Introduction: Start Fires With Electricity: DIY Arc Lighter

Have you ever wanted a futuristic way to start a fire, or maybe just a cool desk toy that makes plasma? Have you wanted to start a winter fire in a way that does not involve an actual lighter with lighter fluid? Have you ever wanted a lighter that you never have to replace or refill? If so, then this is the perfect instructable for you. In this instructable, I will show you how to build an arc lighter from old recycled parts. It looks really professional and well made. The video below has a demonstration of the final product as well as a video tutorial to compliment this instructable. I will be building this as a Christmas present for my younger brother.

Lets get started.

Step 1: How It Works

This Arc Lighter lights fires with an electric arc. This arc can ignite paper because it essentially a stream of electrons flowing at a very high speed through a section of ionized air. These electrons, because of their high velocities, transfer a large amount of energy into the piece of paper placed in between the two electrodes. This energy causes the paper to ignite. Now, the potential difference between the two electrodes needs to be relatively high to overcome the breakdown voltage of air. This potential difference, or voltage needs to be at an upwards of 20,000 volts. This voltage is produced by an oscillator circuit and step up transformer.

The circuit starts with the 110 volt AC mains voltage. This voltage is then stepped down to 10 volts AC by a mains transformer. This voltage is then rectified and filtered to produce a clean 10 volts DC. This is then fed into the oscillator section of the circuit.

The oscillator uses a center tapped coil of 2 ohms, a transistor, and a resistor. The voltage initially comes in through the center tap. It proceeds to flow through the feedback coil, through the resistor, and into the base of the transistor. This makes the transistor start conducting current. It conducts the current through the primary coil to ground. This causes a rise in the magnetic field of the transformer's core. This rise in magnetic flux induces a current in the feedback coil opposite to the voltage flowing to the base. This shuts down the transistor and it stops conducting. After this, the magnetic flux in the core rapidly decreases causing current to flow into the transistor base once again. After this, the cycle repeats itself about 30000 times per second.

This rapid change of the magnetic flux in the core of the transformer induces a current in the high voltage secondary coil. Because of the high winding ratio of the secondary to primary coils, the voltage is significantly higher.

Now that you know how this circuit will work, its time to build it.

Step 2: Tools

For this project, the tools you will need will be:

  • A drill
  • A hot glue gun
  • Wire Cutters
  • Wire Strippers
  • A Soldering Iron
  • A Screwdriver

Step 3: Materials

For this project, you will need a few materials. A lot of these materials can be salvaged for very cheap. In fact, most of the parts used for this project were harvested from the back-light inverter of an LCD TV. This is a good way to make use of old circuit boards that would otherwise be thrown away.

You will need:

  • 1 general purpose NPN transistor
  • 1 5K resistor
  • 1 100uF electrolytic capacitor
  • 4 1n4001 diodes
  • 1 High voltage transformer
  • 1 10 volt mains transformer
  • 1 pushbutton
  • Screws, bolts, and nuts
  • 1 main plug
  • 1 heat sync
  • perfboard
  • wire
  • heat shrink tubing
  • solder

Step 4: Finding a Good Transformer

For my project, I will be using a back-light transformer form an LCD TV. It has 2 1 ohm primary coils and 1 1000 ohm secondary coil. This is very useful for the project I am doing. This will also work with a flyback transformer of a CRT TV. You will either have to wind your own primary coils or find the pins on the bottom corresponding to different coil impedance that work with this circuit. These transformers can be found in many different appliances.

Step 5: Soldering the Circuit

This step is relatively easy. You will need to follow my schematic closely while soldering. To build this circuit, you will need to first mount the transformer on a piece of perfboard. You can then add all the other components to the circuit board in the order that I placed them. Remember the direction of the primary windings! When adding the transistor, use ribbon cable to attach it to the board so it can be placed in positions that save space in the enclosure you are putting it in. Use solder to form traces on the back of the board. After the circuit board is done, it is time to make the enclosure.

