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Lichtenberg Designs

Discussion in 'Woodturning Discussion Forum' started by Mike Johnson, Oct 23, 2016.

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  1. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Have a business meeting to attend out of town with some Electrical Engineers this week to go over a couple of projects coming up, so I turned a few bowls this morning and applied some Lichtenberg designs.
    I used some birch bowl blanks that were ready for a second turning, the wood grain worked well with the
    Lichtenberg process, the only issue is making sure you get all of the loose carbon brushed and rinsed out of
    the details. Any carbon left behind can leave a carbon stain on light colored woods if you pick the carbon up while applying a sealer and finish. Amber Shellac works well for accenting the carbon designs.
    The light colored ones have a coat of sealer and will be sanded one more time prior to putting a finish on them.

    Lichtenberg.jpg
     
    Bert Delisle and Zach LaPerriere like this.
  2. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the tip. Could you do a tutorial on the process and equipment that you used?
     
  3. hockenbery

    hockenbery AAW Advisor Staff Member

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    Tip # 1
    Electricity can kill you.

    Tip #2
    Electricity doesn't care if you know what you are doing.

    Have fun and be safe
    The patterns are terrific.
     
  4. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    I am heading out the door to visit my grandchildren right now, when I return I will post some details.
    If you drink too much water that can kill you also. :)
    You do need to be safe while working with this process.
    Details to follow.
     
  5. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    As hockenbery mentioned, electricity can kill if you don't respect it.
    I put down a large insulated work surface like a sheet of glass, plywood, plastic etc. to work on.
    Several of the other wood turners have adopted the method I use to apply the designs.
    I use a higher voltage neon transformer with high voltage rated wire and 2 foot long insulated handles with probes on the end.
    Make sure you use a high voltage cable rated equal to or higher then the transformer output voltage.
    When both hands are occupied with holding the insulated handles you can't make mistakes by touching anything that might be energized.
    The probe handles are made of an insulated material like PVC pipe, fiberglass or dry wood.
    I use a pint of water with a tablespoon of baking soda and use a paint brush to wet the wood surface.
    Always place the probes on the insulated work surface or you can make an insulated stand to place the probes on.
    It is also a good practice to wear rubber gloves which will provide personal protection from the high voltage.
    When your work piece has been brushed with the water baking soda solution place it on your insulated work surface.
    Turn on the neon transformer or plug it into the power outlet to energize the probes on the ends of the insulated handles.
    Pick up the insulated handles (one in each hand) and place the points of the energized electrodes on opposite ends of the work piece.
    Depending on the species of wood it will start to slowly burn a carbon track on the surface of the wood.
    The high voltage follows the carbon track on the surface of the wood, the longer you hold the probes in one spot the deeper the
    Lichtenberg design will burn into the wood. Some species of wood require that you lift the electrode a fraction of an inch off the surface
    to create a burn mark to provide the initial carbon for the voltage to begin "tracking" across the surface.
    With certain species of wood the Lichtenberg design will follow the grain direction, As the Lichtenberg design "tracks" across the wood and
    you are satisfied with the design, you can move one or both of the electrodes to random locations on the work piece.
    With practice you can move one electrode to locations on the work piece that force the design to track in the direction you desire.
    If the work piece dries out you may need to shut the neon transformer off and re-apply the water solution to the work piece.
    When you are done applying the designs to the work piece, shut off the transformer.
    Take your work piece to a utility sink and run it under warm water and use a tooth brush to brush the carbon from the designs.
    You want to get all of the loose carbon from your wood piece and rinse the piece clean.
    I then use a heat gun to dry the wood work piece, you want to make sure the work piece is totally dry.
    Mount the work piece on your lathe and use a 240 or 320 grit sand paper and lightly sand the work piece clean.
    Quickly finish the work piece with the grits of sand paper that you want to use for the final finish.
    The more time you spend sanding will erode the fine details of the Lichtenberg designs.
    It is best practice to have your piece sanded to the finish you desire prior to applying the designs.
    The purpose of the sanding after the designs are applied is to remove excess carbon from the wood and sharpen the edges of the designs.
    The less sanding you do will provide the best Lichtenberg designs.
    Depending on the wood species the water solution will raise the wood grain in some areas, this also requires sanding.
    On certain woods I will apply a wood sealer and proceed with another quick sanding on the lathe.
    Glued joints do not work well with this process, the high voltage will burn the glue in the joint.
    The harder wood species take a little extra effort to apply the designs.
    It is best to practice on a scrap piece of wood the same as your work piece to determine how the designs burn into that species of wood.
    Some people burn deep designs and fill the designs with colored materials or fluorescent materials and then sand the piece smooth and finish it.
     
