Fractal wood burning (also known as Lichtenberg) has gained popularity in recent years and has been featured on television shows, social media, and in magazines. It is also becoming more popular as a hobby, with people attending workshops and classes to learn how to do it.
However, the process brings on some dangers you should consider before starting. In this blog post, we will discuss the process and outline the techniques involved and the dangers and precautions you need to take. We’ll also provide some tips for you to do it safely.
What Is Fractal Wood Burning?
This technique is used to create beautiful lightning-like or tree-like patterns on wood. The process is simple but highly dangerous. It involves conducting high-voltage electricity through chemically-treated wood where the electricity burns in the patterns.
What makes it so appealing is that the designs look natural. The process is also known as Lichtenberg, and it is named after a German scientist who first started studying shapes made by electric discharges in the 18th century.
Is Wood Fracking Safe?
The process can be extremely dangerous if not done properly. It has even caused deaths due to electrical shocks and fires. Some incidents involve fractal wood burners left unattended and catching fire; others were electrocutions when people touched the metal probes.
According to the American Association of Woodturners, 30 people were killed using a fractal burner by July 2021. That’s why it is forbidden to use this process. Furthermore, articles promoting this technique are also banned.
Fractal Wood Burning Dangers
With high-voltage electric current and chemicals around, this process involves plenty of dangers:
1. Electrical Shock
Many people decide to make burning devices, mostly from microwave transformers. Improvised devices like these are often poorly constructed and insulated. They frequently cause short circuits. 17 people die because of household appliances each year, and most of them weren’t even trying to tamper with them.
Devices you can buy on the market are not much better, either. Namely, most of them are not certified and pose a considerable safety hazard.
Even if the Lichtenberg machine works fine, there is a danger of electrocution. A transformer is connected by wires to two electrodes used to burn patterns. They conduct hi-power electrical current.
If the two electrodes touch or even come too close, they will cause a massive electrical shock that will probably be fatal to the user. In addition, the process creates fire, smoke, and noise that can confuse you and bring the electrodes too close.
2. Inhalation of Harmful Chemicals
People use different chemical solutions to treat the wood before burning it with a Lichtenberg wood burning transformer. The most “harmless” one is a baking soda and water solution. But even that can cause harmful fumes when it burns. The most dangerous mix is caustic soda and water. Fumes from it can damage your health, no matter if you burn it or not. That’s why you should wear a good-quality mask with a filter.
3. Chemical Burns
We’ve mentioned a caustic soda and water mix before. This Lichtenberg wood burning solution is very dangerous at every stage. When you mix it with water, it generates very high temperatures and starts to boil, spraying the solution everywhere (often on your hands and eyes).
Caustic soda is dangerous even when in a solid state. It can cause burns on your skin because it reacts with the moisture in it.
When you combine high temperatures and wood, you usually get fire. So, you shouldn’t be surprised when you see one here. Namely, the Lichtenberg wood burning machine really burns the wood to create patterns. And it’s up to the user to control that burning.
An inexperienced hobbyist can easily go overboard and lose control, causing a large fire. You may think it is not a big deal, but keep in mind that 17% of fatal residential fires are caused by carelessness.
It is clear that this process should be attempted only by experienced individuals familiar with the risks involved and good knowledge of ways to protect themselves.
Techniques Used in Fractal Wood Burning
You create patterns on the wood by moving the electrified probes. There are two main techniques: the zigzag and the spiral method. Zigzag is the most common and creates patterns that look like lightning bolts.
The spiral method creates designs that look like spirals or whirlpools. The most important thing to remember is not to let the two electrified probes touch each other.
The Equipment Needed for Lichtenberg Wood Burning
The equipment includes a fractal wood burner, gloves, a respirator, chemical solution, and eye protection. Of course, you will also need a piece of wood to decorate.
Fractal devices have two metal probes connected to a power source. They use high voltage and low amps. Due to a relatively low supply of purpose-built devices on the market, people often choose to make their fractal wood burning transformer by taking parts from household appliances.
However, this is the most dangerous option for reasons we’ve described in the “Dangers” section.
2. Chemicals Used in the Process
The process uses chemicals to create patterns in the wood. The most common chemical used is sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). Other chemicals you can use include potassium hydroxide and magnesium sulfate.
