Build a Real Ray Gun at Home (Homemade Ray Gun or Burning Pulse Laser Pistol)

Picture of Build a Real Ray Gun at Home (Homemade Ray Gun or Burning Pulse Laser Pistol)
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Step 1: Getting Cameras

Picture of Getting Cameras
For more cool projects, visit my youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCksEFn8xaLP0z4rsiHa9zcA?feature=mhee

To begin with, you are going to need a ton of disposable cameras. Depending on how powerful you would like your ray gun to be, you will choose how many disposable cameras (though at a sufficient amount there is a ceiling to how much the pistol can pump out). Politely go to a nearby photo developing store and ask if they have any used disposable cameras.

From my experience, the store employees' willingness to cooperate is dependent on a few things:
1.) How old you look
2.) How much you look like you know what you are doing
3.) How dangerous your project sounds when they ask you what you need the cameras for

Once you have a big bag full of cameras, its time to start shucking! Inside each camera there are many useful components we will need. But before removing the outer plastic container, you must first remove the camera's battery, and have a thick piece of metal insulated from your hand. Use this to discharge the camera's capacitor very carefully by tapping the two pieces of metal jutting out from it. Once the capacitor is discharged and the battery is removed, the electronics are safe to touch. Remove them. I have attached a photo with the basic information on it. Though there are many different designs for disposable camera circuits, they all work similarly.

Step 2: Make a Capacitor Bank

Picture of Make a Capacitor Bank
Use a soldering iron to remove the capacitors from the camera circuits. Gather an even number of capacitors with the same ratings. Most capacitors will have a label telling you their designed voltage and capacitance. In the bank you are making, you need all of the same type of capacitor. Keep in mind that the more capacitors you add, the less life your flash lamp will theoretically have (though I have used over 20 100uF capacitors and mine continually works, but to be safe you should use much less). The amount recommended is between 4 and 10 120uF capacitors.

Use the soldering iron to wire half of the capacitors in parallel. Do the same with the other half in a different row. Tape the two rows together and connect the two rows in series.

MAKE SURE that when you are connecting in parallel, + terminals are connected to other + terminals and - terminals are connected to other - terminals! Failure to regard polarity with these flash capacitors will lead to all sorts of nasty things! A stripe on the side of the capacitors indicates NEGATIVE polarity.

Save one disposable camera circuit with the capacitor still in it. We will need it later.

Step 3: Power Section

Picture of Power Section
On the circuit that you saved with the capacitor still in it, there should be a charge button on the disposable camera circuit. Make sure that it is set to charge ON. If yours forces you to hold the button to charge, solder the button connection so that it is always ON. On another circuit with the capacitor removed, do the same. 

Get a 2x AA battery holder (usually $2 online) and solder the positive end from the holder to both the positive battery terminal on the circuit with the capacitor and the one without it. The terminal is where you first removed the battery from the disposable camera circuit. Make sure that you are observing the correct polarity!

Do the same with the negative end. 

Refer back to step 2 for a simple labeled picture of the flash circuit.

Step 4: Wiring the Charging Circuits

For the raygun to work, all of the capacitors must be charged. The indicator light with the capacitor on the board that it was left in should blink almost immediately when turned on. Solder in switches to switch between charging either of the two rows of capacitors in the capacitor bank with the other board. Refer back to step 2 for a picture. The two different places the switch should switch to are labeled "Switch 1" and "Switch 2."

Remember, polarity is very important. So make sure the positive from the charging circuit is connected to the positive on the capacitors and vice versa.

NOTE: You will need to wire switches so that before switching between charging ROW 1 and ROW 2 the row that you were charging is DISCONNECTED otherwise there will be a big spark. Use HEAVY DUTY switches also. Touching the capacitor terminals at any time is DANGEROUS! Use adequate insulation. Similar insulation to what is found in disposable cameras should work fine (thick plastic).

Step 5: Ionizer and the SSY-1

Picture of Ionizer and the SSY-1
You will need a laser head. I used an SSY-1 laser head off of ebay (approximately $100), but if you are lucky you can salvage it from a laser rangefinder. 