    hockenbery likes this.
  6. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Do you have any pictures of your set up?

    I think that Formica would be a good covering for a plywood table. I would be hesitant to use a bare wood top because it could get wet and because conductive enough to become a significant shock hazard.

    Do you know the voltage of your neon transformer? The member in my club who was demonstrating this was using a transformer from a microwave oven. He was using jumper cables from the transformer to the probes which I think was rather unsafe.
     
  7. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Bill,

    Any surface you use could become wet, dry wood is a very good insulator, Formica would work fine.
    A piece of plywood has multiple layers of wood and works fine for this application.
    The transformer I use is a 12,000 volt neon transformer, 120VAC primary.
    The high voltage wires I use are rated 15,000 volts any gauge will work since you are not using a lot of current.
    The probes can be made of any metallic screw, bolt, fastener that allows the wire to be terminated to the "probe".
    I use a 3" long screw which allows me a way to fasten the screws to the handle and the wire lugs to the screw.
    I use a crimp lugs on both ends of the wires, one end is fastened to the neon transformer the other end to the metallic probe (screw).
    I am out of town this week on business, I will post a couple of photos when I get home.
     
  8. John Torchick

    John Torchick

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    Interesting thread. Not familiar with this technique. Still trying to master the skew. BTW, very nice turnings!
    My father was in appliance industry for over 35 years. People would say that gas is dangerous. Reply: Do you know what gas smells like? What does electricity smell like?
     
  9. hockenbery

    hockenbery AAW Advisor Staff Member

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    Fear is a motivator for change.
    People wanted electric lights because gas lights caused house fires
    People wanted cars because they had freinds killed by a horses.

    The Lichtenberg is a fascinating technique. Wood burning gone mad!
    The results can be spectacular.
    Be careful.
     
  10. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Good sense is occasionally a motivator for change. It is also not often enough a good motivator for caution.

    Natural gas has no smell, but an odorant is added to give it a smell. A generation ago, unvented heaters were the norm. When the available oxygen level gets too low, it can't burn cleanly and results in a high level of CO combustion byproduct. CO has no smell.

    There is no such things as mastering the skew. The best that you can hope for is to be on friendly terms with it.

    According to my dad, his first impression about automobiles was that he wouldn't have to shovel the combustion byproducts.

    Arc discharge woodburning reminds me of the movie Young Frankenstein and with equally predictable results.

    I was an electrical engineer so to me electricity smelled like money.
     
    Gerald Lawrence likes this.
  11. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Electricity displays a strong ozone smell when higher voltages are arcing to ground.
    If you smell ozone around high voltage systems, bad things are about to happen.
     
  12. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Bad things have already happened in many instances. :D Worse things to come.

    High voltages aren't necessary to have arcing. You can smell ozone around any commutated electric motor.
     
  13. John Torchick

    John Torchick

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    Why don't they take the ozone and put it in the upper atmosphere to counteract the depletion of the ozone layer? Just a thought.
    Right, gas is given a marker for detection. Plain ol' electricity doesn't give a warning until it bites you. My grandfather would check for voltage in this way- lick his thumb and forefinger and grab a wire. If it tingled it was hot. Then he would change the switch or outlet. This was house current only. Didn't do this with higher voltage in the house.
    Bill, so you were a sparky. I could tell a hilarious story about people and their call to the gas company.
     
