Wimshurst Machine

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Project by Mork posted 03-01-2014 11:11 PM 5349 views 32 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Updated with more videos below…

This machine was invented between 1880 – 1883 by a guy named James Wimshurst. There is all kinds of information on the internet about these machines but not all of it agrees. When I started building my machine I had several question and ended up making several assumptions. As it turns out the machine works fantastic but I could have boosted the performance significantly. For instance, the foil sectors attached to the acrylic disks could have been smaller. This would have increased the voltage and spark length significantly. On the flip side, larger sectors make the machine perform more reliable. The machine has to be charged. To do this I rub a 2 foot piece of 3/4 PVC pipe with a cloth and hold it next to one of the disks while it is turning. After that it stays charged until somebody operates the machine in reverse. Apparently with smaller sectors the machine would be more difficult to charge or start.

My spark is 2 inches or slightly over. There is a wire that connects the two PVC pipe capacitors. With the capacitors connected the spark is a very health snap about every revolution of the crank. Disconnect the capacitors and the spark is almost constant (and the same length) but much weaker (same voltage but less amps).

To answer your question Soapmaker, yes i have touched the spark. With the capacitors engaged it is not pleasant but with them disconnected it is a hair raising experience. If you separate the electrodes and hang on to one of them while turning the machine a blue glow can be seen coming from your hands to the other electrode along with a hissing noise. Move your hand away then everything starts to glow blue (coronal discharge).

This machine has been incredibly amusing and a lot of fun. Its been sitting on my dining room table for about a month now and I can’t walk past it without turning the crank.

It would be a fantastic father son project or if you are like me, a kid at heart, I would highly recommend building one. All the wood used were scrap size and the components cost me about $70 bucks. The only really difficult part was the bosses that the disk mounts to. I had a machinist turn them out of UHMW (a type of plastic) and fit them with brass bushings.

If anyone decides to build one let me know and I’ll gladly pass on what I have learned.

17 comments so far

View soapmaker's profile


49 posts in 2247 days

#1 posted 03-02-2014 12:05 AM

I like mechanical devices that are just for fun. This has a steampunk feel to it and looks excellent.
Is the spark enough to just get your attention or is it stronger, surely you’ve touched it.

View MShort's profile


1798 posts in 3984 days

#2 posted 03-02-2014 01:03 AM

Cool project.

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View Nindwood's profile


134 posts in 2249 days

#3 posted 03-02-2014 01:16 AM

Oh what fun. May we never grow out of toys. Awesome work ( or play) should I say.

-- Narinder, Calgary, Ab.

View exelectrician's profile


2339 posts in 2993 days

#4 posted 03-02-2014 04:43 AM

Shocking,,, Quite shocking,,, – What’s next? Something from Nickola Tesler perhaps?

Really nice attention to detail in your build, well done.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View Woodknack's profile


12950 posts in 2946 days

#5 posted 03-02-2014 05:00 AM

This is very cool and I’d love to build one someday. I’ve been watching Murdoch Mysteries which has turned me on to machines and electric devices of the period.

-- Rick M,

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2573 days

#6 posted 03-02-2014 01:48 PM

COOL! I remember years ago getting someone to “Hold this sparkplug wire while pull the rope to see if it gets any spark”

What’s that old saying about you can fool some of the people all the time, but not all of the people every time )

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

9376 posts in 2894 days

#7 posted 03-02-2014 02:32 PM

Looks like fun

Nice project

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View Randy_ATX's profile


881 posts in 3008 days

#8 posted 03-02-2014 02:35 PM

I like it, nice job. The base matches your oak table.

-- Randy -- Austin, TX by way of Northwest (Woodville), OH

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3432 days

#9 posted 03-02-2014 02:37 PM

A beautiful and wonderful conversation piece. What an eye catcher.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Mork's profile


299 posts in 3341 days

#10 posted 03-02-2014 02:39 PM

What Next?

A 22-inch machine (current machine is 15.5” disk size). Also much smaller sectors and I’ll update the neutralizer bars a bit. The bars short out apposing sectors across the disk. Most of what you read on the internet says the wire brushes on the ends of the neutralizers needs to touch the sectors but I have found about 1/16” away works fine. I’d like to make the bars a bit more adjustable so I can maintain close tolerance without contact. Of course this leads to another challenge, controlling disk run out. The current machine run out is about 1/32 which isn’t too bad but on a 22” disk this will be harder to achieve. I think I’ll make the bosses out of Delrin and mount the disks with 3 screw with o-rings between the disk and bosses. That way I have some adjust-ability. No mater how accurate the bosses are made there is always some warps in the acrylic disks.

View Mork's profile


299 posts in 3341 days

#11 posted 03-02-2014 02:45 PM

Yes… a conversation piece for sure! Whenever somebody walks in my home they say – “wow, what is that?” and then they are cranking on the machine for a good 20 minutes.

View Albert's profile


533 posts in 4155 days

#12 posted 03-02-2014 03:14 PM

Fun, Excellent workmanship, Super photography!

Thanks for sharing the project with us.

View ex-member's profile


186 posts in 2340 days

#13 posted 03-06-2014 11:36 PM

Steampunk…can’t hide it…the lamps, the furniture, the Wimshurst machine. You are out now…you’re a steampunk. No sense denying it.

View Mork's profile


299 posts in 3341 days

#14 posted 03-07-2014 12:38 AM

Steampunk? Interesting…. I had to look that up. I’d say the Wimshurst fits for sure. I have always like trains, steam engines, cool looking old cameras (that kind of look like trains), love scfi that has time travel…. I love the Arts & Crafts/Mission furniture styles for sure. Dang! I’m a STEAMPUNK! Hahaha…

Oh.. and hit and miss gas engines, old machinery… metal lathes, hand crank drill presses. Old printing machines (I also work for a printer).

Hey, i was looking the word up and ran across this video:

View ex-member's profile


186 posts in 2340 days

#15 posted 03-09-2014 03:38 PM

That’s fun! Thanks, it made me laugh when he started playing. I pretty much laugh to the end.

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