Although the capacitors will be connected directly to the SSY-1 laser head at all times, the energy from them cannot flow through. First, the gas in the flashlamp must be IONIZED.

Refer back to step 1. Find where the Ionization coil is labeled. Desolder the metal on top of the ionization coil on the board that you left the capacitor in. Solder a hanging wire to it. We will use it later.

The SSY-1 has 3 wires:
1.) RED (goes to the POSITIVE on the capacitors, see picture on step 2)
2.) BLACK (goes to the NEGATIVE on the capacitors, see picture on step 2)
3.) WHITE (solder to the hanging wire from the ionization coil that we discussed)

Get a trigger button and solder the two ends of it to the flash trigger on the board in which you had left in the capacitor. Remove metal trigger bits from the other board.

Step 6: Optional Addons

Picture of Optional Addons
Adding in a sound bit is optional, and you can get a recordable sound module from your local Radio Shack or electronics retailer. Glue everything together how you like it, but make sure NEVER TO LEAVE THE CAPACITOR TERMINALS WHERE YOUR HANDS WILL BE. An infrared lens may be useful in focusing the laser beam and can be used to burn holes in metal or causing air to break down into a plasma at the focus point (it will appear like a ball of light the size of a BB).

That's it!

Step 7: Author's Notes

Picture of Author's Notes
Safety, Safety, Safety... Beating a Dead Horse to Stop Trolls and Flame Wars from Condescending Enthusiasts

On "Proper Eye Protection"
I know that I have discussed the necessity to shield one's eyes several times, but I cannot stress it enough! I cannot tell you about all of the senseless banter and condescending comments that I have received about the safety of this project and my apparent "lack of respect for the laser." Optics engineer “Sam” from a leading solid state laser enthusiast site who has had experience with these lasers has this to say: “What can be said, but that this is a fun little device. It's also the only part of an Abrams tank I will likely ever own. The SSY1 laser was used in the tank's rangefinder. These ND:YAG lasers have been replaced with an eye-safe kind, (but) these surplus lasers are great for educational purposes. It was extremely easy to get the laser to work the first time. A child could do it. At this point the usual thing should be harped on again, tirelessly ad nauseam. We have all heard it before. It's not so much that some idiot will look into the laser, it is more likely that a reflection could come back from an unintended target and strike the eye. one should use laser safety glasses when working with this unit. If one does not have them, closing the eyes during firing is better than nothing.” If you do not have access to infrared safety wear, at least cover your eyes! I cannot tell you how many times people have mistaken this advisory with "you don't need infrared safety goggles" and argued with me about how I lacked "respect for what I was dealing with." I am arguing feasibility and necessity, not optimization. Even some of the trolls that I have dealt with have eventually agreed that closing eyes and/or shielding with the hand is adequate (not optimal) protection!

On Capacitors:
Capacitors need to be discharged by an insulated piece of metal, try a screwdriver with a rubber/plastic handle. Do not touch the metal portions of the capacitors at any time! Use as much insulation as possible. One troll I was dealing with suggested that 800v was too much for the flashlamp to handle, though it can handle 900v! In addition, the flashlamp does not stay ionized before all of the capacitors have a chance to discharge, and the q-switch limits how much goes into it (though I do not recomment pumping too much into the laser, SSY-1's have a wide range of performances).

