Yesterday Mike Bennett and I worked on a load tester for my nicad pack in my shop. It loads each cell one at a time with around 40 amps. Which is 1C. The goal is to find bad or failing cells when the pack is discharged down to the first drop in pack voltage. This occurs around the 5 mile mark. So I know many cells are croaking at that point.

We bought a 100 amp, 12v lead acid load tester from Harbor Freight for $25 on sale. We ended up using bailing wire as an additional load element. I’ve used bailing wire before for discharging cells. It works fine. It’s a soft wire that when it turns red, it still soft. So it stays consistent. We did some empirical testing to see how much bailing wire we would need to add to get 40 amps at around .6 volts. We came up with two 11″ pieces in parallel. We crimped on 1/4″ yellow lugs and bolted them to the large copper crimps already in the load tester. That worked great!

The meter ranges from 0-16v. As it turns out it was fairly accurate around the .5-1.5 volt range. But that was too small of a needle swing for me. So at a later date I will recalibrate the meter by 10x. It will then read 0-1.6v. Perfect for nicad testing. It has a 51 ohm 1/8 watt resistor across the meter movement. So that needs to be changed to a 470 ohm pot so it can be calibrated nicely.

We load tested a couple of cells continuously to see if the bailing wire would fail. It got hot, but never glowed. So I think the only weak link is the rocker switch moving 40 amps through it. Since having a rocker switch would require 2 hands to operate the load tester, I may very well bypass the switch. Then the load tester can just be rocked only the 2 cell terminals and that will activate the load tester. There are 250 cells to test. So speed is everything!!

This load tester could be tweaked for use on lithium too.