Introduction: Build a Variable High Voltage Power Supply

Picture of Build a Variable High Voltage Power Supply

I needed a variable 0 to 50KV high voltage power supply for my high voltage experiments that wouldn't break the bank, so I built my own.

With just a few parts from old microwave ovens, TV sets, and an oil burner, you can build an affordable instrument for whatever you wish to snap,crackle, or pop!

The key component is the voltage multiplier, which I covered in the High Voltage Multiplier instructable. Build it first, then drop it into this project for a variable output.

Step 1: Theory of Operation

Picture of Theory of Operation

The diagram shows the supply in the de-energized condition and the case closed.

Mains voltage is applied to the power supply thru a 120 VAC Panel connector. With the case closed, current passes through a 5 Amp fuse, F1 and through the case safety switch, S1 causing the Ready indicator, I1 to light when the power switch S2 is placed in the ON position to energize the supply.

At this time, the power supply is NOT ON but in a state of readiness to enegize the high voltage stage.

When pushbutton S3 is pressed, relay K1 energizes and remains energized after S3 is released.

Current passes through Variac, VT1 which adjusts the input voltage to the OBT. The OBT steps up the input voltage to a maximum of 6,000 VAC. The output of the OBT is fed to the high voltage multiplier, HVM where it is multiplied to 51,000 VDC output.

To de-energize the supply, place S2 in the OFF position. K1 will de-energize and remove power from the OBT and HVM and all indicators will extinguish.

The case safety switch and the power contactor are not necessary for this supply to work. I thought the ability to power on and off by using a pushbutton was cool. Thats all. The second schematic shows them removed.

Step 2: Gather the Parts

Picture of Gather the Parts

All the parts with the exception of the variac used for voltage control came from my junk collection or Ebay. Here's the list:

CHASSIS - Texas Instruments TI99 Computer case. Any metal box will do as long as there is enough room for the parts. An electrical box will do just fine. The computer case had a switch, an AC plug adaptor, and a removable lid so it was perfect.

F1 - 5 Amp fuse with holder (Radio Shack).

HVM - HV Multiplier - This is a build it yourself part made up of (6) 12KV High Voltage Diodes and (6) 470 picofarad 20KV High Voltage ceramic doorknob capacitors. You can buy all the parts on Ebay. I have already posted an instructable on this. Just search for High Voltage Multiplier.

I1 - READY Indicator - GREEN 120 volt Neon lamp (Radio Shack). An old 120 volt Neon indicator from a microwave oven is what I used here.

I2 - HV ON Indicator - RED 120 volt Neon lamp (Radio Shack).

K1 - Contactor - 120VAC 10 Amp DPST Relay with a 120VAC coil.

OBT - Oil Burner Transformer salvaged from an old oil burner from a mobile home rated at 120VAC @ 2.25 Amps on the input and 6Kv 20Ma on the output. The single pole type was used here. This can be purchased from a burner service company for about $65.00

S1 - SPST N.O. Cherry Microswitch for case safety.
S2 - DPST Toggle or rocker switch for power on.
S3 - SPST N.O. 120VAC Pushbutton switch.

VT1 - A variac was purchased for $60 from an electrical supply house. Any dimmer that can handle inductive loads up to 5 amps will work. The variac can control 2.5 amps. Just enough for the OBT.

MISC - You will need some wire lugs and various colors of wire scavenged from power cords for the internal wiring.

Step 3: Lay Out the Chassis

Picture of Lay Out the Chassis

If your box has stuff in it, gut it. Take everything out of it except essential parts. I kept the power switch and the AC Adaptor. Everything else, GONE!

If your box has HANDSIZED holes in it, patch em. You don't want little ones (or a nosey neighbor) sticking their paw in the box with power on. Mine needed a cover for the back and a new face plate made of sheet aluminum. It would have cost me less to just use an electrical box instead.

Next, layout all the parts in the approximate locations shown giving yourself plenty of room for wiring. Space is essential in this project because we want to limit the possibility of arcing between high voltage components.

Drill holes where needed for mounting the parts and secure your parts using whatever hardware you have for working with sheet metal.

Step 4: Wire the Low Voltage Side

Picture of Wire the Low Voltage Side

Decide if you are going to include a power contactor and case safety switch. If so, use the first schematic. If not, then use the second schematic.

Wire the supply starting with the AC connector, fuse holder, switches, variac and power contactor.

