Lethal "fractal burning" woodworking hack has killed dozens

Big transformers/capacitors have always involved me noping out, that’s experts only. I’ve felt 220, and now I’m all

Diego Maradona No GIF


I understand it is popular at various particle accelerator facilities to make these in plexiglass. Now there’s an exciting DIY project.


I’ve seen videos of at least 2 makers using the process to make art over the years and they all were very clear that the method is crazy dangerous. I would never ever think to do the DIY for it


In school days (electronics certificate), buddy was supposed to make a simple +16vdc power supply, with filter caps on the secondary. Mine worked, but he installed the transformer backwards (like how this fractal stuff does) and instead of a 1:.1 he had a 1:10 in front of his face when he powered it up.

The large electrolytic filter caps (size of a thumb, thank god we weren’t using the ones the size of a Coke can)… well… they were rated for 24v and he had like 1,200v going into them. Within a split second of powering up, the caps exploded with little aluminum and paper bits shot everywhere.

Buddy WAS wearing safety goggles, which protected his eyes but he did get a few cuts on his face from the shrapnel.

I have always been VERY wary of DIY projects that plug into the wall - when I first started seeing these microwave transformer salvage videos I knew no good would come of it. That these folks from non-electrical background would simply watch a YouTube video on the subject then get to it… omg.

Even Darwin must be rolling in his grave.


I scored a large neon transformer at an estate sale last summer with the express intention of fractal burning. Did a fair amount of research, established 3 layers of disconnect between the work area and the operator (me), including a dead-man switch to apply current to the variac. Work surface is plastic, insulted from the floor with multiple layers of EVA foam (the operator stands on a separate stack) Being thorough, I put a tester on that deadman to see if it was correctly grounded and it was NOT. Opened the enclosure and it was improperly wired. :neutral_face: I never burn alone, having a family member on the other side of the room with a finger on the breaker. Ultimately, I want to do an interlocked safety enclosure. Anyone who would hold an electrode in each hand is a self-destructive loon. Heed the words of my electrician friend:

“I know everything I need to know about electricity. It kills you.”


Kind of want to do this now.

Not going to, but same urge as the one to jump near high ledges.


The effect is quite interesting; but not THAT interesting :scream: :scream: :scream: :zap:


A good friend of mine makes this kind of art-with lots of safeguards and lots of experience with the equipment-he works or worked at Fermilab.


Back in the good old days you also had the exciting chance to score some beryllium exposure when doing ill-advised things with microwaves. Does anyone know if that’s still the case or has some combination of buzzkill safety standards and aggressive cost optimization removed this sweet treat?


Yeah, I hate it when that happens. Never quite sure how to handle it.


Judging by the end result, it seems entirely appropriate, somehow.


That sounds like the way to do it. Probably as safe as you can make it. Just be careful. Professionals who work with high voltage and follow all the rules still get hurt and killed on the regular.


Your comment was worth an HBL (Horrified Belly Laugh) from me. :scream: :joy: :scream: :joy: :scream:


2kV going into uninsulated metal rods a few cm from your body? Nope nope nope to the power of no fucking way.

Normal mains electricity is right up there on my “do not fuck with” list. Stepping it up with a transformer, and then fucking with it is going to have to go on a new list entirely.


I’ve been know to work on live circuits and swap out breakers in a live box, I’m confident in my knowledge and know when to shut down the main.

This past winter the main ground for my house broke. The main line from the pole goes to the meter and than a box with a 100 amp breaker that then enters the house and on to the main panel.

It was that 100 amp service box that needed the ground replaced.

My choices were call an electrician, or pull the meter myself to kill the box. I’ve done that before but the electric company isn’t always happy when you break their seal.

So I did it live. Six inches of foam board with a rubber mat to stand on with leather gloves. Would have preferred linesmen gloves but I didn’t have any.

Took less than 5 minutes to swap the wire.

All that being said I ain’t foolin’ with no unorthodox electrical rig to make pretty patterns in wood.

I really want a Gloforge laser etching machine though.


Mid '90s for me is more like it.

Back around 2000 I made a Jacob’s Ladder out of a 10 kV neon sign transformer for some video art with my father’s sage advice that, “If you touch the wrong part of this it probably won’t kill you but it will certainly be the worst day you’ve ever had.”

And this was after I took 20 kV (at super low current obvs) a few years earlier at age 12 from a Model A coil because big brain mgrey thought painting the pulse jet model airplane metallic silver would look super cool, not realizing that it’s connected with steel wire to a metal handle that you’re holding on to when the pit crew fires it up.


Yeah, a lot of woodworking places like the American Woodworking Journal won’t even display pieces or articles about this practice unless it’s ‘here’s why you absolutely don’t do it’.

When a hobby involving circular saws says ‘wow that’s fucking dangerous’ that’s a pretty good indication it’s really dangerous.


Well, you might end up cooking yourself


Good lord. Those videos of people holding a jumper cable in each hand…

That’s the worst case scenario, because the current will go right through your heart. One of the first things they teach you in high voltage engineering is do everything with one hand behind your back to limit the path of current through the bits you need to live.

Not that that would make this idiotic “craft hack” safe, but it’s an example of the basics that these people clearly don’t know. This is the dark side of dishonest YT content that makes everything look “easy and amazing” for the clicks.