The Plasma Ball

Warning

Warning.  Be careful.  Never leave plasma ball unattended.  You could actually start a fire! If you follow the steps that the Mad Wrapper used you will probably violate the warnings listed in the directions that come with your plasma ball.  Please be careful.

 

The Arrival of the Plasma Ball

I used a plasma ball to show messages hidden inside crude Christmas ornaments that were attached to presents around the tree.  The trick to this is that the sparks inside the glass ball are always searching for the easiest path to ground.  Knowing that the easiest path to ground is through a piece of metal, you can shape letters from sheet metal.  If you place these letters against the outside of the glass, the sparks will generate an erie glow of the same shape.

 Step 1. Cut out the Letters.

After some experimentation I discovered that I needed to use some sheet metal a bit thicker than aluminum foil for this to work properly. This is for two reasons. One, the thicker the sheet of metal, the better it will attract the electrical flow. And two, a thicker piece of metal will hold its shape. I needed to mold the message into a small segment of a sphere the same diameter as the glass and I needed the message to hold this shape without extra support.

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Click for movie

 Step 2. Bind them in tape

Lay a 6 inch length of duct tape on the table with the sticky side up. Standard silver duct tape should be fine but if you can find some nice Christmas colors, that would be better. Now strip 3 or 4 inches of sheathing off an 8 inch piece of #22 wire with a pair of wire OrbStep2strippers and stick the bare section of the wire along the length of the tape. Then lay the aluminum initials right side up and in the correct order on top of the wire. The wire will serve to connect the letters to an exposed metal handle which becomes grounded when held on Christmas morning.

I lined the sandwich with a couple of strips of plastic LabelMaker tape before wrapping it all up in more duct tape. The plastic strips make it impossible to feel or see the outline of the lettering inside (after all that would be another project altogether, wouldn’t it). Any thick material should be fine. I suspect that thin strips of cardboard would work just fine. Make sure to leave the free end of the wire hanging loose and ready to be connected to your metal handle.

The last step is to round over this flat package by bending it over the top of your plasma ball and working it over with your thumbs until it touches the ball over its entire surface. The more surface you have that touches your ball, the more easily it will be to see all of the initials once the plasma ball is turned on. The more round you can make your message, the better it will show.

Feel free to switch on your plasma ball at this point and view your hidden message. When you do so, make sure you grab the wire tail solidly. If you only lightly brush the tip of the
OrbStep3wire, you will feel a light harmless tingle in your finger as the electricity flows through your hand to the ground. This may be uncomfortable for many people. The larger the surface area of metal that your hand touches, the more spread out the electricity will be so the less likely the person will feel any sensation of electrical flow. When the project is complete, the package will have a large metal handle that users would naturally grab firmly enough to make the electricity comfortable to handle.

WARNING: DO NOT LEAVE A PLASMA BALL PLUGGED IN AND UNATTENDED! You could start a fire.

Step 3. The Metal Handle

The star box that we found in the store came with a little rope handle. I removed this handle and replaced it with a wide strip of sheet metal. Wearing some good thick leather gloves, cut a 16 inch by 1½ inch strip of sheet metal to be used for a handle. 3½ inches from each end, cut 4 slits at 45 degree angles such that the center section of the handle OrbHandlecan be narrowed to about 1 inch by bending the metal and folding it flat. It is important to create a nice smooth edge along all exposed sections of handle so no one will cut their fingers. Folded over metal is very smooth. After getting the seam started along the edge of my table, I used a 3 inch hand seamer to finish the fold and squeeze it flat. The seamer is a nice tool if you plan to work with sheet metal a lot, but squeezing the metal in a vise should work fine as well.

OrbHandleBendTo complete the shape of the handle, make a rounded cut at the two ends of the handle. These cutouts should approximately match up with the diameter of your plasma ball. I spread a compass out to 2½ inches to mark a 5 inch diameter circle then cut the metal to follow this curve. This curve should help your message plate hold its shape when it is attached at the base of the handle.

The old rope handle had been attached to the box through two inch holes positioned 3¼ inches up each side. Drill two inch holes in the sheet metal to line up with the holes in the wooden box. Each hole will be about 3¼ inches from each end of the metal strip.

Step 4. Putting it All Together

Gently bend the sheet metal handle into the shape of a horseshoe and attach it to the
OrbPuttingItTogetherwooden box with ½ inch #8-32 bolts and matching #8-32 nuts. Attach the wire tail to
one of the screws before tightening it down completely. Once the handle is secure, attach the message plate to the bottom of the star with more duct tape. Make sure the letters face up when the star is lying on its back. Also, make sure you use enough duct tape to cover all sharp edges of your sheet metal, if you have any.


You can decorate your star however you would like. A simple “Merry Christmas” paint job can be nice. You can also decorate with ribbons and bows, or paint at nice picture, or glue on some stickers.

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