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I was troubleshooting the spark ignition on a gas oven and was surprised to discover that the ignition wire, which carries the high voltage to create the spark, had a carbon core instead of metal.

Why are carbon wires used for high voltage igniters/spark plugs? The best explanation I could find is from https://www.magnecor.com/magnecor1/truth.htm and talks about the higher wire resistance reducing EMI.

Is reducing EMI the primary/only purpose of using carbon wires? If so, why is this approach used instead of the (seemingly more simple) metal wire with a series resistor? Also, are carbon wires still commonly used in new equipment, or are they a thing of the past?

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Yes EMI is the primary reason and it is also cheaper than wire with a long epoxy molded carbon resistor rated for 10kV

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