Introduction: High Voltage Spark Gap Tiki Torch

Picture of High Voltage Spark Gap Tiki Torch

In this instructable I will show you how to make a high voltage spark gap tiki torch. The flame ignites when the voltage difference between the conductors exceeds the breakdown voltage of the surrounding air. The air in the gap becomes ionized and creates a pathway for the current to flow. Spark plugs in cars work in a similar manner to ignite the fuel in the combustion chamber.

I connected this to a wifi enabled WeMo switch so I can turn the torch on with my phone. You can use a schedule to automatically turn it on at a set time or you can use an IFTTT recipe to use a variety of other triggers for the torch such a location, email, text, social media based events. Imagine setting these up all over your backyard and turning them all on at once.

Warning: This instructable involves using a high voltage power supply. Please take extreme caution.

I am also giving away an arduino mega, arduino uno, and an arduino pro mini on my YouTube Channel. (Details at the end)

Step 1: Materials You Will Need.

Picture of Materials You Will Need.

You may have what you need at home for this project.

1. Neon Sign Transformer. I used a 10,000 volt NST from Amazon, but you can reuse an old NST. It is current limited and therefore much safer than older NSTs. This is still very dangerous and you should be careful and take all necessary precautions to ensure everyone nearby is safe. If you know an electrician, he/she may know where to get old NSTs as a lot of them are being replaced with newer units.

2. Thick copper wire or tubing. I used 6 gauge bare copper wire from the hardware store.

3. Aligator Clips for attaching the leads of the NST to the copper electrodes.

4. Tiki Torch or oil lamp. You can use a candle but it will only work for a short amount of time because the wick of a candle gets lower and lower.

5. Nylon bushings or rubber grommets to isolate the copper from the top of the torch.

6. Electrical tape. The can of torch fuel I have is metal so I need the tape for isolation. You may not need tape if your oil lamp or torch is glass.

7. Wemo switch if you want to wirelessly turn your torch on with your phone.

Step 2: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

If your fuel container is metal, use electrical tape to insulate it. Drill two holes in the top lid and insert the nylon bushings or rubber grommets to insulate the electrodes. Cut two sections of copper wire to about 13 inches, tape them to the side of the fuel canister and insert them into the holes in the lid. Bend the electrodes to your desired shape with a small gap surrounding the wick of the tiki torch. Connect the leads of the neon sign transformer to your copper electrodes with alligator clips. My neon sign transformer has a pull chain switch so if yours does not, plug the neon sign transformer into a power strip with the power off.

Step 3: Fire It Up!

Picture of Fire It Up!

Once you are sure everything is completely insulated, turn it on. You should only need to turn it on for a few seconds to ignite the flame. I attached mine to a wifi switch so I can turn the spark on and off with my phone. For safety reasons, you should have a fire extinguisher nearby and do not attempt this project without adult supervision.

Step 4: My YouTube Channel Giveaway

Picture of My YouTube Channel Giveaway

I am giving away an Arduino Mega, Arduino Uno, and an Arduino Pro Mini!

When I was in high school and college, I remember not having enough money for some of the projects that I wanted to do. I have 100+ microcontrollers and a great job now so I just wanted to give back a little. I'll be doing more giveaways in the future too. Possibly free filament, stepper motors and other things that I have an abundance of so stay tuned!

Rules for the giveaway:

Subscribe to myYouTube Channel, likethis videoand leave a comment on the video saying what you would do with the microcontrollers. On June 1st (My Birthday) I will randomly select a subscriber's comment and ship them out for free!

Thank you guys for being such a welcoming community!


RocketPenguin (author)2015-05-31

Use the plasma from the flame to create sound via arc! Musical tiki torches anyone?-

slo5oh (author)2015-05-26

Now wire 20 of them in series and light your entire "tiki" themed backyard at once.

Proto G (author)slo5oh2015-05-26

That would be awesome!

olanderd (author)Proto G2015-05-27

That is what I plan on doing with it. I already have homemade Tiki
lamps from wine bottles around the perimeter of the property. I love it
when they are all lit and using the phone to light them would be awesome!
Proto G do you mind sharing your sketch and hardware and phone app that
you used for that?

Proto G (author)olanderd2015-05-28

I used a simple WeMo switch that plugs into the wall and they have a WeMo phone app that you can remotely turn the switch on/off. You can also setup schedules for your outlet. You could use one WeMo with multiple torches by using a power strip connected to the WeMo. Only downside is not being able to control the individual outlets on the strip.

lynndevoll (author)2015-05-27

I love this idea. It is wonderful and if you lose power, you would not be without light. Just use a battery to power your system with.

LaurJ (author)2015-05-27

Just as a note: You can see in this video, that the other wire is actually superfluous. The spark jumps from the right wire to the casing, and you can see the spark jump to the left wire near the rubber grommet. You could just as well connect the alligator clip to the tiki torch casing itself, the air gap between the wires right now is larger than that necessary to bypass the grommet.

