Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning

In this article, I'll show you how to create a simple yet accurate demonstration of the "rising ionized gas" principle. In other words, a transformer, two metal prongs and lots of evil laughter. Remember those large "towers" in the background of Frankenstein movies with a "lightning bolt" rising upwards every few seconds? That's called a Jacob's Ladder; one of the coolest awe-inspiring demonstrations of high voltage. Here's a video of the final product: 

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Materials and Tools

1) A neon sign transformer. These are quite difficult to find, but with determination and a little patience, nothing is impossible. Try asking for an old one at a neon sign shop, or just keep your eyes open for a warehouse renovation/sign replacement, often the ones removed work just fine. They look something like this: 

How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning
2) Some straight copper tubing or thick wire (available at most any hardware stores).
3) 1' long two-by-four (purchase at a hardware store, they'll probably just give it to you).
4) Two 1" screws.
5) Insulated wire.
6) Screw-on wire connectors (available at most hardware stores, they look like this): 
How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning
7) Pliers. 
8) Screwdrivers (depending on the two screws mentioned earlier).


1) Cut two equal lengths of wire or copper tubing at around 3' each (or longer, depends on your preference).
2) Secure them to the wood like so: 
How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning
3) Bend an indent in the wires, like so: 
How to Make a Jacob's Ladder: Chained Lightning
4) Attach the HV output lines from your transformer to each copper tube (or wire) as seen in the photo above. 
5) VERY CAREFULLY, use trial and error to find the perfect distance of the spark gap and distance of the "V" arc guides. 
6) Laugh madly! >:D
If you're interested in other electrical projects, check out my High-Lighter Stun-Gun and Electricity from Kinetic Energy.


  • DO NOT attempt this unless you are experienced in electricity, high voltage, and safety around lethal levels of power! 
  • NEVER touch the Jacob's Ladder or arc while the transformer is on! 
  • Don't bring electronics near the Ladder in case of electrical damage.
  • I am not responsible for any harm or damage you cause!