Lichtenberg Figures! Burning fractal images into wood!

In this Instructable I will be showing you how you can burn some amazing fractal images into wood. This project is cheap and it might not even cost you anything! All you need is an old microwave. Let's get started.

Step 1: Watch the Video!


Before you go through the rest of the steps for this project, you should definitely watch the video that I have posted above. The video will go through the entire project as well as show you some amazing clips of the wood being burned with electricity. Also, if you enjoy the video you should definitely hit the like button or even consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Most importantly don't forget to follow me here on my Instructables page so that you can see all of my future projects!

Step 2: Parts List

You will need:

- An old microwave

- 2 alligator clips

- 1/4" plywood or any other kind of wood that you would like to burn

- Water

- Baking soda

Step 3: Removing the Transformer From the Microwave

In order to burn some incredible looking fractal images into wood, you will need a very high voltage source. That is what the old microwave will be used for. Inside of the microwave there is a transformer that outputs about 2200 volts and it will need to get removed.

But before moving on I need to warn you that this project can be very dangerous and safety needs to be taken very seriously.

Electric shock can kill. Touching live electrical parts can cause fatal shocks or severe burns. This project can be dangerous and should not be attempted without adult supervision and adequate training. Safety must be taken very seriously if you are going to attempt this project. I am not responsible for any injury or damage. Use or this instructable or video content is at your own risk.

Step 4: Wiring the Transformer

Once you have the transformer and the power cord removed the transformer can get wired up to the way we need it. There are two coils on the transformer. The 120V primary coil and the 2200V secondary coil. The power cord that was removed from the microwave will need to be connected to the two terminals located on the primary winding of the transformer (polarity does not matter).

A piece or wire with an alligator clip on one end can then get connected onto one end of the secondary winding. You will notice that the other end of the secondary winding is fastened directly to the laminations of the transformer. So another piece of wire with the other alligator clip on one end can be fasted directly onto one of the transformers mounting holes.

Also, as a high voltage warning you could even connect a large light bulb across the transformer input terminals to show when it is on.

Step 5: Mixing Baking Soda With Water

Because wood is an insulator and it is not conductive, we will need to moisten up the wood so that electricity will be able to travel across it. I will be adding a 1/4 cup of baking soda in to 2L of water. This needs to be done because baking soda becomes an electrolyte when it gets mixed with water and it will make the water much more conductive.

Step 6: Burning Fractal Images Into Wood

Now that we have our high voltage transformer and our water and baking soda solution, we are ready to start burning some fractal images into wood. From what I have read and tried for myself, 1/4" plywood works extremely well for this project. But I also got some incredible results with some thick pine and other types of wood. So go ahead and experiment with what ever wood you like!

This part is simple. You just NEED to be careful!

Start by brushing your baking soda+water solution onto a piece of wood. Don't soak it on or leave puddles you just want to get the top of the wood slightly damp.

Next hook up the alligator clips onto each side or the piece of wood. Most of my 1/4" pieces of plywood were cut to about 1 foot in length. Also, keep in mind that the electricity likes to travel with the wood grain so try attaching the alligator clips with the grain.

Now all you need to do is stand back and stay clear of the wood and the transformer and then plug it in. Once the wood stops burning or reaches the other side UNPLUG the transformer and remove the alligator clips from the wood.

Once again please BE careful! Remember:

1) THE POWER PLUG MUST BE OUT of the socket during ANY handling of the equipment or connecting the wires to the wood.
2) When the power plug is IN the socket, DO NOT TOUCH or go near the equipment.

3) When the process appears to be finished, TAKE THE POWER PLUG OUT of the socket BEFORE going near or touching the equipment.

4) NEVER TOUCH the wood or equipment while the power plug is IN the socket.

5) DEATH or serious injury WILL result from not observing these precautions.

Step 7: Brushing Out the Ash

Once you are finished burning a piece (or a bunch of pieces) of wood, there will be quite a bit of ash in the burn marks. Simply get a bucket of water and a brush and scrub out all of the ash. Then just leave them out in the sun to dry!

I really like how some of them look like trees and how they all turn out in completely different ways. There are many things that you can do with these pieces of art. You can varnish them and add a frame to make a unique picture, or somehow include them in a furniture build! Get creative!

