Monday, October 24, 2016

On the winding of power chokes and transformers: Part 1 - A power choke

There are follow-up to this posts to this one:

There are projects that homebrewers undertake that seem not to make sense when one considers the amount of time that it takes to do that thing - but then again, this is often the case when one builds projects at home, from "scratch".  The case in point for this discussion is the winding of power transformers and chokes.

Figure 1:
The finished choke with a rating of about 50 Henries at
200 milliamps, described below.
Click on the image for a larger version.
I am not an expert in the design and building of power transformers and chokes so what follows is, among other things, the documentation of the learning experience.  No doubt I will make mistakes along the way, but analysis of these mistakes and observations will (hopefully) be enlightening.


For some reason I have decided to go "old school" and, along with a friend (Bryan, W7CBM) we will each construct a two-channel single-ended triode audio amplifier using some WWII vintage tubes (the details of this amplifier to be described in a later post.)  To be clear I'm not of the sort that really believes that the "tube sound" is best for various intangible reasons - in fact, I'm expecting that if it works better than expected, its performance will be worse than practically any other modern audio amplifier that I have in the ways that matter to most people (e.g. power efficiency, noise, hum, distortion, frequency flatness, phase - just name it!) That being said, the goal is definitely to end up with an amplifier that at least sounds "nice."

As it is often the case with a project like this, practicality is somewhat irrelevant:  It is the experience of doing something that you have never done before - and learning from it - that will be the reward whether or not the project is ultimately successful.  To be sure there will not likely be a cost savings in doing this and there certainly will not a time savings!

Diving into this project we decided to do something that I'd not done for many years:  Wind my own power transformers and chokes.  As for the audio output transformers for this audio project we decided to forgo that task and get "store bought", proven transformers given our current level of experience.

Where to find useful information:

Interestingly, scant useful and credible information seems to be available on the GoogleWeb on this topic, but two sources that are useful are:
  1. Turner Audio (link) - These pages contain much practical advice on power and audio transformers and chokes.  (Refer to the link "Power Transformers and Chokes" (link) and related pages linked from that page.)
  2. Figure 2:
    The NZ-1 "Hand Shake" winder (e.g. "hand cranked") winding
    machine, before it was mounted to a firm base.
    Click on the image for a larger version.
  3. Homo-Ludens - Practical transformer winding (link) - While mostly about power transformers, this page also contain practical advice based on hands-on experience of winding, re-winding and reverse-engineering/rebuilding transformers.  There is also another linked page "Transformers and Coils" (link) that has additional information on this topic.
A few other bits and pieces of information have been found on the web, but the above two seem to be some of the best, both written by people who have years of practical experience, and the pages include additional references to other sources.

Rummaging through some old amateur radio and electronics books I have been able to divine other details as well, but much of this information is rather generic and doesn't speak much about the use and capabilities of modern types of wire, insulation or core materials.

Getting the gear together:

Figure 3:
 A simple wire spool holder made from pieces of "1x2"
(actually 0.75" x 1.5")  poplar.  While it works, the variable
feed rate of the wire due to winding it onto a square bobbin
can cause the momentum of the supply spool's rotation to
occasionally "overspool" some wire.  I hope to (soon) 
add additional wire features (e.g. guides, wire-unspool
prevention, etc.) to prevent the wire from getting
tangled as it is unreeled during winding.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Before laying a large number of turns on a transformer bobbin one must have a minimum of gear on-hand.  Starting out with nothing, I decided to buy an inexpensive ($40, delivered) Chinese-made "NZ-1 Hand Shake" (probably a mistranslation of "Hand Crank") coil winding machine (seen in Figure 2) via EvilBay.

Made mostly from cast steel, this device is about as simple as it can get:  It has some gears that provide an 8:1 ratio for the hand crank (e.g. one revolution of the crank = 8 turns on the coil), a 5-digit turns counter (0-99999) and a spindle on which one would mount the bobbin, and it seems to be built "well enough" for the purpose, likely to last many hundreds of thousands of revolutions.  This device has no wire-handling capability (e.g. nothing to hold the spool, guide the wire or provide tension) so those pieces would have to be constructed and/or improvised.

