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If you have ever tried woodburning, you know that it can be time consuming and rather uneventful. This instructable aims to change that. Let's create beautifully intricate fractals in seconds using high voltage electricity.

In order to create this design you will need the following:

  • Fan
  • Small Water Container
  • Brushes
  • Microwave Transformer(s)
  • Extension Cords (Optional)
  • Jumper Cables
  • Bucket or Stand
  • Electricity Supply
  • Wood
  • Water
  • Baking Soda or Salt

This instructable was inspired by The Backyard Scientist. Click this link for his great video.

Also, I am selling these figures on my Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ElectricalWoodburing

Disclaimer: I am not responsible in any way for damage done to you, others or any property. Using high voltage electricity comes with inherent risks, so be sure to wear all appropriate safety gear and never do this alone. This amount of electricity can kill you in seconds. This instructable was created with the sole purpose of educating the DIY community on Lichtenburg Figures.

Step 1: Saftey

I know what you are thinking, why does everyone have a boring safety section in their instructable? I get it, its not fun, but because this project is extremely dangerous this section is going to be one of the most important you will read.

In the words of jellymeister, "Naturally there is a lot of commenting that this is dangerous and you shouldn't do it... But this is Instructables - If you still want to here are a summary of possible risks you should be aware of:

Dismantling microwave: beware that if it has been powered recently (days?) anything attached to the big capacitor can kill you - remove this with excessive caution before anything else. Wiring: Unless you have 10+kV high voltage insulation on your wiring (not just mains) you need to think of your wires as bare copper. The insulation can and will burn through almost instantly. Hydrogen: do it outside and not under a canopy. You are likely to generate hydrogen in the vicinity of your sparky project. Hydrogen explodes. I have picked out the key risks that I think people might miss. Obviously there are many more risks that hopefully are more obvious (like high voltage will kill you if you touch it!). This system has plenty of power to kill someone trying to pull you away if you do electrocute yourself.?"

Please be aware of the inherent risks with this project, and make an informed decision on whether you should try it or not.

Step 2: Power Source

Before we start any woodburning, we need a power souce. Any high voltage power source will work. I got mine from two old microwave transformers. If you want a video on how to salvage a transformer from a microwave, check out this great video. I use two transformers wired in parallel but it is possible to woodburn with only one. I would recommend using two for larger pieces as just one will not supply enough power. I have included a simple diagram on how to wire the transformers above.

Step 3: Finding the Right Wood

In order to create the best lightning figure possible, we need to find the right type of wood. Any kind of wood will work, but varying thickness, species, and grain direction will all result in different looks. Through my testing, and the results of the Backyard Scientist, I believe the best type of wood is thin plywood or underlayment. This is because only the thin layer of wood on the top and bottom(veneer) absorb the water solution, creating the burned pattern. Electricity will always travel on the path of least resistance(usually the grain) so keep this in mind when setting up your piece. Going against the grain can create mixed results.

Step 4: Increasing the Conductivity of the Wood

In order to allow the electricity to flow through the wood, we need to lower the resistance. This is done through a thin coating of water. Water alone is not a great conductor so we will need to add either baking soda or salt. I choose to use baking soda because of the chlorine component of salt. It is possible for this to become detached from the rest of the compound and create poisonous gas. I have found that using one tablespoon of baking soda per cup of water gives the best results. After adding baking soda to the water, apply a coating onto the wood. Your should aim to have your piece "saturated", not moist. Depending on how much water you add, there will be a different end result.

Step 5: Hooking Everything Up

Once you have brushed the solution onto the wood, its time too hook everything up. Connect the positive and negative leads from the transformers to each of the ends of the wood. Notice how the leads are connected so that the electricity follows the grain. A great idea from The Backyard Scientist was to hook up a fan to the electricity coming from your house. This not only puts out any fires that commonly start when burning, but also creates a way to visually see if the circuit is live.

