Static Discharge Toy





Introduction: Static Discharge Toy

Turn a used compact flourescent bulb into a static electricity discharge toy that will encourage your kids to zap it before they fry your computer equipment.

This is simply a used CFL bulb with the circuitry removed and the bulb wired directly to the socket. One lead from the socket is attached to a small metal bead that you touch, the other is grounded. Takes about 15 minutes to make, longer if you salvage some of the electronics from the bulb (and who here wouldn't?).

Parts: used compact flourescent lamp (CFL), lightbulb socket, bead, tie wrap, crimp connectors, wood base.

The only important part here is the CFL bulb, the rest can be whatever you'd like. This version is crude because I made it very quickly just to test the concept. A neon or other discharge bulb of any kind will also work.

Procedure: open the base of the CFL carefully without breaking the bulb. In my "stylish" version I just drilled shallow 3/4 inch holes with a Forstner bit (NOT a spade bit ...) in each side and it popped apart. If you don't want to drill near a glass bulb, the base will pry apart. In this IKEA bulb the leads from the glass tube itself are just press-fit into the circuit board so the circuitry comes apart very easily. Remove all the electronics, leaving whatever wires there are coming up from the base. The bulb will have four wires, a pair at each end. Crimp each pair together with one of the base wires (see photo). In this bulb the center base wire had a component on it that made the lead too short, so I had to solder a new wire in its place. The wire just runs right up through the center of the base. Make sure the two wires inside the socket do not run near each other so the static discharge won't bypass the bulb.

Mount the socket to the wood base, run one wire out and put a bead on the end, run the other wire to ground. I held up the touch-bead wire with a tie-wrap around the socket but its position is not critical. Screw in the modified CFL and you're done.

In this example I taped the ground wire to my existing brass discharge disk but that was just for convenience. The bead allows for a good strong discharge; but if someone, say your wife, does not like a good strong zap you can just leave the stranded end of the wire which will spread the zap and make it less noticeable. This will also decrease the brightness of the bulb.



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    13 Discussions

    Great idea! However, I would like to recommend using a mini 250V neon pilot lamp instead of a big bulky CFL, mainly because the CFL is big and contains mercury, while the neon lamp is tiny and can be built into more interesting things.

    Imagine a cute plush bear with a neon lamp nose (or eyes!) which lights up when the bear is touched. You'd have to wire the outer fuzz to be conductive somehow, but it would work as long as the bear is the path to ground. ^_^

    The neon pilot lamps I describe are these kind:

    1 reply

    Yes, I could try some NE-2's like those, I have some in a drawer somewhere. Maybe in series-parallel to bring up the light output. One of my current alternative bulbs is a much larger neon pilot lamp because it has a screw-in base like the CFL. It does light up but the CFLs give off more light.. This was just a quickie project anyway, no plan to make it anything more than that.

    Just a thought, move the spark.... Add an insulated switch for connecting the ground. Make solid contact with the discharge disk and then while maintaining contact, flip the switch. You should see the burst with the bulb and the actual spark of contact will be in the switch. This is a great idea to make grounding more interesting. : )

    5 replies

    That's a good idea. It would have to have good isolation between contacts, you can actually set this off by touching the glass bulb itself! On a dry day. Would that plain old disk be enough to make your idea work, or would you need a capacitor/leyden jar? That brass disk isn't going to hold much charge, the only reason it's there is that the brass disk with the ground wire was what I used to have for a touchplate to discharge the static on. It was the touchplate that came with on of those touch dimmer lamps. Then I remembered as kids we used to rub our socked feet on the shag carpet and discharge through old 2 foot flourescent tubes from the kitchen light. So I thought the curly tubes in these new CFLs ought to do the same thing and added this arrangement with the socket. If I was to build one of these from scratch I wouldn't even have the brass disk at all, the black wire from the socket would just go right to ground. Plus the end-game idea is that this is something you just remember to touch in passing rather than zapping the mouse or the LCD picture frame or something else electronic in the room.