Proto G (author)LaurJ2015-05-27

You are right about it jumping near the nylon bushing. It stopped doing that when I insulated it a bit more. It would also be better if I had rubber grommets, but I don't.

robert.fortune.77 (author)2015-05-26

This is such a great project. I will try to get one put together to surprise my friends at our next gathering. Lighting the tiki lamps with a wave of my hand.

Thank You


HussanAlesez (author)2015-05-25

Bad like high voltage and nonencypt wifi

Proto G (author)HussanAlesez2015-05-26

Why is that?

avarma4 (author)2015-05-26

Hi Proto G !!!... I 've subscribed your YouTube channel and liked the Video but I'm not able to comment on the Video so, kindly consider this comment for my Entry in the Giveaway. I want to use the micro controllers 1 for home automation, 1 for controlling various type of projects which I've planned for summer holiday's. and 1 for controlling my stereo FM Transmitter.

Proto G (author)avarma42015-05-26

Thank you! Other people are having that same problem for some reason. Just try again tomorrow because I am pulling the winner randomly from the comment section by adding up the comments and generating a random number using

RasterPix (author)2015-05-26

Very cool project. What was the dielectric strength of the tape that you used? Was it standard stuff or was it the PVC type rated for 10kv?

Proto G (author)RasterPix2015-05-26

I used gaffers tape and electrical tape.

billbillt (author)2015-05-26

Cool idea!!... Got my votes!....

Proto G (author)billbillt2015-05-26

Thank you!

BrettHacks (author)2015-05-24

Looks like the perfect start to a combo bug zapper project. Having been knocked on my a** more than once by the same transformer, I pity the poor creature that comes in contact with the igniter wires when you fire it up.

R0AHN (author)BrettHacks2015-05-26

Be careful with anything using a lot of spark gap plugs - they generate a great deal of electromagnetic interference. Quick bursts like this project uses are okay as ignition sources but sustained use basically creates a wireless jammer. I wouldn't want to be the reason why someone has a 911 call that won't go through.

Proto G (author)R0AHN2015-05-26

After testing with my EMF detector, this setup only creates a wireless jammer with a 5 foot radius. The EMF is not strong enough to affect anything farther than 5 feet away. I'm an engineer at a company that does a lot of work with Radio Frequency and Acoustomagnetic system so I deal with "noise" issues often and this is not one of them.

Proto G (author)BrettHacks2015-05-25

That would make a pretty good bug zapper.

tk-768 (author)2015-05-26

I a subscribed to your channel but it will not give me the option to comment. I would like the controllers for use in our full size astromech (r2d2) for use in our children's hospital visits and for education.

tk-768 (author)tk-7682015-05-26

never mind it finally worked. thank you very much for the opportunity.

jvandeyacht (author)2015-05-26

That is awesomel. I made a mini tesla coil and made a computer controller for it .. to start and stop. I was looking for a way to do this for the tiki's by my j-tub in the back. Now to find a remote way to extinguish.

makeosaurus (author)2015-05-26

Please could you enter me into the giveaway?

Proto G (author)makeosaurus2015-05-26

You need to comment on the video because I am pulling the winner randomly from the comment section.

makeosaurus (author)2015-05-25

I haven't commented on your youtube video but I have subscribed to your page. If i were to get an arduino uno, I would design a 3d printer or cnc out of salvage parts. Happy Birthday in advance :)!!!!!!

makeosaurus (author)makeosaurus2015-05-25

P.S I have also voted for you in the backyard competition because this is awesome!!!

Proto G (author)makeosaurus2015-05-25

Thank you!

Nuonaton (author)2015-05-22

Happy Birthday Ahead of time! Good on you for helping others! :D

Proto G (author)Nuonaton2015-05-25

Thank you!

rocketman221 (author)2015-05-24

Be careful with the newer NSTs, they usually have circuitry that prevents them from arcing. The older ones (without high side gfi) will work better for this kind of thing. They are all current limited, usually 30 or 60mA, but they label will say what the output current is.

Proto G (author)rocketman2212015-05-25

This is a newer UL listed NST that other people told me wouldn't work. It works every time when used as a spark gap. When used as a Jacob's ladder it will arc maybe 5 times or so and then stop. I'll have to turn it off and back on to keep it going. This has worked perfectly so far though.

nemeen (author)2015-05-23

I am not having money to buy microcontroller I want to Make a Bluetooth controlled car with it IF I get it I will make it first ?

firefightermeyer (author)2015-05-22

really cool

Proto G (author)firefightermeyer2015-05-22


renzo1320 (author)2015-05-22

that's awesome, but i would expect it to arch over to the torch, flow on it and arching back over on the other side. is a thin layer of tape enough to prevent that?

Proto G (author)renzo13202015-05-22

Not sure what you are asking. Are you expecting it to arc to top of the metal fuel canister, thus avoiding the wick? This ignites the wick every time without fail. The tape around the side is enough to insulate the fuel canister from the copper.

About This Instructable




Bio: Electromechanical Engineer, Product Designer, Maker. I love to make prototypes and teach others in the process. I graduated from UCF and spent two years working ... More »
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