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Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/24/2021 10:49 PM

Burning Lichtenberg figures into wood, as decoration, is something of a fad. I have watched as much as I can stand of many videos on the subject, and am horrified by the level of misinformation and misconceptions. Many woodworking associations and government entities strongly discourage the practice because it tends to kill people via electrocution. (31 in the US in the last several years are documented -- the actual number is probably higher.)

Most machines are home made, using a transformer from a microwave oven (roughly 2000 VAC output) or an oil burner ignition transformer, or a neon sign transformer (these are about 10,000 VAC). The machines made by cottage industry vendors are, in some ways, even worse than the home made units, because they are sold as safer alternative, but some are actually more dangerous.

For example, one machine vendor placards the machine with an instruction to wear high voltage insulating gloves. But the vendor's website provides video demonstrations of the machine in use without gloves. (See below) The probes are very poorly designed and the video actually, inadvertently, shows how easy it would be to contact the live part of the probe. The vendor throws in a cheap set of HV gloves, but they are fakes -- not ASTM tested real deal that OSHA wants people working on live circuits over 600 volts to wear.

My work for decades involved hazard analysis and developing training systems for qualified electricians and other workers. I am aware of the systems that can make machines like these less dangerous: just implementing two-hand start alone would have prevented most of the recent deaths, I'd guess. Fixing the ergonomics of the probes so that fingers cannot reach the live conductors while operating the start switches would of course help too.

I'm posting this here, because many of you understand the issues, and perhaps can spread the word, or at least warn away some friend who might want to try Lichtenberg burning.

In a competently designed machine, the situation shown here -- fingers a fraction of an inch from 10000 volts, could not happen.

The American Association of Woodturners has this to say:

https://www.woodturner.org/Woodturner/Resources/Safety-Materials/Safety-Fractal-Burning-Lichtenburg-Burning.aspx

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#1

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/25/2021 11:18 AM

If it does that to the wood, it can't be a good thing for your body... just sayin'.

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#2

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/26/2021 9:31 PM

Welcome back! Hadn't seen you 'round these parts for quite some time. Unless you've just been lurking quietly in the background.

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#12
In reply to #2

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/28/2021 6:07 AM

Agreed, welcome back Ken, your contributions have been missed.

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#3

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 5:16 AM

Dear Guardian of Health and Safety.

It is not the duty of the minions to spread the gospel according IEC 61439 or ISO 45001 etc.

Simply mind your own business and leave people to enjoy their hobbies or means of income. It just so happens, most of them know the dangers, and know what they are doing.

Your intentions may be good, just misplaced. And not required.

You have more chance of dying from your electric car than dying from fractal burning.

NOTE: The most washed human body part in 2021 was not the hands or face. It was the brain!

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#10
In reply to #3

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 9:53 PM

I understand exactly why you are anonymous here. Within your cryptic defiance for codified safety protocols, lies exactly why these protocols exist.

Generating Lichtenberg figures often requires applying lethal electric power to an object with most safety barriers removed or never designed in the first place. "Skill of the craft" or "administrative control" has long shown that people can use this technology without people getting injured. You fail to acknowledge is that people without these skills, proper administrative control, or who just made a simple mistake have been severely injured from this technology.

This is why you hide from even posting your CR4 pseudonym.

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#13
In reply to #10

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/28/2021 6:50 AM

I agree with post 3. What business is it of anyone to decide for others what should be done? The person using the equipment knows what should be done, If they don't do it that is their business. Far to much bullying these days by some to get their way. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/28/2021 7:08 PM

I believe Ken's message is one of a cautionary tale. It's not like a vaccine mandate. Similar to not looking into the pointy end of a fire arm.

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#4

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 5:21 AM

If you're going to play around with high voltage in any way, you need to have a good understanding of how it works....some of those transformers pack a wallop....ask me how I know....

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 5:26 AM

OK, how do you know?

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#6
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Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 1:18 PM

I accidentally brushed up against the anode of a color TV once while troubleshooting the set. Lemme tell ya, that'll get your attention.

And that is "low" current.

