When I started researching information for this article I didn’t realize how dangerous and expensive of an endeavor this form of wood burning would reveal itself to be. It is possible to make a DIY Lichtenberg Fractal burning device, relatively cheaply I might add, but is it worth the inherent danger that it presents. Essentially, you are connecting electrical leads to an extremely high voltage transformer and forming an arc between them. That arc is directed, or loosely controlled, using a solution of baking soda and water.
Working with a high voltage transformer is extremely dangerous when it is connected to a power source. They are more than capable of producing enough voltage to kill a human being and have already severely injured and even killed people attempting to make Lichtenberg devices. All you have to do is google it and you can see for yourself. If building one of these devices isn’t done properly and proper electrical safety isn’t followed this could be the last DIY project you ever do. Keep that in mind while building and using a DIY Lichtenberg fractal burning device.
The original version of this article used to include links to show how this device was made but, due to serious injuries and death that have resulted from making this device and the liability that may come along with showing someone how to build one, most of those videos were removed from many video base platforms and new videos that pop up of the same kind don’t tend to last very long. It is for the same reason that I have chosen to discontinue the use of how-to videos in this article. This article is meant to be a starting off point. You will likely have to do some more research if you require a visual demonstration of how to build this device.
Bare Bones Device
To make your own Lichtenberg Fractal Burning device you will need the following:
- Microwave Transformer or Neon Light Transformer
- Copper Rod
- Terminal Clamps
- Electrical Wire
- Spade Connectors
- Electrical Insulating Gloves
- Grounding Mats
The most important part of this device is the microwave transformer/Neon Light Transformer. To obtain one is simple and in some cases can be acquired for free. Most if not all microwave ovens have a high voltage transformer inside. Microwave transformers can be found online through Amazon, and other sources, or you can get a secondhand microwave from a thrift store for virtually nothing and remove the transformer inside. You may be able to find a microwave in your local area for free through platforms such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Warning: Be careful when extracting the transformer because there are other elements of the microwave that may retain residual electricity with enough punch to severely injure or kill you.
The copper rod is used to direct the arc across the wood. Copper rod can be found at metal supply retailers, home stores, and online through Amazon and other sources. The electricity will arc between the two pieces of copper burning a fractal pattern into the wood. You will need to use a disc sander or other grinding implement to taper one end of each piece of rod to a point.
You will use the electrical wire (the gauge you use will be determined by the gauge of the wire coming from the transformer), terminal clamps, and spade connectors to connect the copper rods to the transformer. Essentially, one end of a length of wire will be attached to the terminal clamps and the other end will be wired to the spade connectors. The spade connectors will plug into the transformer and the terminal clamps will hold the copper rod and allow the electricity to flow through them.
Given how dangerous this is to make and use I thought of a few ways to make it safer. First of all, buy a grounding mat for both under your feet and for under the material you are burning. Secondly, buy some electrical insulating gloves. If you take any precautions it should be these two. Additionally, think about encasing the transformer with silicone. There are mold making silicone products out there that would work for accomplishing this. The silicone will act as a barrier between you and the electrical voltage. Lastly, add a foot pedal to engage and disengage the device, a voltage warning light to indicate there is power going to the device, and wrap all exposed connections in heat shrink rubber. This is a cool project to undertake but safety is paramount when building one of these.
Baking Soda Solution
To direct the arc and control where the burning occurs you use a mixture of baking soda and water. This solution is an electrical conductor and the arc will travel along it. The ratio is one tbsp of baking soda to every cup of water. You will want to use hot water to dissolve the baking soda otherwise the water and baking soda will separate.
Commercial Lichtenberg Machines
Believe it or not there is a commercially produced burning device on the market that is OSHA approved. I came across it while I was researching this article and it is fairly inexpensive and safe to use. Although, this device still isn’t without risk its probably the safest way I have found to fractal burn. The transformer is fully incased protecting you from accidental shock, it has an integrated circuit interrupting foot pedal, and a voltage warning indicator light.
Here is the link if you want to check it out:
I will likely be buying one myself rather than making one from scratch and you might want to consider it too. Making one of these the right way will likely end up costing more than buying one will.
I hope you have found this article informative and if you have any questions or find that there may be something I can add to the article to improve it please let me know in the comments below. If you plan on making one of these devices please be safe! This project can go real bad real fast if you don’t do it the right way. Good luck and if you want to show me the results of making one of these devices I am always interested in seeing pictures!