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Why be scared, you can never make an omelet without breaking a few eggs figuratively speaking
you can always add a 5v regulator to maintain your output(or input) when your input voltage spikes
yes more than likely, you may have twisted the wrong two wires very easy to do. say you have a red and black wire and you wound them on a toroid say 20 turns, you,ll have two wires on both sides, a red and black on side 1 and a red and black on side 2 take the black wire from side 2 and twist it to the red on side 1 and that,s your battery plus wire will go. here,s a you tube link that shows how to wire what i described https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS2nwjY0Lac hope this helps you out, and the efficiency of this or any joule thief is only limited by the toroid windings so experiment with the coil ratio find what works for you.
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