How to Make a Rheostat – Part 1
In operating small motors there is as a rule no means provided for regulating their speed, and this often is quite a disadvantage, especially in the case of toy motors such as used on miniature electric locomotives.
Excerpt from the book: THE BOY MECHANIC – BOOK 2 1000 THINGS FOR BOYS TO DO – WITH 995 ILLUSTRATIONS PUBLISHED 1915, BY H. H. WINDSOR CHICAGO POPULAR MECHANICS CO. PUBLISHERS
The speed, of course, can be regulated by changing the number of cells of battery by means of a special switch, but then all the cells are not used the same amount and some of them may be completely exhausted before the others show any appreciable depreciation.
If a small transformer is used with a number of taps taken off the secondary winding, the voltage impressed upon the motor, and consequently the speed, can be changed by varying the amount of the secondary winding across which the motor is connected.
But in both these cases, there is no means of varying the speed gradually. This can, however, be accomplished by means of a small rheostat placed in series with the motor. The rheostat acts in an electrical circuit in just the same way a valve does in a hydraulic circuit.
It consists of a resistance, which can be easily varied in value, placed in the circuit connecting the motor with the source of electrical energy. A diagram of the rheostat is shown in Fig. 1, in which A represents the armature of the motor; B, the field; C, the rheostat, and D, the source of electrical energy.
When the handle E is in such a position that the maximum amount of resistance is in circuit there will be a minimum current through the field and armature of the motor, and its speed will be a minimum.
As the resistance of the rheostat is decreased, the current increases and the motor speeds up, reaching a maximum value when the resistance of the rheostat has been reduced to zero value. Such a rheostat may be used in combination with a special switch F., as shown in. Fig. 2.
The switch gives a means of varying the voltage and the rheostat takes care of the desired changes in speed occurring between those produced by the variations in voltage.
How to Make a Rheostat – Part 2
A very simple and inexpensive rheostat may be constructed as follows: Procure a piece of thin fiber, about 1/16 in. thick, 1/2 in. wide and approximately 10 in. long. Wind on this piece of fiber, after the edges have all been smoothed down, a piece of No. 22 gauge cotton-covered resistance wire, starting about 1/4 in. from one end and winding the various turns fairly close together to within 1/4 in. of the other end.
The ends of the wire may be secured by passing them through several small holes drilled in the piece of fiber, and should protrude 3 or 4 in. for connecting to binding posts that will be mounted upon the base of the rheostat.
Now form this piece of fiber into a complete ring by bending it around some round object, the flat side being toward the object. Determine as accurately as possible the diameter of the ring thus formed and also its thickness.
Obtain a piece of well seasoned hard wood, 1/2 in. thick and 4-1/2 in. square. Round off the corners and upper edges of this block and mark out on it two circles whose diameters correspond to the inside and outside diameters of the fiber ring. The centers of these circles should be in the  center of the block.
Carefully saw out the two circles so that the space between the inside and outside portions will just accommodate the fiber ring. Obtain a second piece of hard wood, 1/4 in. thick and 4-3/4 in. square, round off its corners and upper edges and mount the other pieces upon it by means of several small wood screws, which should pass up from the under side and be well countersunk.
Place the fiber ring in the groove, but, before doing so, drill a hole in the base proper for one end of the wire to pass through. Two small back-connected binding posts should be mounted in the corners. One of these should be connected to the end of the winding and the other to a small bolt in the center of the base that serves to hold the handle or movable arm of the rheostat in place. These connecting leads should all be placed in grooves cut in the under side of the base.
The movable arm of the rheostat may be made from a piece of 1/16-in. sheet brass, and should have the following approximate dimensions: length, 2 in.; breadth 1/2 in. at one end, and 1/4 in. at the other.
Obtain a 1/8-in. brass bolt, about 1 in. long, also several washers. Drill a hole in the larger end of the piece of brass to accommodate the bolt and also in the center of the wooden base. Countersink the hole in the base on the under side with a 1/2-in. bit to a depth of 1/4 in.
On the under side of the piece of brass, and near its narrow end, solder a piece of thin spring brass so that its free end will rest upon the upper edge of the fiber ring. A small handle may be mounted upon the upper side of the movable arm. Now mount the arm on the base by means of the bolt, placing several washers between it and the upper surface of the base, so that its outer end will be raised above the edge of the fiber ring.
Solder a short piece of thin brass to the nut that is to be placed on the lower end of the bolt, and cut a recess in the countersunk portion of the hole in the base to accommodate it. When the bolt has been screwed down sufficiently tight a locknut may be put on, or the first nut soldered to the end of the bolt. If possible, it would be best to use a spring washer, or two, between the arm and base.
The insulation should now be removed from the wire on the upper edge of the fiber ring with a piece of fine sandpaper, so that the spring on the underside of the movable arm may make contact with the winding. The rheostat is now complete with the exception of a coat of shellac. A cross-sectional view of the completed rheostat is shown in Fig. 3.