Fractal Burning: How This Dangerous TikTok Trend Is Costing Lives

flare of fire on wood with black smokes

If your kids love watching trending videos on TikTok, make sure they don’t attempt any fractal burning challenges. Here’s why!


by Bash Sarmiento | Bash Sarmiento is a writer and an educator from Manila. He writes laconic pieces in the education, lifestyle and health realms. His academic background and extensive experience in teaching, textbook evaluation, business management and traveling are translated in his works. Follow him @bashsarmiento.

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On April 6, 2022, a Wisconsin couple attempted a trending TikTok challenge so they could make something amazing from the internet. The challenge called for people to try fractal burning–a woodworking technique that has gone viral. But people are dying left and right attempting this dangerous challenge, and it’s because they don’t know how fast things could turn fatal.

Fractal burning is one of the coolest woodworking projects you can do—if you’re a professional. If not, you’re putting yourself in a whirlwind of trouble. Here’s everything you need to know about fractal burning, how it works, why it’s dangerous, and why TikTok doesn’t care about your safety.

Let’s dive into this trending phenomenon, so you can keep your kids safe!

What is Fractal Burning And How Does It Work?

Fractal burning is the process of etching a piece of wood to create fractal patterns on the surface. These patterns, called Lichtenberg figures, look similar to lightning, burning the surface of the wood. While this wood-burning technique is relatively new and offers phenomenal results, its dangers far outweigh its use.

So, how does fractal burning work?

The entire process is sounds relatively simple. You start by choosing a piece of unblemished wood, then treat it with an electrolyte solution, many of which use baking soda and water. You can use probes to start the etching process as you wash the wood with the solution.

There are dedicated Lichtenberg figure wood burning devices that offer several safety precautions. For example, a Lichtenberg device will have a safety pedal to give you maximum control. This also reduces the risk of electrocution as you need to put your foot on the pedal itself.

As you stick in the probes and initiate the burning process, electricity will start to flow through the wood. High voltages will travel through the wood grain, looking for the path of least resistance. The electrolyte solution will allow the electricity to move through the wood and eventually meet with each other.

Once the process starts, it could take seconds to several minutes to complete. Once the wood burning process is finished, you will have a beautifully burnt plank of wood that you can wash, treat, and put on display.

Why Fractal Burning Can Be Fatal

Now that you know how fractal burning works, let’s analyze why this trend so dangerous. To do that, let’s ask the important question, “How did it come to a point where it killed two people in a house fire?”

The answer is in how people rig their devices. One of the critical issues with the TikTok challenge is people jerry-rigging their own Lichtenberg devices. While Lichtenberg devices utilize safety features, they are also expensive. The problem starts when people try to build the device for themselves.

Some Lichtenberg devices use a stripped-out microwave oven or a car battery as a power source. While professionals can utilize these, the average citizen does not know how to insulate such power sources. These tend to be unsafe, as they are not rated to do jobs like fractal burning.

Though many people don’t understand the dangers of the process, using high voltages is no joke. At least 33 people died from fractal burning since 2016. The deaths range from DIY rookies to electrical professionals.

Even with proper equipment, it can be challenging to do fractal burning without having safety precautions in place. The dangerous combination of water, high-voltage electricity, and fire make it highly fatal.

Dangerous Attempts With Fractal Burning On TikTok And More

Fractal burning has become a viral trend on TikTok in recent years, but this also coincides with the rise of deaths from the process. Much like the Tide pods and the cinnamon challenge once trending, fractal burning challenges are fatal because of people’s uninformed process.

Using a microwave oven as a power supply is extremely dangers as most don’t have the necessary cut-off to prevent electrocution. Many deaths related to fractal burning come from electrocution, and for a reason—many DIY Lichtenberg devices use high voltages of electricity to penetrate and burn through the wood.

Electrocution via faulty wirings, wet surroundings, or accidentally touching the probes can be fatal. In some cases, probes made of drill bits can explode into pieces due to their extreme load, resulting in injuries. The lack of safety equipment, including gloves, rubber shoes, and eye safety, can cause wayward injuries, too.

While TikTok videos make the entire process seems easy, the chaotic nature of social media makes it the perfect breeding ground for anyone to try dangerous trends like these. There are thousands of videos showcasing how mesmerizing this craft is, but the short and imprecise nature of the tutorials lead to people overestimating their skills, while also not becoming aware of the severe dangers.

In May of 2020, a man aged 35 from Milton, Indiana, died trying to attempt this process for the first time. The death came after he and his wife had watched video tutorials on social media. The wife stated that her husband would have never tried this process if warnings were placed on the videos about the dangers. Just two months later in Utica, Michigan, another harmful fractal burning accident happened, resulting in severely injuring two teenagers and a grandmother.

TikTok Responding To Fractal Burning Accidents And Other Trends

TikTok has kept its silence regarding fractal burning accidents on their platforms. The truth is that while many users are posting their dangerous viral videos, no one working on the social media platform care. Instead, they’re allowing users to use the platform to show off their skills. These videos are flooding the feeds of millions of people, kids, and teens, around the world attracting more people to the dangerous trend. 

Furthermore, despite warnings from experts, the creators and users of these sites are still attempting the process. Social media continues to encourage the sharing of these videos, making them viral in the process. In addition, TikTok has not placed any warning labels on any of the fractal burning or fractal wood burning videos. If you search TikTok for these videos, the most popular will still pop up and there is no warning for people to avoid trying this trend.

The only thing TikTok did do was expand its policies regarding dangerous and questionable challenges. However, these policies mean nothing to the average audience, apart from TikTok covering itself from potential lawsuits.

The Takeaway

Fractal burning may be a sensational art form that results in stunning pieces of work, but it is extremely dangerous and should be handled by professionals, not the average TikTok user.

And while people are waiting for TikTok to take charge in creating warnings for all harmful or dangerous videos, it should not be expected. The best action any person can take is to avoid trying anything that could potentially end fatally.


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