The Great Secret of Nikola Tesla
By: Richard Hull
SYNERGISM: The joint action of agents; acting together to increase the effectiveness of each other.
SYNERGISTIC: Working together.
HARMONY: Agreement, accord; a consistent, orderly or pleasing arrangement of parts.
Nikola Tesla constantly referred to harmony when referencing system performance. One of Tesla’s greatest gifts may have been his ability to assemble systems that were synergistic.
Resonance in a Tesla system is simple, cold, scientifically reproducible effect. Anyone can precisely and critically achieve resonance. A system that exhibits synergy is not as easily obtained! There are no formulas, no quantitized pat answers, no real fixed rules to achieving synergism in a Tesla system. A few guidelines and a firm knowledge from past hands on experience make attaining system synergy a virtual art!
Please don’t misunderstand me; this is not a snob’s approach to locking out the uninitiated. Any good coil builder should be able to get a spark as long as his secondary winding. Beginners rarely achieve ½ to ¾ of this length. Old coil builders, if they have experimented with their past coils, start to get the “feel” of system synergy as their sparks start to exceed their coil secondary length.
Beginners seem to believe that there is some magic something that will double their spark length if only they could figure it out. Experienced builders know that there is no single thing that can be done to double the spark length of any given Tesla system.
Wisdom and past work will tell the experienced builder that the spark can be doubled through a certain multiplicity of steps taken to improve the harmony or matching of system components or conditions. This is the “art of Tesla coil building”. No engineer with a background in r.f. tuned circuits could do it without the “hands on imperative”. The acquisition of the feel for harmony or balance within a system comes only with experience in construction and use of systems over a period of time.
Synergistic systems usually make use of good quality parts and components but spending money to buy the best is no guarantee of achieving a harmonious system. A careful and thoughtful shepherding of techniques, construction methods and synergistic balancing of overall system Q’s means more than using the high tech, high priced parts we often see on some coils. Many of the old classic construction and design techniques lead to very poor coil performance by today’s standards. Many of the older texts just serve as interesting reading and a starting point for beginning coilers, since the basics remain the same. The old classic coil builders were usually of the junk box construction school. The junk materials they had to work with were from another era and not of the higher Q modern materials found in today’s junk box. Does your junk box have empire cloth in it?… what about rosin, beeswax, gutta-percha or hard-rubber? This is not what I have, but I do have polyethylene scraps, mineral oil, silicone compound, and modern epoxies etc… all of which have Q’s and standoff voltages far exceeding any of the classic stuff. The term “Q” literally come from the word “quality” and is purely a relative term which is usually applied to capacitors and inductors or any reactive circuit or reactive component. I refer to the Q of any part as its relative merit as compared to a similar part of different material or of different construction.
Next time you build a coil, think about each component as a system within a system. Look at the over all big picture. Are your transformers too weak for the size coil you are trying to power up?… coupling too tight?… big enough toroid to let the power out?… too big a toroid squelching output at lower powers?… spark system optimized? (Think twice here)… capacitors matched to your power source?, etc.
The beauty of a synergistic approach is that, once the sense of harmonious system balance is acquired, one no longer has to strain like a gearbox to assemble systems that perform well.
For such a seemingly simple 4 or 5 component system the classic, Tesla disruptive discharge, air core, resonant transformer system offers a challenge that can consume a lifetime of experimentation.
Finally, the beginner usually works from a plan or kit that he has purchased to make his first coil. Many times, this is a good idea since the true neophyte needs to get that first coil behind him. I often here the tyro complain that their first coil didn’t operate up to the claims of the plan. There can be two reasons for this. First, the plan maker was experienced in coil building or the plan was a pipe dream of the designer who never built it. This would mean that the plan was flawed from the start. Second, the beginner did not have the application skills required to synergistically assemble, tune and operate the system. This is not his fault, but will come with the construction of future systems. The constant fixation by the beginner on precise dimensions, turns count, resonant frequency and robotic construction practices will, in time, give way to the more natural approach to synergistic construction.
So if you are new to coiling, start small and make that first coil simple. If it doesn’t give you the performance that was advertised, then build another and then another. If you do this, you will be a true Tesla coil builder. If, as you progress, you acquire a feel for system synergy and start achieving output sparks in excess of twice the secondary winding length, then you are on your way to becoming an artisan within the community. Those first coils must be built, though, as a virtual “right of passage” into the wonderful world of synergistic coil construction.