Science Technology
High Voltage! Put Safety First During Your Tesla Coil Performance

Tesla coils, being high voltage, are particularly dangerous; that’s part of their charm. Along with excitement comes responsibility: it’s important to pay close attention to safety when dealing with any electrical devices, and especially these. The standard electronic safety precautions all apply here, like “Do not work on it while powered on,” but you also have to consider the safety of the crowd watching — and if anyone else is nearby, you know there will be a crowd. 

We asked ArcAttack about their best practices for putting on a spectacular show while making safety a priority for onlookers, and we’d like to share a few of those tips with you. For a more detailed breakdown, including DMX interfacing and radio interference, check out their page on performance safety with coils.

Tesla Coil Anatomy

Protect your audience

While there isn’t an exact distance you need to leave between your audience and the coil, it is important to create a firm safety perimeter around your coil. Everyone wants to be close, and they’ll push as close as possible, even reaching out toward the coils despite the fact that doing so is terrifyingly dangerous. 

ArcAttack recommends you set up a hard perimeter at a distance of at least 10 feet beyond the longest possible arc your coil can produce. 

Protect your crew

The audience isn’t the only concern. The people operating the coil, or just existing in the vicinity of the stage for other reasons, need to be fully aware of the dangers at all times. To pull this off, ArcAttack recommends a minimum of two operators who are prepared to hit a kill switch at any moment, their hand literally held over the button during the performance.

Be vocal…

Have a crew member announce loudly the moment the coils are powered on, as well as powered off, and include some kind of visual indicator that the coil has power and could therefore be dangerous. 

...and use hand signals too

You need to remember that these coils are extremely loud and chaotic. Use hand signs to communicate basic instructions and information. This will reduce the possibility of mishearing or simply not hearing commands at all. 

Watch your ears

On the topic of being loud (and we mean LOUD), it’s imperative that the crowd and crew alike all use hearing protection. 

High voltage is no joke

Once again, there is serious juice running through these machines, which makes them dangerous even when not sparking, and this should always be kept in mind. 

Now have some fun! Safely.

This article appeared in Make: Volume 77.

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Senior Editor for Make: I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity of the masses! My favorite thing in the world is sharing the hard work of a maker.

I'd always love to hear about what you're making, so send me an email any time at caleb@make.co

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