Make Your Own Railgun From Basic Magnets and Some Wood
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Have you got some time on your hands? Like to shot metal balls at stuff?
Then why not build yourself your own mini-magnetic railgun? While it won't be anywhere near as powerful as some real railguns, it will certainly keep you entertained for a few hours (more likely days).
Follow this simple guide to find out how.
But first, as you might imagine, you'll need some stuff first.
Materials and gear needed
- Neodymium magnets discs — 1 and 3/16 inches (30 mm) by 9/32 inches (7 mm), or 19/32 inch (15 mm), or 25/32 inches (20 mm)
- Neodymium magnet spheres — 1 and 1.32 inches (26 mm) and 1 and 37/64 inches (40 mm)
- Non-magnetic "bullets" (e.g. lead balls or spheres)
- Grooved non-magnetic strip (wood or plastic)
- Metal strips
- Sheets of metal
Optional (for target)
With all your tools and materials in hand, it is now time to get on with this epic, but awesome, build.
Step 1: Setup up the base of the railgun
The first step is to take your metal strips and magnets. Place the magnets along the length of the metal strips so that they match the corners of each metal square sheet.
With that done, attach the metal sheets on top of the magnets.
For this build, you'll need three squared metal sheets, so you'll be attaching twelve of your smallest magnets (six on each metal strip or rail). With that complete, take your strip of wood and place it in the middle of the row of metal sheets.
Take some more magnets and place them at equal distances on either side of the strip of wood to hold it into place on the metal sheet base.
Step 2: Add the main rail
With the base basically done, we can now move on to making the actual railgun element of the piece. Let's install the all-important rail first.
Take your grooved piece of wood (either make one yourself or use a commercially available alternative) and glue it into place on top of the main wood strip on the base.
With that done, take your smallest magnetic sphere and place it in the center of the rail. When you release the ball it should be pulled along the rail by the magnets already in place and come to rest (eventually) somewhere towards either the middle or to one end of the rail.
While fun to watch, this isn't conducive to making the most of our railgun.
To overcome this issue, you can experiment with using ever larger and more massive spheres. Eventually, you should be able to find one that only stops towards the far end of the rail more often than not.
Next, take your next largest neodymium magnets (or make double-height smaller magnets) towards the "business" end of the railgun. Place two of these on either side of the end of the rail.
With these more powerful magnets, the ball magnet should now stop above, and between, these larger magnets.
At this point, the railgun will function to a basic level — but won't be too powerful. To test it, take a non-magnetic projectile (like a large marble) and rest above the larger end magnets.
Now, when you release the larger ball magnet, it will run down the rail, strike the non-magnetic ball, and launch it off the other end of the rail.
Before you test this, however, make sure you add some form of target or something to catch the projectile, opposite the railgun's open end.
Step 3: Up the power of your railgun
All well and good. But, this railgun is not powerful enough for our liking. To increase its power, take some even larger magnets and place them on either side of the end of the rail (as we did previously). You can either use some taller magnets or triple-up your existing smaller magnets.
With that complete, place the projectile once again above the newer, more powerful magnets. Now, when we release the magnet ball it should strike and launch the projectile with even more power.
Once again, make sure the projectile end of the railgun is free of any potential fragile objects and you have some form of the target to impact/catch the non-magnetic projectile.
The target can be made of anything, but something that can absorb energy and deform is best. You may want to consider making a target, for example, out of small ball magnets.
Alternatively use something like polystyrene (and weigh it down).
Step 3: Have some fun
With that, our DIY railgun is now basically complete. Now you can start to experiment with ever heavier projectile balls of different materials, and different targets.
The current setup, for example, should be powerful enough to launch 0.22 lb (100 g) balls of lead with enough power to do some serious damage to a relatively soft target.
You can either stop here or continue upping the power of your railgun by adding increasingly more powerful magnets to the end of the railgun.
We'll leave that completely up to you.
If you enjoyed this magnet-based project, we are confident you'll enjoy some other ones. How about making some models out of magnets?
How about, for example, a scale model of the Empire State Building?
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