Figure 4:
 A simple bobbin holder made from scraps of "1x2"
poplar wood and paneling.  The left and middle pieces
are pinned to each other using finishing nails and
are clamped together when mounted on the winder.
"Face identification" marks allow one to keep track
and note the configuration of the wires and the visible
screw on the middle block - and its mate on the back-
side - allow wires attached to the various windings
to be kept out of the way.  To the right, in the background,
are two blocks that are used to help compress the
windings onto the bobbin as they bulge out when
many layers are added.
Click on the image for a larger version.

After the NZ-1 arrived I bolted it to a block of wood and for wire handling of the supply spool I made the simple wooden "A" frame holder seen in Figure 3, placing it on the workbench behind the winding machine. 

By default the crank is connected to a lower shaft that, via gears, results in eight turns on the coil with one turn of the crank. For practical reasons, winding a core like this needs a bit more precision and control and a 1:1 ratio is desired and the obvious place to relocate the crank is the upper shaft with the pulley, visible in Figure 2 on the upper-right corner of the winding machine.

While the shaft size is the same, attaching the crank at this point caused the crank's handle to hit the lower shaft to which the crank is usually connected!  Fortunately I could attach the crank to the very end of the shaft and have it just barely clear the lower shaft where the crank would normally be attached for the 8:1 ratio:  At some point I'll have made a metal piece made that will extend the shaft by a half inch (approximately 1cm) or so.  (Addendum:  After winding this choke Bryan did make a short extension piece so the crank can now be attached easily to achieve a 1:1 ratio.)

Also very important is the bobbin holder shown in Figure 4, constructed from scraps of paneling and "1x2" pieces of poplar.  Because the core size is "E150" - which stands for 1.50 inches, two pieces 1x2 wood (which are really 0.75"x1.5" or approximately 19x38mm) fit very nicely within the bobbin.  Glued to the end of the bobbin holder on one side is a scrap of paneling as an end-stop while on the other side, oriented by two finishing nails used as pins, are two more pieces of 1x2 glued together as the "other" end stop.  Both the bobbin and the removable end stop are marked to provide a means of orienting the four faces of the bobbin and the removable piece also sports screws around which wires that are brought out from the bobbin may be wound to keep them out of the way.

Two more blocks of wood, cut to the internal length of the bobbin, are also available to compress the "bulge" with a clamp that inevitably forms as wire is wound.  Through the center of the bobbin holder was drilled a hole of the size appropriate to allow it to be slipped over the shaft of the winding machine.  When mounted on the  the bobbin holder is held in by compression of the nut and it does not easily turn on its own.

While not the most elegant of solutions this arrangement seems to work - provided that one takes care to prevent "overfeeding" and the subsequent tangling of off-spooled wire caused by the inconsistent feed rate as one winds onto a square bobbin where the supply wire occasionally tries to wind itself around the piece of "allthread" on which the spool hangs!

The most important aspects of this (minimal) arrangement are:
  1. A means of automatically counting the turns laid down.  While inductors are somewhat less critical in terms of keeping track of turns with absolute accuracy, when winding transformers you do not want to lose count at all!
  2. The bobbin itself being mounted on a stable, rotating platform about its winding axis.
  3. Being able to manually gauge the tension and guide the wire into the bobbin.
While it would have been pretty easy to make a simple 1:1 gear ratio winding machine from parts laying about, the $40 price for the NZ-1 was hard to beat!
The goal:

Because a choke is "simpler" to wind than a transformer, I decided to start with that.

The design goal of the choke was to provide at least 10 Henries of inductance with a current capacity of at least 200mA.  The general rule of thumb for a modest-sized transformer or choke is to size the wire to 0.3 to 0.4 mm2 per amp (from references 1 and 2, above) which would imply that for 200mA the minimum wire would need a cross-sectional area of around 0.06mm2 which corresponds to #29 AWG.

Now we need to figure out (approximately) how many turns can fit on our bobbin.

