High voltage car ignition coil project

Step 4: The capacitor--updated

This is the most finicky step in the project. Your choice of capacitor will determine how well (if at all) your coil works.

Use a film capacitor rated for at least 100 volts and 1uF. 100v may seem low, but the cap I used with greatest success is rated at 100v, while higher voltage rated caps only made the coil buzz.

DO NOT USE ELECTROLYTIC CAPACITORS! These are the ones that look like little metal cans. Even high voltage, high capacitance types failed on me *every* time. They got very hot, they bulged, and one even exploded. No joke--leave them alone! Stick with film types. There may be others that will work as well, but my best result came with a cap salvaged from a computer monitor circuit board.

It is marked:

I measured the capacitance of this cap with a multimeter and got a reading of 2.178 microfarads. With this cap I get good long sparks, cool operation, and no overheating of the coil, the switch, or the cap, although I have not run the coil for long periods. The longest I have let it run was for 60 seconds.

I mount the cap in the jaws of the clothespin. The lower lead goes to the output cord alligator clip, and the upper lead to the dimmer switch.

Update as of 3/23/09: I obtained some metalized polyester capacitors rated at 2.2 uF at 250V from an eBay seller . They work very well, and give a greater range of output on the dimmer (by this I mean I get more sparks at higher settings than I did with the 100v cap). The new caps are marked:


Tolerance is rated at 10%.

Update as of 4/22/09 While tearing down a surplus microwave oven, I came across an array of capacitors I thought I would try in the coil driver. (These are not the usual metal can capacitors associated with microwaves; they are high voltage film-type caps). A couple of 3KV caps did not work, but a 4.5 uF, 250 volt cap gives much greater sparks than anything I have used before. Discharges are longer, thicker, and louder. They are no longer blue-white, as with the previous caps, but a kind of vivid orange. Does this indicate a lower temperature, I wonder?

The cap is marked:


Update as of 4/18/10:
Even better results have been obtained using a 10 uF, 330 volt VIOT motor start-run capacitor. This is a large, oval metal-bodied cap I found on eBay. With the motor start capacitor the coil produces much more powerful arcs. I have used this coil and cap combination to power my Tabletop Tesla Coil with success. If you can get a motor start cap like this, by all means use it.

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bswt2 years ago
how did you wire the film capacitor to ac power did you put it across the mains ?
Mr. Apol (author)  bswt2 years ago
See the article and diagram here:

gunner213 years ago
does your ignition coil run from 12V
Mr. Apol (author)  gunner213 years ago
It could, but in this case it is being powered by 120 V AC wall current.
slaserj3 years ago
I have a few caps. Which one do you suggest I use? They are labeled as follows

474J DH
200SA U

823J X


Kirbsome!4 years ago
Is this a suitable cap?
Picture 6.jpg
Mr. Apol (author)  Kirbsome!4 years ago
Probably. It's a 250 v film cap, 5.6 uF. Did you salvage this out of a TV or monitor? PBT
yes I did also, my mains is 230vac, is that a problem?
rzigmu5 years ago
Why the need for the capacitor? What does it do? What would happen if you ran without one?
Mr. Apol (author)  rzigmu5 years ago
As I understand it, the capacitor helps regulate the flow of electricity from the dimmer to the coil. I haven't tried the setup without a cap, but I imagine it would not work.