Transducers based on quantum mechanical tunneling provide an extremely sensitive sensor principle, especially for nanoelectromechanical systems. For proper operation a gap between the electrodes of below 1 nm is essential, requiring the use of structures with a mobile electrode. At such small distances, attractive van der Waals and capillary forces become sizable, possibly resulting in snap-in of the electrodes. The authors present a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of the interplay between the involved forces and identify requirements for the design of tunneling sensors. Based on this analysis, a tunneling sensor is fabricated by Si micromachining technology and its proper operation is demonstrated. © 2006 American Institute of Physics.