    You would keep your charge until you throw the switch. By touching the disk, you are just extending yourself until the switch is thrown, that is why you still have to be touching the disk when you use the other hand to throw the switch. On dry days, I get shocked a lot getting out of my car. I use a similar approach by holding my keys in a fist and touching the body of the car with a key before any of my skin. This puts the spark out on the key and spreads the discharge through my hand so I dont feel it.

    I get it. A regular light switch might work, I'd have to try one and see. It sounds like an interesting option. Sometimes the sparks get a half-inch long, not sure what the spacing of the contacts is inside the switch. Getting a good strong zap is what the kids like, though.

    What about using a push-button-type switch, under the disk? That way you can operate it one-handed.

    Interesting idea, because then the switch can be built with whatever travel distance is needed to prevent the spark from just jumping the switch as soon as you touch the plate. I'm imagining some kind of lever arm with the short end under the plate and the long end setting the distance between the contacts. I don't believe any commercially available pushbuttons will have a large enough distance between the contacts.

    I think this diagram captures what bhunter736 was describing. You put the switch before the ground, you could swap it's position with the lamp also. This way when you touch the apparatus you don't immediately discharge yourself to ground. A little charge goes into the apparatus to equalize the potential with you and you probably won't feel that transfer. Then the charge "hangs" there on you and the apparatus until you flip the switch to connect the ground. Now the spark of making the connection to ground is in the switch so you won't feel it. So to use this arrangement, you touch the discharge electrode as before, but hold your finger there while you flip the switch with your other hand. This is an interesting twist on the original design; but, it takes two hands to discharge yourself this way rather than just touching the electrode while passing by, which is how it normally gets used. Of course, you could just leave the switch turned on for "normal" use. I suspect for an "insulated switch" you could just use a normal wall switch because the switch handle is an insulator and the internal electrodes are fairly far from each other. Now that the device has become a permanent fixture in he computer room, I'll probably try bhunter736's idea when I rebuild this device into a more permanent format.


    So... Do you connect this to a source of high voltage, such as a Wimshust machine, and then touch the bulb to get a shock and a flash? I think this would be much better broken up into separate steps as an Instructable, showing construction and use.

    1 reply

    Actually this is my first attempt to post anything on this site, so I wanted to try the processs on something simple. If I had taken pictures during the build process it wouldn't add much detail. But you're right it's a little unclear. I think having the brass plate there adds a lot of confusion, just ignore the brass plate, it's something I added on to and is not really part of the toy. There's no high voltage source. What happens around here in the winter is that when you get up from the chairs in this room you build up a big charge and I was concerned that things would get destroyed by the static when you touched something after getting up. So the whole point is to just safely discharge the static that builds up on your body, but in a way that's interesting so the kids will be likely to touch the "right thing", i.e. the grounding toy, first. As for grounding, I didn't want to put this in the instructions, but for my setup the grounded end of the wire is wrapped around a 10-24 screw which is shoved into the ground hole of a 3-prong outlet. Totally safe, but folks would get weird about putting "unofficial" things into outlets. So I just said ground it. One grounding method that would appear safer would be to crimp a ring lug on the ground wire and attach it to the back of your PC case with one of the many screws there. IF your house is wired correctly you could remove an outlet cover and attach it to the ground screw on the outlet fixture and put the cover back. Or you could not take the cover off and just shove the strands into the hole in the center of the outlet where the cover screw goes and put the screw back in, because that hole is also supposed to be grounded. So many places to ground things, but always ensure they're really a ground first! I suppose for a "professional" version I could put the bulb on a nice wood base and wire the ground wire to a 3-prong plug's ground lead and just not connect the power leads at all. That way you would be using "official" electrical equipment instead of sticking a screw into a socket, even if it is just a ground connection. Or you could wire the power leads in the plug to a neon NE-2 bulb & 1Mohm resistor in series mounted inside the plug. Then when you plugged it in, the bulb would light to show the system was "connected" or "activated" or some such marketing-friendly thing.

    Hahaha, cool slideshow, I might do this. And bring it to school. Then get expelled... okay maybe I won't bring it to school. Nice pictures and instructions.