Lichtenberg Wood Burning Tests

About: I want to be a maker, and I am currently practicing and honing my skills. As I get better I will do more and more instructables!

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What is Lichtenberg Wood burning?

It is the process of conducting high voltage electricity through wood to create fractal-like burns/designs!

What makes ups the Lichtenberg process?

1. High Voltage Electricity

2. Electrolytic Solution

3. Materials (aka wood type)

4. Electrodes (aka metal type)


Together we will be studying these 4 underlying steps that make up the entire wood burning rig and how changing different aspects may help, hinder, or have no effect upon the burn itself. This instructable is to help document different experiments to help create a baseline of what to expect in a burn. This instructable is by no means completed, but a living document to continue experimentation and evaluate best practices and techniques to employ to achieve the desired effect. So let's see what we have learned and discovered!

Step 1: Disclaimer!!!!! HIGH VOLTAGE WARNING!!!!!!!!


By no means do I recommend you build, construct, make, or play with high voltage electricity, but if you're going to do so anyways be safe and follow all safety precautions and never underestimate the forces at hand. Please use this guide as an informational guide and at the very least use the recommended personal protection equipment outlined in the materials section. This guide will not teach you how to make the Lichtenberg wood burner, but if enough comments and viewers reach out I will write an instructable on how to do so.

Step 2: What We're Using

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

1. Journeyman's Insulated Gloves

2. Safety Glasses

3. Battle Buddy


1. Hammer

2. Brush (some type of applicator for the Electrolytic solution)

3. Bowl

4. Measuring cup

5. Tablespoon


1. Built Lichtenberg Device (I'm using 3 MOT's with mine)

2. Surge Protector

3. Box Fan

4. Extension Cord (as needed)

Electrolytic Solutions

1. Baking Soda and Water

2. Diet Dr. Pepper

3. Powerade

4. Pedialyte

5. Coke


1. 3/4" plywood cut into 1' by 1' sections

Electrodes (bare with me since these are nails I found lying around and don't have proper names for them)

1. 1/4" head | 1/8" thick | 3-1/4" long

2. 1/4" head | just over 1/16" thick | 2-5/8" long

3. 1/8" head | 1/16" thick | 2-1/2" long

4. 1/4" head | 1/8" thick | 1-1/2" long

5. 1/4" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-5/8" long

6. 5/16" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-1/4" long

7. 3/16" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-14" long

Step 3: Test #1 Nail Thickness

Introduction to Test

For the nail thickness test, I will be using 7 different pairs of nails varying in type, length, width, diameter, and probably metal (though they all look about the same). At a later time I will reconduct this test with better-specified nails, but for now, I must use what I got!

Note: after First application of electrolytic solution a 2-minute wait is undergone.


1. 1/4" head | 1/8" thick | 3-1/4" long

Took 4 coats of electrolytic solution to complete burning, didn't use air (once burning commenced air seemed to put it out rather than help it along).

2. 1/4" head | just over 1/16" thick | 2-5/8" long

Took 5 coats of electrolytic solution to complete burning, didn't use air.

3. 1/8" head | 1/16" thick | 2-1/2" long

Took 4 coats of electrolytic solution to complete burning, didn't use air.

4. 1/4" head | 1/8" thick | 1-1/2" long

First to burn on the first coat, but overall took 4 coats to arc. Also, first board to have standing water on its surface after the 2-minute wait.

5. 1/4" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-5/8" long

Took 4 coats.

6. 5/16" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-1/4" long

Took 4 coats.

7. 3/16" head | just over 1/16" thick | 1-14" long

Took 1 coat.

Summary: It doesn't seem like the nail thickness, length, or type affects the burn. It does seem that wood saturation has a large impact on the burn and that the nail itself may help increase or decrease burn time.

Step 4: Test # 2 Node Theory


Node Theory is going to be placing several unconnected nails in a board to try and coax the electricity to follow and branch from a path.

Based on the nail thickness test and what I have on hand will determine which nails are used (nail #5 was used). I believe testing 3 node paths with 3, 4, and 6 nodes will be a sufficient start to testing.


1. Three Nail Node Path: Total 4 nails, indented negative side to extremely over saturate and hinder flow. Applied first coat then waited 2-minutes, applied standing coat after 2-minute wait time and prior to first power on. Burned immediately and only took 2 coats to fully arc. Doesn't seem to follow the path at this point.

2. Four Nail Node Path: Followed steps as in Three Nail Node Path. Aside from the test above I wet the entire board instead of just a cross-section. This allowed more freedom for the electricity to flow and would allow for a better visual to see if Nodes were being followed. Electricity seems to follow a medium to high saturation path. Doesn't seem to follow the path at this point.

3. Six Nail Node Path: Followed steps as in Four Nail Node Path. Aside from the test above I did my best to not saturate the perimeter of the board, it ends up connecting on the sides rather than on the surface causing an unwanted arc and little design to the top of the board. I also added divits to each nail placement. After making corrections to water saturation and possibly adding divits Node path was followed (relatively). It was also found that the patio I'm working on has a slight slant causing the positive side to gather a majority of the water.

Conclusion: All in all results point to the possibility of a Node Path being able to influence the current, but ultimately the overall results are inconclusive.

Note: I apologize for not taking pictures of my actual node paths, I thought that I had but alas couldn't find any images containing them.

