Techniques for how I learned about controlling the Lichtenberg Burns can be found here:
or under my profile!
I was gifted a build your own guitar kit a long, long time ago and was always held up by how to finish it. I've had this guitar for at least 10 years now and have yet to find a way I wanted to decorate it until recently! While browsing Youtube I found a video with a guy burning cool fractal designs into wood using a device called a Lichtenberg Wood Burner. These devices output between 2500 - 10000 volts of electricity using microwave transformers wired together. This means to do this project you MUST use EXTREME CAUTION if you build and use this device. I have not created an instructable on how to build the Lichtenberg Wood Bruner, but if you guys would like me to create one drop a line in the comments and if I get enough hype on it I totally will!
This project I'm doing is starting with burning the designs in the bare wood all the way to filling the burns with resin and finishing the guitar. Don't forget to vote for me if you like what I did!
Step 1: Materials
What I used in this project w/ Affiliate Links (some models under the links may be the updated model to mine)
1. Hammer - https://amzn.to/2JrKQQw
2. Palm Sander (not exclusively needed) - https://amzn.to/2Dd1u6e
3. Journeyman's Gloves - https://amzn.to/2DdKrkn
4. 5 Gallon Bucket (just used as an insulated stand) - https://amzn.to/2RoqTg9
5. Power Strip - https://amzn.to/2RmmfPR
6. Box Fan - https://amzn.to/2PtmACZ
7. Sandpaper from 80 grit to 2000 grit
8. Resin - https://amzn.to/2Jsh0vl
10. Syringes - https://amzn.to/2StxE1A
11. Mica Powder
a. Blue Powder - https://amzn.to/2DdFAzB
b. Yellow Powder - https://amzn.to/2DbX9jD
c. Luminescent Powder - https://amzn.to/2RqOH36
12. Popsicle Sticks - https://amzn.to/2Q7rYsH
13. Latex Gloves - https://amzn.to/2qhmyzI
14. Wipe on Polyurethane - https://amzn.to/2Sx30EE
15. Wood Stain (colour of your choice) - https://amzn.to/2RnFNmU
17. Rotary Tool w/ Bits
a. Dremel - https://amzn.to/2DdB83M
b. Engraving Kit - https://amzn.to/2DbXEKn
18. Hot Glue Gun w/ Glue Sticks - https://amzn.to/2DamJpj
19. Air Compressor - https://amzn.to/2Rs1VN3
20. Denatured Alcohol - https://amzn.to/2Q70jrA
21. Jello Shot Cups - https://amzn.to/2StyNq5
22. Thermometer - https://amzn.to/2DdLOzC
23. Moldable Wire
24. Safety Glasses - https://amzn.to/2DcXOkD
25. Paint Brushes - https://amzn.to/2Dd4KhY
26. Foam Brushes - https://amzn.to/2OgnSfM
27. Baking Soda - https://amzn.to/2Q7q5fi
28. Wood Bleach - https://amzn.to/2RnIy7K
30. Toothbrush - https://amzn.to/2Q1xpJs
31. Duct Tape - https://amzn.to/2Rs3kDj
32. Ratio Mixing Cups - https://amzn.to/2qjCaTF
33. Large Tub
34. Vegetable Oil - https://amzn.to/2Q5evl1
35. Linseed Oil - https://amzn.to/2RnIQeQ
36. Nail File - https://amzn.to/2DdeWXJ
37. Steel Wool - https://amzn.to/2Rjrxve
38. Wire Brush - https://amzn.to/2qjnG61
Step 2: Burning the Wood
Materials Used in this step:
To start this whole process we will need to burn the fractal designs into the guitar using a Lichtenberg Wood Burning machine. Aside from the machine, you will need these items for this part of the project:
1. Baking Soda
3. 5 Gallon Bucket (used as an insulated stool)
4. Box Fan
5. Power Strip
6. Safety Glasses
7. Journeyman's Gloves
10. Paint Brush
11. Wire Brush
12. Vegetable Oil
Mixing the Electrolytic Solution
To start we will grab our bowl and add 4TBS of baking soda and 4C of water. Mix the solution until cloudy and mix every time you have to come back to it if you have baking soda in the bottom of the bowl.
Setting up the Work Area
Next, we will set up our work area. You will need a table to place your Lichtenberg Wood Burning machine on the edge of a table and plug it into your power strip. We are placing the machine on the edge of the table so our jumper cables can reach the wood.
Approximately 3-5ft in front of the table place your wooden bucket and the piece of the guitar you're getting ready to burn on top.
Place your box fan in a suitable area where it is both out of the way, but can provide enough coverage over the surface area of the wood being burned and don't forget to plug it into the power strip!
Prepping the Wood
Now it's time to prep the wood for burning! We will need to hammer in nails to act as nodes to place our jumper cables. I hammered in approximately 6/7 nails on the sides of the guitar, 6 on the front of the guitar, and as needed on the back of the guitar.