The E150 bobbin that I would be using has an inside dimension of 41.5mm on a side and an outside dimension of 75.4mm on a side with a "width" of 53.3mm and based on this we calculate that the area of the bobbin's window is approximately 53mm wide and 17mm high, or about 901mm2.

Because the cross sectional area of #29 AWG wire, based on a 0.33mm diameter with insulation, is 0.086mm2 this implies that we could theoretically put around 10477 pieces of wire (or turns) in this 109mm2 space.  Practically speaking, this is simply not possible since there is always going to be some "wastage" based on the fact that we will be laying round wires next to each other and there will be gaps in between.  Typically, one would scale this calculation by a "fill factor" to accommodate such wastage with this factor typically being around 0.4 (e.g. 4191 turns) or as high as 0.5 (5239 turns) if one winds extremely carefully and neatly - and assuming no added insulation:  Less careful winding can easily result in "fill factors" lower than 0.4.

Breaking this down differently we can calculate that across the width of the bobbin we should (theoretically) be able to put (53mm/0.33mm = 161) turns on each layer, but taking into account the practicalities of being able to get wire to lie snugly next to its neighbor we can more reasonably expect to achieve around 95% of this for wire of this rather small size, - about 153 turns per layer, maybe slightly more if we are fastidious.

Since our bobbin window is about 17mm "tall" we could theoretically expect to be able to stack 51 layers of 0.33 thick wire, but this also assumes both "perfect" stacking efficiency and the lack of any inter-layer insulation.  If we presume that each layer contains a 0.33mm thickness of wire and 0.05mm thickness of insulation - a total of 0.38mm - we can then recalculate that it would take about (17/0.38) 44 layers of windings to fill the bobbin - again, assuming perfect stacking and no need for additional insulation.

For practical reasons we would want to fill our bobbin to only 70-90% "fullness" in order to be able to add the final covering insulation and connecting wires, so this would take our maximum down to between 30 and 39 layers - again, assuming that we didn't need extra insulation anywhere.

If we take an average of 153 turns per layer we could reasonably expect be able to put between 4590 and 5957 turns on this bobbin.  Taking a median per-turn length of wire on the bobbin to be around 234 mm based on the size of the bobbin itself we can estimate that we'll need between 1074 and 1394 meters, or between 28 and 37% of our 5 pound spool.

At this point in the design I should have referred more closely to link #1, above, to determine the amount of inductance that the calculated number of turns would yield in a typical situation.  To do this, I would have wound a known number of turns onto the bobbin and assembled the coil into a core and made inductance measurements so that the permeability - particularly that when an air gap was added (more on that later) - could be measured, but instead I simply bulldozed ahead and started winding turns!  What this means is that I probably would have wound a suitable coil with fewer turns and heavier-gauge wire.  More on this later.

Starting the wind:

With the necessary parts (bobbins and core material being "E150" size from Edcor, the wire and polyimide insulating tape from other sources) I began to wind a choke - the simplest of the devices and (hopefully) hardest to screw up!

Figure 5:
The start of the wind with the ending wire (orange) having been insulated and
secured with polyimide (a.k.a. "Kapton" (tm)) tape.  Note how the end wire
is secured to screws on the wooden bobbin holder to keep it out of the way.
I now know that his method of starting the winding and connecting the
end wire is not the best way:  I should have brought the joint into the
middle of the face of the bobbin and then folded the 29 AWG
wire back to the edge.  While this would have produced a lump in the
middle of the face of the winding, the edge of the bobbin and the
corners would have remained flat.
Click on the image for a larger version.
The first step in the wind was to drill a hole in the bobbin through which one of the external connecting wires would be attached.  Carefully scraping - to avoid nicking and weakening the copper - tinning, twisting and then soldering the start of the coil's wire (29 AWG) to the heavier lead that emerged from the bobbin, I insulated it with several layers of polyimide tape, secured it in place on the bobbin, laid down another insulating layer of tape on the bobbin itself and began to wind.