  14. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Many utilities use ozone detectors to monitor their substation switch rooms, our facility now uses them in our high voltage line-ups, medium voltage and low voltage mcc rooms. The detectors we use are set to a base-line value for normal levels of ozone for the area you are in. Some generating facilities with enclosed rooms can produce levels of ozone that you can smell and taste, they usually use these detectors at a higher base-line to give advance notice of abnormal arcing exceeding their normal operating parameters. If we smell ozone in our electrical rooms alarms are usually going off and this
    usually indicates a problem is quickly going to turn bad.

    Ozone gas is also considered a hazardous gas and can cause physical problems when inhaled, facilities that produce ozone gas during
    normal operations are supposed to vent these gases away from area's that are occupied by personnel.
     
  15. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    The average "house current" circuit is 15-20 amps, it only takes 20 milliamps or more of current to cause a death. The old time workers had to wet their fingers because of their callused hands.
    The average worker these days are required to wear gloves when doing work, so their hands are no longer callused like they were in my days growing up. The higher content of moisture in your skin is the issue.
    Middle of summer with 80% humidity and high temperatures and sweat running down the crack of your ass you run a high risk of getting electrocuted by a 15-20 amp "house current" shock.

    Current Description

    Current (mA)

    Physiological Effect

    Threshold

    1-5

    Tingling Sensation

    Pain

    5-8

    Intense or Painful Sensation

    “Let Go”

    8-20

    Threshold of involuntary muscle contraction

    Paralysis

    >20

    Respiratory paralysis and pain

    Fibrillation

    80-1000

    Ventricular and heart fibrillation

    Defibrillation

    1000-10000

    Sustained myocardial contraction and possible tissue burns
     
  16. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Even 5 mA can be fatal under the right (or wrong, if your the one being electrocuted) circumstances. When I was an engineering student I worked for a biomedical company, Space Craft Inc., that designed the electronic telemetry for monitoring the astronauts EKG, blood pressure, respiration, etc. When you have EKG electrode patches on your chest the impedance through your body is very low. That was back when IC op-amps were still in their infancy so they developed a novel approach using IGFETS to reduce leakage current down to picoamperes. This same exact designs were later used in hospital cardiac care units.
     
  17. stu senator

    stu senator

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    If I remember correctly it is the current that stops your heart and kills.

    The impedance of the body from head to foot or arm to arm or arm to foot is such that a voltage of about 50 volts or up to a few hundred will cause the proper current to stop the heart.

    More current could cook your body.

    A different amount will restart your heart hence the defilibrator.

    Don't try this yourself.

    Stu
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2016
  18. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    All of this talk of electricity, amperage and voltage has bothered me to the point that I have disconnected
    the city power coming into the house and unplugged every appliance from the wall and I am sitting in total
    darkness in the corner of the room making sure I don't touch anything metallic.

    I hope we don't talk about natural gas or propane causing house fires or it will be a cold winter for me. :D
     
  19. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    You can contact Andy Chen for a human powered lathe design. The trick is finding the willing human. He designed it such that the person doing the turning isn't the person who is the "motor". Clever of him to think of that. :D

    I guess that I won't mention the time that I was sitting in my office and suddenly the whole building shook. Not really a sound, but more like something that was just felt. A person whose office faced north saw the smoke column from the natural gas explosion that blew a house up about ten miles away. The gas company had been called out days before to investigate a strong gas smell, but said they didn't find anything. Fortunately nobody was at home at the time. After that, the gas company got a lot more serious about their inspections.

    Considering that the nerve impulses that trigger heartbeats are on the order of a microampere, it doesn't take much to disrupt the complex PQRST heart rhythm.
     