Well that’s it for this project! I hope that you all enjoyed this instructable as well as the video. Don’t forget to follow me here on instructables, like, share, subscribe, and to stay creative!

<p>do you know if you could use a MIG or arc welder to create these effects?</p>
<p>Did you find an answer for this?<br>About to try this tonight with a stick welder, hehehe.<br>I anticipate some exploding wood planks in me future.</p>
i believe the welders are high current instead of high voltage. might still work but think it will be different.
Good instrctable. just one key point...<br><br>Microwaves contain a high voltage capacitor which can hold a lethal charge months after the microwave was last used.<br><br>If you're going to make one if these.<br>1. Don't touch ANY wires during cover and fan removal.<br>2. Test the Cap terminals with a meter.<br>3. Short the capacitor using insulated wire whilst wearing insulated (not the warm kind!!!) gloves by touching each of the capacitor terminal with ends if wire.<br>4. Bridge the capacitor terminals using wire and clips.<br>5. Cut capacitor leads using high rated insulated snips.<br>6. Dispose of the capacitor safely.<br><br>... most injuries in this king of mod result from stored charge because folks forget that just because it ain't plugged in it can still pack a punch.<br><br>Be safe and enjoy ?
<p>It would be safer to use a neon sign transformer than one from a microwave:</p><p>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuVHhL5hmek</p>
<p>Those are awesome.<br><br>I've heard (fom vid) or read that it is better to use sodium carbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. Your experience seems to show it doesn't matter.<br><br>Any insight into this issue?<br></p>
<p>Sodium carbonate vs sodium bicarb.... the material disassociates into an anion and cation. These transport the electrons reducing resistance.</p><p>The following pdf chart <a href="http://sites.chem.colostate.edu/diverdi/all_courses/CRC%20reference%20data/electrical%20conductivity%20of%20aqueous%20solutions.pdf">here</a> shows Carbonate is more conductive per molar mass, as well as much more soluble, than bicarb (aka sodium hydrogen carbonate)</p>
<p>My first attempt; could have been better, could have been worse, but hey... it worked!!! :) The wind obviously played a factor and my wife wants to keep it just as it is, but there's going to be a LOT more of this happening in my shop in the coming weeks!</p>
<p>Hi, i see you are using just two transformers as the power supply. Many tutorials give elaborate description about the power supply. Could you please explain yours. Thanks in advance</p>
<p>That is awesome! Good job. I am really glad to see that you are having fun with this!</p>
<p>That looks amazing! </p><p>I am SO doing this today!</p>
Cool project
<p>Those are awesome.<br><br>I've heard (fom vid) or read that it is better to use sodium carbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. Your experience seems to show it doesn't matter.<br><br>Any insight into this issue?<br></p>
<p>I am SO gonna do this. The tree-forms look superb. Never knew this. Thanks for sharing.</p>
I just happened to have stripped down an old microwave before you posted this. I got it all put together and added a light switch before the transformer, used clips I could remove from the transformer connections. This way I can turn it of and unhook power from transformer before touching the clips. <br>I didn't have baking soda, so used baking powder, worked pretty good. The wood was a piece of of 3/4&quot; Cedar. I splashed more water mix on when it would stop burning to make it start up again and let it burn for quite awhile. <br>This is awesome and can't wait to try more variations. Thank you.
<p>Awesome effect, and some very nice results! Thanx fo showing us.</p><p>In addition to ElectroFrank's useful comments (some people will need 'em): when performing this outside, make a little fence so no pets can go near the setup.</p><p>Austiwawa, did you fuse the primary?</p>
<p>Awesome effect, and some very nice results! Thanx fo showing us.</p><p>In addition to ElectroFrank's useful comments (some people will need 'em): when performing this outside, make a little fence so no pets can go near the setup.</p><p>Austiwawa, did you fuse the primary?</p>
How about including in Step 4:<br><br>&quot;As a high voltage warning, connect a large red light bulb across the transformer input terminals to show when it is on.&quot;<br><br>And please may I suggest a couple of extra safety warnings in Step 6 ? Something like:<br><br>1) THE POWER PLUG MUST BE OUT of the socket during ANY handling of the equipment or connecting the wires to the wood.<br><br>2) When the power plug is IN the socket, DO NOT TOUCH or go near the equipment.<br><br>3) When the process appears to be finished, TAKE THE POWER PLUG OUT of the socket BEFORE going near or touching the equipment.<br><br>4) NEVER TOUCH the wood or equipment while the power plug is IN the socket.<br><br>5) DEATH or serious injury WILL result from not observing these precautions.<br><br>These warnings may seem obvious to geniuses like you and I, but some extra emphasis may save quite a few lives ! (And yes, 2 is deliberately the same as 4 !)