Step 6: Plugging It In

Now that all the setup is done, its time to fire it up. Plug in the transformers and you should start to see the electricity burning the wood. It will create cool "lightning" patterns. It is up to you when to turn it off, but I generally stop once the two figures from each of the leads meet. This is usually accompanied by the "main channel" that was burned catching on fire. Above are examples of a woodcarving before they are cleaned.

Step 7: Cleaning and Finishes

After burning your wood, it probably looks a lot like the first picture above. If you take just a few minutes to clean it up, it will look a thousand times better. All you have to do is brush the charred material out from where it was burned. I do this using the flow from a garden hose and a scrub brush. Make sure that you have a constant flow of water over wherever you are cleaning or else the soot will be ground into the wood. If I am going to sell the piece, I will usually use a thin coat of polyurethane over the surface to seal everything together.

Step 8: Get Your Own!

If after reading this tutorial you have decided that its going to be just too much work to make your own, don't worry! I am selling these on my etsy shop! Please support this and help to fund future instructables by checking out my store. Don't be afraid to contact me either here or at my Etsy shop for a custom piece!

<p>Please, please think long and hard before you attempt this. My friend was electrocuted this weekend trying this project. Luckily she had friends on site who performed CPR on her until the helicopter could take her to the hospital. She spent the weekend in a medically induced coma on a ventilator. She is now conscious but still on a ventilator. We do not yet know the extent of damage to her body and nervous system. She may never be the same and has 3 children who will be affected. The bottom line is this: a simple mistake with this project can cost you your life in an instant. Is it worth it?</p>
<p>Good Afternoon, I am presently building a food wagon and have used cedar shingles over plywood over the cargo wagon's metal exterior. It is all glued and screwed together. I came across your &quot;Wood-burning with Electricity&quot; article while looking for a unique design for the cedar exterior. Do you think I could buy a 2000 watt transformer, and attach it to separate cedar shingles to get different designs? What would be the risks? Thanks in advance for your help. Thanks for the idea. Craig</p>
<p>Good Afternoon, I am presently building a food wagon and have used cedar shingles over plywood over the cargo wagon's metal exterior. It is all glued and screwed together. I came across your &quot;Wood-burning with Electricity&quot; article while looking for a unique design for the cedar exterior. Do you think I could buy a 2000 watt transformer, and attach it to separate cedar shingles to get different designs? What would be the risks? Thanks in advance for your help. Thanks for the idea. Craig</p>
<p>The inherent risk comes from working with high voltage, not from salvaged parts.</p><p>Also, high voltage transformers are not available at your &quot;hobby&quot; electronics stores.</p><p>Great Instructable!</p>
How about making a list and diagram of the project using NEW parts that one could buy at RadioShack to minimize the risk inherent in your project?
<p>How come you did not install dead man switch ahead of the transformer? </p><p>A simple normally open switch wired on the live/hot 120v wire would save your life if you were to screw up. You have to step on the switch to work the transformer. If you become part of the circuit, chances are your bodies convulsion and twitch would lift your foot from the switch. Which would stop the flow of electricity and potentially save your life.</p><p>I am all for trying and experimenting with new ideas and technologies, but doing them safely. Wear your PPE and do your hazard analysis before playing with electricity. Do not become a candidate for the next version of the Darwin Awards.</p>
<p>No one ever did answer if a hobby Arc welder would be sufficient for such. would this indeed work?</p>
<p>Yeah like switch said, the amperage is just waaaaay too high, MOTs are only a couple amps with 4 - 6 capacitors added, its more the voltage as well</p>
<p>So I set out to use my dads 225-Amp welder to put this to rest.<br>At this high of a current you simply blow up 2'x4's.<br>Be careful...</p>
I believe an arc welder would work, but wouldn't give a detailed pattern such as shown in the pictures. I would go for it, but only if you know what you are doing. As many comments have stated, this project is very dangerous and should not be attempted by an untrained person.