  20. John Torchick

    John Torchick

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    Mike, I would say that more fires are caused by electricity than any type of gas. Even kerosene lamps are dangerous. Ask the people in Chicago about Mrs. O'Leary's cow.
    Don't take a bath. :confused: Many people are injured from falling in the bathtub. However, you will not have very many friends. ;)
     
  21. hockenbery

    hockenbery AAW Advisor Staff Member

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    :) Certainly more forest fires and brush fires are started by electricity than gas. :)
     
  22. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Most accidents happen in the home ... So go homeless. :D
     
  23. John Torchick

    John Torchick

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    hockenberry, yes, if you include lightning as electricity.
    Bill, when I was in Modesto and San Franciso three years ago, I saw that there was merit to your statement.
     
  24. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Back in the 80's I was visiting a client I do business with at his house when we heard a loud explosion, jumped in his truck
    and drove several blocks away to find a house that was leveled by a propane explosion. A car was parked in front of the house
    with motor still running. He had stopped to give the home owner a ride and went to the front door and either rang the door bell or opened
    the door and turned on the light switch. The driver of the car was blown from the porch and landed in the front yard of the house
    across the street. Never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it first hand, natural gas or propane explosions can be devastating
    depending on the fuel/air mix.
     
  25. John Torchick

    John Torchick

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    Water heaters or boilers can do the same thing. If the unit is old, the relief valve can stick.
     
  26. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    I have had bad experiences with relief valves......several industrial facilities I work at have some jumbo sized
    relief valves on the steam systems. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time when they go off you will
    crap your pants trying to get away from the sound and the vibrations caused by the steam releasing from the valve.
    You basically lose all of your motor functions and mental processing from the sensory overload when you are close
    to these valves when they go off. The release of steam is dangerous, but is confined to the valve discharge, the deafening
    noise and vibrations travel in every direction and distance is the only way to lower the intensity. Hearing protection like ear
    plugs and ear muffs are useless, the sound waves transmit directly into your skeletal system.
     
  27. Tom Albrecht

    Tom Albrecht

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    Although I have not yet assembled my burner components, I purchase a plug-in foot switch to activate the transformer as needed. That way, the transformer will only be powered when the footswitch is depressed.
     
  28. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Tom,

    Several people use the foot switch as a safety device for powering the transformer, just make sure you don't
    accidentally step on the foot switch at the wrong time. You can use an on/off switch that is clearly marked to
    indicate when power is on or off. Many of the transformers have a small LED indicator that shows when it is
    powered. A pilot lamp is a good way to indicate when the power is on, but some day the pilot lamp or LED lamp
    can also burn out giving a false indication of no power. I wear rubber gloves when using the equipment and take
    them off only after I have unplugged the power cord to the transformer.
     
  29. Tom Albrecht

    Tom Albrecht

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    I just finished making my own with parts from Amazon including the 3/4" phenolic rod, 1/4" brass rod, a neon transformer, and a foot pedal switch.
    Lichtenberg - 1.jpg Lichtenberg - 2.jpg
     
  30. Brad Bistritz

    Brad Bistritz

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    Tom, what kind of wire did you use????


     
  31. Tom Albrecht

    Tom Albrecht

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    This item:
    https://www.amazon.com/Allanson-SS1...ICH+35mA+12000v+Neon+Transformer+Power+Supply

    from Amazon, is prewired. It has a standard removable plug-in 110v power supply cord that I wired directly into a N.O. foot switch. I think I got the footswitch at Grainger, but it's nothing special and should be available all over. So, when it is not in use and on the shelf, the transformer is not wired to the power supply, and I keep the foot switch/power supply on a different shelf.

    Let me know if you have more questions.
     
  32. Zach LaPerriere

    Zach LaPerriere

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    That's why I left my hometown many years. Moving across town didn't seem far enough...

    Safety first.
     
  33. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Brad,

    You want/need to use a wire with insulation rated equal to or above the output voltage of the transformer.
    If you use a standard 600V insulation rated wire the higher voltage is strong enough to make it through
    the substandard insulation and provide a lethal shock. High Voltages will find the path of least resistance
    in an insulator and break it down over time. You might be able to use a substandard insulated wire for a
    short period of time until the high voltage breaks down the insulation at it's weakest point and it is only a
    matter of time before you touch the insulated wire and get shocked. This is why all electrical apparatus will
    fail, the insulation usually gets overheated and fails over time. Using the proper rated wire is required to make
    an adequate apparatus to use, but the wire could become damaged or could potentially have a fault in the
    insulation from the factory and could cause a shock while in use. This is why anyone working with these
    higher voltage systems should wear electrically rated gloves as a secondary point of protection. If you provide
    multiple layers of protection your risks are mitigated, Dry shoes & socks, a dry insulated work surface, insulated probe handles, high voltage insulated cables, high voltage rated gloves, each of these provide an increased level of safety when working with the high voltage apparatus.
     
