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Magnetism Project: Make an Electromagnet

by Ron Kurtus (updated 21 November 2022)

It is relatively easy to make an electromagnet. All you need is a large iron nail, insulated wire and a dry cell battery.

After you make the electromagnet, you can perform a number of experiments with the variables, as well as the features of electromagnets.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Making an electromagnet

If you wrap a wire around an iron core, such as a nail, and you send electrical current through the wire, the nail will become highly magnetized. You can verify that by picking up small objects or by showing its effect on a compass. This is called an electromagnet.

Simple Electromagnet Using a Nail

Creating a simple electromagnet using a nail

Insulated wire

Note that the wire must be an insulated wire. A bare wire would cause an electrical short and the current would then run through the nail or metal core. In some electromagnets, like in an electric motor, the wire will look like bare copper, but it is insulated with a thin coating of a clear material.

Also, if the wire is thin, it may get warm from the resistance to the electricity passing through it.

Turn on and off

The most interesting feature of the electromagnet is that when the electrical current is turned off, the magnetism is also turned off. This is especially true if the core is made of soft iron, which quickly loses its magnetism. Hardened steel may retain its magnetism, so you can't use the most valuable feature of an electromagnet.

Being able to turn the magnetism on and off has lead to many amazing inventions and applications.

Possible factors

Do research to determine various factors in making an electromagnet:

Factors to test

There are several variables you can test or check:


Make an electromagnet and then perform other experiments with the device.

Have a magnetic personality

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