FB pixel

Transformer - Power Supply

Parts and Materials

  • Power transformer, 120VAC step-down to 12VAC, with center-tapped secondary winding (Radio Shack catalog # 273-1365, 273-1352, or 273-1511).
  • Terminal strip with at least three terminals.
  • Household wall-socket power plug and cord.
  • Line cord switch.
  • Box (optional).
  • Fuse and fuse holder (optional).

Power transformers may be obtained from old radios, which can usually be obtained from a thrift store for a few dollars (or less!). The radio would also provide the power cord and plug necessary for this project. Line cord switches may be obtained from a hardware store. If you want to be absolutely sure what kind of transformer you're getting, though, you should purchase one from an electronics supply store.

If you decide to equip your power supply with a fuse, be sure to get a slow-acting, or slow-blow fuse. Transformers may draw high "surge" currents when initially connected to an AC source, and these transient currents will blow a fast-acting fuse. Determine the proper current rating of the fuse by dividing the transformer's "VA" rating by 120 volts: in other words, calculate the full allowable primary winding current and size the fuse accordingly.


Lessons In Electric Circuits, Volume 2, chapter 1: "Basic AC Theory"

Lessons In Electric Circuits, Volume 2, chapter 9: "Transformers"

Learning Objectives

  • Transformer voltage step-down behavior.
  • Purpose of tapped windings.
  • Safe wiring techniques for power cords.

Schematic Diagram



Warning! This project involves the use of dangerous voltages. You must make sure all high-voltage (120 volt household power) conductors are safely insulated from accidental contact. No bare wires should be seen anywhere on the "primary" side of the transformer circuit. Be sure to solder all wire connections so that they're secure, and use real electrical tape (not duct tape, scotch tape, packing tape, or any other kind!) to insulate your soldered connections.

If you wish to enclose the transformer inside of a box, you may use an electrical "junction" box, obtained from a hardware store or electrical supply house. If the enclosure used is metal rather than plastic, a three-prong plug should be used, with the "ground" prong (the longest one on the plug) connected directly to the metal case for maximum safety.

Before plugging the plug into a wall socket, do a safety check with an ohmmeter. With the line switch in the "on" position, measure resistance between either plug prong and the transformer case. There should be infinite (maximum) resistance. If the meter registers continuity (some resistance value less than infinity), then you have a "short" between one of the power conductors and the case, which is dangerous!

Next, check the transformer windings themselves for continuity. With the line switch in the "on" position, there should be a small amount of resistance between the two plug prongs. When the switch is turned "off," the resistance indication should increase to infinity (open circuit -- no continuity). Measure resistance between pairs of wires on the secondary side. These secondary windings should register much lower resistances than the primary. Why is this?

Plug the cord into a wall socket and turn the switch on. You should be able to measure AC voltage at the secondary side of the transformer, between pairs of terminals. Between two of these terminals, you should measure about 12 volts. Between either of these two terminals and the third terminal, you should measure half that. This third wire is the "center-tap" wire of the secondary winding.

It would be advisable to keep this project assembled for use in powering other experiments shown in this book. From here on, I will designate this "low-voltage AC power supply" using this illustration:

Computer Simulation

Schematic with SPICE node numbers:

Netlist (make a text file containing the following text, verbatim):

transformer with center-tap secondary
v1 1 0 ac 120 sin 
rbogus1 1 2 1e-3
l1 2 0 10
l2 5 4 0.025
l3 4 3 0.025
k1 l1 l2 0.999
k2 l2 l3 0.999
k3 l1 l3 0.999
rbogus2 3 0 1e12
rload1 5 4 1k
rload2 4 3 1k

* Sets up AC analysis at 60 Hz:
.ac lin 1 60 60

* Prints primary voltage between nodes 2 and 0:
.print ac v(2,0) 

* Prints (top) secondary voltage between nodes 5 and 4:
.print ac v(5,4) 

* Prints (bottom) secondary voltage between nodes 4 and 3:
.print ac v(4,3) 

* Prints (total) secondary voltage between nodes 5 and 3:
.print ac v(5,3) 

Lessons In Electric Circuits copyright (C) 2000-2020 Tony R. Kuphaldt, under the terms and conditions of the CC BY License.

See the Design Science License (Appendix 3) for details regarding copying and distribution.

Revised January 18, 2010

Use left and right arrow keys to change pagesUse left and right arrow keys to change pages.
Swipe left and right to change pages.\Swipe left and right to change pages.
Make Bread with our CircuitBread Toaster!

Get the latest tools and tutorials, fresh from the toaster.

What are you looking for?