Step 5: Test #3 Ground Theory


We could use our brains to know this isn't going to work, but I will give it a shot anyways to rule it out!

If I don't hook up the grounded jumper to the board will the electricity still burn the wood?

Answer: NO.

Step 6: Test #4 Electrolyte Solutions


I will be testing different electrolyte solutions to see which solution conducts electricity through the wood the best.

Note: I will be using the serving size for each ingredient/item to be able to set up a control. I will also give a total time of 15 Minutes per solution re-applying ever 3-5 minutes depending on how much standing solution there is.


1. Water and Baking Soda

1/8 Teaspoon in 1.5 Cups of water, made of Sodium Bicarbonate. This small amount of Baking Soda per volume of water made it very slow to use.

2. Powerade

1.5 Cups is the serving size which contains 150mg sodium, 35mg potassium, 21g carbs, 21g sugar, includes 15% niacin & B6. No conductivity achieved.

3. Pedialyte

1.5 Cups is the serving size which contains 370mg Sodium, 9g carbs, 9g sugar, 280mg potassium, 2.8mg zinc, 440mg chloride. This one dried up, fizzed, and smoked. Very little conductivity.

4. Diet Dr. Pepper

1 Can (or 1.5 Cups) is the serving size which contains 55mg sodium. No conductivity.

5. Coke

1 Can (or 1.5 Cups) is the serving size which contains 65mg sodium, 55g carbs, 55g sugar. No conductivity.

Conclusion: There may be better conductive solutions out there, but the easiest and cheapest one found so far is Baking Soda.

Step 7: Test #5 Mix Ratio


Due to the prior test has determined how extensively I will test the Mix Ratio of baking soda and water. The base solution that I have been using for all prior testing has been 1 Tablespoon per 1 Cup of water.

Prior Testing

Test #4 has shown that 1 Teaspoon of baking soda per 1.5 cups of water resulted in a very very slow burn. We can expect to see slower burning for any amount lower than 1 TBS of baking soda per 1C of water.


A mix ratio of 2 TBS per 1C is so strong the voltage was able to conduct and arc across the water alone. This resulted in almost no burn and very bad designs if any designs resulted during the burn. Once this solution completely dried it still had enough conductivity to arc. Since the burning was very sporadic and violent it is deemed to be way too much for the wood we are currently using. This should be tested again on harder wood that has more trouble in conducting the voltage across the wood.

1.5 TBS per 1C allowed for faster burns, but occasionally became sporadic resulting in unwanted connections and bad burns.

In conclusion: 1TBS per 1C is a very manageable and conductive solution. It is so far the best mix ratio as well as the best solution to use for burning.

Step 8: Test # 5 Wood Saturation

All testing was based on prior tests conducted

After the Nail Thickness trials I noticed the more standing water there was on the wood the faster, better, and fewer coatings were needed to completely burn through the wood (arc).

It seems like the electricity travels best from areas of medium standing water to high standing water.

The harder the wood the more saturated it has to be to burn.

In conclusion: Wood Saturation matter significantly and is another way we can control the burn to create patterns or paths for us to follow.

Step 9: In Conclusion

Best of Luck

I hope all this information is very informational and helps others to build upon and learn to control their own burns. I hope to continue testing and adding to this instructable as well as create amazing products! Please let me know if you would like me to create videos for these test and what other questions and test you would like me to run!


Here are some pictures of some of the burn I used to practice filling with resin before doing my guitar, they turned out phenomenal!


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    6 Discussions


    2 months ago

    Spread your baking powder on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for an hour. This will turn your baking soda into soda ash. soda ash is used as an electrolyte for many purposes but jewelers use it for Gold plating jewelry and watches. You should have better results with Soda Ash. If you don't want to make it you can buy it but making it is easier and cheaper.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks! You're actually the second person today who's suggested this so I'm going to have to try it now! I've been moving into a new house so I won't be set up to continue projects for a little bit but once I try this I'll be sure to post the results! =)


    3 months ago

    WOW! Three microwave transformers??? Isn't that a bit of overkill?

    I have no idea how you have those wired up. But I recently built one that operates perfectly with only 1 MOT using this tutorial.

    I also built mine in a completely enclosed case with a power switch and a red light inside that illuminates when the electrodes are hot. You should at the very least enclose all your electronic parts for your own safety. For more control of your burns, try adding a variac to adjust the voltage to the electrodes.

    If you're new to this, I highly suggest you follow this guys feed. He has tons of vids on his machines and demos of his burns. You can also build Lichtenberg machines using an oil burner transformer or one from a neon sign. Each gives is different type of burn. But you certainly don't need more than 1 to get the desired results.

    Good luck, nice Instructable and be safe.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks! I actually followed this guy as well and he helped me build mine. I just didn't have the time or money when making this to build it how I would have liked, but before I make an instructable showing how to build one I will be adding a lot of these features as well. I found that the more voltage you push the easier and faster the electricity flows through the wood and as you get harder and harder wood it allows for an easier burn.

    Thank you for the advice! I really do want to add a variac to this I think it would do wonders!


    Question 3 months ago

    have you tried using salt water as your solution?

    1 answer

    Answer 2 months ago

    No it's on the testing block just haven't had time to go back and see how it does! I'll be trying to get back into this after I get settled into my new house so keep checking periodically and you should see it post up!