500,000 Volt Van De Graaff Generator Using Cheap Parts




Introduction: 500,000 Volt Van De Graaff Generator Using Cheap Parts

About: Electronics engineer with allot of mechanical design expertise email nickademusss@yahoo.com I dont check here often for messages so email me if you have one
Lets build a 500,000+ volt Van de Graaff generator!!

I built this one in about a week, using scrap parts from a sewing machine and materials ordered from http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/wwg/start.shtml

I have seen the larger machines in operation at my local science museum and this one does just as well. I have made hair stand on end and even pie pans float up and off the machine.

For an explanation of operation go to Wikipedia:


ALSO, note that this machine can generate enough static to stop a pacemaker and any other digital device, keep people with heart problems away. Also if you dont wont to blow up you sensitive electronic devices make sure you either use the machine on a separate circuit or unplug everything you want to keep. I have also stopped watches and killed cell phones with it. The current is low around 27micro amps but that's a thousand times whats needed to kill say your flat screen TV or pc/laptop.

Well if your know anything about Van de Graaffs you know that the bigger and smoother the sphere or collector the bigger the charge. Any bump or lip on the sphere and all the charge will run to it and bleed off.

The recharge rate or time it takes to build up a charge high enough to jump from the sphere is determined by belt speed and width.

I used an art program to generate some diagrams and several pics of the completed unit, its a simple mechanism and you could upscale it for a larger machine easily topping 1,000,000 volts. all you need to do it increase the sphere size and belt width.

This one is an upscale version that I used to test equipment at work and I used the little one to determine the best belt material.
I tried plastic tape, rubber, fabrics, and the hands down best was a plastic coated fabric used in hotel shower curtains. Its easy to cut and glue and lasts for a long time. The charge it carries was easily 50% better than everything I tried.

Also to get the most of your machine you will need to get your hands on some Teflon and some nylon to make the rollers out of. I ordered mine from Granger (links in parts list) I used the Teflon for the top and nylon for the bottom or drive roller. You can also get the Teflon from stacking little half inch thick disks cut with a 2" diameter hole saw from cutting boards. You could also make the top and bottom roller out of the same material and coat the top roller with Teflon tape.

Also if you want to boost your storage and spark a bit build this:
Leyden jar of DOOM!

I will try to list as many tips threw this process as I can. Its been several years since I built the machine and its worked well so far.

Zachary M.

Georgetown, KY

Next up a parts list......

Step 1: Parts List (give or Take a Few Items...)

Sphere-- Garden gazing ball, stainless (glass or plastic will not work)
4" PVC sewer pipe 24" long
4" PVC sewer pipe coupling
2" Diameter 2.75" long Teflon roller Grainger Item # 2NJA2 http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/items/2NJA2
2" Diameter 2.75" long Nylon roller Grainger Item # 1UTY5 http://www.grainger.com
12" x 12" plywood 3/4" thick
12" x 18" plywood 3/4" thick
1/2" all thread (threaded rod) you will need enough to make four pieces 9" long.
1/2" nuts for the all thread, you will need 16 of them also 16 washers
4/40 by 1" bolts I used about 10 of them
Power switch, 120v 5amp
Sheet of copper, I got mine at the hobby store 9 or copper roof flashing at a hardware store.
box of stick pins
3/4 inch copper pipe around 14" long (I would get at least two feet so you have leverage to bend it)
120volt power cord
120volt sewing machine motor with drive pulley and belt. (mine was from a Brother) Or Usehttp://www.grainger.com/Grainger/items/2M033 and Small pulley Granger PN 1X459
12" x 12" PVC sheet 1/4" thick (thick plexi glass will work just as well, and look cool to!)
Axel for top and bottom rollers (whatever you can find, I pulled mine from the sewing machine)
120v panel light, optional
PVC glue
Super Glue medium thickness for the belt
Vinyl covered fabric for belt (shower curtain or cheap strap)

Step 2: Belt Material and Were to Get It!

I had several questions about the belt material, and its the most important piece to the VDG next to the sphere.

What you need is 18 oz. Vinyl Coated Polyester

A very tough mesh fabric that is coated with vinyl making it waterproof with a high resistance to dirt, mildew, oil, salt, chemicals and UV. Outstanding strength. Made of top quality materials, will not tear, stretch, crack, rot or mildew. May be sewn or glued with HH-66 vinyl cement.

Were you can get it!!!

