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article number 149
article date 07-26-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Make a Jacob’s Ladder, a Puzzling and Fast Building Novelty Project
by Mean Uncle George Moment

Flip the top block and the other blocks flip down. Amazing! This Jacob’s Ladder will be given to friends with a man cave. It will see much service confusing celebrative people.

There are at least two devices termed ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. One demonstrates high voltage arcing across two rods. That’s a fun project … my brother made one … even wound his own transformer.

But this Jacob’s Ladder is a group of wooden blocks held together with fabric tapes which give a puzzling action. Let’s begin.

Here’s what you need. Fabric tape, wood screws or small nails, optional washers and a thin block of wood.

For the fabric tape you can use fabric binding tape or in our case, fabric decorative tape. It’s available in the sewing section of department stores and it’s cheap. The tape we used was 5/8 inches wide … just right if you use screws. If you use small nails you can use a narrower tape.

We used #4 X ¾ length flat head wood screws. They were the smallest available at large home improvement stores. You could use round head screws if you allow more space between the blocks. You can also use small names, but we wanted to be able to take the Jacob’s Ladder apart since after making the Jacob’s Ladder, you may want to paint the blocks different colors on opposite sides … enhances the visual effect.

#4 washers help to avoid twisting the fabric tapes when screwed into the board edges. We found nylon washers but we will show how to form metal washers to accommodate flat head wood screws and their countersunk board edges.

For the blocks, we cut the side of a common 2” X 4” board to make a 3/8 inch thick board. A heavier wood will produce a smoother action when you flip the top board of the completed Jacob’s Ladder. Our cheaply made blocks ended up about 3 inches by 3 inches by 3/8 inches thick. The actual dimensions can vary. It’s up to you.

Our table saw could not cut all the way through the 4” dimension of a 2 X4 (3 ½ inches in reality). We cut that side about 1/8 inch shorter. We did this cut for about 2 feet of the board.
Then we chopped those 2 feet off for cutting into a 3/8 inch thick board from which we will make our blocks.
We lied. Actually we made the board just a tad thicker than 3/8 inch. Figured that the #4 wood screws, screwed into the thin ends, would appreciate a slightly thicker board.
Cutting the ‘3/8’ thick pine board.
Yeah, there is a power sander across the shop but we took 2 minutes to hand sand the sides of the board.
3 inch separation sounds good. We know one board will be shorter or longer. Will take care of that board.
You pro woodworkers can account for width of the chop saw cut. We just passed the edges back through the chop saw to get all blocks the same.
Which side do you want to screw into. We decided to screw into the side with less grain. That’s the far block.
We are going to pre-drill our screw holes. I want them all to have the same spacing so I make a template. First draw the outline of the block edge onto some cardboard. Our cardboard was special. Fast food packaging taken out of the garbage can.
After cutting out the template, we decide on the screw spacing.
Punch holes into the template placed over scrap wood. Not that big … just wanted to show you the process.
You already saw this picture but now we show it to illustrate pre-punching the hole locations in the far block. Turn over blocks and do the other side.
We used a 3/32 inch drill for the #4 wood screws. Over time we learn to use a drill size slightly larger than the minimum tread diameter … not smaller. We don’t know which screw holes will be used so we just drill all of them. It’s quick. Turn over blocks and do the other side.
We will countersink the holes. Instead of using the countersinks (shown to the left of the drill bit) we use a drill slightly larger than the washer diameter.
We test the countersinking process in scrap-wood. Decide what countersinking depth you like.
If you use metal washers, you can form them by screwing in to countersunk holes in scrap-wood.
Countersink the holes. Turn over blocks and do the other side.
Test screwing into the fabric.
Layout blocks with some spacing and cut 3 lengths of fabric tape.
Screw fabric into edges doubling over the tapes at their ends. Two tapes to the outer edges on one side … one tape to the other side.
Lay a new block over the first.
Fold over the tapes.
Before screwing in the folded-over tapes, shim up that new block … say 1/8 inch. If you don’t, the Jacob’s Ladder may be held together too tight and won’t operate smoothly.
Sorry for being repetitive … Place the next block and fold over the tapes.
Not shown … Remember to shim up each new block before screwing in the fabric tapes.
When we get to the last block, cut off the tapes with enough excess so that you can double over the tape under the screw.
Hey hey. Here is the Jacob’s Ladder suspended for a photo. Note the 1 at the top of the sides.
Flip over the top block.
They all tumble over in succession. Note the 1’s are at the bottom. Probable should mark the blocks so they may be reassembled correctly and paint the faces opposite colors. You imaginative types can do better … like a cute message on the opposite side? How ‘bout using a Jacob’s Ladder for a surprise marriage proposal.
Note: We got complacent using an electric screwdriver. For the outside screws, stop short of fully bottomed and screw by hand. Note the cracks from over screwing with the electric driver.
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