The general advice on winding transformers seems to be that it is best to assure that all wires are laid side-by-side on nice, even layers.  By doing this one avoids one turn from crossing another and putting tremendous point-pressure on the insulation of the two wires as they cross.  This advice hales from the days when wire was insulated with simple, comparatively fragile varnish that could be easily penetrated from vibration due to hum and thermally-related movement and by its softening at higher temperatures.

According to the Turner Audio web pages (reference #1) modern wire, with much more durable insulation, it is permissible to wind chokes that allow wires to cross at shallow angles, saving the need for expending time and effort on assuring a very consistent, parallel lay of wire on the bobbin.

Meanwhile, on the Homo Ludens web page (reference #2) he makes note that if the wire is of good quality and that one keeps to a very shallow angle of crossing - that is, slowly moving across the face of the bobbin as several layers "neatly" build up - and avoiding excess wire tension that even with transformers it is acceptable to forgo the painstaking "side by side" winding, provided that one insulate insulate each "layer" of 2-3 wire thicknesses before starting across the face of the bobbin in the other direction.  All of this assumes that one has enough room on the bobbin to accommodate the reduced "packing efficiency" of this method and will be satisfied with being able to fit fewer turns.

Both authors allude to having seen rather poor transformers that seem to haphazardly throw wire onto bobbins with the author of the Turner Audio pages being particularly critical of the methods that he'd observed on badly-built transformers.

No matter who you believe there are several things in common between these two sources of advice:
  • Use good quality wire:  NEVER re-use wire from another transformer as it will likely have nicks and scratches in its insulation.  Modern, high-temperature wire (e.g. that rated for 200C) is more likely to handle a little bit of abuse.
  • When wires are crossed, a very shallow angle is necessary.  This automatically rules out any "scramble wound" (a.k.a. "random wound") windings which can cross at sharper angles.
  • While one can apply fairly significant tension when laying wires side-by-side with each layer being individually insulated, more care should be taken to avoid excess tension when doing the "not as neat" method of winding where wires can lay atop each other:  They should still be tight enough to not easily move around and wear in each other with thermal cycling and the inevitable "buzzing" from magnetic fields, but not so tight that the insulation of one turn will eventually "bite through" to the turn underneath!
  • It is arguably more important that windings that are not carefully parallel-wound be immobilized with appropriate varnish - particularly on a transformer in which the windings are subject to constant vibration.
  • It would seem to be more "acceptable" to forgo the neat, side-by-side winding on very small tranformers - particularly when very fine wire is involved.  While I suspect that at least some of this is due to practicality (e.g. it is difficult to machine-wind very fine wire in a nice, neat side-by-side lay) but it may also be due to more carefully-controlled wire tension, that these are typically vacuum-impregnated with varnish and the fact that a smaller transformer is more likely to have a more consistent thermal profile through its volume.  This is another way of saying that a small transformer has less opportunity to trap heat deep within the middle of some windings that it cannot easily dissipate.
Since this was my first large power choke I decided to take the "neat, even layer" approach for the most part, but what this meant was that during each and every turn I would have to watch exactly where the wire turn lay, often scrunching it close to its neighbor if it shifted away and "un-crossing" it if it happened to overlay another.  This also meant that after I finished winding every layer  of approximately 150-156 turns I had to stop, temporarily tape the source wire to the bobbin to keep in from unraveling, apply a layer of 2-mil (0.05mm) polyimide tape over the top of the layer and then resume winding.

As is the case with such things, it is a bit more difficult to do this than one might at first expect.  For the first several layers I had to contend with the "lump" and the "gap" at the "start" end of the bobbin where the external wire was attached and I did this by filling in the void with very thin strips of cardboard laid down to match the width and height of the heavier, connecting wire. After several layers, the layers equaled the height of this "lump" and with the matching thickness of the cardboard strips, it disappeared, allowing me to more easily wind across the entire width.  As noted in the caption of figure 5, I should have placed the splice in the center of the face of the winding rather than at the edge.

Figure 6: 
Pausing at the end of winding a layer, securing the end with a piece of
tape and small, plastic clamp to avoid wire damage.  Already one can see
ripples and uneven-ness starting to appear in the surface of the
winding - something that I had to continually correct as I continued on!
Click on the image for a larger version.

