Make Lichtenberg wood art safely. (Edited by request.)04:33

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Published on February 18, 2017

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On the basis that people have died while using microwave oven transformers to burn patterns into wood, I thought it would be a good idea to show an alternative power source for making these images without the HUGE risks associated with microwave oven transformers.
The concept behind making these images is that the surface of wood is moistened with salty water that forms a conductive layer. A high voltage is then applied across the wood and as the current flows it first heats the moist surface causing the water to evaporate and then a conductive carbonised track will follow the retreating moisture, burning a very random and fractal-like lightning pattern across the wood.
One of the easiest high voltage transformers to find is the one used in microwave ovens, but what many of the articles and videos on the Internet fail to mention is the HUGE hazards associated with these transformers. They put out high voltage, but more importantly HIGH CURRENT and pose a huge risk of instant fatal electrocution by forcing high current through your body, potentially disrupting your hearts synchronisation. The hazard is increased greatly by the ability of the high voltage to create current paths across materials you might normally consider as insulated, particularly in this technique where conductive liquid gets splashed everywhere. I do NOT recommend using microwave oven transformers outside of a fully grounded and safety interlocked enclosure.
The use of lower current neon sign transformers is still capable of delivering a significant shock, but by default they are current limited and pose much less of a fatality risk. The lower current also creates a slower and more detailed result without blowing big chunks out of your creation like a higher current transformer will.

It’s harder to get traditional neon transformers these days due to the higher use of LED lighting technology in signs. If you ask at a local sign shop they may be able to sell you either a new or old one. Note that modern units have safety circuitry built in to cut power to a sign if it starts arcing or goes open circuit. This type is not really suited to the wood burning as it will trip out. Some electronic neon transformers are also very fickle and may fail when used in non-neon applications. The popular F.A.R.T (yes really) transformers tend to have removable electronic modules in them that allow them to be used as a simple transformer.
You could also try eBay for a traditional core and coil neon transformer.

Oh, and one last thing…. Do not use microwave oven transformers. I just thought I’d mention that again.

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