Fractal Wood Burning is a widespread technique on TikTok. There are several videos showing people creating art using it. But unfortunately, it is hazardous and can be deadly.
What is Fractal Wood Burning?
Simply put, it is a process that uses electricity to create patterns on dampened wood. These patterns look like lightning bolts or fir trees.
The patterns are technically known as Lichtenberg figures.
There is no proper fractal pattern in these Lichtenberg figures. Fractal patterns are mathematical and look the same at any scale. However, they resemble them, so the name stuck.
Why is it dangerous?
Unfortunately, to achieve the desired result, you require a high-voltage electrical current.
On top of that, many are attempting to create their own Lichtenberg machines using microwave transformers and car jumper cables.
The resulting creation can produce up to 2,000 volts of electricity. But unfortunately, contacting the metal or wood during the process can kill you instantly. Several deaths are a direct consequence of this art form.
Furthermore, fires are another outcome. Being an electrical fire, you must have a class C extinguisher to control the flames.
What if I take all precautions?
Working with live electric wires is a high-risk endeavor. One false move is all it takes for an accident to happen. Even a tiny, unseen hole in your gloves can kill you with such a high voltage.
That being said, some people try out this technique. If that’s your case, exercise extreme caution with the live currents.
The AAW Position
The American Association of Woodturners (AAW), bans fractal wood burning from all their events since 2017. In addition, they don’t publish any content on the topic except to dissuade readers from trying to replicate them.
According to them, there have been 33 confirmed deaths since 2017 that directly result from this practice. Unfortunately, there are no official statistics for fires or other injuries because they are under-reported.
The UL Position
UL Solutions have no fractal wood-burning products rated on the market. As a result, they’ve determined that there is no safe way to market these creations.
So, if you encounter a Lichtenberg machine with a safety label, it’s a counterfeit.
Any incidents in the news?
Here are a couple of incidents worth mentioning to understand its actual dangers.
- On April 2022, Tanya Rodriguez and James Carolfi electrocuted themselves while trying the technique. Furthermore, the garage caught on fire, so the entire house was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
- In June 2021, Paul Edward Champion was found dead in his house. He was an experienced artist who used to work with electricity. Unfortunately, this technique shows that even experienced individuals can have deadly accidents.
Any safe alternatives to fractal wood burning?
Pyrography is a safe alternative that produces similar designs and textures, using a hot instrument to burn or scorch the patterns.
It uses a metal pen that conducts heat that you manipulate to draw the pattern on the wood.
The process is less risky but still has its caveats.
On the one hand, while you can certainly burn yourself or your surroundings using this technique, there’s no risk of electrocution.
Conversely, you may inhale the smoke and soot from the resulting combustion, causing respiratory problems.
And finally, if left unchecked, an unattended burning tool can cause a house fire.
Pyrography recommended tools
Here are a few pyrography toolkits that we can recommend. They are not expensive at all and are pretty safe.
|TRUArt Stage 1 Wood/Leather/Cardboard/Paper Pen Set w/Jewelry Point-Comes with 35 Different Tips, Dual Power Mode-30W / 15W, Gourd, Unknown||Check Price on Amazon|
|96 PCS Wood Burning Kit, Professional Wood Burning Tool with Soldering Iron, Creative Tool Set Adjustable Temperature 200~450 ℃ for DIY Various Wooden Kits Carving/Embossing Carving Soldering Tips||Check Price on Amazon|
|YIHUA 939-II Wood Burning Kit Station Pyrography pen 250~750℃/482~1382℉ Temperature Adjustable with 20 Wire Nibs, 1 stable pen holder, 2 stencils, 2 scrap wood, 1 S/S Tweezers, and 1 pliers (Green)||Check Price on Amazon|
|YIHUA 939D-II Pyrography Pen Wood Burning Kit Station 2-in-1 Solid-Point 200~480°C (with Temp Display)/Wire-Nib 250~750°C with 20 Nibs, Solid Points, 1 Stable Pen Holder, 2 Scrap Wood (Green)||Check Price on Amazon|
|Wood Burning Kit, 110 Pieces Wood Burning Tool with Adjustable Temperature 200~420°C, Professional Pyrography Pen for Embossing Carving Soldering||Check Price on Amazon|
Just because it has a cool hashtag like #fractalwoodburning on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube doesn’t mean it’s safe to replicate. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the dangers of something like this.
Do not replicate this at home.