After a dozen or so layers the windings started to form "ripples" caused largely by the fact that the polyimide tape used to insulate between layers overlapped in approximately the same place each time - a problem exacerbated by the fact that I had, at the time, only one width of tape that limited the degree to which I could "stagger" the overlap. The biggest problem with this was not necessarily asthetics, but the fact that the as the wire was wound it tended to slip into the trough of the ripple making it very difficult to maintain evenness and the nice, side-by-side wire lay for which I was striving - and with each layer, these irregularities grew!

What I had to do was fold over some of the tape in half (sticky side facing outwards) to fill in some of the dips, and on the square outside "corners" between the faces of the bobbin I started to strategically add small bits of tape to level it out as it was there that the slippage was most likely to occur.  As I got into the 10s of layers, some of the troughs seemed to resist the attempts at leveling so I carefully resorted to putting several turns of wire atop each other at shallow angles to help even the surface:  Only a tiny fraction of the turns were wound in this way.

The lesson here is to have on hand multiple widths of tape so that the overlaps may be staggered.  What would have also been handy would have been to have on-hand some thick (10 mil, 0.5mm) pieces of MNM ("Nomex" (tm)) insulating sheets to cut into strips to fill the voids.  It would have also been very help to have some tape that was exactly as wide as the bobbin, but such a specific width is not likely to be commercially available.

The results:

Figure 7: 
The winding of the bobbin is finally complete!
At this point the windings are covered with several layers of polyimide
tape with the soldered and insulated end of the coil captured
underneath.  The uneven-ness of the coil's surface can be seen, but
the degree was just manageable.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Finally, after 4905 turns and 33 layers, the bobbin had mostly filled up:  This number of turns and layers ended up being within the range that I'd calculated above.

Based on the DC resistance - around 277 ohms - this represents approximately 3384 feet (1031 meters) of wire - a bit more than a quarter of the 5 pound spool.  Carefully drilling another hole in the bobbin I attached the "finish" wire to the outside of the coil, insulated it and taped it securely into place.

By itself (no core) the inductance of the 4905 turns on the bobbin measured out at approximately 884 millihenries and when the core was installed - butt-stacked, but not carefully aligned - this increased to over 110 Henries:  If I had carefully interleaved all 109 E-I laminations and properly seated each piece this value would have likely been much higher!

Preventing core saturation:

Because this is intended to be used as part of a "choke input" high voltage power supply one must take into account the fact that DC current will flow through the choke, magnetizing the core material.  One property of practically any ferromagnetic material - including the steel used in the core of this choke - is that if the magnetic field exceeds a certain point, the core will saturate and the permeability (and the inductance) will drop.  While there are chokes that are designed to do this (e.g. "swinging" chokes - those that have inductance that, by design, drops with increased current) it was desired that this choke's inductance be more consistent over the current range.

The most common way to control this effect is to intentionally reduce the permeability of the core overall by the introduction of an air gap which breaks up the magnetic lines of force:  The larger the gap, the greater the reduction.  The trick here is to reduce the permeability - and thus the level of magnetization - to the level that the core does not saturate at the desired current, but not too much more.

Fortunately, there are some equations that help us calculate things like this.  Knowing that the core material that I am using ("M6" Grain-Oriented Silicon Steel) will operate at 1.6-1.7 Tesla (16000-17000 Gauss) and still be well below its 2+ Tesla saturation flux I could crunch some numbers based on what I already knew.

Taking the following equation from link #1 (the Turner audio web pages), above:

uE = (109 * ML * L) / (T2 * Afe)

  • uE = The permeability of the core
  • ML = Iron path length in mm (approx. the width plus length of a single assembled E-I section for a standard "economy" E-I core set.)
  • L = The measured inductance in Henries
  • T = Number of turns
  • Afe = The cross-sectional area of the core material inside the bobbin in mm2
Since I was using standard "economy" E150 cores with square bobbins, Afe = 382mm and ML = 209mm.

