering, how much would all of this cost. And also, the links to buy the rollers do not work anymore, please fix them.
nickademuss (author)  Nathan58022 years ago
NA I like broken links....

they are no longer available from Granger, try cole parmer or use bed frame rollers available from home depot....

Cost depends on how much used stuff you can scrounge, mine was around 150.00 or a little less if you go to a good thrift store and buy a 5.00 sewing machine.

Its also scalable, build a smaller one with smaller dimensions, it will be cheaper.
Your instructions are nicely done. The adjustment of the brushes could be made if you use a spacer like paper of various thickness to make positioning easier and more parallel. I haven't started yet but I assume the belt will have a tendency to centrifugally move towards the brushes if they are above the tangent point off the rollers? You say to move them just above where the belt is starting to loose contact with the roller. Are you saying that is very important or can the brushes be at the tangent of belt and roll? If so, then the likelihood of scraping is reduced.
nickademuss (author)  methoxypropyl2 years ago
If you use the right kind of belt it doesn't flair out very much.

You will find out that running the belt really fast doesn't help much because of leakage at the sphere to the air.

I have found that you can make rings or coils very nicely by first filling the tube/pipe with sand. You must make sure there are no cavities otherwise the walls will collapse in very small diameter rings or coils. This has been an extremely effective way to make cooling coils for the technology I work in. Also make sure the sand is contained to prevent it falling out. Moonshine anyone?
I think it would be a good idea to swap the rollers over as the negative charge on the dome i have heard can attract radioactive residues but any way great design you came up with
stpierre4732 years ago
We ended up just using a motor from an old singer sewing machine that does not have a ground. Could we use one of the metal threaded rods for a ground for the bottom Comb?
nickademuss (author)  stpierre4732 years ago
Yes, use the ground on a three prong plug and you should be fine
tbogomolny2 years ago
So, I was hoping to build one of these for my science fair at school, and I was just wondering if there are certain safety problems. For example, if you were to touch this would it really hurt or kill you or wipe out your computer or something? This is very cool and I don't know too much about them so any help would be super appreciated.
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