Isn't an arc welder only a few volts? You need high voltage to create these patterns. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work. The wood has high resistance, when welding you have very low resistance. Two different applications.
<p>For those of you who are thinking of using a microwave transformer. Please see this video before that. This is for your protection!</p><p>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E12nnpWc5c&amp;ab_channel=bigclivedotcom</p>
<p>Thank you so much this worked really well!!</p>
<p>Crikey! That's amazing!</p>
<p>Has ANYONE tried doing this with a welder?</p>
<p>I personally have not. I know that lower amperage and higher voltage makes a better picture, but you are welcome to try.</p>
<p>will 100uA to 1mA work</p>
<p>Purchasing a neon sign transformer is easier than wiring a microwave one, it has 2 wire leads and is contained in a switched box. Also you can purchase lineman gloves for protection. I used a good set of jumper cable as my leads as they have clamps to connect to the wood which I run a screw into the wood at opposite ends of the project. Always connect the leads with the power off, wet the project with water and baking soda mix, let sit for a minute then turn on power and sit back and watch. Unless you have enough practice do not touch as this will and can kill you. Always safety first. </p>
<p>Could this be done with an arc welder?</p>
<p>I have tried to do this, but as soon as I turn it on it trips a breaker. Perhaps I am not making the connections correctly. Can you show detailed connections for a single microwave transformer? Hey, thanksabunch!</p>
<p>For some reason your circuit is pulling too much power. The breaker is trying to protect you by preventing you from melting your wires into a smoking mess or dying. Not only will a small mistake here kill you, but IT WILL HURT THE WHOLE TIME YOU ARE DYING.</p>
Beeferer.<br>Before I add my two cents on why the problem could be occurring, I want to stress the dangers involved. If you do not have a background in electricity and/or do not know why simple problems are occurring, I HIGHLY suggest not attempting the project.<br><br>Assuming you know what you are doing, there are several things that could be causing the problem.<br>1. The leads are too close together. I usually have a piece 24-26 inches long.<br>2. There is too much water solution added. Wait a few minutes for some water to evaporate.<br>3. The transformer is not wired correctly. If you can upload a picture of your current setup I will work with you to diagnose the problem.
<p>No joke. I don't know what went wrong but a friend of our family was recently killed doing this. Be careful people!</p>
<p>I have an AC amp meter on my single MOT machine.<br>It pulls only 1.5Amps at 220V input. why do you think you need more power?</p><p>Your MOTs are in parallel so their output voltage will be the same and in phase.</p><p>Wouldn't you want to put them in series? althought it would require connecting the 'positive' output of the first to the core (ground) of the second..... not sure if that's safe or advisable.<br><br>cheers</p>
<p>How well ,do you think a florescent transformer would work?</p>
<p>i have many projects i've done ------&gt; </p><p><a href="https://plus.google.com/+LightningWood" rel="nofollow">https://plus.google.com/+LightningWood</a></p>
<p>So awesome ! </p>
<p>This looks great. A little on the dangerous side, so I might never actually do it, but still... Makes me want to experiment with a welder if I ever get one. Thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>Not just a little, this is actually potentially VERY dangerous. 10,000 Volts at 50 or 60 Hertz with more than enough current potential to kill a person in a matter of seconds. I have accidentally held live terminals in both hands from such a transformer before. At that frequency, the current is traveling across your chest inside your body (unlike the high frequency AC of something like a Tesla coil, which is much safer in comparison). It paralyzes/scrambles nervous signals to your muscles, so you cannot willfully let go. If I had not had someone else around to cut the power when this happened to me, I probably would have been killed.</p><p>The disclaimer on this Instructable is pretty mildly worded. A person can easily be killed playing around with this setup if they are not being careful at all times. Also, besides the smoke fumes from the wood burning it generates a good deal of ozone (which is harmful to breathe in high concentrations) from the small electrical arcs that are constantly forming across the surface as it progresses.