Step 6: Preparing the Enclosure

For the enclosure of this arc lighter, I used a glossy black plastic box that I bought on eBay. You will need to drill holes in it corresponding to the holes on your mains transformer, button, and wires going in and out. You will need to use different drill bit sizes for the different holes. I made the enclosure upside down to make it easier to mount all the components. This means that the lid is facing the floor. You can then bolt on the transformer and tighten on the push-button.

Step 7: Wiring the Power Supply

To wire the power supply, you will need to attach the mains cord to the mains transformer. After that, you will need to solder the 10 volt AC wires from the transformer in series with the push-button. Make sure to use heat shrink tubing to secure and protect open solder joints.

Step 8: Gluing in the Electronics

After the box is prepared, you will need to glue in the high voltage transformer and the heat sync. I found the best glue for this step is hot glue. You can glue the different parts in whatever way works best for your enclosure. Make sure you leave room to access the holes. You can also hot glue the different cords coming in and out of the enclosure to reduce instability.

Step 9: Wiring the Electronics to the Enclosure

This step is relatively easy, you will need to solder the wires coming from the transformer and switch to the input section of the circuit board. Then, solder the output of the transformer to wires going out of the box. Make sure that everything matches the schematic.

Step 10: Making the Spark Gap

The spark gap of the arc lighter is what forms the electric arc. I made this using some wire, component leads, and a Popsicle stick. First, you need to find the output wires from your high voltage transformer. You will need to make these very short to prevent parasitic capacitance from lessening your voltage output(I learned this the hard way). You can then take the wires, and solder spare component leads to them. Make sure to use that heat shrink tubing! After that, bend and glue the output wires to a Popsicle stick. I spray painted the Popsicle stick to match the color scheme of the overall project(black and red). You can use multiple wood stick parts to create the angle of the spark gap that I did. This way looks really cool. You should now be done.

Step 11: It Works!

After plugging the arc lighter into a source of mains voltage (In my case an isolated variac), you can push the button, and you will see a purple arc of plasma jump in between the spark gap. To light things on fire, just put them in between the spark gap, and they should ignite instantly! This is a fun way to create fire without a lighter. It is also helpful to use when working with heat shrink tubing. I made this arc lighter for my younger brother for Christmas. He has always thought the projects I make are cool, but has never actually had one. By the way, he thought the arc lighter was awesome! It looks really nice with the red and black color scheme and works great!

Thanks for reading and good luck building!

Disclaimer: This project deals with high voltages and fire. It is dangerous. Use safely and responsibly. I am not responsible for any damages caused by the building of this device.

Comments

author
Ramesh Bhide (author)2017-01-05

In India mains operated gas lighters ara available for last fifty years.

author
syeda195 (author)Ramesh Bhide2017-01-17

Yes sir it has been around since long time in India and thats what i am working on but i can't find it in any local stores or online website. Sir can you please tell me what it is called in local language or where can i buy it? (I am from Maharashtra)

author
dflo1 (author)2017-01-09

Hi, what's the power consumption for this circuit? Thank you :)

author
auto13142828 (author)2017-01-05

Does a AAA battery have enough power?

author
ivanR22 (author)auto131428282017-01-05

Yes, just use a square wave driver and a higher step up transformer!

author
auto13142828 (author)ivanR222017-01-06

Could all of the components of this lighter fit inside of a large writing pen?

author
LabRatMatt (author)2016-12-28

Why does the voltage need to be stepped down to DC before being stepped back up to high voltage? Could you just use a step-up transformer and start directly with AC power? Or just use a battery as an initial source of power and make the project portable?

author
bmiller91 (author)LabRatMatt2017-01-03

"Could you just use a step-up transformer and start directly with AC power?"

