Fractal Burning (my attempt)

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Forum topic by splintergroup posted 08-29-2016 04:01 PM 2987 views 9 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2342 posts in 1397 days

08-29-2016 04:01 PM

Topic tags/keywords: wood burning burning fractal lichtenberg

Before I say anything, a tip ‘o the hat to Jim Jakosh for presenting this technique to me here on LJs!

I read with interest on Jim’s adventures into this “fringe” area of woodworking and potentially re-animating corpses.

Being a fan of both wood and electricity (I’m a EE by day-job), I had to give it a go.

Step one was to ask the Google what wisdom lies yonder. I learned a few refinements, but not much beyond what Jim presented. These are also known as Lichtenberg Figures as he did much of the early work looking into high voltage discharges.
My ‘tool’ of choice is my old trusty high voltage transformer that used to spend endless hours as a Jacob’s ladder on Halloweens. I had thought it was 20K Volts (I hadn’t seen it in years), turns out it is ‘only’ 12K Volts (that’s a ‘1’ under the divot).

Plenty good though!

First things first, burn something!

Wisdom seems to agree that the burn path tends to follow grain and plywood with it’s thin veneer and glue layer works well. I have plenty of 1/4” Lauan plywood scraps so that had to be first. Of course I had the grain perpendicular to the intended path of the burn, but hey, it’s just a test!
The wood was dampened with the baking soda solution and a light wipe with a sponge.

Consider the wisdom of another LJs member.

”Don’t try this at home! Do it over at your neighbors house instead”

I drove screws into the wood and connected the power leads to the screws. This was an obvious failure, but I got to see what happens and learn.

Several more attempts with the same plywood, different results, but I’m beginning to see what guides the current.

Ok, I see now that maybe the grain is too much, I’ll try something with a bit more ‘mellow’ grain

Popular worked well, unfortunately I don’t have pictures. I do have pictures of Russian Olive (top) and Apricot (bottom) however:

I see the problem with the arc selecting a path and sticking too it. Corrective advice was to use a small spritzer bottle (I use an old lens cleaner spray bottle). This allows one to change the ‘wetness’ of the wood in a semi-controlled manner.

For the Apricot (1/4” thick), I used alligator clips. It may be possible that the screws allow the current to start off deeper into the wood (bad) whereas the clips keep it on the surface.

Better! The bottom picture (Apricot) looks much better as I was able to cool hot spots and ‘push’ the burn path around. The top picture (Olive) is not any better. I determined that the olive tended to soak up the liquid in the open grain areas. This causes the electric current to concentrate and penetrate down deeper into the wood where the liquid absorbed.

Now that I had a basic grasp on the techniques, I brought out some more Apricot scraps and went for it!

I think I see some paneled boxes in the future featuring this technique!

What I learned on my first afternoon.

1. Jim, you ‘productively wasted’ my Sunday afternoon having me act like a crazy person. Thank you 8^)

2. Wood grain matters. Random burning (my goal) does best with smooth wood, the liquid tends to concentrate in the open/porous grain and messes things up in my opinion.

3. Don’t over-saturate the wood, this lets the current travel deeper and just doesn’t look good. Under wetting just creates a spray of sparks jumping the dry gap, no burning. A spritz of solution cures this..

I think I have enough ‘skill’ now to at least control the burning direction, at least I think I can force which side of center the burn travels on. I can see that this will be a great way to trash all my small scraps and maybe get a gem or two in the process!

I think Maple is worth a try. Soft Maple has bland grain (at least lack of porous grain lines) which holds promise. Rock Maple will not allow the solution to penetrate which has potential for better branching.

Party on Garth!

8 replies so far

View ralbuck's profile


5288 posts in 2441 days

#1 posted 08-29-2016 05:18 PM

Very interesting and unique!

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View bobasaurus's profile


3539 posts in 3359 days

#2 posted 08-29-2016 05:40 PM

Looks amazing, I kind of want to try it. I want to see this done to a huge slab of wood.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View splintergroup's profile


2342 posts in 1397 days

#3 posted 08-29-2016 05:47 PM

Thanks guys!

I agree with the test on a large slab. With Jim’s wands, that allow multiple start points, one could really go crazy burning a large slab tabletop.

I don’t see any hard limit to how far apart the electrodes can be, I’m thinking 4 feet probably will still work as long as there is a layer of conductive liquid (the baking soda mix).

View AandCstyle's profile


3170 posts in 2432 days

#4 posted 08-29-2016 10:03 PM

Splinter, I think you are on to something. I know you like A&C style, so you can make some of your “trees”, then inlay leaves on the trees and end with a panel that looks something like this. You may have just created a new art form!

-- Art

View ErikF's profile


623 posts in 2419 days

#5 posted 08-30-2016 10:17 AM

This is cool

-- Power to the people.

View splintergroup's profile


2342 posts in 1397 days

#6 posted 08-30-2016 02:27 PM

Splinter, I think you are on to something. I know you like A&C style, so you can make some of your “trees”, then inlay leaves on the trees and end with a panel that looks something like this. You may have just created a new art form!

- AandCstyle

Nice stuff! does glass work so I’m thinking about a way to incorporate some of her work. She saw the Lichtenberg patterns done with glass and wanted me to try that. The problem is they use a particle accelerator to ‘burn’ the glass. I’d have to evacuate the neighborhood down range when I fired that contraption up.

View JimYoung's profile


296 posts in 1762 days

#7 posted 09-01-2016 03:35 PM

I saw this on “Outrageous Acts of Science.” Very cool effect.

-- -Jim, "Nothing says poor craftsmanship more than wrinkles in your duck tape"

View Jerry's profile


2850 posts in 1823 days

#8 posted 09-01-2016 09:17 PM

That is pretty cool!

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

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