Test each stage of your build to make sure your wiring is correct.

Next wire up the OBT and test the range of the variac.

To test the output of the OBT, hold a GROUNDED screwdriver near the OBT output terminal.

If you see an arc, good. Power off the supply and disconnect it from Mains and move to the next step.

Step 5: Complete the Build

Picture of Complete the Build

Depending on how you built your multiplier, you need to mount it to the chassis so it doesn't move around. In my case, I made a pair of homemade U shaped wooden mounts and glued the multiplier to the mounts using contact cement.

When dry, mount the multiplier in the chassis and wire it to the OBT and ground.

For the output, I passed the 50KV lead through the chassis using a 2 inch large rubber stopper as a grommet and some corona dope to prevent arcing. This worked until I passed the 35KV mark and then it arced over.

So I bought a screw on PVC plug and passed a 2 inch brass screw through the center, then filled it with 30 minute epoxy and let it cure.

I secured the feed through to the chassis with a piece of threaded PVC pipe to match. I then cut my 50KV lead to length and soldered it to the screw head on the back of my feed through.

I coated the whole assembly with corona dope, let it dry, and tried again. This time I succeeded and got to the 50KV mark at 100 percent without any arcing

Step 6: Power UP and Test It

Picture of Power UP and Test It

*** WARNING ***

Connect the power to the supply and turn on the main power switch. The "Ready" Indicator should light.

Set the voltage to 50 percent and press the HV ON pushbutton.

The HV ON Indicator will light and you will hear a slight hissing sound. This is okay. If you hear any snaps or arcing, determine where the problem is, shut off the supply, and dope the area. When it dries, test again.

With a grounded screw driver, bring the tip of the screw driver in close proximity to the output stud and watch for sparks.

*** WARNING ***

If you are confident in your building skills, or hungry for sparks, SLOWLY ramp up the voltage to 100 percent and test again with the screwdriver.

Success will be indicated by the 2 inch long spark that you get from the supply.

*** WARNING ***



Step 7: Safety Rules, and Disclaimer

Picture of Safety Rules, and Disclaimer


ALWAYS wear rubber safety gloves and stand on a rubber safety mat when operating this supply.

ALWAYS wear protective goggles when power is on. Especially if you plan to power a laser with this unit.

NEVER touch anything or device that is connected to the supply while it is in operation without adequate protection.

NEVER defeat the safety switch on the case or operate this supply with the lid removed.

DISCONNECT the supply from power before opening or working on it.

FOCUS your attention on what you are doing with this device. Eliminate any distractions or annoyances in the area where you use this device.

DO NOT ALLOW others to operate or work in the same area of this device without adequate supervision or safety training.

REMEMBER, Smokey says, only YOU can prevent People Fires!

You, the builder and user, bear the responsibility for your own safety in building, testing, and using this supply. By building this device, you acknowledge the risks involved in it's operation and accept those risks as a result. I will in no way be held responsible for your actions, including your death by this instrument and you accept these terms by building and using this device.


leuvenga (author)2016-07-18

I need to obtain High Voltage Power Supplier. I need Output voltage: 0 to 30 kV. Current: 0.5 mA to 1.5 mA. Below you had some properties that I need.

Could you help me to develop this home made?


Best regards


purnendu laskar (author)2016-03-24

Dear Sir,

I require such a power supply for my research work. Can you sell me such power supply of very low current?

Purnenu Laskar

Samuel Aplin (author)2015-10-23

For K1 could I use a 12 amp 120v dpst relay instead of a 10 amp?

rehanm51 (author)2014-12-06

i want 50 volt and 20 amp dc power supply

rajvindra.raj.pratap (author)2014-10-06


Attached is the equipment from the Celilo Converter Station located at The Dalles, Oregon. Time is of essence on this deal, we would be on site from Monday Oct 13th.

Existing 1100 MW converter station will be demolished, starting October 14th, making way for the new 3820 MW converter station. There are more equipment available in the Converter Building than what is listed.

Click on the link provided below for Pictures & Equipment List.

rajvindra.raj.pratap (author)2014-10-06


Attached is the equipment from the Celilo Converter Station located at The Dalles, Oregon. Time is of essence on this deal, we would be on site from Monday Oct 13th.

Existing 1100 MW converter station will be demolished, starting October 14th, making way for the new 3820 MW converter station. There are more equipment available in the Converter Building than what is listed.

Click on the link provided below for Pictures & Equipment List.