With the temporary butt-stacked arrangement (e.g. full of small gaps due to pieces not aligning perfectly) yielding approximately 110 Henries the calculated permeability was 525:  If I'd very carefully interleaved and stacked each lamination, I would have expected the permeability to be considerably higher.

Taking this into another equation, we can calculate the magnetic field strength using this equation, also from link #1:

Bdc = (12.6 * uE * T * Idc) / (ML * 10000)

  • Bdc = Magnetic field, in Tesla.
  • uE = The permeability of the core.
  • T = Number of turns.
  • Idc = DC current, in amps - the target being 0.2 amps for this design.
  • ML = Iron path length in mm, as above
Crunching the numbers, above, we find that Bdc is approximately 3.1 Tesla - a bit too high for our "1.6 Tesla" M6 material so we need to add more gap than is present due to the haphazard stacking of the material.  All things being equal, since the magnetic field strength is proportional to permeability and since inductance is proportional to permeability, we now know that if we can add enough of a gap to reduce the inductance by approximately half we will be in the ballpark (e.g. a permeability around 225-260).

Figure 8:
The arrangement of the E-I laminations and the insertion of insulating
strips used to add an air gap to reduce the overall core permeability
and prevent core saturation.
In the middle and on the ends are single "E" sections that are interleaved
to help hold the other sections in place via compression when the screws
are installed and tightened.  As it is the most common type, the "E-I" core
segments used are of the "economy" type - that is, two "E" cores placed
facing each other will yield a pair if "I" cores from the material that is
punched out to make the "E"s, wasting the least amount of material.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Placing some 10 mil (.25mm) thick "fish" paper between the "E" and "I" pieces I observed that the inductance was now around 51 Henries which meant that the magnetic field was approximately 1.44 Tesla - within reasonable range of the M6 core material that I'm using.

After the original assembly of the core, I had to disassemble the choke's laminations again to mount the end bells as shown in Figure 1, above.  In the process I used a wooden block to more evenly seat the laminations:  Between this and cinching the screws tightly, the gap between the E and I sections was slightly reduced and the measured inductance went up to around 75 Henries - a bit too high to prevent saturation at 200 mA according to our previous calculations.  Adding a second piece of 10 mil insulating paper - for a total of 20 mils (approx. 0.5mm) of thickness (or 40 mils overall in the magnetic path) reduced the inductance to around 54 Henries as can be seen on the impedance bridge in Figure 9.

Final thoughts:

For the time being - and since this is a prototype - I'll leave the design alone, but it brings up some points for the next time that I might wind a similar choke:
  • Now that I have some actual, practical numbers and a bit of a "feel" for this particular core material and the effects of gapping, I should be able to predict ahead of time with reasonable accuracy the outcome of a particular winding configuration.  Using a different core (size, material) I would be certain to do a "test winding" to divine its aspects prior to finalization of the design.
  • 51-54 Henries is a bit higher than is typically used for a power supply choke, providing an inductive reactance of around 38-40k Ohms at 120 Hz, the AC ripple frequency for full-wave rectified 60 Hz mains.  (It would be about 32-34k for 100 Hz on 50 Hz mains.)  In general, the higher the inductance, the better - provided care is taken to avoid resonances related to the filter capacitance and the load.  The higher inductance will reduce the ripple - particularly important for single-ended triode amplifiers.
  • The self-capacitance of a choke of this inductance is likely to be significant.  While likely not much of a factor at the mains-related frequencies (100 and 120 Hz) it would likely be an issue for so-called "parafeed" tube-type amplifiers (e.g. those that use the inductance for decoupling the plate from the power supply and audio is extracted from a transformer effectively in parallel with this choke, typically via capacitive coupling) where this reactance could quash high frequency audio components unless the design were modified accordingly.
  • The design goal of the choke was to handle at least 200mA.  With a DC resistance of 277 ohms approximately 55 volts will be lost across the choke due to this resistance at the design current, implying a heat load of approximately 11 watts (resistive only and not including core losses) - an acceptable amount for a core this size.  The voltage drop - while higher than desired - can be simply accepted and/or taken into account when designing and building the high-voltage plate transformer and associated supply.
  • A more conventional inductance for a choke-input power supply is in the area of 3-10 Henries, so this design is likely an overkill - but then again, reducing the ripple on the power supply of a single-ended triode amplifier is not a bad thing! 
Were I to have more carefully measured the "typical" permeability of the core in its various configurations and gap sizes with a small number of turns I would have had a better "feel" as to its characteristics and cut the number of turns in half.  In so doing I would have (theoretically) ended up with about one quarter of the inductance - around 12-13 Henries - and half of the resistive loss.

