Handmade Toroidal Inductor

Handmade Toroidal Inductor

How does the number of turns in the toroidal inductor affect the performance of a Joule Thief?

I made another toroidal inductor and decided to try a different number of turns to see how it affected the electrical characteristics of the circuit.  Here is the comparison.  In my original Joule Thief circuit, I swapped out the inductor, leaving everything else the same. The Joule Thief was powering a white LED inside a pretend candle.

White LED lights up the liquid in this fake candle.

White LED lights up the liquid in this fake candle.

The “candle” was my daughter’s night light during Christmas, but the (3) button cells inside it died.  The Joule Thief powers it up nicely with a rechargeable AA battery.   Here is how much power the candle-light used with the two different toroidal inductors.

Toroidal Inductor #1:  20 turns

1.38V, 5.3mA

Toroidal Inductor #2:  23 turns

1.37V, 4.9mA

Notice how the current went down 8% with just 3 extra turns on the toroidal inductor.  This makes sense when you look at the theory.

The formula for the frequency is:


Image from Wikipedia.

Why do we care about frequency?  That’s the number of times the LED turns ON per unit of time.  The LED is actually blinking, but super fast, so our eyes cannot notice.

The formula shows us that the frequency (F) decreases as the inductance (L) increases.  The frequency of LED blinking goes down as the inductance goes up.  But how does the number of turns affect inductance?  We can see by looking at the formula for inductance:


Image from Wikipedia.

It looks complicated but we can ignore most of the formula.  We just want to know the relationship between the number of turns (N) and inductance (L).  As the number of turns (N) increases, inductance (L) also increases.  Combined with the first formula, we know that:

As the number of turns (N) increases, the frequency (F) decreases.

As the frequency of LED blinking decreases, the amount of current going through the LED decreases.  That is because the LED spends more of its time OFF, using less energy. Based on the two formulas above, we know that as we increase the number of turns on the toroidal inductor, the current consumption through the load should decrease.


Everything else in the circuit was identical. Both toroids were salvaged from spent CFL’s. [ See my post on how to recycle CFL's.  That post also shows other sources of toroids. ]  The choice of wire was the same.  Everything else in the circuit was unchanged, including the battery.  I performed a quick hot-swap of the inductor on my breadboard and took fast measurements before the battery lost much charge.  I repeated the measurements and found the same results.


Increasing the number of turns in my Joule Thief circuit decreased the current consumption by 8%.  The LED should also be a bit dimmer, I would assume, but it wasn’t a noticeable change in brightness.  The circuit continued to work with 23 turns.  It would be interesting to try the opposite: use less turns and see if the current goes up.

New Questions

What are the inductance ranges that work in the Joule Thief?

What are the limits to the choice of turns?

What is the maximum number of turns and the minimum number of turns needed to get the Joule Thief to function?


  1. tikbalang says:

    i have settled on less turns with thicker wires (15T/10T #22awg or larger) but i’m looking forward to an update to this post since i don’t have measuring equipments.

    my main goal is to replicate jeanna’s JT found on this thread:


    using a 3rd takeoff coil, it lights up 8 leds in series.

  2. Earl says:

    Hi, I have not yet studied the link you provided, but I will say that my current setup has already successfully powered (9) LEDs, as shown on the post:

    So I’m not sure why any modification of the Joule Thief is necessary for what you want. If I have a chance to study the thread you linked to, then maybe I will have better insight into your issue. If you would like to say more on this, please do. Good luck with your circuits.

    For more, you can see all my Joule Thief posts.

  3. irshad says:

    Cut two gage wire abaut two inches long and wind it around the tooroid.

  4. Watson says:

    The frequency decreases and the amount of time the transistor stays on increases. Also the amount of time a transistor stays off increases. In other words the ratio of on time and off time may stay the same no matter what the frequency is. So the joule thief may draw the same amount of current at a higher frequency or a lower frequency. This current is largely determined by the current gain of the transistor and the resistance of the resistor. Also the transistor’s maximum current puts a limit on the current. The resistance of the coil’s windings also limit the current. So altogether, it’s not really as simple as it might seem.

Leave a Reply