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Tesla Gun jumps out of graphic novel and into reality

By

May 16, 2012

Rob Flickenger has created a fully functional, battery-operated Tesla Gun of the kind used...

Rob Flickenger has created a fully functional, battery-operated Tesla Gun of the kind used by Nikola Tesla himself in a graphic novel about the pioneers of power

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If you listen to your elders, electricity is a dangerous, often fatal, medium that shouldn't be toyed with. If, like Rob Flickenger, you decide to completely ignore such sage counsel, then electricity is awesome and a whole bunch of fun – especially if you build yourself a working battery-powered Tesla Gun that handles some 20,000-volts and 2,000 amps of current and shoots out bolts of lightning!

Flickenger says that he was inspired to build a real-world version of the Tesla Gun after reading a Steampunk graphic novel called The Five Fists of Science, that concerns the efforts of Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain and Bertha von Suttner to bring about an end to all war and the titanic battle for supremacy against the Dark Lords of Power – Thomas Edison, John Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi – that follows.

He readily admits that his version is a poor imitation of the device used by a young Tesla in the novel. For starters, it's bigger (being more like a rifle than a pistol) and it cannot create an ion wind, but it is powered by a drill battery and has one major advantage over the original design – it actually exists.

Assembled and ready for action - a battery-powered ZVS driver circuit drives a flyback tra...

Basically a hand-held spark gap Tesla coil, the main body housing consists of two sand-cast aluminum halves and is based on a Nerf gun. The rough edges and some sloppy innards were smoothed away using a Fadal 3-axis mill at the Hackerbolt Labs in south Seattle to make room for the internal components, which help produce the impressive sparks at the business end.

Central to the successful operation of any Tesla coil is the high voltage switch which needs to be tough enough to cope with the repeated switching of tens of thousands of volts and around 2,000 ampere of current, as well as being able to take some modest heat generation in its stride. Flickenger's switch housing is custom-made from porcelain and contains a pair of tungsten welding electrodes. Once tweaked and tested, the new switch was installed inside the gun's housing along with a CPU cooling fan for drawing hot ions out of the switch to help create bigger, rapid lightning bolts.

An 18V drill battery powers a ZVS driver circuit, which in turn drives a flyback transformer that ups that 18V to somewhere around the 20,000V mark. The output from the circuit is sent along to a center-tapped coil wrapped around the ferrite core of a flyback transformer, generously donated from the insides of an old television set. Last order of business before dealing with the coils was to install a bank of 942C20P15K-F capacitors in a custom-made housing.

Close up of the primary and secondary coils

The Tesla Gun's primary coil consists of high voltage wire protected by high-density polyethylene insulation, and the secondary coil is made from a 2.5-inch (63.5 mm) piece of ABS pipe wrapped in 30-gauge enameled wire. The unit is topped by a doughnut-shaped aluminum toroid, from which the sparks fly out.

After a bit more tweaking to ensure that whoever fired the weapon didn't die in the process, the battery-powered Tesla Gun was ready for its first light show. According to the designer, when there's nothing to earth the flow from the toroid, a cool-looking mini lightning corona forms around the edges. When a spike is added to the top of the toroid, the sparks fly straight out at anything up to two feet (0.6 meters) away. The battery can power the gun for about 30 minutes before needing to be recharged.

As to whether the Tesla Gun could harm anyone, Flickenger says that a baseball bat is a more effective weapon than his creation.

"You’re a lot more likely to hurt yourself if you’re foolish enough to fire the thing," he said. "This is sculpture. Art inspired by art. Not a weapon, any more than any object is a weapon if wielded with intent to harm."

We think Flickenger has done a wonderful job and produced an excellent lightning gun, that would fit equally as well in the world-saving hands of a certain 19th century electrical engineer/super hero or any modern-day mad scientist.

In addition to the impressive amount of sparks produced by the Tesla Gun, it's also very loud – as you can see and hear in the following demonstration video:

Source: Rob Flickenger

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
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7 Comments

2000 amps of output current? I don't think so. That is the peak input pulse current into the primary (as sort of stated in the text). The 2000 amp spec is internal to the device, nothing to do with the output. Please get this stuff right, or if you don't understand it, ask someone who does!

Mr T
16th May, 2012 @ 07:24 pm PDT

Put a metal cone protected by sleeve of porcelain on the end of that thing.... That'd kick it up a notch

MRing
16th May, 2012 @ 07:57 pm PDT

Over 20 Megwatts of energy, I know you didn't say the duration but I would still guess you need a technical editor.

katgod
16th May, 2012 @ 09:26 pm PDT

I'm sorry but I believe 20kV but not 2kA. That's 40MW (resistive). You're not getting that out of a drill battery for 30min...

I'd believe maybe 2mA.

Adrien
16th May, 2012 @ 10:02 pm PDT

So if you could get a spinning magnetic field generator to spin in a direction to generate a magnetic cone, perhaps you could get an actual beam effect op to a distance.

yinfu99
17th May, 2012 @ 09:33 am PDT

Looks like this would be fun to use in the rain

Jay Finke
18th May, 2012 @ 06:51 am PDT

I have a Few questions . First, When the Tesla Gun is Discharged does it shock everything around the room ...Including the person firing it? I notice in the video He Is Not Holding or standing behind the Weapon. What would be needed to make sure You aren't shocked? What is the Maximum range? Nothing is stated here about distance. Having asked these questions . I believe it is a Giant step into making and perfecting these guns.Probably nothing Nicholas Tesla hasn't already done..Years ago. "Give credit where credits due ." I believe it will help bring attention and further refining to the devices with experimentation from the masses. But,Most Likely the Government has already built a good working version of this . It,s just Simply not needed or would be too psychologically barbaric to use inciting riot and revolution.

Anthony Osborne
15th August, 2012 @ 10:53 am PDT
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