</p><p>Always do this with a fan in a very well ventilated area.</p><p>Never allow anyone to touch the wood, the output wires, or the terminals while it is turned on, unless you are VERY confident that you and the terminals are very well insulated with rubber or silicone materials that are rated for the voltages involved.</p><p>It would also be a really good idea to use wires rated for high voltage on the output leads - such as used on neon signs. Most insulated wire is only rated for 300 or 600 Volts, so if there is a conductive surface that both output wires are touching besides the wood (such as a metal table) it is very likely the insulation will break down (literally burn through) and short circuit through this path of least resistance.</p>
<p>Thank you so much for the extra info. It will definitely help others in weighing weather or not to do this. Like I originally said, do so at your own risk.</p>
<p>It looks like you've revised your safety section with a much more detailed description of the various risks involved. I think that is commendable, so thank you for updating it.</p><p>It's unfortunate that more Instructables authors don't go into more detail than &quot;do this at your own risk&quot; when they publish projects with real potential for harm, as it invariably generates a lot of comments and arguments about safety in general. I feel like that energy could be better spent on things other than flame wars in the comments, and avoided easily enough with more detailed warnings at the outset.</p>
<p>disclaimers:</p><p>Do not drive a car you may be struck by another vehicle.</p><p>Do not walk, you might be struck by a vehicle.</p><p>Do not ride a bicycle. . . </p><p>Do not fly. . .</p><p>Do not use electrical appliances. . .</p><p>Do not go outside, you may be struck by a falling object.</p><p>Do not stay indoors, you may be struck by a falling object.</p><p>There might be an earthquake, a hurricane, fire drive by shooting.</p><p>Do not go to the post office, someone might 'go postal'.</p><p>Do not go into tall buildings, they might be impacted by terrorists.</p><p>In short, don't live or you WILL DIE.</p>
<p>Don't go outdoors, you might be attacked, don't stay indoors, you are likely to grow obese and die of a heart attack ;-)</p>
<p>We get the point. And you're saying it sitting in front of the computer....How about doing this experiment and YouTube it FOR us?</p>
<p>Not quite sure what your point was there. I take risks, live on a retired British Navy minesweeper, renovated a lot of it, suffered a fire at sea, replaced both engines with self designed and machined parts, experimented with marine radar, high voltage (100kV+), zapped myself numerous times with 230VAC. I am an electronics and general engineer. I certainly don't need some amateur telling me that I don't know what to expect, or that I should experiment. Experimenting is what I have been doing for 50 years.</p>
<p>I have done some pretty crazy things in the past, many involving motorbikes, but at 57 and an electronics/general engineer, I am a little more cautious these days. Recovery takes longer, if it happens at all.</p><p>Safety/practicality is always a compromise.</p>
<p>Now we're getting ridiculous! lol though.</p><p>Extremes can be exampled in anything one does.</p><p>The concerns were well stated.</p><p>Obviously, you are very wise and can foresee the unforeseen.</p><p>QED, you are able to circumvent every contingency.</p>
<p>Clazman is being nice, itmescotty. Starfire, Billypil, and Skyline took some time to expain........This wise old owl will listen and refrain. And I will LIVE!!! Now I will go dive into a beehive, instead.</p>
Well said
<p>That is not the point here. I agree that trying to avoid each and every risk is pointless (and boring). But it is about chosing the dangers you place yourself in. As an example, driving a car on the highway is a risk, but acceptable to most. Taking a walk on the highway might not be, and doing so blindfolded would be outright asking for trouble (or impact). </p><p>My point is this: this project, like any other task, has a risk, and a reward. You need to know both to make an informed decision. Mine, I think, is that the risk is a little high for the reward. But like I said, it is just mine.</p>
