This section is from the book "The Boy Mechanic Vol. 2 1000 Things for Boys to Do", by Popular Mechanics Co.. Also available from Amazon: The Boy Mechanic, Vol2: 1000 Things for Boys to Do.
Procure a large water bottle and have a glass cutter cut the top off so that the lower portion will form a jar about 8 1/2 in-high. Next obtain two pieces of carbon, about 8 in. long, 4 in. wide and 1/4 in-thick. Melt up some old scrap zinc and mold a piece having the same dimensions as the pieces of carbon. The mold for casting the zinc may be made by nailing some 1/4-in. strips of wood on a piece of dry board, forming a shallow box, 4 in. wide and 8 in. long. Remove all the impurities from the surface of the zinc when it is melted, with a metal spoon or piece of tin. Before filling the mold with the metal, place a piece of No. 14 gauge bare copper wire through a small hole in one of the end pieces forming the mold, and allow it to project several inches inside, and make sure the mold is perfectly level. The zinc will run around the end of the wire, which is to afford a means of connecting the zinc plate to one of the binding posts forming the terminals of the cell.
Cut from some hard wood four pieces a little longer than the outside diameter of the glass jar, two of them 1/2by 1/2 in., and two, 1/2 by % in. Drill a 1/8 -in. hole in each end of all four pieces, the holes being perpendicular to the 1/2 -in. dimension in each case, and about % in. from the end. Boil all the pieces for several minutes in paraffin and stand them up on end to drain. Procure two 1/8 -in. brass bolts, 3 1/2 in. long, which are to be used in clamping the elements of the cell together. The two smaller pieces of wood should be placed on each side of one end of the zinc, then the carbon pieces and the larger pieces of wood outside the carbon pieces. The carbon plates should be connected together and then connected to a binding post which forms the positive terminal of the cell. If unable to obtain pieces of carbon of the required dimensions, a number of ordinary electric-light carbons may be used. Get about ten 1/2 -in. carbons, without the copper coating, if possible; if not, file all the copper off. Cut these carbons off, forming 8-in. lengths. File the top ends of the carbons flat and so that they all become equal in thickness, and clamp them in place by means of the brass bolts. If rods are used, they should all be connected together by means of a piece of copper wire and then to a binding post.
The plates may now be hung in the jar, the wooden pieces resting on the top of the jar and acting as a support. The solution for this cell is made by dissolving 1/2lb. of potassium bichromate in 1/2 gal. of water, and then adding very slowly 1/2lb. of strong sulphuric acid. More or less solution may be made by using the proper proportion of each ingredient.
This cell will have a voltage of two volts, a rather low internal resistance, and will be capable of delivering a large current. If it should begin to show signs of exhaustion, a little more acid may be added.
A chemical action goes on in this cell regardless of whether it supplies current to an external circuit or not, and for this reason the elements should be removed from the solution and hung directly over the jar when the cell is not in use. A simple device for this purpose may be constructed as shown. A cord may be passed through the opening in the crossbar at the top and its lower end attached to the elements. When the elements are drawn out of the solution, the upper end of the cord may be fastened in some manner. This frame can. of course, be made longer, so it will accommodate a number of cells.