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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

10/08/2023 - The Wimshurst Machine Part 2

Building a Wimshurst 2.0

1st August 2023:

Construction: Building a Wimshurst Machine (for the second time)

Well, here I am again, building another wimshurst machine. The one I made (what must be over a year now), has hopefully made its way to a paper recycling plant for processing and reuse. Let me say, it was a big pile of sh*t and a complete waste of money, but hey, this is how we learn right? If you do want to read up on my wonderful first wimshurst build, follow this link:

After the debacle with the first build, I went looking for a new machine. I found a few on eBay, but they looked very chunky, mass produced and school like (I.E old and cheap). I wanted my machine to be transportable, as I plan to take it in the field to work with, but I also wanted a machine to be flexible. By flexible I mean that I easily remove the crank handle and attach a motor. Avoiding eBay, I came across a website called ‘Extreme Kits’. This was a UK seller and a seller who designed and built science kits that generated electrical currents and other forms of power. I typed into the search bar ‘wimshurst’, low and behold, a wimshurst machine appeared, and it was for sale. It looked perfect, small, flexible, and affordable. My excitement got the better of me, as I then read text further down the page, ‘Out of stock’ and ‘Not being made’. I was gutted to read this, but of course that does not stop me and so I found an email address. I sent out an email asking about the machine and explaining my need for it. I asked whether there would be a chance of a ‘one off’ remake or if a newer version was inbound. To my surprise, I received an email back from a polite and helpful fellow named Derek. He was curious as to my plans for the wimshurst and wanted to know more. We exchanged a few more emails to which it ended with Derek stating he was not able to make them anymore, at which he was sorry. To this I was thwarted and so I looked into other electrical discharge units, hens why I have been experimenting with the Marx generator.

As time went by across the year and I explored the Marx generator and other methods of practice, an email notification appeared in my inbox one evening. It was Derek from Extreme Kits.

Richard, Heads up. Wimshurst Kit Available from early July Derek

Straight to the point! Love it! The excitement that coursed through my body when I read this was wonderful. I do sound ever so much like a nerd, getting excited over a scientific piece of equipment, but with this machine, I know I am able to move my practice forward and to a level I wish for it to go too.

As expected, when July rolled around, the wimshurst machine was in my basket and purchased. You can see from below the wimshurst and through further emails, Derek explained that he had installed a power supply that holds four AA batteries. This was also very beneficial to me, as my plans to remove the original crank handle and attach a motor which was then attached to a battery would not be needed… this wimshurst had it already set up as such. I do intend to remove the battery pack and install my own Earth batteries to machine when working within the field.

It is now the first day in August and in front of me sits a near complete wimshurst machine. The machine arrived a couple of days ago and I have began assembling it. It is a straightforward build and so much better than the original machine I had. The parts are a clear plastic, but sturdy and strong, bolted together. The machine is compact and light enough to travel around with. It can easily be assembled and disassembled when in the field. I am very pleased with what I have received. Below you can see my current progress. I am unfortunately just waiting on parts to be delivered as they were missing from the box. I have a feeling they came loose and fell through the side sections of the packaging. Derek was wonderful and immediately responded to my email and has sent out the missing parts first-class. Hopefully the parts shall arrive tomorrow, and I can continue with the build.

A couple of days later, and I was able to continue with the WH build. I was very grateful to Derek for posting out the missing parts so quickly, helping me complete this build within my time frame. As you can see from the slide show imagery below, I was in need of the side supports (a key component) and a couple of little parts including a rubber washer that would track the moving rubber band. Without these parts the WH would not function.

With the WH completed, I can say I am very pleased with it. It is clearly a hundred times better than my first WH as this is strong, robust and also looks cool! I tested the motor with four double A batteries placed in the battery holder. Power was active and the motor was turning. With the rubber band track attached the discs began to rotate and the WH was working. I had to make a slight adjustment with the disks, separating them as they were too close together for the copper brushes to catch the metallic disk spots which generated electrical protons. I probably also cut the copper brushes too short as well. After this small adjustment, I heard the distinct sound of electricity snapping and popping. The WH had collected enough power to start functioning that an electrical discharge was occurring between the discharge balls... I was beyond pleased with this outcome and so it was time to attempt some initial photographic tests.

As it is my summer break, I had one massive job to do whilst I was off and that was clear out my garage and make some space for a photographic workshop. Luckily I completed this task weeks ago and so I was able to set up some wet chemicals and take the WH to my garage to attempt to capture the electrical discharge.

Along with being pleased with the WH I am also very pleased with the space I now have to use within my garage. To begin I cut up some photographic paper into rough 4x4cm squares. I was not being precise as I just wanted to try out some initial tests. The discharge current between the balls would snap between every couple of seconds and so I held a piece of photo paper between the balls waiting for the snap to occur. Nothing did occur but I could still here the charge gaining power, it was as if the paper was blocking the electrical discharge. I think some slight ignorance on my part here believing that the current would be strong enough to snap through the paper.

Below you can see the initial 'rough' (what I will call photo snaps... 😏). Clearly an issue with under and over developing times and chemical spillages but like I say, these are rough tests. What is excellent to see is the outburst of electrical energy captured which is evidenced well on the first image. The central area is over exposed from the electrical discharge, as a direct central impact, but the disperse of current is evidenced through a stretching of lines pushing themselves outwards from the central contact point.

The rest of the tests are not as clear but still show some discharge. The second image I pushed a small wall pin through to see if the current would conduct through and onto the print and it did travels across to the pin but then the discharge stopped and no current could be seen.

As initial rough tests, I am pleased that there is some chance I can capture an electrical current on film. I will look into other paper types, possibly creating my own light responsive photographic paper using chemical mixes applied to fine paper (vellum). It will be a process of trial and error, experimenting with materials in order to capture a strong current.

Today I popped into work to borrow some materials which included negative film, fresh developer and fixative, as well as lustre photo paper (I have glossy and sometimes glossy is not great when developing), gloves, another tray for water and a little bit of stop (only a little as stop ratio is 1:19).

As for moving forward, I have just over a week left before I return to work and so that will hinder production a little but as for conversation entries the following are situated on here as drafts;

  1. Scotland Residency - Auchope Rigg

  2. Outcomes Produced from Auchope Rigg

  3. Baltic Visit - Michael Rakowitz: The Waiting Gardens of the North

  4. Outcomes Produced from the Wimshurst

  5. Powering a Wimshurst with Earth battery types - Tests

  6. Lit Reviews - Into the Wild & Alone

If you would like to find out where I purchased the Wimshurst Machine, please visit the link below. Alongside the WH, Derek has a host of other awesome scientific machines available to buy.

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