Do you want to electrify wood using a battery charger but need help figuring out how to do it safely?
You might not even know that it is possible to electrify wood, given that wood is a well-known insulator. Not only is it possible, but I will show you exactly how to do it with step-by-step instructions. It’s easy to electrify wood with a battery charger; you only need three additional items.
Embed a metal nail at each end of the wood, attach one of the two alligator clips to each nail, and connect the wire’s other end to the charger. Plug the charger into an outlet, and switch the power on when ready. The wood will now be electrified.
The nature of this project means you must take extra safety precautions. I’ve mentioned them in this article, along with details of how you can electrify wood usefully to create patterns in a procedure called ‘Lichtenberg wood burning.’
You will need the following items to electrify wood using a battery charger:
- Piece of wood (to be electrified; must be dry)
- Battery charger (as one of several possible power sources)
- A pair of metal nails or rods
- Sandpaper (to smoothen the surface)
- Alligator clips (one pair)
If you need to cut the wood, even one about the size of a popsicle stick wood does. Otherwise, cut it to any larger desired size. You can also use two separate pieces, one each for the two terminals, and place them apart.
Personal safety is always paramount when working with electricity.
Read the safety section further below to be alert of potential dangers.
Here’s the method to electrify wood with a battery charger.
Step 1: Smoothen the Wood
Use the sandpaper to first smoothen the wood’s surface.
This is helpful because it will create a better connection between the alligator clips and the wood.
Step 2: Embed the Nails
Embed the nails or metal rods to which you will attach the alligator clips. Embed one at each end, as shown in the picture below.
Step 3: Attach the Clips
Once the surface of the wood is smooth, attach the alligator clips to each end.
Step 4: Connect the Battery
Attach the wires to the battery when the alligator clips are secure at each end.
Attach the red alligator clip’s wire to the charger’s live connector and the black clip’s wire to the neutral one. It doesn’t matter where you attach each clip, but this is how you normally adhere to the color scheme.
Only plug the charger into an outlet when the rest of the setup is ready. When you switch on the charger, you will see sparks. It may take a short while before you see them.
That’s all there is to it. The wood is now electrified.
How Does it Work?
If you’re wondering how you managed to get the wood electrified, I explain it here.
The process works by electrostatic induction. It happens whenever you pass electrical current through a conductor because the passing of current generates an electromagnetic field around the conductor.
The electromagnetic field then induces current to flow through a nearby conductor within that field’s influence. So, although the wood itself doesn’t conduct electricity, the electromagnetic field around it induces a current in a nearby conductor.
The principle of electromagnetic induction can also be applied to other materials, so you might ask, why wood?
You can also use other materials, but wood is easily available and easy to work with for DIY projects.
Also, importantly, wood is not conducive. If you used a conductor instead, you would have to be extra careful not to touch it.
Other Ways to Do It
You can easily adapt the above method to other situations to suit your need.
For instance, you can use any one of the following power sources instead of a battery charger:
- Electric fence charger – cheap but may not be so effective
- Stun gun or taser – expensive but powerful
- A high-voltage power supply is the most costly but gives the best control over the voltage level.
You can also use other materials besides using a conducting wire. For instance, you can use:
- Copper tape has a conductive backing that allows electricity to flow through it.
- Carbon paint is conductive and can be applied directly on the surface, but you must wait for it to dry before using it.
- Electroplating – This is a good permanent solution. It involves using chemicals to coat the surface with a metallic substance. It will make the surface conductive and allow you to solder electrical components onto it.
Some potential dangers are present when doing this project:
The risk of electrical shock is always present whenever working with electricity.
Ensure the alligator clips and the wire connecting them to the power source are properly insulated to minimize this risk.
Also, if using an alternative means for the current to flow, don’t apply or paint it over the entire wood; only along a straight path between the clip ends.
Damage to the Battery Charger
Using a battery charger in this project could deteriorate its performance and life and damage it permanently.
So it’s best to use only a spare charger lying around. Otherwise, be aware that you might not be able to use the battery charger for its normal purpose again.
Fire risk is also present, especially if the wood is damp.
Only use dry wood in this project. If the wood catches fire, you know that wood burns easily. To be safe, have an extinguisher on hand to put out a fire in case it happens. You can also surround the wood with something that would prevent the fire from spreading, such as stones or bricks.
Remember to keep flammable materials away from the alligator clips.
Keeping the above in mind, here’s a rundown of basic safety precautions you should take in this project:
- Use only dry wood.
- Use only insulated clips and wire.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Surround the wood with stones or bricks.
You can also be extra careful and wear safety goggles and fireproof gloves.
There are a couple of related projects to electrifying wood. In both of them, we deliberately attempt to burn the wood, albeit in a controlled way and for a specific purpose.
Lichtenberg Wood Burning
Lichtenberg wood burning is a method to create a unique design and decorate a piece of wood.
The method is named after George Christopher Lichtenberg, who described it in detail. We only burn the wood until we achieve and create a special design. Otherwise, the requirements and procedures are similar.
Clear a space for the burning. Since we’re going to burn the wood intentionally, and it could catch fire, you need to be extra careful and take all the necessary safety precautions. In particular:
- Only work with dry wood, as damp wood will be more difficult to control.
- Remove any objects from the area that may catch fire (other than the wood itself).
- Surround the wood with stones or bricks to prevent the fire from spreading.
- Have a fire extinguisher on standby.
As soon as you see smoke, fan the wood or blow on it but keep a close eye in case it develops into a fire. It would be best to control the smoke so it spreads without getting too concentrated in one place and causing a fire.
The sparks will create a beautiful pattern. When you are satisfied with it, switch the charger off. Immediately disconnect it when done.
Random Wood Burning
Whereas Lichtenberg wood burning is meant to create a pattern, you can also continue burning the wood in a more uncontrolled way.
By doing so, you will get random and more extensive burning. If that’s what you want, for whatever reason, you can electrify and burn the wood this way.
Since it’s more uncontrolled and random, you must be even more safety conscious. Read the section on safety precautions again and take all necessary steps to be safe.
Lichtenberg wood burning: https://www.etsy.com/listing/719724752/unfinished-lichtenberg-fractal-burned.
Electrified wood by using a battery charger: https://greencoin.life/how-to/burn/wood-with-a-battery-charger/.
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