Picture of Jacob's Ladder Sculpture from found materials
This sculpture is the first product from my artists residency at the San Francisco Dump. Having been a found object kinetic sculptor for many years now I was very pleased to have this opportunity. One of the first things that I found during my time there was an old broken neon sign. I recalled my good friend CTP explaining to me that this was the only vital ingredient in a Jacob's Ladder, so I set out to make one. As an artist I was not going to be satisfied with this project without a fair amount of needless details and diversions. Hopefully this instructable will provide insight into the actual "how to" of a Jacob's Ladder, as well as a peek into my creative process. For more examples of my work, please visit
I should at this point stress the dangerous nature of this project. Though very simple in principle, we are still dealing with very high voltage here. Kids, don't try this at home!

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Step 1: Gathering materials

Picture of Gathering materials
In my case this involved spending some time up to my knees in San Francisco's garbage. Others might consider second hand stores or garage sales.

Step 2: What you need

Picture of What you need
The essential ingredient that I alluded to is the power transformer from a neon sign. I was fortunate to also find a collection of old volt meters, switches and lights that will be (unnecessarily) included in the design.

Step 3: Composition

Picture of Composition
In addition to the transformer, you will need something clear to cover the electrodes to keep things safe. I am told that it is best to use something that is open on both ends. I found an old cover for a candle stick called a "hurricane". After some digging around, a vintage vacuum cleaner presented itself as a good fit with the hurricane, and a night stand was selected as a base.
roballoba1 year ago
hussam.tech3 years ago
JohnMichael5 years ago
I am glad you included the hurricane for safety. Nice welds; very clean looking. I can tell you care about your creations. I looked at the slideshow on your website. Very creative!
nemomatic (author)  JohnMichael5 years ago
Hey thanks! I just finished up my second jacob's ladder project here in case you missed it.
The Psychos-O-Matic is freaking rad! Nice work on both projects! I've been wanting to encase my Jacob's ladder in something for safety. I was thinking about some kind of hurricane glass as well. Thanks for the inspiration.
This is all great and looks good, but a schematic showing what wire goes where would be very helpful!
PoconoPat6 years ago
You'll Poke Your Eye Out !
iBurn PoconoPat6 years ago
robodud37 years ago
i would love 2 make a simpler one of thease but i cant ever find a neon sign transformer in atlanta i mean ud think that they would just b lyin around somwhere with a broken sing but nooooo anf the ones from criags and ebay r a total sham the shipping is half the price and i dont wanna pay 40+ dollars 4 somthin that should b abuntan in a city
mdj817 robodud36 years ago
I find the best place is paris on ponce, right by the whole foods and home depot. It's at the top of the hill, and inside, there is a whole bunch of junk and things that they'll sell to you at a reasonable price. Just make sure to check out the WHOLE store, and not just one spot. It's perfect for this type of thing.
if you get a old computer screen they provide enough to volts for a ladder check the site this has been posted before
I don't think you should be worried about working with a flyback transformer if you can't even use basic grammar. . .
Look around. There is a nearby transformer company that had hundreds of custom transformers that aren't being used any more. Luckily, since I am 12, they made me one for free. It's 120V 18.5A in, 14kV 158mA out.
You can also use an OBT (oil burner (ignition) transformer). They tend to be a lower voltage than an NST (neon sign transformer) so you might have to make do with a smaller jacob's ladder. Mine on the other hand is just as powerful as an NST, it is a OBT that generates 15kV at 40mA rms. It is a danfoss and I got it for about £12 on ebay. AlexHalford
I got my neon transformer of ebay for under $20 with shipping you just got to wait around for a good deal.
codongolev6 years ago
I got excited because I thought it was an idea I had about making a machine to just keep doing one of those olde fashioned jacob's ladders.
darkkoe7 years ago
im looking for transformers on ebay, and i dont know what hte difference, if they will both work, between a neon tech model 210AI (it says its electric neon transformer) and a franceformer ??
bettbee darkkoe6 years ago
First of all, go to a sign shop and ask, they're probably throwing some lame but not totally dead ones away. Second, France always made the best neon transformers. If you get an old Franceformer you're lucky. Third, be careful people. Please, if you get one over 30mA be extra careful. 30mA gives you a good little jolt. Anything over this is really pushing it. I've been bit by 120mA and thought I was done for. Go for voltage over amperage.
Sandisk1duo7 years ago
they actually let you look around at the dump?
bedbugg27 years ago
ooooo pretty
Mr.Bean7 years ago
could you make a small one with just a neon transformer, batteries and some metal sticks?
You probably couldn't because the neon transformers supply a voltage upwards of 9kv (kilovolts) and require an input voltage of 110volts if you're American or 240volts so I doubt that you would be able to.
nemomatic (author)  Mr.Bean7 years ago
I wish I knew more so I could offer decent responses to these questions. I know you need pretty high voltage, and the transformer has to be designed so that it can short without damaging itself. From what I have heard, neon transformers are unique in that they are basically designed to short.
dentsinger7 years ago
I love your work. Since the day I got an Atari 2600, I've taken things apart to see how they tick. This of course leaves me with alot of parts laying around, all of which I see as potential pieces of a greater work. I just wish my girlfriend would stop nagging me about all my "crap".
nemomatic (author)  dentsinger7 years ago
Thats precisely why I dont even try to work at home. The apartment is clean, the studio is a serious health hazard. Everything is as is should be.
Mr.Bean7 years ago
do you need the dc transformer?
Sweet! Love the salad tongs. I wish I had the patience to put some finesse into the dinguses (or maybe dingi? Anybody know the plural form of a dingus? Maybe I should have said doodads...) that I build. Usually, I never get much beyond the semi-working model stage, with ducky tape and loose wires a-hangin' every which way and so on. My usual excuse is that I don't have a decent work space set up yet. (been using that one for maybe five or ten year now)
Mr.Bean7 years ago
could you make one of theese say half a foot tall
locofocos7 years ago
I can never find any neon signs except on ebay. I've been keeping my eyes open for one, though.
HamO7 years ago
You da man! your stuff is fantastic. Great instructables thanks for sharing.
FreakCitySF7 years ago
I love the dumps!
Thats awesome! I've always wanted a Jacobs Ladder