1_21_gigawatts (author)2014-07-12

Will this be able to drop the voltage on the load (virtually) instantaneously to zero, or will there be some drain time? I need the load to ramp to high voltage and then cut to zero for testing purposes.

ReoB (author)1_21_gigawatts2014-08-11

There'll always be drain time, I think what you need to add is thyratron and another transformer to instantaneously cut the voltage to zero.

miicchhii (author)2013-08-26

"Multiplier for raising the 6000 volt to 50000 volt at the same current"?
So you get more power out, than you put in or am i getting something wrong?

jpayton (author)2013-04-21

What is the output current of this?

RetiredResearchEngineer (author)2013-03-31

My load has very high impedance so I need virtually no current (<< 1 mA) but I would like to reduce the ripple on the output so it is negligible.  A simple RC low-pass filter with a resistor and a capacitor in series across the original output should do the trick. I don't want to have to find a 100 kV cap so I'll just join a few 20 kV caps in series to create a cap unit that will handle the voltage. My new + output will come from the junction of the resistor and the + end of the caps (the low-pass filter output).

Member Machine mentioned earlier that a front panel meter would be nice and I agree. He had some concerns about using a voltage divider so the meter could work with some reasonable voltage like 0 to 10 V instead of 0 to 50 kV. I've done the resistor voltage divider thing successfully at 50 kV using a 5000:1 voltage divider. I then connected the divided voltage output to an analog DC voltmeter calibrated to 0 - 10 V.

One final comment.  I plan to use a 3PDT relay for K1 so the third pole can be used to discharge the HV output through an appropriately sized current limiting resistor.  I plan to connect the HV output to one end of the resistor and the other end of the resistor to the common of the third pole on K1.  The NC contact of the third pole goes to ground.  Whenever K1 is not energized, the HV output is routed to ground through the current limiting resistor.

Do you see any problems with any of the above enhancement assuming I use appropriately rated components and good HV insulation practice?

corbonzo (author)2013-03-11

Sorry if this is a stupid thing to ask.but i dont have money for a variac, i was wondering if a 120vac light dimmer used in houses would work. it says rated for 600 watts which would mean 5 amps right? sooo would that work? a reply would be great!

prini (author)2013-01-21

oh ok thank you for answering me,alls i needed was a power supply that could power a minimum of 400 amps

burningsuntech (author)2013-01-17

This device is for sale. If you would like further details, please contact me at

prini (author)2013-01-10

is this really strong ? would this say power a house? im looking for a very strong power supply for somthing im building wich requires as much power as a house maybe more lol

burningsuntech (author)prini2013-01-17

This is a HIGH VOLTAGE power supply and cannot be used to power a house which is low voltage (120 volts AC). This is also a low current supply (20 milliamps) and a house requires high current (200 Amps). So, no. This will not suit your needs.

garagegenius (author)2012-05-31

Hey, I'm looking for something on the scale of 50kv 10 milliamps. would i be able to adjust or modify this to get 10 milliamps? any help would be appreciated

luismasino (author)2012-04-12

Hi, I am needing to build a project of the variable power source 0-40kV can walk, I need if I you can send information to build the source as you did, since I can not download the pdf, you made me the source would come very well. please if you can send me information on the value of the component and the names and designing things. any information will be very welcome
thank you very much

Machine (author)2012-03-10

I like the quality internal layout, it looks professionally done. A meter on the front panel could be good.

It'd be hard to measure directly the output volts as a high-voltage divider would be needed (more cost, insulation difficulties).

So a meter calibrated in kV but measuring the output volts at VT1 would be an easier method to indicate final voltage.

wespow1 (author)2011-11-15

i cant seem to get the image up so i'll give you a URL to the burner

wespow1 (author)2011-11-15

Hello i was wondering if a OIL BURNER TRANSFORMER 110 HIGH VOLTAGE 10,000 WEIL MCLAIN GOLD BURNER BASE NEW would work here is a images of the burner

votedthewave (author)2009-06-16

Is this -50kv or +50kv?

+50kv i think

jmaniglia (author)Electronics1112011-05-18

If you connect the leads reverse it will be -50 as well

janderja (author)jmaniglia2011-10-14

Yes it will be -50 wrt the other lead but not -50 wrt earth ground.