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#9
In reply to #6

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 8:02 PM

The old computer monitors were the same way…

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#7

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 2:48 PM

Neat little car. Zing, built by yourself? How did that work out for you. I'm seriously curious to know. Let me know if you like. Not much info when I do a search for it.

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#8

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 3:42 PM

I have to say this is a cool effect! I would definitely not want to get zapped by it though.

Got popped by a coil in a car once and that's all I ever want it to happen. I think high voltage DC hurts worse than AC.

Just an opinion though.

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#11
In reply to #8

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/27/2021 10:30 PM

Prof. Charles Dalziel's research suggests that AC currents have a higher perception of pain. This is a table from one of his papers titled "Effects of Electric Shock on Man".

The link below has the document that is not behind a paywall.

http://premierpowerinc.com/docs/Effects_of_Electric_Shock_on_Man.pdf

It is an interesting document to read. You wonder how he got so many people to subject themselves to this research?

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#21
In reply to #11

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

10/05/2021 10:02 AM

Definitely going to give that a read.

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#15

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/29/2021 3:30 PM

I've discovered, the hard way, that getting hit with a short pulse of high peak current is fortunately much different than what might be expected from Dalziel's tables.

We make Lichtenberg figures ("Captured Lightning" sculptures) inside pieces of clear acrylic by injecting trillions of electrons into them via a 5 MeV electron accelerator. We then use a well-insulated pointed metal tool to make a small divot on the acrylic surface. This creates a small defect which allows the trapped charge to abruptly escape in a bright flash of miniature lightning. The high-current discharge creates a permanent Lichtenberg figure made up of hollow channels and fractures.

Later measurements and calculations showed that these discharges are all over in 75 - 500 nsec depending on the area of the specimen and the initial potential of the internal charge layer can exceed 2.5 million volts. Since the discharge always jumped harmlessly from the tool tip to the grounded metal cart (usually only 1/2 - 2 inches or so), we didn't always bother grounding the tool. However in larger specimens the peak current and stored energy can be kiloamps and kilojoules, and the internal damage created by the high-energy discharges is incredible. You can see the brilliance of the discharge in the following frame grab of a large specimen:

Anyway, when we first started making larger sculptures, I made a careless last-second decision to discharge one large specimen from the center of the sheet instead of an edge. But, instead of jumping harmlessly to the cart, the discharge instead flashed over to my hand, exiting from my abdomen and belt buckle to the grounded cart. BAM! It didn't feel like a shock, and at first I didn't recognize it as being an electrical shock. It felt more like being physically punched by "something" simultaneously in my shoulder and chest. but it was apparently too brief for my muscles to respond. Subsequent charge calculations and pulse current measurements determined that the jolt had an initial potential of >2 MV and a peak discharge current >2 kA. However, the duration of the discharge was less than 500 nsec, fortunately too brief to register as a painful shock or to do any physical damage. It was also mis-timed (again VERY fortunately) so that it didn't disrupt my heart's rhythm. The estimated electrostatic energy stored in the acrylic was >3 kilojoules.

Needless to say, we now ground the discharge tools when working with larger specimens. Following is what the above specimen looked like afterwards (illuminated with LED's). Actual size is 15" x 20" x 2". I think they're prettier than burned wood...

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/29/2021 5:26 PM

Ouch !!

Dalziel did publish an AIEE paper in1953 titled, "A Study of the Hazards of Impulse Currents". However, experiments were limited to pulses of 5 ms or longer. He does publish a table of I2T values where "reasonably safe" is defined to be 0.108 A2-s and plots data points of documented human accidents where the victim was not electrocuted.

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#17
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Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/30/2021 3:01 PM

Thanks - good information! It looks like we can add another "survival" data point at 500 ns and 2 kA... :)

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#18
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Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

09/30/2021 8:54 PM

Cool sculptures by the way.

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#19

Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

10/01/2021 4:50 AM

The trouble with this thread is that when you tell people not to do something, it just makes them want to do it more. (As we just discovered over here by telling people not to panic buy petrol (gas).)

I'd just really like to try "Burning Lichtenberg Figures" now; hopefully I'll be extra careful; forewarned is forearmed.

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#20
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Re: Burning Lichtenberg Figures

10/01/2021 5:47 PM

Good to know.

a regular Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn… kinda.

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