<p>I totally agree with your acceptable/appropriate risk evaluation. If you don't understand what you are doing you shouldn't be doing it. It you are uncomfortable you shouldn't be doing it. </p><p>I was into (and very well educated) in electronics as a kid. I had a 15,000 volt neon transformer and used it to make a Jacobs ladder for a school science project. Ran a switch outside the display case that turned on power to the xfmr's primary - passing students operated it all day to watch the arc climb up the wires. That said, when I took it home I made a capacitor from sheets of window glass and aluminum foil. Changed the charistics of the arc and now it blew holes thru a sheet of paper passed thru it - much like a mini machine gun. Noise level before the cap was a quiet, fuzzy buzz after was a loud series of exploding air as the electricity arced Between the electrodes. Would NOT have taken that to school.</p>
<p>I must say that the only sensible comments so far are yours. I am a quallified Electrician in Australia, where safety is considered the most important of any presentation regarding the use of electricity.. We use a supply here of (with slight variations in different states) 240VVolts single phase or 415 Volts three phase. Apart from practicing my trade for many years I have also taught in Technical Colleges for about 12 years. Without a doubt I will say that if I knew of anyone attempting what has been described I would have no hesitation in advising them not to continue &amp; if they persisted I would then advise the appropriate safety authority. I do not believe that it is even appropriate for this site to publish the material. People with little or no knowledge should never attempt to experiment like this. That they would do so makes it evident that they should not be or suggesting that anyone else should attempt playing with what can be a killer. On our low voltage system of +/- 240 volts any person handling equipment would have the benefit of Residual Current devices, which would isolate the circuit in the event of the person coming in contact with &quot;live&quot; wires. the arrangement shown here however gives absolutely no protection what so ever. This &quot;EXPERIMENT&quot; most be considered as sheer STUPIDITY. Please nobody follow this suggestion if you have any consideration for other family members and the society that will have to pay for you care, as it is certainly only a matter of time before you suffer a severe burn or become electrocuted. That would be bad enough, but you could also harm the person who finds you on the ground. Who ever can do so, I suggest that this is removed from this site. By far the worst item I have ever come across here, among all the great stuff.</p>
<p>@Billypil, good write-up. I'm an electrical engineer. While the effects in this instructables is dazzling, I too, would absolutely not recommend this project to any Joe ignorant of the hazards.</p>
<p>@starphire, good cautionary write-up, it should have been the responsibility of the author</p>
<p>I once had the misfortune to be in contact with the capacitor leads of a generator when I &quot;flashed&quot; the generator. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to push myself, with my legs, away from the machine, pulling the wires out of my hands.</p><p>300VAC, with substantial power and no safety, wasn't pleasant.</p>
<p>10kV is quite common for car HT (spark plug) voltage, but the old points n HT coil ones weren't actually dangerous. Modern electronic ignition power is a lot higher though, so can be lethal. Most uwave ovens produce 4 kV, and I suspect that the circuit shown is deliberately 2-phase so that phase to ground is only 4kV while phase to phase may be 8. </p>
Ride the lightning
<p>Niceley Done!</p>
Naturally there is a lot of commenting that this is dangerous and you shouldn't do it... But this is Instructables - If you still want to here are a summary of possible risks you should be aware of:<br>Dismantling microwave: beware that if it has been powered recently (days?) anything attached to the big capacitor can kill you - remove this with excessive caution before anything else.<br>Wiring: Unless you have 10+kV high voltage insulation on your wiring (not just mains) you need to think of your wires as bare copper. The insulation can and will burn through almost instantly.<br>Hydrogen: do it outside and not under a canopy. You are likely to generate hydrogen in the vicinity of your sparky project. Hydrogen explodes. <br>I have picked out the key risks that I think people might miss. <br>Obviously there are many more risks that hopefully are more obvious (like high voltage will kill you if you touch it!). This system has plenty of power to kill someone trying to pull you away if you do electrocute yourself.
<p>Thank You so much for pointing out the risks in this project. My goal this weekend is to revisit this instructable and add more safety precautions as well as the correct way to set up this project.</p>

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