How to Build a Miniature Van de Graaff Generator


Making a full size generator is a matter of hard work and dedication. Making a miniature generator is a fun way to learn the mechanics of producing electricity at the same time as having some fun. The Van de Graff generator produces energy using friction. A strong and stretchy rubber band is best for the guidelines below.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood
  • Drill
  • PVC pipe
  • Toy motor
  • Marker
  • Rubber band
  • Pen
  • Paper clips
  • Scissors
  • Pencil eraser
  • Glue
  • Aluminum foil
  • Light bulb
  • Battery


  • Take a piece of 2x4 wood and drill a hole approximately 2 inches from the end. Choose a piece of wood that is between 12 and 16 inches long. The hole should be the same size as the piece of plastic piping you intend to use; a 1-inch diameter works best.

  • Place a piece of plastic pipe (approximately 12 inches in length) into the hole in the wood and place the axle of a toy motor beside it for measuring. Use a marker pen to note the point on the embedded pipe that is in line with the axle.

  • Hold a rubber band against the PVC pipe and measure the point on the pipe that marks the edge of the band when stretched out from the base of motor as it stands on wood platform. Be sure to comfortably stretch out the band. You don't want it to be too tight and snap.

  • Remove pipe from wooden hole and drill through the points marked in Steps 2 and 3 making sure to go through both sides of the pipe. This means to repeat the hole in the same position on each side of the pipe.

  • Drill additional holes into the plastic pipe one at a right angle to the 2 lower holes (about an inch apart) and the other directly above the upper hole in Step 3. Both holes in Step 5 should only puncture one side of the pipe.

  • Disassemble two regular ink pens and clean the inside parts, removing all ink. The part you are interested in is the section that holds the ink and the writing nib. Allow to dry before moving on to the next step.

  • Cut the inner part of the pen into an open-ended tube the same length as the inside diameter of the plastic tubing.


  • Thread a straightened paper clip through the pen tube created in Step 7 of the first section and trim with scissors so that there is at a quarter inch of the excess paper clip on each side of the pen tube.

  • Push the clip and tube combination from Step 7 in section 1 into the upper hole created in step 5 with the rubber band attached. Ensure that the inner tube you just created moves freely under the pressure of the rubber band by turning it with your fingers.

  • Bend a straightened out paper clip a quarter of inch and place through lower holes attaching the stretched rubber band in the process. The idea is to end up with two rolling mechanisms attached by the rubber band inside the tubing. The lower paper clip is both skewer and crank.

  • Take the eraser of a pencil and skewer it onto the edge of the lower straightened paper clip before attaching the toy motor. This means the eraser acts as a buffer between the motor and the edge of the pipe. You can use super glue to attach the eraser permanently.

  • Fray the ends of a piece of insulated wire that comfortably stretches the length of the tubing before attaching it through the remaining holes in the pipe. The frayed edges of the wire should be very close to but not touching the lower edge of the rubber band in the lower hole the frayed edges are definitely touching the rubber band as you place the other end of the wire through the remaining top hole.

  • Wrap aluminum foil smoothly around a broken light bulb, cutting off any foil that touches the metal part of the light bulb base, before attaching the light bulb to the top edge of the frayed wire.

  • Attach a 9-volt battery to the small motor and turn on to complete the circuit. If everything is correctly attached touching the foil covered light bulb should illicit a short sharp surprise.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always take care when working with wires and electricity.

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