Thursday, February 23, 2017

More Lichtenberg Figures

I've been experimenting with different techniques for these Lichtenberg Figures using larger pieces of MDF.  Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments if anyone has any good ideas.

     In the figure above I coated the whole piece with electrolyte (excluding the edges), and then tried moving the electrodes around to different nails.  It turned out better than the previous ones using two fixed points for the electrodes, but the current kept wanting to jump back to previous carbon paths, so the second and third burns had less detail than the first.

     In the figure above I selectively coated the piece to keep the current from jumping as easily to existing paths.  The first coat was a backwards L pattern from the bottom left to the upper right corners.  The second went from the top left corner diagonally down to the right, but didn't connect to any of the existing carbon paths.  The third coat went from the top left horizontally to the right using the same nail on the right as the first burn.  This one shows more detail than the last, and shows me that I can influence the design instead of making it completely random.

     The figure above is larger than the previous two.  In this one I did two parallel coats of electrolyte and burned the vertical patterns on the left and the right.  I then painted a wide, slightly diagonal coat of electrolyte across the middle, connecting the carbon paths on the left and the right and did the burn using the bottom left and top right nails.  The only thing I don't like about these is the light stain that the electrolyte leaves, which shows a contrast between the parts that were coated and the parts that weren't.

     I have to give credit for this idea to my wife.  We had been looking for a "multiple-panel" piece of art to hang in our bedroom, and she suggested trying to do a paneled piece with the Lichtenberg Figures.  Each panel is 16" x 24" and was cut out of one piece of 2' x 4' MDF.  The panels were burned separately using many different points for the electrodes.  I tapered the electrolyte solution down to points at the edges of the panels to make sure that the burns lined up from one panel to the next.  Unfortunately I decided to use 1/2" thick MDF for this so that the panels would hang better and would be less likely to warp.  This thicker MDF was much more absorbent than the 1/4" MDF that I used for the previous burns, so the electrolyte soaked in quickly and created a thicker burn pattern with less detail.  I like the design, but I think I'll try it again with the thinner board.

Edit: Instead of making a whole new post I'm just adding the above picture to the end of this post. This is the three panel piece I did on the thinner, 1/4" MDF.  As I expected I ended up with a lot more detail.  I think in order for this to be worthy of hanging on a wall I'm going to have to add some color to it, so the next experiment will be to see how watercolor paint takes to MDF.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Creating Lichtenberg Figures with Microwave Oven Transformers

Obligatory Safety Warning:

     This is not comprehensive instructions on how to build one of these devices.  Please do not attempt this if you do not fully understand the concepts that you are working with, and even then, if you are not incredibly safety conscious this can easily kill you.  I have seen many videos on the internet of people doing this in a very unsafe manner.  Please do not emulate these videos.  This setup creates the potential of 4000 volts, which will jump an air gap.  This means that you do not have to actually touch this in order for it to kill you.  One little mistake can easily be lethal.  If you do undertake this project, always have a second person present to call 911 in case you only mortally wound yourself instead of killing yourself instantly.

      Now that I have absolved myself of the liability for anyone's death or injury, I'd like to assure my family and friends that I am doing this in an incredibly safe manner, and there is no need to be concerned for my safety.  Now, on to the fun.

Above are the two microwaves I will be disassembling.  If you ever decide to remove the outer housing from a microwave for any reason, please pay careful attention to the warning in the picture.  You can  verify that the caps are discharged by shorting the terminals with an insulated screwdriver.

 Look at all the neat stuff I was able to pull out of these two microwaves.  Only the transformers will be used in this project, but I'm sure the rest will come in handy in the future.

Above is the final project.  Not really that much to it.  The light bulb is just a safety precaution to remind me when it is powered up and dangerous.  Credit to the following website for the wiring schematic using two transformers for a total of 4000 volts:

Now for the real test.  For my first attempt I grabbed a scrap piece of red oak off the top of the wood pile.  I thought oak would absorb the electrolyte mixture better than other hardwoods due to it's porousness, but I was wrong.  Even with the electrodes just 4 inches apart nothing happened other than a little popping and crackling.  It seems that the rapidly produced heat evaporated the water leaving a dry patch around the electrodes, which prevented the current from going anywhere.  Next I tried poplar, thinking it might absorb the mixture a little better, but the results were the same.  I started to get discouraged, but I wasn't ready to give up yet.  A pine 2x4 led to the first success, although it wasn't very impressive.  In addition to a lack-luster pattern, as soon as the carbon trails got too close to each other the current arced through the air, and the dead short blew the fuse I had added as a safety precaution.  Luckily two microwaves equals two fuses, so on to the next trial attempt.  I used a small scrap piece of plywood because I had read that it would absorb the liquid into the first layer of laminate, but the glue made a water proof barrier to keep the mixture from soaking all the way down through the wood.  Sure enough, it worked much better than my previous attempts (video below):

A quick note on safety, there is a white isolation pad between the experiment and the table.  This is important since 4000 volts will jump through materials typically thought of as insulators in search of ground, so you can never have too much insulation.  In addition, all wiring on the secondary side of the circuit is rated for high voltage.  Typical electrical wire is rated for a maximum of 600V.  If you were to use anything other than wire rated for high voltage, such as is done on many internet videos, then you must treat the wire like it is bare copper.  It is an unnecessary risk.  Tangent over, let's move on.