Based on the equations, if I did that I could also have decreased the size of the gap to increase the overall permeability and, again, boost the inductance without fear of saturating the core which could permit a further reduction in the number of turns and winding loss.

Figure 9:
The completed choke (upper right) being measured on my old General Radio GR-1650A impedance bridge.
The measured inductance is approximately 54 Henries with a Q of approximately 4.1 at a frequency
of 1 kHz.  By the time I was able to take the picture, the inductance had drifted very slightly due to
change in temperature, moving the meter's needle away from a good null.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Doing this would allow the use of a slightly heavier gauge of wire to be used on the same-sized bobbin to further decrease ohmic losses and increase current-handling capacity.  In short, I suspect that something in the range of 1600-2000 turns of 27 AWG and a reduced air gap would yield something fairly close to a 10 Henry inductor with significantly reduced DC resistance (e.g. in the range of 55-75 ohms) with the current rating being restricted by the desired minimum inductance rather than the heat dissipated due to Ohmic losses.

At some point on the near-ish future, another such inductor will be wound but we have yet to determine the form it will take:  Will it be as neatly wound as this, or will it be done so that the wires are allowed to cross at shallow angles.  Will it have about as many turns as this choke or will it use a heavier conductor with fewer turns for less - but adequate - inductance?

Stay tuned!

Note:  There is a follow-up to this post linked here that discusses the design and building of a filament transformer.


This page stolen from "".


  1. This is a great resource. I too am winding my own transformers.
    Did you estimate your mag current? If not how do you know that it is correct? Turner audio gives some help here, I thought I would try that. I get 100mA at 240V, desighned for 1.5T
    Also what type and size of PTFE wire are you using?

    1. I do recall going through the exercise of approximating the magnetization current: IIRC, the actual magnetization, measured magnetization current was a bit higher than predicted for the filament transformer (e.g. 300mA or 36VA) but still acceptably low.

      The 'mag current of the high voltage (plate) transformer was around 25% lower than for the filament transformer, but in that case the predicted flux was a bit lower - closer to 1.3T as I'd increased the number of turns on the primary slightly so that the 6.3 (loaded) volt low secondary would come out with the precise voltage with whole turns.

      Interestingly, the Homo-Ludens page more or less says to ignore the magnetization current. As a caveat, I would make such a measurement diagnostically: If it is extremely high this might be indicative of a shorted turn, excess eddy current or that there was a mistake made in calculating the flux and the core is saturating - but just setting it on the workbench and seeing how warm it gets is a pretty good indication of all things going well.

      As for the PTFE wire for the high voltage, I believe it is 24 AWG with a fairly thick insulation (e.g. the O.D. is about twice that of the wire contained therein.) Needing to carry only a few hundred mA, the size of the wire itself is not particularly important.

      For all other windings, standard PVC insulation was used, except for the high current on the filament transformer where those (the 11 AWG conductors) will connect directly to their distribution points.

  2. Can I ask, did you manage to varnish your work. I have managed to do one prototype, but after bake it looked a bit ugly.

    1. At this moment (January, 2017) we have not applied the insulating varnish the work yet - for two reasons:

      - We are just starting to build the prototype circuit. If we need to modify the transformer(s) by changing a winding or adding a new one we would want to do that before varnishing. Because each layer is insulated with polyimide and/or polyester tape the transformers are pretty safe to use - just "hummy" due to the loose laminations.