On Posting a Dangerous Tutorial:
This project is no more dangerous than building a tesla coil, using MOT power supplies, or many other hobby projects that exist with tutorials online. As long as sufficient safety precautions are taken, there should be no problem. I hold no responsibility for the abuse or partial reading of my tutorial. Some trolls have suggested that somehow solid state laser DIY'ing is a "secret knowledge" that should not be made available to the public. Hogwash! The SSY-1 is a well-documented laser. Whether or not a MOT is dangerous at a distance is not the issue (almost all dangerous devices have instances when they aren't dangerous). Even professionals sometimes make mistakes. It is no easier or harder to observe necessary safety measures for using a MOT device as it is to use an SSY-1 device. MOTs can be lethal if not handled properly. Any laser device can pose a hazard to bystanders. Recently, one story in the news was that a guy with a laser pointer forced a helicopter to land! This is not the sort of activity I suggest fostering. If you follow the necessary safety precautions, just as you should for any other dangerous tutorial, no problems should arise. One story I've also heard was that a guy was experimenting in his garage with high voltage and set his house on fire. There are plenty of ways that any dangerous project may pose a hazard to others, yet, if handled in a safe way, should be fine. (Unless you wish to also ban archery, shooting skeet, campfires, AC power (as suggested by Edison because of the dangers of AC over DC), laser pointers, cars, planes, and pretty much any other item that can possibly pose a hazard). I am saying that unsafe projects should not be banned for the sake of them posing a danger such as tesla coils or MOTs (which DO pose just as strong a hazard), as long as the user is following safety precautions. In the words of Sam, the leading SSY-1 hobbyist:
"these surplus lasers are great for educational purposes."

On Video:
Sorry, but hey, what's a guy to do when he is poor and has to pay for college and can only afford a handy cam and a small place to live? XD

On Memes Appearing Online:
Yeah they're here
BryceB2 months ago

I built 3, gave it a nice hande, and now i keep it in my backpack when i go hiking to defend against attacking bears

ChandanM14 months ago
weargle1 year ago

could we use a YAG laser head

weargle1 year ago

is the SSY-1 laser head the same as SSY-1 YAG

Now I'm wondering if there are differences between coilgun and railgun... It works the same I think, the coilgun what I had made, has also a capacitorbank of disposable camera's and it works by flashcircuit of it: http://m.instructables.com/id/DIY-How-to-make-a-coilgun-from-disposable-camera-/

I think that your explanation is very clear and interesting! :)
16ksidor1 year ago
Hello, We are interested in building this for a science project and we were wondering if you could email us some details? Ksidoryk@comcast.net Maggo235@sbcglobal.net
Will the lazer head of a optical cd drive word
banders22 years ago
Can i get an in-line diagram of the circuitry of where the power is going?
Sir Henry2 years ago
I was just curious how many watts you would suggest for a soldering iron for this project?
at least 25 or 30, I have a 50-watt adjustable iron and it works like a charm. Unless you are soldering huge pieces of copper together, 30 is usually plenty.
01MadMan142 years ago
What kind of eye protection, if any, would you need when firing this gun? What if you were using a less powerful laser diode?
that is NOT a laser diode, it's a pulsed-output laser crystal powered with a flashlamp. You really need 1064nm-rated infrared safety goggles, but in a pinch you should just close your eyes when firing if you don't have IR goggles. if you are using a diode laser, it will be a continuus beam and not just pulses, and chances are good that it will be a visible wavelength like red (650 or 670nm) or blue (445 or 405nm) light. These require different goggles, because they have to block different colors of light.
At what point can it be fatal?
Please tell me.
at these power levels? probably not ever, the output is just not enough to do much more than either (A) blind you if it hits your eye or (B) ablate (vaporize rapidly) a small patch of skin 1/4 inch in diameter if it hits anywhere else. It will hurt like an extremely localized and REALLY bad sunburn or even a 3rd degree thermal burn, but there's no way it will kill. The only truly life-endangering part is the capacitor bank, which will give you a really nasty shock and possibly cause fibrillation if you are really unlucky.
I m not going to build this plus i hardly can find one camera.
Just curious
Hi, I'm interested in making this laser for a science project (with a few tweaks here and there). Could you possible email me some more detailed and in-depth instructions, with a supply/material list and such? My email is techdesigner1@gmail.com

I'd really appreciate it if you could help me. Thanks!
iFirefly3 years ago
Dude, excellent post! I LoL'd a few times, couldn't figure out whether you were being serious or not, but the effect was priceless nonetheless. I'd really like it if you were wearing safety glasses, though, when you were switching the cap banks, only a few inches from those irreplaceable peepers.

I believe you were wearing two layes of gloves, right? Spot on.
Treknology3 years ago
I will also add my own safety comment. Those latex gloves are affording you very little protection. The develop micro-tears very easily and a not-so-nice solder blob could easily puncture the glove and zap you.