They have a 42 oz. version but I have not tried it.

I got mine in white, almost all the black materials I tested didn't do so well.

Step 3: Tools Needed (give or Take Again...)

Drill with bits
Table saw or equivalent (skill saw)
Dremel tool
Torch(optional but makes it work better)
screw driver for what ever screws you use...
Hole saw or jigsaw
hack saw
soldering iron w/solder

Step 4: Building the Base Step 1

Cut out your plywood base like the pic, or as long as you keep the top and bottom the same size you can make it whatever shape you want, it will be up to you to determine if you can fit the motor in it.
The top piece is 12" square with the hole centered in it. I recommend laying the two pieces on top of each other and drilling the four support bolt holes at the same time so they line up perfectly.

Step 5: Base Step 2

Cut a couple of 3/4" rings off of the PVC coupler and glue one of them to your main PVC pipe using PVC glue about three inches up one end.

After it dries, fit it threw the hole in the top piece of plywood and glue the bottom ring on to hold it in place.

Get it as tight as you can and it wont slip on you.

Step 6: Base, Step 3

Next cut the all thread to 9" lengths and assembly like in the pic.
The reason I made it this was was so that you can adjust the belt tension and level the top roller to the bottom roller. You dont have to bolt the top on permanently just yet, you need to add the motor and and comb.

Step 7: Base Step 4

look at the pics and cut the PVC sheet to make a small box for the roller to ride in. I used the shaft and bearing from the sewing machine. I added a couple of screws to hold in the comb.

A note on the combs both of them the top and bottom ones are nothing more than stick pins soldered in sheet copper. about 1/4" apart. the sharper the better. the bottom one is wired directly to ground.
the top one is touching a spring that contacts the sphere.

Step 8: Base Step 5

Next add the motor and pully, then the comb on the back side of the roller, later when you put the belt on you can flex the soft copper of the comb to adjust the space between the roller and the pins, the closser the more charge gets transferred.

Step 9: Base Step 5 Another View

Mechanical side of the base completed

Step 10: Base Step 5 Pic

Note: the motor and bottom pulley needs to turn counter clock wise in the pic below.

The belt and matching pulleys came from the sewing machine.

The aluminum box I mounted the bottom pulley to is just a spacer, you don't have to build yours that way.

I made my motor clamp out of a couple of bolts and a scrap piece of metal with two holes drilled in it.

Step 11: Base (comb and Bottom Roller)

The bottom comb position in relation to the bottom roller is shown below.

Note that the roller will be turning counter clock wise and that the pins are just above were the belt will leave the roller.

Step 12: Base Step 6

Wire up the motor, power cable and switch, please shield everything and use a three wire power cable so you can ground it.

I had a left over modem case that I put my power switch in, you can use whatever you like as long as you shield it.

Note: after operation, if you dont discharge the sphere you can get a shock from the power switch.

Step 13: Time for the Top 1

Make the top comb as shown, its just a set of pins that need to be held next to the side of the belt just before it touches the top roller. the long tale of copper is to make a spring to touch the inside of the sphere as close the middle as possible.

I put to 4/40 bolts in the top of the machine for this assembly to sit on, this is a very loose design, just get it close without touching the belt and it will grab a great charge.

Step 14: Assemble the Belt

I used a piece of string to measure how long the belt needed to be, and I also left the top deck lowered about an inch so I could tighten the belt up later.

I recommend cutting the belt as pictured below, then gluing a patch over it. I put mine on some wax paper so I could use allot of glue and not stick it to my table. The patch I made was "V" shaped and about 3/4" wider than the seam. See pic in step 15 as well.

Step 15: Top Roller

I used the rest of the sheet PVC (you could also use Plexiglas) I made a slot for the belt to come threw and used some scrap plastic to hold up the top roller.

Step 16: Top Roller Another View and Belt Construction.

NOTE the way I cut the belt in a "V" shape and used another piece to cover it, that way you wont have a lump in the belt. I measured for the belt and made it as wide as I could without it slapping the sides when its running. The teflon is so slick I didnt use bearings on the top! its just a solid non turning shaft. The belt is 1.75" wide. Not sure how long.

After you have cut and glued the belt, you can put it on, you simply use the four support bolts to tighten it up, don't go to far you just want it tight enough to spin, and not slap the side of the column when its up to speed, this will kill your charge. If your belt does not track right you can fix that by moving one side of the supports up a little at a time, go slow and make the belt center in the rollers. You can also "crown" one of your rollers, that is to make it "keg" shaped. The downside to this is that you lose a little surface contact and in turn a little recharge power.

