Woodburning With Electricity

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Introduction: Woodburning With Electricity

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: Safety

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!

6 People Made This Project!

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2 Questions

Can a solid piece of wood be used rather than plywood?

ok my son has a 20.000 volt welder? can it be used in a fractile burn?

182 Comments

This is incredible!! I have a coffee table that this technique would just be perfect for. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken when it comes to electricity. Too much "magic" going on for me. Very beautiful pieces and each one unique. Keep up the good work and please be careful.

My Grandson, a certified electrician, was killed on March 4, 2018 leaving a wife and three small children while doing this. This should be taken off of Utube. He knew what he was doing. Young people will watch this and think it looks great and will try it and ultimately be killed I will work in every way that I can to have this banned. Be responsible and take it off.

This a technique I've literally never heard of, but sounds like something that'd blow my face off. In other words, EPIC!!!

let me tell you this. when doing it pay attention do NOT have any distractions.... i was burning a table leg for my Daughter in college . the wife called i set the cord down and took the call in the mean time the clip came off one side, i finished the call and saw that the burn was stopped so i grabbed the clip to put it back on and start the burn again but i totally forgot is was still plugged in. when i grabbed the wood and it completed the ground bammmmmm that shit hurt and i am glad to be here to tell you all this be very careful, i have since added a foot pedal and put the leads on pvc pipe with spikes tio touch the wood and added rubber bicycle handle grips and i use rubber gloves . :)

i had the same issue you have it wired wrong the ground comes off the casing the hot comes of the single lead on the output coil not the two leads side bye side

I knew a professional artist who did this for years and sold it. He died doing this. Left his wife who was 1 month pregnant. It looks interesting, but if it can kill that guy who obviously knew what he was doing and had been doing it for years, it can definitely kill me. Looks amazing, but I'm not going to mess with doing it on my own.

Same logic can be applied to driving a car. Being careful and understanding the dangers will keep you safe.

Has ANYONE tried doing this with a welder?

I personally have not. I know that lower amperage and higher voltage makes a better picture, but you are welcome to try.

"I know that lower amperage and higher voltage makes a better picture"

does not make sense