Make Sparks in Your Parlor

Wimhurst Machine from MAKE Volume 17

In the early 1880s, British inventor James Wimshurst created an electrostatic generator called the Wimshurst Influence Machine, influence machines being a class of generators that separate electric charges through electrostatic induction, or influence. Not only did the sparks created by the machine provide for great scientific demonstration, but experiments like the “electric kiss” were popular parlor pastimes. In MAKE Volume 17, a fine gentleman by the name of Jake von Slatt shared his detailed instructions for making one. We just ported the DIY into Make: Projects for all to build. How does it work?

Wimshurst Machine MAKE Volume 17

The counter-rotating disks continually pass their metal strips (or sectors) near one another, and then separate them, increasing the sectors’ electrical potential or charge. A pair of neutralizing bars with conductive brushes contact each sector while it’s still under electrostatic influence, grounding its positive side and leaving it with a negative charge, or vice versa. A pair of charge-collecting combs strip off the charges — negative on one side and positive on the other — and deliver them to the Leyden jars where they are stored. When sufficient voltage builds up, a spark jumps the gap between 2 electrodes — CRACK!

Head over to the build on Make: Projects for tools, materials, crystal clear photos, step-by-step instructions, and an option to download the project as a PDF. Your parlor will never be the same.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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