Here is what it looked like after I scrubbed off the excess soot:

Not bad, but I think it would have turned out better if it had continued burning for longer.  Unfortunately it stopped when it did because it arced and blew my second and last 20amp/120V fuse.  I realized that if I continued in this manner I would go though quite a few fuses, and my Lichtenberg figures would all stop before reaching their full potential.  The fuse was my idea anyway, and I only used it because I harvested the fuse and fuse holder from the microwaves, so I thought "why not."  Now that I know why not, I decided to bypass it using the old "penny in the fuse box" trick.

That should do it.  If my new "fuse" blows than I have bigger problems than replacing it.  And I'm still protected by the 20 amp breaker for that circuit, so really this is not as unsafe as it might seem.

Here are a couple more videos using different types and thicknesses of plywood:

Here are the results from several more attempts using plywood:

I thought these turned out OK. but I still wasn't satisfied.  They burned too deep, and lacked the detail that I had seen when researching other people's Lichtenberg Figures, so I decided to try something else.  This time I used MDF, and it worked much better.  The designs are much more detailed and more like what I was looking for.  I didn't take any video of the MDF, but there was a lot less fire than there was with previous woods.  Here are the results:

Not bad for my first time.  When I first started this project I thought it would be something that I would mess around with for a weekend, and then put it on a shelf to gather dust with the rest of my short-lived interests, but I think I might do a little more experimenting with this before it gets retired.  All of the figures above were done by saturating the entire surface with electrolyte and using two fixed positions for the electrodes.  I think I might try some bigger ones where I only paint part of the surface with electrolyte in order to influence the flow of the current.  I might also try moving the electrodes around to different spots on the same piece.  We shall see.  If I never do another post on this subject it probably means that my attention was pulled in a different direction, and my fancy new Lichtenberg Figure machine has been retired to the shelf after all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Research on Microwave Transformers

As most people who know me are aware, I can be somewhat of a scavenger.  I recently came across two microwave ovens that were slated for the junk pile.  Inside of these things are a high voltage capacitor and a high voltage transformer that can be very useful for a variety of fun projects from building an arc welder to making a high powered electromagnet.  I believe that the first thing I am going to build is a device for burning Lichtenberg figures into wood.  Because of the inherent dangers of using high voltage I am going to do plenty of research ahead of time.  Below are some links for my own reference while working on these projects.  If anyone else is thinking of doing any of these projects, please look through the links below and thoroughly research the safety measures required when using high voltage.  It can and will kill you if handled improperly.

Here are a few links describing the process of burning Lichtenberg figures:

Here is a link on wiring MOTs (Microwave Oven Transformers):

Here are some other projects that can be done using MOTs and MOCs:

Shop Wall

My most recent project was to frame out part of the back wall in my shop.  Because my house, like many of the homes in this area, was built using concrete mixed from river rock and river sand, the concrete that forms the basement wall is starting to crumble due to the organics in the mixture.  I have had this looked at by a structural engineer, and he said that while it doesn't pose an immediate threat to the structural integrity of the house, in the long run it will continue to decay and will eventually cause a problem.  We have constructed a 6ft deep and 3 ft wide french drain around the back of the house to divert most of the water that accelerates this process, but I thought that a little extra support on the back wall of the basement wouldn't hurt either.  In addition, this wall will allow me to build a little extra shelving for storage as well as an extension table for my radial arm saw that will live in front of this wall.  I have already created a PDF with pictures and descriptions for this project, so instead adding all the pictures to this blog, I will just put a link to the PDF here.  Also, here is a picture of the finished project:

First Post

This blog is going to be used to archive and document various projects that I am working on.  It will serve the dual purpose of being able to share these projects with others, as well as acting as a repository for me to reference in the future when I have forgotten the specifics of how something was done. I may go long periods of time without updating or viewing this page, so if you are trying to contact me or ask me a question through this page, please don't be offended if you do not get a prompt response.  Also, please be aware that the email address used for this page is not my primary email address,so it also may not be checked on a regular basis.