Once the nails are in and the guitar is placed on the 5-gallon bucket you can take your paint brush and your baking soda solution on the area you would like to start to burn. I decided to start on the sides of the guitar and wet the areas between the first 2 nails.
Dawn the Gear and Burn!
Once saturated you can put on your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the journeyman's gloves and safety glasses. Once fully protected you can connect your jumper cables to the first 2 nodes and turn on your wood burning machine!
Protecting the Neck
When I got to the neck of the guitar to burn, I coated the fretboard in vegetable oil to help prevent the water from burning it. I only applied one thick coat and had mild success (had a few small burns make it onto the fretboard) and would recommend recoating every 5 to 10 minutes to help mitigate burning the fretboard even more.
Cleaning the Burn
After successfully burning your wood you will need to run it under some water and use your wire brush to scrape out all of the dust and burned wood. This will help to define details and give you more room when it comes time to resin, it also helps with lightening the colour a little bit.
During this, I found the guitar was made of extremely hard wood. This resulted in very slow burnings and I ended up having to leave the machine on and pour on the baking soda solution. THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED AND IS VERY DANGEROUS! Overall though the burns I got were amazing looking!
Step 3: Wood Bleaching, Sanding, and Staining
Materials used in this step:
1. Wood Bleach
3. Palm Sander
4. Sandpaper 80 grit to 220 grit
5. Wood Stain (colour of your choice)
7. Safety Glasses
8. Denatured Alcohol
Wood bleaching is pretty simple, I only bleach the areas that kept a flame longer than I would have liked or could control and covers too much of the detail in the wood.
To Bleach you will need oxalic acid. you mix 1 heaping TBS per 1 qt of hot water and apply to desired areas with a scrub brush. I ended up using a toothbrush because it has a smaller head and is easier to use. You apply with the scrub brush every 10 minutes until desired lightness is achieved. After desired lightness is achieved you will rinse and scrub thoroughly to ensure all acid is removed from the surface of the wood.
Sanding and Staining
Before I stain the wood I will sand it up to 220 grits. This is so when I sand down the resin later I will only lighten the stain minimally.
I use my palm sander to the hard work and sand the wood from 80 grit all the way up to 220 grit. Once completed I set up the guitar to be stained. To set up my wood I hung wire from the metal beam the garage door follows. Since my wire wasn't long enough I also had to use these metal gas pipe clips to make a chain and suspend the neck and body of my guitar at a suitable height. After achieving a desirable height I popped the lid of my stain, dipped my brush and applied the first coat. After an hour I applied a second coat and achieved the colour I wanted.
To stain you just need to find a colour you like and apply every hour until the desired colour is achieved. You can purchase different coloured stains and paint as desired. For this project, I will only be using stain and 1 colour at that.
Painting the wood can be tricky, if you wish to do this I recommend using acrylic paint with a roller and foam brushes for large areas to help keep the paint out of the burns. After large areas are coated I would then use tiny brushes for more detailed work. I have not done this, but this is how I would start and experiment.
I don't know how the stain would affect the resin if you did resin first then stained. You can squeegee resin off so you don't have to sand, but I found this can cause divits in the resin dues to sinking in. I prefer to coat in excess and sand off to prevent this a much as I can.
Step 4: Resin
Materials used in this step:
2. Mica Powder
3. Popsicle Sticks
5. Denatured Alcohol
6. Duct Tape
8. Jello Shot Cups
9. Ratio Mixing Cups
10. Safety Glasses
11. Latex Gloves
12. Palm Sander
13. Sandpaper 80 grit to 1500 grit
14. Rotary Tool w/ Bits (only needed if resin doesn't cure)
15. Hot Glue Gun
17. Large Tub
Lesson Learned Resin Application
The resin can be tricky to work with especially on objects such as guitars. This is because it starts out as a 2 part liquid which over time solidifies into a hard durable substance. In short, the guitar has a lot of curves and angles in which the resin can run off. First I attempted to solve this using duct tape and masking off areas I didn't want resin getting into as well as building small walls to hold the resin in place as needed.
The big lesson that I learned during this part of the project are:
ALWAYS OVER MIX YOUR RESIN!!!!
I wanted to put that lesson at the beginning so prior to us mixing our resin it's in our heads! I had an issue with my second installment of resin where it didn't completely harden and became this very tacky surface. Obviously, this is not what you want, you want a nice smooth hard glossy surface. All in all after letting it sit for a couple days and realizing it wasn't going to harden I was forced to remove the resin from the burns. During this removal process, I learned that this tacky resin doesn't like to be sanded and for the most part smears, everywhere. There was no easy way to combat this, if you run into this problem you're going to have to sand the surface smooth then use a series of rotary tool bits (I used the small ball head bits) to get inside the burns. All in all, I ended up lightening some of the burns marks some more, but most if not all of the damage was mitigated. This was a huge pain, just mix your resin well!
