Message modified by board administrator 9/10/2009, 10:33 pm
Excellent - I'm also in the Chicago area - about 30 miles west of downtown in Woodridge, IL.
In the meantime, consider joining the Tesla Coil Mailing List (TCML) by going to http://www.pupman.com - it has some of the best coilers in the world on the list. You can also find answers to just about anything you might ask (with some searching) on the list archives. I'm assuming that you're interested in building a small spark gap coil - this is ideal for beginners. Vacuum tube, solid state, or "pig" powered coils are best made by more experienced coilers.
Here are some great sources of information:
Your first stop needs to be one of the Tesla Coil Safety Pages so that you understand the risks associated with coiling - here's a very good one from Terry Fritz, the former moderator of the TCML:
This is probably the most comprehensive Tesla coil theory site in existence - try to read all of it, especially the components, operation, and quenching/coupling pages.
Other good sites include:
A listing of common abbreviations used by coilers can be found here:
A good "walk through" for a spark gap Tesla coil design can be obtained from expert coiler Dan McCauley. This guide uses WinTesla design aid, but similar results can now be obtained by using JavaTC from Bart Anderson. See:
You'll also be interested in learning about Multi-Mini Capacitors (MMC's). MMC's are inexpensive high voltage capacitors made by connecting groups of smaller polypropylene foil film snubber capacitors in series and parallel to obtain the desired capacitance and operating voltage for your coil.
Although the Geek Group no longer supplies MMC caps, 0.15 uF at 2000 volt MMC's are available from Dr. Resonance (D. C. Cox). Contact him at 608-522-4378 to order. If I recall, he has a 25 piece min. quantity. They are also available from a variety of electronics distributors. They are also available from a variety of electronics distributors.
Once you understand the basics, there are some computer based tools that you may find very useful. These tools allow you to play with the design of your coil before actually doing any construction:
Another very good, easy to use tool, is WinTesla - you can get it here:
You may also wish to join the Tesla Coil Builders List, or at least check out the archives at:
Begin accumulating parts that might be usable in a coil.
The most difficult part to find is usually the high voltage transformer. Most beginning coilers use a Neon Sign Transformer (NST) or an Oil Burner Ignition Transformer (OBIT). You want an older, non-electronic, type of transformer. Try stopping by local neon sign shops and ask if they have any scrapped transformers. You want a transformer in the range of 9 kV - 15 kV unit and 30 - 60 ma. Brand new NST's (15 kV 30 ma) run about $80-100, retail, but used transformers are a lot less, sometimes even free. I've seen anywhere from $5-30 for a working transformer, but it may take some searching.
Some other materials to look for include PVC pipe in larger diameters (3" or bigger). You can often get sections of larger diameter material from construction sites where they are installing big drain pipes (like 10,12 or 14 inch). Sometimes, they'll have pieces that got damaged on one end so it no longer has a nice square edge. You can cut the end off and have a great form for a big secondary.
Magnet wire can also be difficult to find in suitable quantities. You'll need enough for around 1000 turns on your form (roughly 1000 ft for a 4 inch tube). Anything larger in diameter than 28 AWG is worth getting. You can often get this at hamfests (local electronic "garage sales" sponsored by ham radio hobbyists). You can often find magnet wire on eBay for reasonable prices.
Expandable aluminum ducting, used for things like bathroom vents and dryers, is also great for making toroids (the top terminal of a Tesla Coil. White plastic cutting boards make great high voltage insulating material. It's easy to work with and makes great supports for the primary winding.
Also look for short sections of 3/4" or 1" hard copper water pipe that you can cut into 2-3" long sections. A tubing cutter is definitely the way to go on this, by the way. These can be used to make a static spark gap.
Please contact me directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and provide me with your contact info (phone number) so that we can chat about your needs.
BTW, there are several other Tesla Coilers in the Northern Illinois area, including the "Masters of Lightning":
Welcome to the world of coiling and good luck - Please play safely!