Introduction: Wood Lichtenberg Figures

Picture of Wood Lichtenberg Figures

Warning! This project uses high voltages. Build at your own risk.

This is also my first project on Instructables so it might not be formatted too well. Sorry.

This is a really fun and simple project that almost anyone can make. You can make it for yourself or as a gift.


-Transformer (I used a 6KV Neon Sign Transformer. The higher the voltage, the thicker the stream and the more branches produced)

-Extension Cord

-Wood (I used an 8 inch by 3.5 inch piece of Poplar)



-Baking Soda



-Alligator Clips (optional)

-Scissors or Wire Stripping Tool

-Paper towels

Step 1: Preparing the Transformer

Picture of Preparing the Transformer

First, strip the output and input wires from the transformer.

Then strip the extension cord so the three wires are exposed. Once stripped, connect the input wires from the transformer to the wires from the extension cord. It does matter which wires are hooked up to which.

The one in the middle (should have green insulation once stripped) is the ground and is hooked up to the ground (green) wire from the transformer. The wire which comes from the left prong (the one that goes in the larger wall input) should be neutral, this hooks up to the white wire. on the transformer. The wire which comes from the right prong (the one that goes into the smaller wall input) should be live/hot, this hooks up to the red wire from the transformer.

Once the wires are hooked up, do not plug it in. You will plug it into the wall in a later step.

Step 2: Preparing the Wood

Picture of Preparing the Wood

Take your glass or cup and put two tablespoons of baking soda into it. Then pour water into it until it is about 3/4 full.

Stir the mixture until it is cloudy.

Grab your sponge and soak it up in the mixture while it is still cloudy, do no let the baking soda settle to the bottom.

Softly rub the sponge onto the side of the wood which you want to have the Lichtenberg Figures.

Get your paper towels and dry the sides of the wood. Some of the mixture might have gotten on the sides.

Step 3: Burning the Wood

Picture of Burning the Wood

I placed alligator clips on the output of the transformer because the wire would not reach far enough.

I also placed a wood beam under the piece of wood which I would be burning for extra insulation.

Set the wire on each end of the wood.

Step back and plug the extension cord which was attached to the transformer into the wall.

Do not touch any part of the wood, transformer, or exposed wires while it is plugged in.

Almost instantly the wood should start burning. Once both sides are connected to each other, the figures will stop being burned into the wood. Once this has happened, unplug the transformer.

Just let the wood sit for about a minute and that is it. You should have your own wood with Lichtenberg Figures on it.

Make sure the transformer is unplugged before taking the piece of wood.

This was originally from TheBackyardScientist on YouTube. I will link his video.

Click here for TheBackyardScientist's video


Natsufire (author)2016-11-08

What's the amps/ current needed for this project in looking at a 12KV neon sign transformer but they have either 25mA or 50mA what would u recommend have the greater effect. I don't wanna buy a transformer and have it melt on me cause of he wrong current ???

ChadB18 (author)Natsufire 2017-08-04

Higher current at that same voltage will produce a greater effect than a lower current will produce. Higher current = greater danger, though. So be careful! Those currents are easily high enough to be lethal at that voltage so it is a good practice to keep your left hand in your pocket when playing with that kind of power, just so you don't reflexively grab a conductive surface should something unexpected and startling occur.

JamesG398 (author)ChadB182017-11-23

Chad, thanks for sharing that word of advice. That's what I learned in electrical training, left hand in your pocket, preventing current flow through your body/heart from hand-to-hand contact.

rsmaudsley (author)Natsufire 2017-05-29

This is the one I got and it works great.

ClarkC5 (author)2015-09-23

So ive been wanting to use the transformer from an old microwave, the scariest part is the setting up the dang transformer. Any tips other than what you have provided. I.E. what types of insulated tools you would suggest

ChadB18 (author)ClarkC52017-08-04

My advice: Add a momentary switch on the 120 side which feeds the transformer (on the hot side; switching a neutral is bad practice) and run that switch out to an electrical pvc conduit cut to fit your grip, fit it with some end caps and install the momentary switch into one of the end caps on the conduit. Then you will have some isolation from the HV side, you can stand back before energizing it, and it won't stay energized if you drop your homemade handheld switch. Much more safe!

alissam1 (author)ClarkC52015-10-01

Note that I'm in no way, shape, or form a trained electrician, but I have worked on small appliances and computers around my home.

So long as you're 100% sure the microwave or whatever device you're harvesting the transformer from is unplugged from the wall, the only shock you're at all likely to get is from static.

That said, be sure to finish off the project with wire nuts and/or electrical tape to make the finished product a heck of a lot safer. Just remember to trim the bare wires (the part sticking out from the insulated 'sheathe') down so there's no bare wire coming out of the end caps.

Using wire nuts:

Using electrical tape:

bmaney (author)alissam12016-12-05

That's very wrong. There's a big capacitor that can zap you in there. Know what you're doing if you open a microwave.