    Tom Albrecht likes this.
  34. Bert Delisle

    Bert Delisle

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    I have to add my comments to this thread, in the interest of safety education. Recently the AAW administration, in my opinion, has taken a huge leap away from the very important role of education for the membership by condemning the embellishment technique using electricity. I agree with the comments that this technique can be dangerous but so is wood turning, in fact Woodturning is more dangerous due to the unknowns involved, poor wood, inclusions, poor glue-joints, things that can fly off and maime and or kill the unsuspecting novice and even the occasional seasoned turner. My point is that electricity does not have these hidden latent dangers, it is well documented how electrical systems work and they are consistent and repeatable and we even have regulatory bodies that spell out safety requirements for those working in industry. Now more to my point, no one has ever been eletrocuted by handling things that does not have power applied. Any system that suggests handling probes attachéd to a high voltage source, in my opinion, is dangerous. A system that addresses the hazards of unintended contact with energized components is where the education opportunity exists and I feel that the AAW, if the administrators truly want to help their membership, could help.
    I have watched many dangerous activities both on line and live demos that are very scary. In fact at the live demo I had to interrupt the presenter because I felt safety was not being properly addressed. Later the presenter of that demo thanked me and asked for assistance to address the safety concerns. We collaborated and designed a system that ensured the operator could not come in contact with the high voltage side of the transfomer wiring or probes when power is applied. We fitted the low voltage side with TWO momentary push button switches, this meant that the operator was engaged with applying power could not adjust a probe, if moving a probe the hand removed from the switch automatically cut of the power.
    All parts of the system we assembled were UL and CSA approved components, wires, switches, transformers, with no modifications. We added a Variac and a power monitor to the supply side. The only assembly required was to mount the push buttons into electrical boxes mounted on a board far enough apart so BOTH hands were required to turn power on. This assembly, we feel, makes the system much safer and prevents inadvertent power on events.
    In my opinion providing this type of education is more effective in reducing exposure to hazards than the AAW reaction of publicly condemning the lichtenburg technique as too dangerous for woodturners.
    I believe we are all responsible for our own safety, we all have varied levels of risk tolerance, some woodturners turn pieces with voids, (on purpose) there is no way to know when it may fly apart, only education component here is don't stand in line of fire. Good advice but hazard is till latent. With power systems turn it off before adjusting probes, hazard is mitigated.
     
  35. Owen Lowe

    Owen Lowe

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    I only skimmed the article but recall something to the effect that the AAW wouldn’t promote Lichtenberg until further safety measures were developed and disseminated. (Yes, there are a lot of risks with turning in general, but they are well known and widely advised; this technique is not and I’m sure the bottom line is that none of us want to see the AAW pulled into a lawsuit due to promoting something with scant safety measures in place.)

    It appears you have designed a way to safeguard the operator from the high voltage danger so that it is much safer to use for the average person. Just what the AAW is waiting for before promoting it in the pages and forum. How about you write up an article or collaborate with a writer to put something together? This would go far in furthering the technique and making it less controversial.
     
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  36. hockenbery

    hockenbery AAW Advisor Staff Member

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    @Bert Delisle I appreciate your viewpoint.
    I do disagree with you as to the realative risks. - I drop a skew chisle on my bare foot I will get cut. I might bleed to death but chances are on my side for surviving. I get hit it the head with a bowl I could die but chances of survival are pretty good.
    I touch two live electrodes I'm unlikely to survive.