Prepping the wood
Okay now to get into the next lesson I learned about prepping the wood! So as stated above I started with duct tape with pretty mild success, but found that hot glue allows for much better control and is mildly easy to remove from the resin once hardened! It is recommended to outline, dam up, and build levy's to hold in the resin in area's that have lower profiles and collect resin. This will allow you to put enough resin in the burn to create a near even layer even though you're fighting gravity, it requires a bit more sanding at the end, but makes for much better resin placement and far less runoff!
Mixing Resin and Pigment Powders
After you have prepped your wood and dammed up what you needed we're ready to mix the resin. I found smaller batches of resin worked the best and that little does go a long way. I generally mixed 50ml of part A and 50ml of part B (my resin is a 1:1 ratio) for a total of 100ml of resin. Once mixed thoroughly I set up 3 jello shot cups and place a tiny bit of mica powder in the bottom of the cups. I'm using a pearl yellow, a translucent yellow, a pearl blue, a clear dark blue, and a clear light blue. When it comes to the mica powder less is more, I only add extra of the photoluminescent powders to give a stronger glow. I'm combining my yellow powders together and my dark blue powder with my pearl blue powder together. This way all three colour combinations have a glow in the dark capability.
Once my powders are added I pour the resin into the jello cups approximately half way up the cup and mix my powders in just as thoroughly as I mixed the resin parts together. This is where the syringes come in. For better and more controlled application I use syringes to apply the resin to the burns. After filling my 3 syringes I generally lay the resin in a |yellow|blue|clear| pattern until the resin slightly overflows from the burns. My thoughts on this pattern is that I'm creating little rivers, so the gold is the dirt, the blue is the deep water, and the clear is the top water. The clear also helps to create more definition and depth to the blue and yellow colours, I really like how it turned out in my test projects so I kept too it.
Alrighty, it took a total of 6 resin applications to completely fill the guitar! 1 extra than needed because I screwed up 1 of the pours. Once your resin is completely cured and hard to the touch (I found 5 to 6 hours to be a good wait) we can sand!
Lesson Learned Staining Edition
So here's the next lesson that I learned:
Hardwood sucks at soaking in stain in depth.
During my practice projects, I was using plywood which I stained then sanded and got awesome results of half-faded half stained look which I loved! With the hardwood of the guitar, this was not the case. When fixing my resin screw up I found that I was not going to be able to save the stain from the sanding like I thought I would be able to do.
With that being said I sanded down all the resin using 80 grit sandpaper and my palm sander following the curves of the guitar to shape the resin back into proper placement. Then I stepped up to 120 and then 220 with my palm sander making sure I was following the grain of the wood and continuing the last little bit of resin clean up.
Once I could no longer use my palm sander I filled a big tub full of water, grabbed my toothbrush, and scrubbed all the dust out of the cracks and crevices of the guitar. I repeated this process as I stepped up my sanding from 320 grit, 400 grit, 800 grit, 1000 grit, and 1500 grit sand paper. Once I reached 800 grit sandpaper though everything could be wet sanded.
Step 5: Note on the Neck
Materials used in this step:
1. Nail File
2. Steel Wool (medium)
3. Linseed Oil
A lot has been learned
A little late on learning that car wax is a great substance to use to coat areas where you don't want resin to stick too... so I got resin on the edges of my fretboard. To clean up this disaster I used a nail large nail file and steel wool. I used the nail file to get the big bulbous areas and areas on the frets that were covered, this worked well, but due to sanding the fretboard became discoloured. I then used the steel wool to get rid of the scratches from the file and to help even out the entire fretboards colour. This really smoothed out the fretboard and gave it a much nicer feel, it did make it look very very dried out though... This is where the Linseed oil comes in! After reading various guitar forums I came to the conclusion that Linseed oil is a great oil to help finish and restore fretboards.
Step 6: Finishing the Guitar
Materials used in this step:
1. Wipe-On Polyurethane
2. Sandpaper 1500 grit to 2000 grit
4. Stain (colour of your choice)
5. Foam Brush
After screwing up my first coat of stain I decided to restain the guitar. To do this I followed the same process as before, I hung my guitar pieces up on wire and foam brushed on the stain. After an hour I could apply the wipe-on poly.
Wipe-On Polyurethane Application
To apply the first coat of poly I grabbed my 1500 grit sandpaper and sanded it in. This is so the poly and the dust can help seal up the pores and create a more even smooth surface. After about 5 minutes or so I sanded in the second coat of poly the same way I did the first. Now after waiting 30 to 45 minutes I gave the guitar a light sanding at 2000 grit and gently wiped on the poly with my cloth. Then I waited for 3 to 4 hours, lightly sanded and wiped on another coat.
You can apply as many coats as you would like to seal and get the glossy shine to where it fits best. I decided (due to time) that this was plenty of coats and sanded one last time then began the assembly of the guitar.