Making Fractal Art With High Voltage




Introduction: Making Fractal Art With High Voltage

How to make Lichtenberg Figures using High Voltage.

The Lichtenberg figures were first noticed in the 1777 by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, while doing high voltage experiments.

The two dimensional versions made by this device are fractal-like in their design. They can resemble lightning in their shape.

Step 1: Acquire a High Voltage Power Source

Step one: Get or make a high voltage power supply.

See my Jacob's Ladder Instructable at

I used the base of that for my power source for this Instructable.

The other module shown is an automatic shut-off timer I built from a bathroom fan timer. The Instructable for that is here:

Step 2: Modifications Made to Unit

Remove the electrodes from the Jacob's Ladder.

The power cord is from a 12 volt battery extension plug which was permanently reassigned for this project.

The two center holes where the Jacobs ladder electrodes were removed from, were used to pass the wires.

The wires were knotted underneath the plastic to give some strain relief if they are ever pulled.

The wire ends are attached to the high-voltage outputs of the Flyback Transformer.

The polarity is not important. There is no positive or negative electrodes as the current is alternating.

Two mini-cups were used for protectors over the exposed electrodes.

Hot glue is used to keep the cups temporarily attached during testing. Future modifications may change that.

Step 3: Other Materials Required

Baking Soda

Jar of Water

Spray Bottle

Scrap Wood from the laser cutter room.

Using a Mason Jar, add about a quarter to a third full of baking soda, then top it up with hot water to make a supersaturated solution.

Shake or mix the jar until most of the baking soda was dissolved, then let it settle.

After it's been cooling for a while, crystals form with some of the bicarbonate of soda.

The spray bottle is filled with plain water, and can be used to re-wet areas which dry out. The spray can be used while the power is running.

The spray can also be used to cool hot areas or staunch small flames.

Step 4: Wet the Board

This solution is used to wet the plywood.

Use a piece of paper towel, or a cloth, and soak it in the solution, wring it out a bit, but keep it very wet.

Re-wet it if necessary.

Wetting the plywood causes the top layer to be more conductive of electricity. The next layer of adhesive acts as a barrier, preventing most of the water from penetrating the core.

Tip: Your hand will quickly dry, and feel stiff when applying the saturated solution. Rubber gloves can be used. A quick wash with water after applying the solution will help.

Step 5: The Setup

Attach one electrode clip to the board.

The other end may be attached to the other end of the board, or may be held above the board to manipulate the discharge.

An electrode could also be attached to the clip for more precise burning, or to a longer stick as a safety measure.

Step 6: Watch It Grow

These peculiar shapes made by electrical discharges were first noticed in 1777 by Georg Christoph Litchenberg while he was experimenting with high voltage electricity.

The designs are organic in nature, and have a fractal style in their pattern.

This pattern will occur in nature as lightning bolts. People hit with high voltage discharges may have these figures on the surface of their skin.

Step 7: Safety Tips

Don't let anyone get close to the clips or board while it's in operation.

Never touch the wet board with your hand while there is power flowing. The whole surface will be electrically active.

Don't touch plastic with the hot electrodes, keep them well away from any surface that could be damaged by heat, and never place the board or electrodes on a metallic surface while in operation.

The plastic box makes a good platform to place the wood while burning, as long as the wood is large enough to extend past the edge, allowing the clip to freely attach to the wood.



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31 Discussions

Do you think this would work with a dowel rod? I have an idea for a project using Lichtenberg Figures and a dowel rod would suit my purposes perfectly.

It should work. Please post a picture of your results if it does. Thank you.

Woah, this looks so cool!

I have access to a high-capacity AC/DC welder. That should work a treat. Thanks!

2 replies

A welder is not likely to work as they are very high CURRENT but low voltage, the exact opposite of what is being demonstrated here.

I'd never thought of using a welder like that. Let us know how it turns out. Thanks.

Great instructable! Just one thing I can't figure out: If it's AC, why is the shape in step 6 only growing from the red wire, and not from the black wire as well?

1 reply

The designs are random, and the circuit will begin from either end. This one worked out that most of the energy was directed along that particular circuit. If I did another one, it might come off the other end. Yes, it's an AC circuit, not DC. Thanks for the question and interest. This was a fun project to build, though I haven't really played with it very much since I built it.

hi, great project and it looks so cool! Would I be able to just use a 12-volt battery and connect it to the wood? Or maybe 2 12-volt batteries? Thanks!

1 reply

This module is designed to work within a range of voltages up to 36 volts, and the Flyback transformer should multiply the module's 'input voltage' by about 1000x. If you use a battery, it's the same as using the power supply I have. It'll work if you use two car batteries (in series at 24 volts or in parallel 12 volts, but with higher amperage). Just make sure you don't reverse the wires and switch the polarity. You'll blow the module.

Note: The dryer the board gets, the quicker the fractal will form. If the wood is very wet, it will take a long time to begin carbonization.

omg cool!

try it w/ metal? could also be good. just don't do it to much, or your power bill will be slightly big....

Great project

1 reply

Couldn't do it the same way with metal. It's too conductive and would create a short circuit.

Wow! The finished effect looks absolutely awesome! Neat idea - what would this be used for?

1 reply

I'm thinking of cleaning out the burns, and putting something in to contrast with the black edges and make them stand out. I'm working on an Instructable, but I don't know if I'll have it done before the Makerspace contest is over. If I get some time tonight I'll see about putting something together with what I have ... or if I have some time, going that extra bit and making something special. ;) Thanks for the comments.

I'd like to be able to do things like this example, although I think it was made with thicker wood, not thin birch plywood.