If you want safety in gloves, at least use washing-up gloves.

A friend of mine was playing with a Tesla coil, and wanted me hold a cable. I wouldn't touch it until I was wearing leather gloves and then holding the wire in insulated pliers. I could still feel the electrical pulses.

"(Unless you wish to also ban archery, shooting skeet, campfires, AC power (as suggested by Edison because of the dangers of AC over DC)" The only reason that AC was more dangerous than DC was because it threatened the monopoly Edison was attempting to establish. Edison's greatest gift to the world is the electric chair. He obtained a sponsorship from Westinghouse who had no idea what he was sponsoring. Edison proposed that his new witch-burning stake be referred to as the 'Westinghouse'. Ironically the modern versions of these barbaric device all run on DC.

You've all seen those search lights that shine up into the air? They're running DC arcing between two carbon electrodes. So you can imagine what an arc like that could do to your home if it ran high voltage DC.
llamatard4 years ago
could this possibly b fatal?
TheHomebrewGuru (author)  llamatard4 years ago
It is much like a BB gun. Capacitors can (possibly) leave a pretty nasty sting so respect them! As for the laser it may damage eyesight, but not kill.
aww :'(
roosemberth3 years ago
Hello, thank you for this excellent post, but I was wondering if you could please post a diagram of the camera's circuit, because I've been looking for disposable cameras, and they have no idea about them (I live in El Salvador), so, I need a diagram to follow

Thanks in advance!!!!!!!!!

Ps: I've already have the capacitor bank made :p
Sorry I forgot to ask if a "650nm 250mw High Power Laser Diode" from


could be placed instead of a SSY1, thanks
this thing seems as if it would fry the laser diode in it the first time you fire it. did it do that to yours? and this seems lethal and illegal so i do not want to risk if it is, but i will do it anyways. please inform me if i am taking the wrong risk.
maxiaxie3 years ago
If you have a circuit that forces you to hold the button to charge, could you theoretically use that as a safety switch? It would mean that if you were holding it and accidentally fired, you would not have charged the capacitors enough to fire a pulse. Or am I getting the wrong end of the stick? I just thought it would be a pretty nifty idea to have a safety switch. Could you add a continual 2-way switch into the firing mechanism to prevent accidental firing?

Finally, this is kinda stupid of me, but wouldn't a C class or D class battery work for longer that a pair of AA's?
tazerboy3 years ago
C shaffer212, your method of being safe does not work, because the capacitor has its own + and - terminals. So if you were to get shocked, the electricity would only travel within the skin that contacted by the + AND -. Remember electricity would only go to the shorted distance, to complete a circuit. Therefore it does not matter if you work with one hand or two hands. the energy from the caps will never reach your heart. Unless the caps discharge on your chest. or both of your hand touch the 2 terminals.
tinker2344 years ago
wow hey how could i make it go thourgh hevay metals in the compact size
With current technology you really can't sorry
DynoYoshi4 years ago
wow this instructable was superb!
niac4 years ago
You arn't kidding when you say dangerous. I had a scary event personally a few years ago with a disposable camera charging circuit, when I accidentally discharged a single charged cap from it through me. I went into shock briefly. It was painful, and scary. Be VERY careful with these things.
It's also a good idea to try and keep only one hand at a time close to the capacitors and anything that conducts from them. I had a scare when it went from one hand to the other and it felt like a punch in the chest!

The experience was shocking, to say the least.
Yeah, totally. It /is/ good advice to work with only one hand when doing that. And not offer a ground path or something via somewhere else through your body.
TheHomebrewGuru (author)  niac4 years ago
Yes, please make sure that you have shorted the terminals and make sure that capacitors are adequately insulated!
MikrySoft4 years ago
Everything is great, except for one small mistake - stripes on capacitors mark NEGATIVE terminal - have you noticed those nice minus signs painted on them?
TheHomebrewGuru (author)  MikrySoft4 years ago
Oh whoops you are right! I wrote this instructable quickly I will fix it immediately. Sorry about that thanks