    Your system seems to make it harder to touch live elctodes by mistake. However switches fail, wires get frayed, people trip,

    The article specifically addressed teaching fractal safety.
    "The AAW does not feel it has either the responsibility or the expertise to help develop adequate safety standards for Lichtenberg burning."

    For other readers this is the paragraph you take exception to:
    "Lichtenberg burning vs. other risks Since woodturning itself is inherently dangerous, some readers may question why the AAW has chosen to focus on the risks of Lichtenberg burning. Woodturning techniques have been developed over many, many years, allowing woodturners to learn a great deal about the things that put them at risk. That learning does not yet exist for Lichtenberg burning, which is quite new. While there are well-established procedures for handling high voltage and industry standards for the design of high-voltage electrical equipment, no specific safety standards exist for Lichtenberg burning, per se, and the use of high voltages related to decorative wood embellishing. In regard to the risks related to turning wood, most are fairly well known, if not obvious. Few turners are not aware of the dangers of flying wood objects, toxic wood dust and other harmful materials, as well as the need for adequate PPE. The risks from Lichtenberg burning, on the other hand, are largely hidden and the standards for personal protection poorly understood. Incorrect assumptions can easily lead to injury or death. Lichtenberg burning is not a core activity for the majority of woodturners; it is just one method of embellishing a turning or other wooden object. The AAW does not feel it has either the responsibility or the expertise to help develop adequate safety standards for Lichtenberg burning."
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
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  37. Bert Delisle

    Bert Delisle

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    I agree that this may not be a core activity however, for AAW suggesting that all clubs ignore the opportunity to learn about an engineered solution for safety with an emerging technology is counterproductive, in my opinion.
    From many years in industry where hazard identification and mitigation always posed challenges that required risk reduction, the first and best mitigation usually included an engineered solution, ( with Lichtenburg Power off before touching), if engineered solution was not practical then procedural mitigation, ( fails frequently as folks may not understand or follow procedure). Then as the Last Line of Defense use PPE. (Woodturners tend use PPE as primary, based on the multitude of learnings we hear about when wood events occur). Power off before touching is practical and could be encouraged.
    This safety approach can be applied to all kinds of tasks where equipment is used by humans with encouragement to consider the engineered solution over procedure and PPE. Microwave ovens automatically turn off if the door is opened (engineered solution)
    I think the point that is being missed by AAW administration in this particular activity is not the burning activity but more importantly the use of an electrical piece of equipment or power tool, turn off first then touch. Similar in thought to the suggestion that one should stop the lathe to look and feel the round, or stop the drill before trying to changie a bit. Education on use of tools is not AAW responsibility, it is the AAW responsibility to encourage the prospective user to educate themselves and become aware of the hazards that exist with any tool or piece of equipment.
    Stay safe and have fun, whatever your woodworking activity is.
     
  38. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    I use a high voltage transformer that has a built-in ground fault circuit protection built into the power supply.
    The power supply will shut off instantly with any amount of current imbalance registered on the circuit.
     
  39. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    What you call "instantly" is fast, but it isn't instantaneous. The time is probably on the order of milliseconds, but microseconds might be sufficient to be lethal. Basically, the ground fault condition has to exist before it can be detected and the circuit activated. Ground fault is only one possibility, but you can be electrocuted without there being a ground fault. As an EE who has some experience with EMP protection, I agree with Al. Developing electrical safety standards is way outside the capability of the AAW. I can't imagine the AAW taking any position other than the one that they did. However, they can only make recommendations. Any individual or club is free to do as they please. There are people smart enough to be safe, but plenty more who lack that essential knowledge. There aren't any warning signs like there is when a bowl is about to break loose.
     
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  40. Bert Delisle

    Bert Delisle

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    Owen your post is the first one I have seen that appears to recognize that there is a need for education. I am not a writer, however I do presentations for groups to raise awareness of the hazards and one way to protect oneself. Feedback from attendees has been great, many were very glad to see a system in action and with the accompanying narrative repeatedly pointing out the safety hazards, and how "power off" before touching increases user safety.
     
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