My Tesla Coil Experience


The creation of Tesla Coils in the early 1980’s was not quite as easy as it today, with the current proliferation of Web sites available to the experimenter. Many of the formulas and diagrams, along with the appropriate disclaimers for personal injury exist in large numbers. With a little imagination for design and appropriate guidance from someone who has a sound knowledge of high voltage engineering, an individual can produce a working model of a Tesla Coil.


My first experience with a Tesla Coil in 1982 consisted of a visit to someone’s home, who had made this ominous looking machine that produced sparks of electricity.

When the switch was turned on, 4”long streamers of purplish colored electricity emanated from this brass ball at the top of a 3-foot vertical column of wire. From that time until now, the creation of High Voltage apparatus of all types has been a passion of mine, which can’t be quenched.


The gentleman who showed me this first Tesla Coil subsequently introduced me to Thorn Mayes an Electrical Engineer and Ham Radio operator, who he said would give me all of the training necessary to produce a reliable working machine. He was a master of electrical apparatus of all kinds. It was like getting introduced to Leonardo DaVinci for an aspiring artist. During the weekends, I would visit Thorn and he would patiently show me step by step the methods for creating a ¼ Kilowatt Tesla Coil. A month later after assembling all of the necessary components, a successful Tesla Coil came to life with 8”of sparks pouring from the top.


During this time the TCBA produced by Harry Goldman had just started to produce a quarterly publication, which featured Tesla Coils, complete with circuit diagrams and pictures. Through this publication, I met numerous individuals, all over the United States and Canada, who shared this passion for the creation of Tesla Coils. Harry Goldman, during his two decades of producing the TCBA, was the individual most responsible for literally uniting the rest of the world into a Tesla Coil brotherhood.


Gary Legel was another Electrical Engineer and Ham Radio operator, who took the time to help me during my early days of Tesla Coil building. He had built and demonstrated many Tesla Coils in the Los Angeles area during his many years of working in this hobby. We spent many hours on the phone talking  about Tesla Coils, as well as numerous letters, with our respective progress. His advice and training to me was invaluable to further tweak the designs of my Tesla Coils.


After moving to the Phoenix area from the San Francisco Bay area, I had a difficult time finding someone who shared this Tesla Coil hobby…then Henry Hurrass and I met around 1993. We have continued to make Tesla Coils and other High Voltage apparatus for years since our original meeting. I gave the modified design that Thorn Mayes had originally shown me, to Henry for him to make a similar model Tesla Coil. He applied the design to what materials he was able to use, and produced a nice clean design. Credit for the hand rolled polyethylene capacitor in mineral oil being used, needs to be given to Richard Hull and the TCBOR. The cost of commercial capacitors for most hobbist has made it necessary to make your own, which can be custom fit to your own design. Making your own capacitor is also very educational, and somewhat challenging . The finished product will last a long time if it is properly protected with a gap across the plates to protect against those (too much voltage) moments…when you feel the need for that last little bit of spark.


Henry introduced me to Chris Hooper back in 2005 and Chris showed me all of the fine Tesla Coils he had made over the years, with a mix of Solid State and Vacuum Tube type Tesla Coils. We subsequently had a Teslathon in 2006 at Henry’s unfinished lab, with a mix of all of our High Voltage apparatus and numerous demos of that equipment. That Teslathon was a great success and prompted another Teslathon in 2007 at Henry’s friend (JO’s) place, with visitors from local and some far away places. The Teslathon of 2008 in March of 2008, will be our largest so far with a staggering array of High Voltage equipment…This promises to be Thon of Thon’s…with visitors from other countries stopping by to join in with the festivities.


This High Voltage stuff is literally taking on a life of its own, and drawing people from many different interest levels to enjoy and become educated.