How can you make it -50 wrt earth ground? This will allow it to be used as a negative ion generator.

weldor (author)2011-09-22

I have a sneaking suspicion that this could be turned into some sort of a welding device (TIG or Spot). Possibly a device that was both CC and CV capable. Possibly ac/dc with cc/cv for the TIG and some sort of variable control for the spot welder too. all of the above could be assembled in one unit.

Automatic trans fluid is supposed to work well and it has an operating temp of well over 100 deg F.

An aluminum housing with heat sink fins (or even tubes) with air being circulated over/ through them. H2O running through external copper tubes and then into a heat exchanger (auto heater core or ac condenser) would improve your coolin effect also. This could lead to more efficient over all operation. (water cooled TIG torch??)

Great Instructable!!!! please keep it up.

ifrit (author)2011-09-15

will there be enuff power in this powerbox to serge my invisability cloak and will there be enuff power in this box to channel me for teleport and download me at any power source ?

infinity11 (author)2011-08-27

Is this a positive currant you are producing and if it is how could I make it negative.

aweis (author)2011-05-12

if i only want a killavolt (1000 volts) from a 70 volt alternating current generator, would i be able to do that for around 50 dollars?

burningsuntech (author)aweis2011-05-13

Possibly. As to specifics, I can't say. Most likely, you will be using 1N4007 diodes for the diodes. And caps will be .001ufd 2 KV minimum, but any voltage up to 10Kv will be fine.

There has been a lot of questions concerning the math I used to figure out the voltages. So I will refer you to the link that I found concerning Cockroft-Walton Voltage Multipliers.

And here is a blurb about the output voltage characteristics of the multiplier:

Good luck in your build.


Moo_cow (author)2011-01-10

If I were to take out the multiplier, would if work for 0-6000 volts?
Wanting to use this for part of my science fair but I do not need to go over 6000 volts.

burningsuntech (author)Moo_cow2011-01-11


If you only want 0 to 6000 volts AC, then the answer is yes.

If you need 0 to 6000 volts DC, then you must add a single 12KV Diode to the output of the transformer.

Good Luck in the science fair.


ewpwrqlty (author)2010-12-20

I only need a 100-700 VAC variable supply. Can I modify your design to achieve this goal?

burningsuntech (author)ewpwrqlty2010-12-21


without knowing details like how much current you want the device to provide and at what voltages, I wont be able to help.

More info is needed besides "can I modify your design to achieve this goal?"


ewpwrqlty (author)burningsuntech2010-12-21

Thanks for your quick response.

The device does not need to provide any current. I only need to provide variable voltage potentials between 100-700 VAC. I am attempting to create a voltage calibration set for my BMI 8800 power disturbance analyzers.

The required voltage (Vrms) calibration levels are:

1. 0
2. 7.6-8.4
3. 30.2-33.4
4. 75.5-83.5
5. 150-170
6. 200-225
7. 300-335
8. 604-670

I am using a 0-140VAC Variac to produce the first four levels.

I tried using a hipot tester to produce the last four levels and was successful up to level 8. The hipot unit that I own is a Hiptronics HD5 0-5KV at 5 mA.
The impedance of the BMI voltage input channels during calibration is 1.01 Megga Ohm. At approximately 500 VAC the leakage current light was glowing and the unit was vibrating and ready to fail on leakage. My Hipot tester would need to have at least a 20 mA output capability in order to complete the calibration series

burningsuntech (author)ewpwrqlty2010-12-31

On second thought... You would need a 0 to 800 volt Transformer and use the variac to supply the variable voltage to it.

With a vernier dial on the Variac, you would have a calibrated settings range. If you need finer settings, say in millivolts, you would need a twenty-five turn vernier instead of a ten turn vernier.

Hope this helps.

burningsuntech (author)ewpwrqlty2010-12-28

You could use a switch to select one of two ranges. The first range would be what is supplied by the Variac. The second range would be addition of another step-up transformer connected to the output of the variac.

With a Vernier knob attached to the variac and a volt meter, of course, you could tune the output of the step-up transformer to the appropriate ranges based on where the vernier is set.

That would give you your ranges and the desired voltages though it might be a bit cumbersome.

One other possibility would be to calculate the output of a transformer given the input voltage and the number of turns on the output. If you are adventurous enough, you could design and wind your own transformer for the desired output ranges beyond the output of the variac and use a selector switch to select the output tap for the given range you desire.

It takes some doing and a bit of knowledge of transformers but it can be done.

Lastly, you could also have a special transformer built for this purpose which would give you all the ranges based upon which tap you choose.