You can make the solution by mixing the chemicals with water. The purpose is to conduct electricity better.
3. What Wood Works Best for Fractal Burning?
The best wood for this process is hardwood, as it has a tight grain that burns well. People most commonly use cedar, oak, maple, walnut, and olive. You can also use softwoods like pine and cedar, but they burn more quickly and don’t produce patterns as intricate.
It is best to choose wood that’s not too dark because patterns will stand out better. People also use engineered wood like OSB boards and plywood.
Fractal Burning Process
You create patterns by passing electricity at a very high voltage electrical current between two probes while they are touching a piece of wood. It is vital not to let the electrodes touch one another because it will cause an electric shock.
The first thing to do is apply the chemical solution. Apply it only to the part of the wood you want to decorate, and only in a thin layer. When the probes touch the chemically-treated wood, the electrical current starts to travel between them.
By moving and tilting the electrodes, you can create different designs. Keep in mind that there will be fire and fumes coming out of the wood.
Tips for Safe Fractal Wood Burning
As we’ve already mentioned, this is a dangerous procedure, and you should avoid it. However, if you still haven’t given up, you should do it carefully. Here are a few tips and precautions:
Get Proper Equipment
First, make sure you have the proper equipment and tools. Safety is the biggest concern, so you shouldn’t save on safety equipment. Instead, you should buy insulating rubber gloves and shoes, safety goggles, and the best mask you can find. In addition, you should be prepared if something goes wrong, so get a good first aid kit to deal with burns from fire and chemicals.
Lichtenberg wood burning uses high voltage and low amp. Therefore, you would need a device with a transformer that can generate at least 2000 volts. Be careful where you acquire it. Making your own out of a microwave transformer is dangerous and has caused several deaths.
The electricity can be dangerous if you’re not careful, and the electrodes can be difficult to control. In the best-case scenario, you will get unattractive patterns (you don’t want to hear about the worst-case scenario).
If you don’t have experience with wood burning with electricity, it’s best to start with a small piece of wood and practice on scrap pieces before moving on to anything larger. Create small patterns on the opposite sides of the wood because it will keep the electrodes at a safe distance.
Work in a well-ventilated area because there will be smoke and fumes. It would be best if you practiced extreme caution during the process. Please put on the complete safety equipment before starting the Lichtenberg wood burning, and take it off only after you finish it.
By this, we mean that you shouldn’t take off your insulating rubber boots and gloves before unplugging the device from the socket. This is a common mistake and has caused quite a few shocks.
This may seem like a very straightforward process to many people, and that’s what makes it so appealing. It creates beautiful patterns, which makes it irresistible. But the electricity and chemicals involved make it very dangerous.
So, we advise you to think again and avoid this technique. However, if you still insist on using it, do it properly and with all the safety precautions.
People Also Ask
Can fractal burning be done safely?
In theory, you can do the process safely, but you only need to get it wrong once. Fractal burning is a dangerous procedure because it involves high-voltage electricity and potentially hazardous chemicals.
Some people make it even more dangerous by constructing so-called Lichtenberg burners out of microwave transformers and similar items. This dramatically increases the potential for catastrophe. Even devices sold on the market can be dangerous. Unfortunately, most don’t comply with safety regulations or falsely indicate that certification bodies have approved them.
How do you do fractal burns on wood?
This is a hazardous procedure that can put your life at risk. That’s why it is essential to use caution and proper safety equipment. First, you will put on safety glasses, facemask, and rubber boots and gloves for insulation.
The next step is applying a thin layer of a chemical solution (most often, it is a baking soda and water mix). The final step is placing the electric probes on a piece of wood you want to decorate.
The high-power electricity will burn the patterns into the wood. However, the probes should never touch as it will cause electric shock. Moreover, you should expect flames and fumes, so it should be done in a ventilated room.
Is fractal wood burning legal?
Yes, it is legal. However, it is highly disproved by woodworking professionals around the world as it involves electricity and potentially hazardous chemicals. By June 2021, it caused the deaths of 30 Americans, and these are only confirmed cases. The most common cause of death was electrocution by improvised burning devices. As a result, the American Association of Woodturners has banned the use of fractal wood burning at all its events.