The Lightning Box
The output voltage and current (10,000 volts @ 30 ma) from NST (Neon Sign Transformer) burners and the output voltage and current (2,000 volts @ 500 ma) from MOT (Microwave Oven Transformer) burners can cause serious burn, injury, or death if these instructions and safety precautions are not followed.
The safe use of this burner is entirely the responsibility of the purchaser. If you have any electronic implant, consult your doctor before using.
The MOT burner must be selected based on your available electric power, 110-125vac or 220-250vac.
The NST burner is designed to operate on 110 to 220 volts AC only. Do not use a Variac with an NST burner. The use of a Variac will destroy the electronic circuitry and void all Warranties. A Variac (Variac is a Trade Name), variable voltage transformer, can be used with a MOT burner.
Instructions for Decorating Wooden Objects
Safety steps that must be observed to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:
Do not use the burner until you understand all of the instructions and safety precautions.
Read and follow all instructions prior to the use of the burner.
Keep under the control and supervision of a responsible adult at all times.
Do not plug the burner in until you have completed all preparation steps and are ready to decorate
Ensure both probes are under your control prior to activating the foot switch.
Do not hold the probes!* The probes are made to stand by themselves. Place them where you want to start the burn.
*Optional handheld probe can be held while burning. Hold the rubber handle, not the cable.
DO NOT touch the area below the probe’s insulation or near each probe’s tip.
To start: Position the workpiece, position the probes, insert probe plugs into the machine sockets, plug the foot switch into the machine socket. The “RED” pushbutton on the front panel next to the green volt/ammeter must be out (OFF), not depressed (ON). Insert the power cord into the power receptacle. Push the main power rocker switch to “ON” (-). You are ready to burn now! The fans should be blowing air out of the front panel. Push the RED pushbutton once, it will light RED. Power is now controlled by the footswitch. Push the foot switch, the burn starts, control the power with the VVR knob on the back panel, clockwise, more power, counterclockwise, less power
Release the foot/hand switch to deactivate and shut the burner off.
Wear shoes and stand on a rubber floor mat. Electrically insulated rubber gloves that are designed to protect you from high voltage (Class II) are recommended. Electrically insulated gloves may be purchased from most safety supply stores or from the internet. Ensure the glove’s safety procedures and protocol are followed.
Do not use on or near any electrically conductive surfaces including tools.
Ensure the material to be decorated is secure and stable on a nonconductive work surface.
Do not attempt to decorate the item while mounted on a metal or conductive surface.
It is recommended that you have a second person serve as a safety observer.
Do not allow anyone to touch any work surface or the item being decorated while the burner is activated. The current travels through the wood and will shock you.
Do not coat or spray electrolyte solution on the item while the burner is activated. The electrolyte conducts the electricity.
Unplug the burner once you have finished the decorating.
What wood works best?
Just about any wood can be used; however, tighter grained, light colored woods such as Basswood, Birch, Cherry, and Maple tend to work best to show a contrast between the Lichtenberg pattern and the background. The fine hair-like fingers can be produced much easier in tight grained wood. Woods such as Ash and Oak will work, but the burn pattern will generally lack the fine hair-like details that can be obtained in denser woods. Veneer grade plywood and high-density particle board works very good. Green wood or wood with a high moisture content, above 15%, may not create fine hair-like fingers.
The Electrolyte solution
The wood is a fairly good insulator and will not typically support an arc between the probe tips; consequently, it must be coated with an electrolyte solution.
The best solution to use is two tablespoons of baking soda per quart of water. It goes a long way and can be stored in a glass container indefinitely.
The burning process
The amount of electrolyte solution that should be applied to the object is difficult to determine. It’s based on several factors including the type of material, the amount of solution applied, how the material absorbs the solution, its moisture content, and even the humidity. Too little and it won’t conduct enough current to create a pattern. Too much and the current will flow through the solution so freely that it will not generate enough heat to burn the material. The solution will stain the surface slightly; thus, you might want to cover the whole surface to ensure grain color uniformity. This can be done after the burning is completed. Apply the solution with a sponge or brush. The material does not have to be saturated but should be thoroughly moistened. If you find that the material is too wet, wait a few minutes to allow it to dry. Evaporation will reduce the conductivity where the arc will start at both probes. Wiping the surface with a dry cloth will normally leave a sufficient amount of moisture that the burning will start immediately. Ideally, you will notice the surface of the material drying along the arc path. This indicates the ideal moisture level for the electrolyte solution. After positioning the probes on the work piece, activate the burner by stepping on the foot switch. Do not allow anyone else to operate the switch for you. Place one probe in firm contact with the object and place the second probe in contact with the object at the other end of the desired burn pattern.
Do not place the tips close enough to each other to cause an arc between the tips.
Generally, the arc path created on the object from both tips will eventually meet. Once the paths meet, the arc path will glow a bright red, continue to burn, and will create an increasingly deep and wide path pattern. This may be desired as it tends to create a main channel with lines spreading out from it all along its path. You may move the probes around the surface of the object to create different paths for the arc.
The beauty of the Lichtenberg Figure burning is its randomness. You will learn that you can control the burn pattern to a degree; but the arc has a mind of its own and will take the path that defies explanation. The one factor that somewhat tends to be true is the burn path appears to follow the grain of wood probably due to the absorption of the electrolyte solution in the grain.
Don’t bank on this fact as always being true; especially, if that is what you want.
Use a paint brush or a small spray bottle of the electrolyte solution to spray the object’s surface if it dries out too quickly and your arc tends to stop or to control the arc if it becomes too aggressive. With experience, you may use the brush or spray bottle to guide or direct the direction of the pattern. “DO NOT” spray the object while the burner is activated. Turn off the burner and set the probes aside prior to spraying the object.
You can oftentimes get a very delicate burn pattern by only using one probe on the object. Simply leave the second probe off of the work piece with the tip on a non-conductive surface. The burning is much slower with only one probe.
A safety point here! There is sufficient electrostatic conduction in the air to allow one probe to oftentimes burn the object. Do NOT touch the object or any surface near it during the burn. A shock will result. Ensure your safety observer and anyone else watching follow these procedures.
The burning of the pattern will create smoke. Ensure the work area is well ventilated. If you are planning to burn patterns for an extended period of time, a mask approved for exposure to organic vapors is recommended.
Release the foot switch and ensure the red lamp is off before touching any surface with anything other than the probes. Unplug the burner when you are through with the burning process.
The probe tips may get a char buildup on them from the wood sap. This does not affect the efficiency of the burning; however, you may clean the tips with a ScotchBrite or wire brush. Do not use other solvents to clean the probe tips.
Cleaning and finishing the decorated object
Once you have completed the Lichtenberg pattern, there will be a significant amount of char that needs to be removed. The best method is to scrub the burnt area with a soft bristled brush such as a toothbrush while holding the item under running water. Do not sand or use the brush without running water on the burnt area because the char will fill any open grain and create black smudges that is nearly impossible to remove. Once the char is washed away and the object has
dried, it may be lightly sanded (220 or higher grit) to remove any raised grain and to highlight the hair-like fingers. Do not be aggressive with the sanding as the hair-like fingers are very shallow and can easily be sanded away.
If the baking soda adversely stains the wood, wipe the surface with vinegar after cleaning the char off the project. The vinegar will normally remove the stain.
Any reasonably clear finish may be applied to the decorated object once it is dry.