      - We are having a bit of difficulty getting proper "Insulation Varnish". The traditional insulating varnishes have very high VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) content and are not available for sale in many parts of the country - including where I am. The alternative is to use a water-based varnish, which is actually safer to use, less expensive, and has a very long shelf life compared to the older high-VOC varnishes and may be baked over a wide range of temperatures (e.g. lower = longer time). The problem is that fewer of these water-based products are made and we have been having a bit of difficulty finding a vendor that will sell a "small quantity" (e.g. 1-5 gallons) to us.

      In my research I note that some state that ordinary un-tinted urethane "floor varnish" of the sort available at local hardware and home improvement stores may be used if the transformer isn't going to be subject to particularly high temperatures - and these would probably be suitable for our purposes. We'll hold that idea in reserve if we simply cannot get a "proper" insulating varnish. When we do apply the varnish we will vacuum impregnate the transformers/chokes as we have available the equipment to do so.

  3. What is the formula for sizing insulation thickness between the inter winding layers???

    1. If the question is to calculate the thickness:

      The most conservative method (e.g. that which will give the "safest" results) is to simply multiply the thickness of the insulation by the number of layers to calculate the "depth" of the winding. Between layers, where extra insulation may be added for safety and to allow "creepage" distance along the sides one would have to add that as well.

      Sometimes forgotten is the *actual* thickness of the wire: If one looks up a wire size in a table, the diameter given will be for bare wire. Because insulation thicknesses vary, one should either find the manufacturer's specification for the wire or measure the length of 10-20 parallel strands (e.g. turns on a pencil or drill bit) and divide by the number of strands - a method that is much more accurate than simply using a micrometer to measure the diameter of one piece of wire.

      This method only works if one is studiously making certain that the windings are done very carefully with all conductors laid parallel - a time-consuming task, but preferred in terms of reliability (no turns crossing each other, putting pressure on the insulation) and in terms of maximizing the "fill factor" - the degree to which voids in the winding (largely due to the fact that the cross section of most wire is circular rather than rectangular) are minimized.

      * * *

      If you question was actually how to determine how much insulation is needed, this depends on the wire and the application.

      Modern, high temperature, polyimide-coated wires can lay atop each other fairly safely, presuming that the winding tension isn't too high while other, more fragile types (nylon, enamel) should probably have a insulation between each layer.

      For my own transformers I placed a layer of 0.05mm polyimide ("Kapton") tape over each layer which, itself has at least several kilovolts of dielectric strength. Between adjacent layers, there will not be this sort of voltage, but it will physically protect the wires themselves, preventing inter-layer shorts, particularly if the transformer runs hot or if the transformer is not well-encapsulated in some sort of "insulating varnish" to immobilize the turns to prevent long-term damage due to mains-frequency vibrations and thermal cycling (expanding/contracting.)

      Between windings (e.g. primary and secondary) one should look up the dielectric strength of the insulation used and make certain that the stand-off voltage is at least several times the maximum expected voltage - more, if there is a reasonable chance that the transformer will be subject to high-voltage spikes and surges. This is done to prevent breakdown between the mains winding and a secondary - and several times the mains voltage + secondary voltage can often appear if the power is "dirty" due to motors, normal fluctuations and lightning-induced transients.

      For my transformers I've used two layers of 0.05mm polyimide tape covered with some Aramid/Nomex paper (very rugged, high temperature) that goes slightly up the sides of winding bobbin overtopped by another layer of 0.05mm polyimide tape that also goes slightly up the sides of the bobbin - both of these to increase the "creepage" distance between the windings to prevent breakdown in an air gap, particularly if in a humid climate.

      Polyimide insulation ("Kapton") has a dielectric strength of at least 100kV/mm, so the 0.05mm thickness is capable of withstanding several kilovolts - and multiple layers are used between windings to improve physical ruggedness. A thicker insulating medium, such as the Nomex paper, also improves ruggedness and durability. Ordinary paper - used widely in the past and even today - may be utilized, provided that one remembers its temperature limitations compared to the other, more exotic materials.

      I hope that this helps!



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