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"Lightning in a Jar": how to make a Leyden Jar with kitchen materials

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Coleman Gailloreto

When perusing websites such as Instructables for interesting electronic projects, you'll find dozens of instructions on how to make a low-tech battery known as a Leyden Jar, usually with an empty jar, aluminum foil, and a long nail.

There's many reasons why the Leyden Jar (which is technically a capacitor, rather than a battery proper) is so popular on these creative maker websites.

First, they can be made with almost any material. A Leyden Jar works by absorbing static electricity and storing it via the gap between two coatings of metal on the outside and inside. As long as you have two pieces of metal that can conduct static electricity and a non-conductive container, you can make a Leyden Jar with them. The earliest Leyden Jars were even made usingsalt water and the human hand, which can both conduct static electricity!

Secondly, Leyden Jars, have a long, dramatic history. They were the first devices ever created that could reliably store and discharge static electricity: pioneering scientists such as Benjamin Franklin used Leyden Jars to experiment with electricity and learn about it's properties, efforts that led to the technology of our modern day society.

Thirdly, Leyden Jars can be very entertaining, due to their ability to give off a mild electric shock, 'Joy-Buzzer' style. During the late 18th century, a party game fad arose where guests at a party took turns getting shocked by a Leyden Jar, or held hands and let the static discharge from a Leyden Jar travel through several people's bodies. During the 19th century, there were even stage magicians who would build Leyden Jars into their canes in order to 'levitate' pieces of paper and foil or ignite pyrotechnics without matches!

Here then, is a simple Leyden Jar that can be made in a few easy steps, requiring only:

An empty glass spice jar, a long nail, aluminum foil, electric tape, and a pocket knife to cut things out.

Remember to only use mild sources of static electricity to charge this device: any charge above 10 Joules of energy can cause very painful and hazardous shocks, even if stored in a tiny Leyden Jar!

Step 1
Step 1 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 1

First, assemble all the necessary ingredients, which are, as stated before:

An empty glass spice jar, a long nail, aluminum foil, electric tape, and a pocket knife to cut things out.

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Step 2 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 2

Wrap a few inches worth of electric tape about the long nail, near the point that matches the height of the spice jar. This will keep the nail secure when it's placed inside the Leyden jar, preventing it from wobbling excessively.

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Step 3 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 3

Punch a hole in the top of the jar's lid, and slide the long nail through: at the very least, a quarter of an inch of the nail's head should protrude out when the bottom of the nail touches the bottom of the spice jar.

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Step 4 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 4

Cut out a rectangle of aluminum foil with dimensions equal to the height and circumfrence of the jar's sides. Also cut out a small circle of foil that can fit over the jar's bottom.

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Step 5 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 5

Wrap the rectangle of aluminum foil along the outside of the jar, set the circle of foil on the bottom of the jar, and secure them to each other with small strips of electric tape.

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Step 6 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 6

Tear up the remaining aluminum foil into small aluminum slivers; ideally, each sliver should be curved around itself in a springy fashion. Pour these foil flakes into the inside of the jar, until they pile up to the height of the aluminum foil taped on the outside.

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Step 7 Coleman Gailloreto

Step 7

Slide the nail into the Leyden jar until it's tip touches the bottom, and secure the lid.

You should now have a working Leyden Jar! Experiment with charging it up and seeing what sources of static electricity work best for it; optionally, you can pour salt water inside of the Leyden Jar to see how that changes it's conductivity.