People do this with Microwave Oven Transformers (MOT) - HOWEVER the output is DEADLY and not really advisable for anyone but definitely only for the advanced experimenter with 100% attention to safety protocols. One mistake and you will not be using Instructables again ....

author
LabRatMatt (author)bmiller912017-01-04

That makes more practical sense

author
bigredlevy (author)LabRatMatt2017-01-01

This would require correct galvanic isolation in the switch mode transformer, which may not be the case.
Using a low voltage step down as shown here ensures that the output will not be at mains popotential under a fault condition. Furthermore, it limits the current output to that of the low voltage transformer.

author
MissNewtype (author)2017-01-03

Danger is directly proportional to amperage. How many amps is this circuit at the spark end?

author
tanner_tech (author)MissNewtype2017-01-03

This circuit has a very low current flow. Because of the input power of 1.5 watts, I estimate the output current to be about .05 milliamps. This is far below the lethal amperage of 100 miliamps.

author
MissNewtype (author)tanner_tech2017-01-03

Awesome thanks for the information.

author
daitheboot (author)2017-01-03

Could this not be supplied from a 9 or 12 volt battery to the oscillator and thus avoid any connection to the main supply. It would also enable it to be portable. ( Sorry haven't had time to check the math to see if a battery would provide sufficient power.

author
tanner_tech (author)daitheboot2017-01-03

Yes, a battery would be able to power this circuit. This particular device only draws about 1.5 watts.

author
terrefirma (author)2017-01-03

Can I ask at what point you all learned the concepts here? Was it science class in 8th grade which stimulated your interest, or did it start with building fires at age 10, then realizing you could create fire from electricity after watching a lightning strike, or what? I am wondering just why so many kids prefer to WATCH than DO, even if they play video games, thinking they are involved. Is it lack of confidence to try new things, lack of role models, or what? And even kids who do well in school- physics, chemistry, math is always easier to grasp with experimentation, but many don't seem to get that spark to try.

author
tanner_tech (author)terrefirma2017-01-03

I have learned these electrical theories through years of personal study. I have used YouTube and many old books from the sixties to learn what I know. As far as I know, they do not teach electronics in school. It is pretty sad, because it is a very fun hobby that combines physics, math, and good old engineering skills. I agree, many kids and teens do not want to create new things, they just like to play video games and like you said, "Watch". I think that our world would be a better place if every kid tried building things. Thanks for commenting, and by the way, nice pun at the end of your comment!

author
Legendary1352 (author)terrefirma2017-01-03

It is kind of sad that people are afraid to try new things. I'm 16 and not really afraid to try anything. On New Year's Day, I built a forge out of a coffee can, wire mesh, iron pipe, and an air compressor and made an anvil out of a piece of railroad track and a stump. And to top it off, I made a knife out of a railroad spike using the forge and anvil I had built. I had no previous experience and just decided to figure it out. It was a fun day.

author
CPUDOCTHE1. (author)2017-01-03

I made one a long time ago with an automobile coil, a relay, a capacitor, and a 12 V battery. It was portable. Mostly made it to make sure that defective parts that I sent back for warranty replacement were determined to be bad by the vendor.

author
tanner_tech (author)CPUDOCTHE1.2017-01-03

Cool!

author
rgorman57 (author)2017-01-03

Terrific project! I would propose that you enclose the arcs in a 1 inch diameter plastic tube to prevent accidental injury due to inadvertently pushing the button while brushing the arc points with part of your body. or put a guard on the switch.

author
e5frog (author)rgorman572017-01-03

Yes, if you drill a hole in a PET bottle cap or similar you could mount the switch inside that and make it less likely to be pushed by mistake.

author
e5frog (author)2017-01-03

Pretty nice build, can't say how dangerous it is but I have some thoughts.
I would have put the mains cable joint inside the box with tie wrap, not just hot glue.
Fastening a heat sink with hot glue seems adventurous. ;-) but I guess it shouldn't go very hot if you just hold the button for a short time.
Tips might burn out after some uses, could be handy to have them easily replaceable, maybe using a pair of standard nails/needles/screws.
I'd also put two buttons, one on each side of the box that you need to hold simultaneously so you don't accidentally activate it. Or perhaps a switch in combination with the push button for the same reason.
A switch on the mains cable could also be a nice thing as the transformer will heat up when standing idle.

author
MaryJ60 (author)2017-01-03

You could get a much more impressive arc with a bigger capacitor and a car ignition coil.

author
Kinnishian (author)2017-01-03

Well done, and must have been a super cool gift for your younger brother! And your parents can probably appreciate that at least you stepped down and isolated the 110VAC :P

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