There are other methods but I do not build devices for people nor do I have the time for these projects as i am currently busy running a business.

Good luck. i hope this helps.

ewpwrqlty (author)2010-12-11

I need to build a variable AC power source from 0-700 Vrms for calibrating my BMI 8800 power disturbance analyzers. There are 8 voltage ranges that the power source needs to provide: 0 Vrms, 7.6-8.4 Vrms, 15.1-16.7Vrms, 30.2-33.4 Vrms, 75.5-83.5 Vrms, 150-170 Vrms, 200-225 Vrms, 300-335 Vrms, and 604-670 Vrms.

Do you have any suggestions? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

CharlesBarret (author)2010-06-21

Hi, i think that your source cannot supply that much current (20milis) because that depends on your load resistance.. mmm how do you know you can hold that much current in your design? thx..

CharlesBarret Technically true. The problem is with the type of transformer used in this supply. The specs of the OBT state that it will supply .02 Amps at 6000 volts. This transformer does have a load in the form of an air gap approximately 1 cm in length. With the resistivity of air equal to anywhere from 10^8 to 10^9 ohms per meter then resistivity of a one cm gap is 10^6 to 10^7 ohms. This assumes that the air has not ionized. (which is the point of an OBT anyway). After ionization of the air, the conductivity increases dramatically to the point of a near short circuit. To prevent that from becoming a dead short, there are current limiting windings built into the transformer to limit maximum draw to 20 ma. So, the maximum draw from this device is limited to 20 ma. But if there is a resistive load placed on this supply, it will be somewhat less based on Ohms law. Hope that explains the specification. Thanks for the question. RA

silicacat6 (author)2010-06-21

Would you please assemble and sell me a high voltage DC power source? Input either 24 V DC or 220VAC, your choice. (I would prefer to use 24V DC input). The max voltage required ~900V and max current 5A. Name your price, and have a guess at when you could deliver. Thanks

skeric17 (author)2010-05-28

hello i was wondering if u could please give me a few pointer on making a 0-12v variable power supply i dont know where to begin thanks for ur time and help=]

burningsuntech (author)skeric172010-06-10

I can point you in the direction of either the internet or Radio Shack engineering booklets which would have circuits that would work for you. Do a Google Search for 12volt power supply schematic. There is tons of them out there. Good luck with your project. RA

simondodd (author)2010-02-16

Great job!! I am thinking of building this with myNST and using it for my Tesla Coil.  However all the plans I have seen for Tesla coils require both the hot and cold output from the NST. Would this be the HV output and the case/ground or would I have to wire it up slightly differently?

Thanks in advance


ElectricUmbrella (author)2009-10-24

Hi, very nice idea, five stars!
I don't have an six KV Oil Burner Transformer, but I do have a five KV Neon Sign Transformer. Would that work just as well?

Yes it will.  In fact even AC (mains) passed thru a standard transformer (ie 120VAC in and 120VAC out) will give you a high voltage based on the formula in the multiplier design.  Thanks for the 5 STARs.  enjoy the build.

*** Do you have technical questions on electronics, computers, anything except plumbing, and house electrical?  Burningsuntech may have the answers.  Just email your questions to:  We will let you know. ***

 Hey, it's okay, I got the parts in time and it turned out fine!

Dr.Bill (author)2009-12-29

Aaaaaahhh! I Like Electricity !

BobLew (author)2009-12-19

what should i do with the other pins?
sometimes spark occured between them.
especialy some closest pins with ground pin.
one of pin closest is also draws purple spray, but never spark

PureAwesomeness (author)2009-11-27


Okay, I'm doing a science project in 8th grade involving electrohydrodynamic thrusters, and I need to know how much all of this costs.  I need this stuff in like 3 days or less.  Assuming I can get a crappy TV that still has a working screen from Good Will, what will be the cost of everything else?  Also, what are the RadioShack ID numbers for all of the stuff that you say I can get from RadioShack?  I could probably get the rest from Amazon, which ships in one or two days.  For everything else, if you can, could you please give me links to the products?  I'm sorry if I'm asking a lot of you, but I'm desperate, and I'm awful at finding the right electric parts via the internet.  Can you help me?

Thanks, PureAwesomeness

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a distant relative of the Apache Warrior Geronimo. I enjoy working with electronics, wood, metal and gold. I love the flashes of inspiration ... More »
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