Optional: you can make the top roller adjustable as well to help center the belt.

Step 17: Sphere

Use a Dremel tool with a good cutting disk and cut a 4.5 inch hole your sphere and make sure it fits.
Take your time and cut slowly, the woven carbide disks worked best.

The first time I fired mine up it worked but had allot of sparks jumping from the bottom of the sphere, to solve or help this problem I fitted a copper ring for the sphere to sit on. This will fold the charge back up to it. If you dont have a pipe bender tape one end of the pipe shut, fill it with water and freeze it that way you wont kink it wile hand bending it.

After I got the copper ring bent in a circle I cut it and clamped it, so it could be soldered with the torch

I also cut several more 1/2 inch tall rings off the coupler and put them on the column, this keeps the voltage from creeping down.

Also make the sphere sit as high on the column as you can without losing contact with the comb inside, my sphere is around 4" down the column.

Step 18: Diagram

1= dome
2= collector comb
3= top teflon roller
4=upward side of belt positive charge
5-downward side of belt, negative charge
6=bottom nylon roller
7=bottom comb
8=grounded ball
9= SPARK!!!!!!!!!

Step 19: Time to Play

Make sure the subject, in this case me, is standing on something insulated and have them touch the sphere, then turn on the machine, hair will stand.

You will also get a great effect on a humid summer night out side in total darkness, you can view the plasma coming from you and the sphere.

Also once its running good, tape a thumb tack with the point out to the top of the sphere, watch the plasma jet from it.

take five pie pans and stack them on top of the sphere and turn it on, one by one they will float up and fly off the machine.

Hold a florecent tube in your hand near it, it will glow! (you will get a few sparks to you doing this be ready and dont drop the bulb)

I would build a discharge wand to, or stick with a metal ball on the end that's grounded to the machine. You can use a large tin foil ball and a good insulated wire.

You can take it a step further with a leyden jar like the one here:
Leyden jar of DOOM!
Just be careful with any leyden jar they let you store enough current to cause you serious harm.

Also it will hold a charge for sometime after you turn it off. So discharge it before your curious cat looks at his reflection and gets popped in the nose like mine.....

Step 20: In Action

3 min, exposure in a dark room, the other ball is grounded and attached to a stick.

See it and other photos that I have taken here:
Nickademusss Photo Stream

Most of the best visuals with a Van De Graaff are in a dark room, the light is subtle.

Enjoy email with questions :)

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    Question 1 year ago

    Anybody ever hear anything about using liquids as a replacement for the belt?


    Question 1 year ago

    How about the spacing of the needles? How far above the belt do the charge needles need to be?


    Question 1 year ago

    Is the belt covered in pvc on both sides or just the one side with the other being polyester fabric?


    Question 2 years ago

    Thanks for the great info, Mine works fantastic !! almost too good, my question is there seems to be so much charge built up its hard to control, I am using an independent ground earth and trying to find the best shape or size for the discharge wand , any suggestions ? Huge sparks hairs on my arms standing up just getting near it but want to get the sparks under control :)


    Reply 1 year ago

    sorry for the delay, you can build a throttle to limit the voltage build up on the sphere by adding a grounded rod to the base, use an old antenna and you can raise it to lower the power, lower it to increase


    Question 1 year ago

    hello there i got a question what was the 3d modeling software did you use


    Reply 1 year ago

    an old program called Bryce 3d


    Question 2 years ago

    Hi, what happens if you coat the outer surface of the sphere by conductive ink? Like is a graphite ink or similar.


    Reply 2 years ago

    no idea


    Question 2 years ago on Step 18

    Will the brush/combs touch the belt or no?


    Reply 2 years ago

    no, just close to it


    2 years ago

    If I use a 30cm ball, would it be safe to touch without being insulated from the ground?


    2 years ago

    I studied everyone else's efforts, then built a pair of my own, one positive, the other negative. The idea was to run them as a pair and double the spark length; this didn't work due to air leakage. The answer was to build a pair of spaghetti - Leyden jars that charged by spark-gap. Once they are charged to the full +/- 450kV, they flash over with a lovely "BANG!" Very dangerous, 80+ Joules each jar. I have had a warning shot from recovery / re-charge, that nearly dropped me. (And me with my dodgy ticker!) I'd like people to have a look, but don't do the Jar - bit unless you are an adult, or with knowledgeable supervision, It could easily shorten your life... ... at some stage I will post a set of photos of the build.


