A video shared online has demonstrated a hugely impressive portrait of inventor Nikola Tesla, but the technique used to do it has been criticized for being dangerous, after various reports of incidents resulting in death. It might go without saying, but don’t try this at home.
Artist Zack Smithey posted his creation of Tesla using a technique called fractal wood burning to TikTok originally, but later shared it to Reddit Thursday, and has gained over 14,000 votes.
“That’s truly amazing,” wrote one user.
Smithey used the technique to create lightning-like burns on the wood, in the pattern of Tesla’s face. Tesla (1856-1943) is a world-renowned Serbian-American engineer and physicist who invented the first alternating current motor, electronic oscillators and the high-voltage transformer known as the Tesla coil among other things.
Fittingly, he once created man-made lightning with flashes measuring 41 meters (135 feet) in his Colorado laboratory.
“They better be using AC [alternating current] to make this,” wrote one user. Smithey confirmed in a comment that he didn’t actually use AC as the technique doesn’t work with it.
“If the person used DC [direct current] to make the portrait, Tesla would be roll over in the grave,” joked another user.
Although the portrait created by Smithey has been praised online for its preciseness and creativity, fractal burning has also drawn concern in the comments. The practice is heavily unsupported by the woodturning industry due to its incredible high risk factors.
Fractal wood burning involves applying an electrically conductive solution to wood before then applying high voltage electricity using two probes. The electricity then burns its way through the wood to meet one another, producing the lightning-like markings.
It might look cool, but it’s actually life-threateningly dangerous with reported deaths of even the most experienced woodworkers. The American Association of Woodturners has even completely banned the practice.
“I got zapped twice (only mildly annoying) but it wasn’t a full-power shock,” confirmed Smithey in a comment.
The generators used in the practice contain live accessible wiring components and are unsafe for use—whether they’re homemade ones, like Smithey’s screwdrivers with jumper cables, or bought. Reportedly, even pre-made bought ones often have fraudulent safety stickers.
As of July 2021, the American Association of Woodturners reported 30 instances of death from using fractal burners, but estimates the number to actually be far higher.
The safety issue was highlighted on Reddit, with users even narrating their own tragic experiences with it. “I should mention, a girl died doing this in my area when I was in high school. Dead on the spot. A local wood shop owner keeps a piece of her work around and tells people to just not f**k around with doing this.”
“I know someone who died doing this this year. He turned it off and went to remove the prongs, didn’t know the capacitors still had a charge in them,” wrote another.
Newsweek has contacted Smithey for comment.