NelsonStudios (author)bmaney2017-02-22

I haven't seen a microwave cap with out some sort of drawdown well ever. I suppose some of the older ones might have. Don't just fear bate, share how to test the cap is down with a chunky screwdriver. Teach what you know... or don't share it.

bmaney (author)NelsonStudios2017-02-23

I didn't mean to fear bait. I'm actually worried about this. When there's a small chance that someone can get killed, I feel it's worth saying something. Most guides on the web about microwave repair will have cautions concerning discharging the cap, so I didn't feel it necessary to repeat that here. I should have said so. Here's an example:

DennisA67 (author)ClarkC52017-01-02

Using a microwave transformer is way too dangerous. You can find a transformer that has high voltage and less amps. It's not the volts that kill you it's the amps. Do your for safe may save your life

Stevens Workshop made it! (author)2017-06-25

I had a go at this using a microwave transformer. Great fun and great results... Very dangerous !!!

damienm30 (author)2017-02-06

is the transformer one time use?

DreamingOrchid (author)2016-12-15

What would happen if I used a welder?

DennisA67 (author)DreamingOrchid2017-01-02

Wont work with a welder. You need a transformer that will take 120 volts up to 10k to 15k volts. I use a oil burner ignition transformer I bought from walmart's online for 48 plus tax.

MavthePatriot (author)DennisA672017-01-26

What kind of Oil burner ignition Transformer do you use? Do you mind commenting with pictures of the work? I was thinking about getting this one.

H&JK (author)2016-12-08

Just about what I was looking for - thx :-)
Anyone know if it's
possible to control the path of the figure more discreetly? maybe doing something like
only putting conductive liquid around a certain area and then putting
something temporary and insulating on the wood in the area that I'd like
to keep clear?

NicholasS138 (author)H&JK2016-12-15

let us know how your expiriment worked...

TheGreatResistor (author)2016-11-27

can i use a 20kV 1.2mA supply

Murray Elen (author)2016-07-09

Warning: A 32-year old artist's death occurred on 7/2/16 in Cortland, OH burning wood like this! This is not safe. RIP Jarrett R. Hutton.

MakerIan (author)Murray Elen2016-09-22

He was using a much more dangerous microwave oven transformer, which can put out more than .5 amps, and will not trip a safety circuit when they short.

While high voltage electricity is still dangerous, neon sign transformers are a bit safer as they tend to limit current to < 80ma.

TheAmishTerror (author)2016-07-08

Why not just your a trickle charger for a car battery set to max quick charge as a power source?

arachnoshark (author)2016-04-20

Would putting dyes (food coloring, maybe watercolor, etc) in the baking soda/water solution affect the conductivity?

quietthomas (author)2016-02-25

How would one of these go on Australian 240 v 10 A?

SamanthaT18 (author)2015-11-22

How much current is required? I have a 15000Ma neon sogn transformer that isnt working!

russ_hensel (author)2015-08-05

So nice if you do not kill yourself. I have never had a neon transformer, perhaps I should get one now.

Laral (author)russ_hensel2015-10-15

A neon sign transformer has a built-in shunt that limits the current to around 30mA typically, although some go up to 120mA--NOT RECOMMENDED. You can get used oil burner ignition transformers for free from dealers or repair shops. They are typically 10kV @ 23mA.

c3r3al (author)russ_hensel2015-08-05

I got mine from a local neon sign shop for about $30 used

Laral (author)2015-10-15

I forgot to add, MUCH safer too. ;-)

Laral (author)2015-10-15

I was led here from Woodburning with Electricity by MrMarkinator Yours is much better. Nice and clean. Nice job.

ИгорьА1 (author)2015-09-24

Excellent idea for a decor. I liked it very much. I represent if it is possible to control the course of the movement of drawing)

billbucket (author)2015-08-05

Please at least use electrical tape on those wires. You could actually kill yourself if you're not careful.

c3r3al (author)billbucket2015-08-05

Yeah haha, I ran out of tape :P

PeterT22 (author)c3r3al2015-08-10

...and if your avatar pic didn't give away your gender, that comment did ;)

c3r3al (author)PeterT222015-08-11

xD my avatar pic is amazeballs, who doesn't like wernher von braun in shades?

JAC_1961 (author)2015-08-09

Can you tell me if this transformer will work? I know next to nothing about neon transformers. The description in the auction says that it will burn out if used for a tesla coil, etc. Thanks much!

c3r3al (author)JAC_19612015-08-09

I do not think it would work, you could always try finding lower power transformers in which the seller states that their transformer should work. I would say that the minimum voltage which you should look for should be 2KV (2000 volts).

I found 2 transformers on ebay in which the seller says they should be able to function properly.

JAC_1961 (author)c3r3al2015-08-10

Thank you, I really appreciate the help. And I will be safe.

c3r3al (author)JAC_19612015-08-09

If you purchase a transformer and attempt to do this project, make sure to be safe and cautious ^.^

azcreativepro (author)2015-08-09

Is there a limit to the size of the pieces or wood relative to the power output of the transformer? If I wanted to do this across a 5' piece would it work?

c3r3al (author)azcreativepro2015-08-09

I believe it should work, however I think it would be better if a higher voltage transformer was also used.

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2015-08-05

That looks really cool!

Thanks ^.^

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