    Question 3 years ago on Step 1

    Hi, do you have a CAD model of this assembly?


    Answer 3 years ago



    Question 3 years ago on Step 20

    Would it still work well if I were to cut costs and resources a little and put a reduced belt drive attached to the vinyl belt?


    Question 3 years ago

    I think ..negative electrical charge on the metal dome (globe)?

    "Depending on setup, the collector will be either negative or positive. The generator uses a nylon pulley at the lower end of the machine, attached to an electric motor. A belt passes over the pulley. As the pulley turns, rubbing occurs; the pulley acquires positive charges while the inside surface of the rubber belt (near the plastic pulley) acquires an equal amount of negative charge. The outside surface of the rubber belt acquires an equal amount of positive charge by induction. An electrode, in the form of a comb or brush, is provided to drain away these positive charges from the outside surface of the rubber belt to the “ground."

    A similar comb (electrode) is provided at the upper end where it will provide a path for negative charges to be taken to the collector dome. The plastic pulley retains the positive charges that it acquired.

    Negative charges stay on the inside surface of the belt and travel upwards as the belt moves up. At the top, it runs over a PVC pulley which picks up these negative charges and retains them. Free electrons from the PVC pulley flow on the electron-deficient belt and are carried down to the plastic pulley. As the belt keeps running, more charges are deposited on both pulleys, resulting in heavy buildup of charges on each. Soon this buildup reaches ionization intensity in the vicinity of the two comb assemblies and a large number of positive and negative charges are generated. The negative charges are transferred to the collector dome by the upper comb and the positive charges are drained to the ground by the lower comb. The belt plays an important role in transporting positive charges from upper to lower comb and negative charges (on other half of the belt) from lower to upper comb.

    Once on the metallic collector dome, the positive charges spread out due to electrostatic repulsion and become uniformly distributed because of the dome's spherical shape. The buildup of negative charge on the dome continues until ionization intensity is reached. This is the equilibrium state and limits the quantity of charge that the generator can place on its dome. It is measured in volts.

    Once this limit is reached (400,000 potential for 10-085 /10-086), the air between dome and lower housing gets ionized and a creates a discharge with a spark. The discharge causes the potential to fall below the ionization intensity but is brought up to the limit again in seconds, and another similar discharge occurs. The process continues as long as the generator is running."


    Question 4 years ago

    Has anybody done any looking at a liquid VDG made using mineral oil in a tube, and aluminum powder to carry the charges?


    6 years ago

    Cheap? That was not my
    experience with this project. My final build cost is over $200. In part this
    was due to having purchased two roller sets and two belts (explained below). The
    stainless steel dome and roller/belt set will be your most expensive items.

    My first build was a failure.
    I used the Grainger rollers on my first attempt. The belt would find its way
    off and get jammed. It would work for a few seconds and then come off. No
    matter how I tried, I could not keep the belt in position due to the flat
    rollers. This was in large part due to the fact that the rollers do not spin
    in a perfect circle on my home build. This was an expensive lesson – the roller
    set wasn’t cheap!

    I was able to find a
    matching set of rollers on a website called Sci-Supply for @ $40 (Part#
    RR-LC2910C). I also purchased their belt (RB-LC2910-HC). The roller set included
    the upper collector mounting bracket. I was able to find metric screws for the
    upper bracket at Home Depot, which allowed me to move the upper roller up and
    down to correct the belt movement.

    I found a stainless dome
    on a site called Aliexpress. It took me a while to find them because the
    website search is terrible. I had to search for “stainless steel hollow ball”.
    I purchased an 8” / 20cm for @$24 with free shipping. It was a lower grade of
    stainless and delivered right from China.

    Keep in mind that the size
    of the dome correlates to total generator output. The dome acts as the
    capacitor and accumulates the charges. The larger the surface area, the more
    charges can accumulate. I would estimate that by reducing the size of my dome,
    my generator output is only about 250KV.

    Another tip… Rough up the
    rollers with a bit of sand paper prior to placing them in service. I used
    talcum powder on the belt as a drying agent too. Hope this information helps
    any potential builders.


    Reply 4 years ago

    let's keep in mind, you have to have some type of mechanical knowledge achieve positive results. please read about other pricipales before posting questions