<p>@ElectroFrank</p><p>The world would be a better place with fewer of the failed Darwin experiments - especially when you make genius category just common sense.</p><p>The world needs more warning signs:</p><p>Electric fence - don't pee on it.</p><p>Rabid dog - don't pet</p><p>Russian roulette, with a semi-automatic - limited options <strong>and</strong> <strong>you</strong> go first!</p><p>Anthill, not a good place for picnic.</p><p>I'm thinking very few of the instructables are ever attempted by the readers (percentage of comments vs I made it) and the readers that do make the item are cognitive or competent enough to both follow instructions and maybe improve on it so give the warnings a rest or do you just like seeing your name in print as the humanist savior. </p>
<p>ElectroFrank's suggestions are entirely reasonable. You should treat high voltage equipment with the same over the top safety that you would a firearm (which can be obnoxious but effective). Just like a firearm, you can reach a point where a very casual mistake is basically _instant_ death with no chance of recovery, unlike your (honestly dickish) examples.</p><p>You are not helping anyone by chastising someone for being safety conscious. If you think their suggestions are bad or incomplete, correct them, but don't yell at them just because you think you personally know better </p>
<p>as an addendum: manufacturers include warnings for just about any conceivable issue to protect themselves from lawsuits, not the protection of the end user. </p><p>Case in point. If you look at a sparkling wine bottle here is a caution about the contents being under pressure and to not reuse the cork. An employer of mine, in the mid 80's, reused the cork and put the bottle in the fridge. The following morning he moved the bottle and the cork 'popped' and dislodged a cornea. As he was a lawyer he filed suit. Haven't a clue what happened but the labeling - in my opinion - is a follow on to his (and possible others) lawsuit. Ergo, don't sue me because you are stupid.</p>
<p>the warning light is a GREAT idea.</p>
<p>I have included your safety precautions in my instructable. Thank you for your input. You can never stress safety enough!</p>
<p>I am going to try this, but thanks for the safety warnings from all! A bright teen scientist from Ohio was recently killed while building a Jacob's Ladder. Very sad.</p><p>http://nypost.com/2016/04/20/teen-kills-himself-trying-youtube-science-experiment/</p>
<p>I never thought about brushing out the ash, I'll have to try it.<br>lichtenberg figures are something I make and sell as part of my woodworking business, I like to finish mine by filling the figures with epoxy till I get everything level, sand with a high grit sandpaper, and spray coat with poly. </p><p>some things I've learned in making lichtenberg figures:<br>The baking soda solution will tint oak green-ish. Table salt works just as well as baking soda, old neon signs are also a good place to get a transformer, and, I've heard , that old cathode ray tube TVs have a transformer in them. <br>I recommend experimenting with moving the electrodes to expand the patterns in different directions, also, if you lay down the salt water in a pattern you can &quot;draw&quot; a picture with the lichtenberg figures. I'll post my most recent design using the drawing method as an &quot;I made it!&quot; I probably spent 8 hours creating it from start to finish, the frame is oak, and the base material is 3/8&quot; pine plywood, dimensions are roughly 16&quot;x16&quot;</p>
<p>A warning about old Cathode Ray Tube Televisions, they have capacitors that can hold a<strong> lethal dose of electricity for a VERY, VERY LONG TIME.</strong> The service manuals I have read on them all recommend discharging all the capacitors safely before servicing the television. The proper method to do so should pop up on a Google search. The same may be true of old microwaves, but their capacitors are generally better insulated than old TV sets.</p>
<p>&quot;Flyback&quot; transformers. I've seen people get kicked across the room by them!<br><br>https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyback_transformer</p>
<p>that is why they &quot;fly back&quot; !! chcukle....ok I know why they &quot;fly back, but this is more fun.</p>
<p>Great tips! I am glad that you wrote out all of the things you have learned from experience so that others can give them a try. I will definitely try using salt and see what kind of results I can get. Also, great work on that piece you made! The drawing method is a really cool idea and I want to give it a try as well. </p>
