When assembling a proper laboratory, the gentleman or lady experimenter should be sure to include a Wimshurst electrostatic generating machine. This device will serve tirelessly in investigations into the field of natural philosophy, and provide interesting parlor games such as the “electric kiss.” Herein we will demonstrate the construction of such a spectacular device, with materials easily acquired from your local home center and hardware store.

Electrostatic machines create high-voltage charges without the familiar coils of copper wire, permanent magnets, and commutators found in conventional generators. They’re made of brass, glass, and wood, and they look more mechanical than electrical.

The coolest thing about them is that you can feel them working. As you begin to crank a Wimshurst machine, you can hear it crackle and hiss with energy, you can smell the sharp tang of ozone, and you can feel the hair on your arms stand up as the Leyden jars begin to charge.

Note: The one item I couldn’t find in a home and hardware store was the pair of O-rings. The total cost of materials was about $100, but most are common items, so a little scrounging and perhaps some dumpster diving should net you significant savings.