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SDS relief #235: Cheap mini-lightning generator

Dan Robinson

If you remove the igniter from one of those long-barreled butane lighters (the ones you find in the camping/charcoal grilling section of the store), you can have a little fun with sparks without waiting for dry winter air with sock feet and carpet.

The igniter is a small plunger-like device with a metal base as one terminal and a wire as the other. It would be best to remove this from an empty lighter to decrease the chances of you blowing up the thing trying to take it apart.

The igniter's spark can get as long as around 3/8", not very big, but enough that you can get some visible branching. The device is very simple and easy to hook up to different spark gap terminals. The easiest is to hold the igniter on one hand and use your finger on the other hand as the other terminal. There is some nice branching with this WF (wire-to-finger) lightning. Just before the main channel reaches the skin it will split into two or three branches, then spreads out on the surface of the skin into even more branches. Wetting your skin can lengthen the branches on your skin surface.

The best branching I've achieved is using a stream of water from a faucet as a terminal.

A macro lens on a nice digital camera would be able to get some great images of this.

I know this sounds like a bad case of SDS, but once you do it you've got to admit it's pretty cool. I just wonder if larger igniters are made, or if you could make your own 'Tim Allen' version (more power!). Definately cheaper/easier than buying or building a Tesla coil or Van De Graaff generator.
Here are some shots of these from the VX2100.