Postmodern Sysadmin

A blog about servers and junk

Home Made Lichtenberg Figures

For winter 2016 I made Lichenberg Figures. I used a 5kV 10mA (50W) neon light transformer. I also experimented with a 2kW microwave oven transformer, but found that the lower powered neon transformer produced finer, better, and safer results.

To produce the figures, I would first apply the electricity to the wood, often at the corners. Initially the resistance of the wood is not sufficient to allow any burning. Then I would use a spray bottle full of water/baking soda to moisten the surface of the wood until the electricity could find the path of least resistance and start the burning reaction. With the low-power neon transformer the burning is slow and takes hours.

To guide the reaction in an “aesthetically pleasing way”, I used a heat gun to temporarily dry out parts of the wood, creating channels of low-resistance surface water. This technique is most evident on piece #10. It was also used on #15 to evenly cover the entire (large) piece.

After the electrical treatment, each piece was finished with varnish, matted, framed, and shipped. Below is a gallery of final results. Each was given to a friend or family member as a winter gift:

Piece 01: 14”x7” Mahogany


Piece 02: 12”x7” Birch


Piece 03: 12”x7” Birch


Piece 04: 12”x7” Mahogany


Piece 05: 14”x7” Mahogany


Piece 06: 7.5”x7.5” Birch


Piece 07: 7.5”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 08: 7.5”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 09: 7.5”x7.5” Mahogany
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Piece 10: 18”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 11: 18”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 12: 24”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 13: 24”x7.5” Mahogany


Piece 14: 24”x5.5” Oak


Piece 15: 24”x24” MDF


Piece 16: 24”x5.5” Poplar


Piece 17: 24”x7.5” Birch


Piece 18: 37”x5.5” Mahogany


Piece 20: 18”x5.5” Mahogany