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A fixed capacitor is constructed in such manner that it possesses a fixed value of capacitance which cannot be adjusted. A fixed capacitor is classified according to the type of material used as its dielectric, such as paper, oil, mica, or electrolyte.

A PAPER CAPACITOR is made of flat thin strips of metal foil conductors that are separated by waxed paper (the dielectric material). Paper capacitors usually range in value from about 300 picofarads to about 4 microfarads. The working voltage of a paper capacitor rarely exceeds 600 volts. Paper capacitors are sealed with wax to prevent the harmful effects of moisture and to prevent corrosion and leakage.

Many different kinds of outer covering are used on paper capacitors, the simplest being a tubular cardboard covering. Some types of paper capacitors are encased in very hard plastic. These types are very rugged and can be used over a much wider temperature range than can the tubular cardboard type. Figure 3-15(A) shows the construction of a tubular paper capacitor; part 3-15(B) shows a completed cardboard-encased capacitor.

Figure 3-15. - Paper capacitor.

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A MICA CAPACITOR is made of metal foil plates that are separated by sheets of mica (the dielectric). The whole assembly is encased in molded plastic. Figure 3-16(A) shows a cut-away view of a mica capacitor. Because the capacitor parts are molded into a plastic case, corrosion and damage to the plates and dielectric are prevented. In addition, the molded plastic case makes the capacitor mechanically stronger. Various types of terminals are used on mica capacitors to connect them into circuits. These terminals are also molded into the plastic case.

Mica is an excellent dielectric and can withstand a higher voltage than can a paper dielectric of the same thickness. Common values of mica capacitors range from approximately 50 picofarads to 0.02 microfarad. Some different shapes of mica capacitors are shown in figure 3-16(B).

Figure 3-16. - Typical mica capacitors.

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A CERAMIC CAPACITOR is so named because it contains a ceramic dielectric. One type of ceramic capacitor uses a hollow ceramic cylinder as both the form on which to construct the capacitor and as the dielectric material. The plates consist of thin films of metal deposited on the ceramic cylinder.

A second type of ceramic capacitor is manufactured in the shape of a disk. After leads are attached to each side of the capacitor, the capacitor is completely covered with an insulating moisture-proof coating. Ceramic capacitors usually range in value from 1 picofarad to 0.01 microfarad and may be used with voltages as high as 30,000 volts. Some different shapes of ceramic capacitors are shown in figure 3-17.

Figure 3-17. - Ceramic capacitors.

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Examples of ceramic capacitors.

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An ELECTROLYTIC CAPACITOR is used where a large amount of capacitance is required. As the name implies, an electrolytic capacitor contains an electrolyte. This electrolyte can be in the form of a liquid (wet electrolytic capacitor). The wet electrolytic capacitor is no longer in popular use due to the care needed to prevent spilling of the electrolyte.

A dry electrolytic capacitor consists essentially of two metal plates separated by the electrolyte. In most cases the capacitor is housed in a cylindrical aluminum container which acts as the negative terminal of the capacitor (see fig. 3-18). The positive terminal (or terminals if the capacitor is of the multisection type) is a lug (or lugs) on the bottom end of the container. The capacitance value(s) and the voltage rating of the capacitor are generally printed on the side of the aluminum case.

Figure 3-18. - Construction of an electrolytic capacitor.

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An example of a multisection electrolytic capacitor is illustrated in figure 3-18(B). The four lugs at the end of the cylindrical aluminum container indicates that four electrolytic capacitors are enclosed in the can. Each section of the capacitor is electrically independent of the other sections. It is possible for one section to be defective while the other sections are still good. The can is the common negative connection to the four capacitors. Separate terminals are provided for the positive plates of the capacitors. Each capacitor is identified by an embossed mark adjacent to the lugs, as shown in figure 3-18(B). Note the identifying marks used on the electrolytic capacitor are the half moon, the triangle, the square, and no embossed mark. By looking at the bottom of the container and the identifying sheet pasted to the side of the container, you can easily identify the value of each section.

Internally, the electrolytic capacitor is constructed similarly to the paper capacitor. The positive plate consists of aluminum foil covered with an extremely thin film of oxide. This thin oxide film (which is formed by an electrochemical process) acts as the dielectric of the capacitor. Next to and in contact with the oxide is a strip of paper or gauze which has been impregnated with a paste-like electrolyte. The electrolyte acts as the negative plate of the capacitor. A second strip of aluminum foil is then placed against the electrolyte to provide electrical contact to the negative electrode (the electrolyte). When the three layers are in place they are rolled up into a cylinder as shown in figure 3-18(A).

An electrolytic capacitor has two primary disadvantages compared to a paper capacitor in that the electrolytic type is POLARIZED and has a LOW LEAKAGE RESISTANCE. This means that should the positive plate be accidentally connected to the negative terminal of the source, the thin oxide film dielectric will dissolve and the capacitor will become a conductor (i.e., it will short). The polarity of the terminals is normally marked on the case of the capacitor. Since an electrolytic capacitor is polarity sensitive, its use is ordinarily restricted to a dc circuit or to a circuit where a small ac voltage is superimposed on a dc voltage. Special electrolytic capacitors are available for certain ac applications, such as a motor starting capacitor. Dry electrolytic capacitors vary in size from about 4 microfarads to several thousand microfarads and have a working voltage of approximately 500 volts.

The type of dielectric used and its thickness govern the amount of voltage that can safely be applied to the electrolytic capacitor. If the voltage applied to the capacitor is high enough to cause the atoms of the dielectric material to become ionized, arcing between the plates will occur. In most other types of capacitors, arcing will destroy the capacitor. However, an electrolytic capacitor has the ability to be self-healing. If the arcing is small, the electrolytic will regenerate itself. If the arcing is too large, the capacitor will not self-heal and will become defective.

OIL CAPACITORS are often used in high-power electronic equipment. An oil-filled capacitor is nothing more than a paper capacitor that is immersed in oil. Since oil impregnated paper has a high dielectric constant, it can be used in the production of capacitors having a high capacitance value. Many capacitors will use oil with another dielectric material to prevent arcing between the plates. If arcing should occur between the plates of an oil-filled capacitor, the oil will tend to reseal the hole caused by the arcing. Such a capacitor is referred to as a SELF-HEALING capacitor.


A variable capacitor is constructed in such manner that its value of capacitance can be varied. A typical variable capacitor (adjustable capacitor) is the rotor-stator type. It consists of two sets of metal plates arranged so that the rotor plates move between the stator plates. Air is the dielectric. As the position of the rotor is changed, the capacitance value is likewise changed. This type of capacitor is used for tuning most radio receivers. Its physical appearance and its symbol are shown in figure 3-19.

Figure 3-19. - Rotor-stator type variable capacitor.

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Another type of variable capacitor (trimmer capacitor) and its symbol are shown in figure 3-20. This capacitor consists of two plates separated by a sheet of mica. A screw adjustment is used to vary the distance between the plates, thereby changing the capacitance.

Figure 3-20. - Trimmer capacitor.

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Q.18 An oxide-film dielectric is used in what type of capacitor? A screw adjustment is used to vary the distance between the plates of what type of capacitor?

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