Fractal wood burning ? Is it safe ? Know the pitfalls before you attempt it

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Written by Jared Watson

Jarred Watson is a pyrographer with 10+ years experience and has worked with brands like BOSCH & FORD. He is always looking to learn and share his passion of wood burning with others.

Fractal burning also known as lichtenberg burning seems to be a new trend that has gained traction all over social media in the recent past years.

This technique involves casting patterns on objects by passing high voltage electricity through wooden objects that had been chemically treated.

Since it requires using high voltage current, it is often considered a controversial technique and many people have lost their lives practicing this technique.

What Do You Mean by Fractal Burning?

Fractal wood burning refers to an art technique where one can cast art designs on wooden objects. These wooden items undergo chemical treatment, and through high voltage electricity, one can embellish different patterns on their surface. The popularity of this art technique is growing, especially among woodturners. 

After choosing the object where you want to create a pattern, the procedure begins by passing an electric current through it. When current passes through the object, it catches fire, producing lovely designs on it.

You can clean the product after completing the procedure. Although this artistic approach seems highly intriguing and maybe worth the risk if performed with safety, else it is pretty dangerous. On social media sites like TikTok, you will see several videos uploaded by people displaying the method. So, when people find this trend interesting, little knowledge about its risks and performing this art with proper safety knowledge can prove extremely dangerous.

How Is Fractal Burning Done?

By passing the electrical current from a high-voltage source through wood objects soaked in a chemical solution, the relatively new process known as “fractal burning” produces patterns in wood that mimic branching or fractal patterns.

The resistance of the wood’s surface is significantly reduced by coating it with an electrolytic solution. Then, a strong voltage passes between two electrodes on the wood. The electrode current will raise the temperature of the wood’s surface to the point where the electrolyte boils and the wood burns. The surface of the wood will burn in a pattern away from the electrodes because the charred surface is weakly conductive. Baltic birch is the best wood for fractal burning, though there are alternatives to it like poplar and brasswood but Birch clearly stands out of the crowd.

What Makes Fractal Burning Lethal?

Fractal burning is a process in which electricity transfers between the two electrodes in close proximity to the wooden object at a very high voltage. When high-voltage electricity comes into contact with the body, crosses the heart, and leaves the body, it leads to electrocution[1]

The electricity might travel from one hand, through your heart, and out the other if you held one electrode in each hand when the voltage is still on. Your heart can stop, which may lead to death. Accidental contact with the skin with an active electrode, electrolyte, a snag in a cable, or even simply standing on a surface that conducts electricity can all result in electrocution.

Along with voltage, the burner’s amperage also plays a crucial role. The higher the amps, the higher the danger. In addition, if the wire, transformer, insulators, and the other parts used to build a wood burner are not correctly rated, operating one poses concerns as well. It might not be enough to purchase a low amp Lichtenberg burner, made of high-quality, adequately rated parts. 

It can stop a beating heart by even low-amperage electricity if it enters at the incorrect time. If the burner is strong enough to burn Lichtenberg figures carved out of wood, it can harm or even kill the user.

In the course of my investigation, I uncovered that fractal burning, commonly referred to as Lichtenberg burning, is, in fact, illegal in numerous regions, which was quite unexpected considering the mesmerizing patterns it can create on wooden surfaces.

Can You Perform Fractal Burning Safely?

In installations to power appliances, the hazards connected with high-voltage electricity are much bigger than those with low-voltage energy. The risky technique of fractal or Lichtenberg burning exposes the user to high-voltage electricity.

Additionally, the household parts used to build or assemble fractal burning apparatus like a microwave transformer are potentially hazardous. Without a specially created enclosed apparatus, it is impossible to make the device or its usage safe.

On the other hand, a fractal wood burning kit may make this process safer without increasing the chance of wood-burning fatalities. By doing so, you can create spectacular patterns that are so beautiful, your friends will line up to ask you about the process.

Do you want to try out safer fractal wood burning? If yes, then you may do so using the equipment and supplies listed below as the preliminary step:

  • MIG or electric welding gloves, electrically insulated rubber shoes, a leather welding apron, and a face mask for the welder.
  • lichtenberg wood burner with a safety certificate for commercial use. 
  • One gallon of water and two tablespoons of baking soda

Never try to alter or customize the wood burner. Set up your workspace so the foot controller is below on the floor and the probes are securely fastened to their stands. Using a paintbrush, gently coat the wood with the liquid solution. Use the electrical probes to experiment until you get the desired result. Before taking off your safety rubber shoes, welding gloves, and the face mask, unplug the electrical burner.

Fractal Wood Burning Tips and Tricks

Fractal wood burning, with its mesmerizing patterns and intricate designs, can be both rewarding and challenging. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned artist, there’s always room to refine your technique and enhance your results. Here are some tried-and-true tips and tricks to elevate your fractal wood burning game:

1. Start with a Clean Slate Sanding
Begin with a well-sanded piece of wood. A smooth surface ensures even burning and clearer patterns. Start with a coarse grit and progress to a finer one for the best results.

Dust Off: After sanding, ensure all sawdust and debris are removed from the wood’s surface. Any residual particles can interfere with the electricity flow.

2. Optimal Moisture Content

Not Too Dry, Not Too Wet: The moisture content in your wood plays a pivotal role. Aim for a moisture level of around 10-20%. A moisture meter can be a handy tool to ensure you’re in the right range.

: If your wood is too dry, a light spritz of water can help. But remember, too much moisture can make the process unpredictable.

3. Test on Scrap Wood First

Before you commit to your main piece, always test on a scrap piece of the same wood. This allows you to gauge how the wood reacts and adjust your technique accordingly.

4. Use a Variac Transformer

A Variac transformer allows you to control the voltage, giving you more flexibility and precision in your designs. Starting with a lower voltage and gradually increasing it can help in achieving more detailed patterns.

5. Electrode Placement Matters

The placement of your electrodes can significantly impact the resulting patterns. Experiment with different distances and positions to achieve varied designs. Remember, closer electrodes result in smaller patterns, while wider placements produce larger, more sprawling designs.

6. Safety Precautions

Never Touch the Wood During the Process: Even if the process seems to have stopped, the wood can still carry a charge.

Work in a Well-Ventilated Area: This ensures any fumes produced are quickly dispersed.

Always Wear Protective Gear: Safety goggles, gloves, and a mask are essential. It’s also wise to wear non-conductive shoes.

7. Enhance the Final Look
Staining: Once you’ve achieved your desired pattern, consider using a wood stain to enhance the design’s contrast and depth.

Sealant: A clear sealant can protect your artwork and give it a polished finish.

8. Continuous Learning
Fractal burning is as much an art as it is a science. Join online forums, attend workshops, and connect with fellow artists. The community often has a wealth of knowledge, with members eager to share their insights and discoveries.

Our Verdict

A high-voltage transformer, sometimes recycled from a microwave oven, is commonly used in the fractal burning process to flow electricity over wood products immersed in a chemical solution. Only qualified specialists should carry out this process due to its high hazard level. It’s risky to follow instructions on YouTube or any other social media platform while working with electricity to complete a craft project or create another piece of artwork.

Numerous videos highlight exceptional methods, and many also give the impression that it would be simple to imitate the techniques. Sadly, these procedures are frequently far more complex and time-consuming than they appear, and in the worst cases, they may even be more deadly, such as fractal burning.


Fractal burning is a method that one must try only under the guidance and supervision of qualified professionals who are familiar with it. If you have no expertise in this area but consider trying fractal burning yourself, you should refrain from doing so for your own safety.


  1. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.-b). Electric shock. Better Health Channel.

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