<p>no problem. and thank you. I'm still learning a lot, but it's a lot of fun, and people get very excited about the process. <br>If you haven't made a jacob's ladder yet I recommend it, it's a lot of fun, and a neat way to see just how long the arc can get! <br>I actually made a jacob's ladder first, and discovered lichtenberg figures when the wood of the base caught on fire. . . I don't recall how that happened, it was 6 or 7 years ago, haha. <br></p>
<p>next do some quarter crushing</p><p><a href="http://www.capturedlightning.com/frames/shrinkergallery.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.capturedlightning.com/frames/shrinkerga...</a></p><p>see Bert Hickman's pages..totally awesome.</p><p>I have a few quarters that shrink and hide under dimes.</p><p>errrr, &quot;got voltage?&quot; </p>
These are amazing (and incredibly beautiful); thank you so much for posting! :) <br>Questions: do you find any certain kinds of wood make more interesting (particularly tee-ish looking) designs? Is wood with more grain (and or knots) preferable to smooth planks? And finally, Does weathered wood present issues to take under consideration? <br>I'm so excited to try this! :) Thank you, in advance, so much for your time and guidance! :)
Pardon the typo (it was meant to read tree-ish)...curse you, auto-correct! ;)
<p>Just amazing, I MUST try this. (and Hi from another Austin, that makes 8 for me)</p>
<p>As a safety feature, you could wire in a momentary switch on the supply power line. Then the transformer would only be energized when you are holding the button down.</p>
<p>How about two momentary switches. One for each hand.</p>
<p>After the baking soda, have you tried first marking the wood with charcoal or a graphite pencil?</p>
<p>I am glad that you put in safety features just incase so one repeats this.</p>
I love your project. If I ever get a free/extra microwave I am going to try this. The best project is one that comes out unexpectedly. Yours are gourgeous.
<p>OMG--I am as giddy as a valley girl on Rodeo Drive. This is just incredible.</p><p>If you stop the video at ~2:40 and you stopped the process as well, you have a perfect 'African Veldt' landscape with the huge, lone tree. The possibilities for this are uncanny, thanks for sharing.</p><p>Frankly, I am envisioning a wall panelled in wood shakes, each with burned patterns. It would be awesome.</p>
<p>I have a microwave transformer and a neon transformer (yay, eBay!) that I plan to do some of this with, but am a bit terrified of electrocuted - so I've put things off until I can get a massive rubber mat and some really good insulated gloves with which to work.<br><br>I've seen videos on YouTube that show the different types of &quot;flow&quot; from the 2 different types of transformers. Looking forward to testing this out.</p>
<p>These designs are beautiful, but to clarify - they aren't actually fractal images, which intrigue me for jewelry design. Fractals repeat the same pattern: &quot;self-similar across different scales.&quot; For example, each branch of a tree is a small scale image of the full tree, and can progress to smaller branches and even leaf clusters all with the same pattern. </p>
<p>They are fractals. From the Fractal Wiki page: &quot;A <b>fractal</b> is a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_phenomenon" rel="nofollow">natural phenomenon</a> or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.&quot; You probably are only familiar with mathematical fractals - this is the natural kind.</p>
<p>Well, as you describe a tree being fractal...the branches being a small scale of the tree...You do realize that the branches of any tree aren't truly like the whole tree, right? What you just described is exactly what is going on in these lichtenberg figures. Those branches burned in the wood look a lot like branches on a tree...</p><p>&quot;Lichtenberg figures are now known to be examples of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractals" rel="nofollow">fractals</a>.&quot;</p><p>https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichtenberg_figure</p>
Curious do you have any idea how long your transformer will last<br>I will be trying this
<p>I think a visit to my local recycle yard may result in a swap for some microwave transformers....<br><br>Some beautiful work. The patterns remind me of fellows who pour molten aluminium into large anhills, and then dig up the mtal when it's coolled sufficiently.</p>
<p>Yet another project that makes me regret my lack of old microwaves...</p>

About This Instructable




Bio: Hello and welcome! My name is Austin. I enjoy creating interesting projects and sharing my projects and ideas with all of you. Please feel free ... More »
More by austiwawa:How to Make an Electric Go Kart DIY Railroad Anvil Stand DIY Color Changing Raw Wood LED Shelf 
Add instructable to: