Domesticating Plasma With A Gorgeous Live Edge Table

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for any length of time, you’ll know we don’t often cover woodworking projects here. It’s not because we aren’t impressed with the skill and effort that folks put into them, and truth be told, we occasionally we even feel a pang of envy when looking at the final result. It’s just that, you know…they’re made of wood.

But when [Jay Bowles] of Plasma Channel sent in this live edge wooden table that features not only a pair of custom-made neon tubes but the burned out transistors and ICs from his previous high-voltage exploits — we knew this wasn’t exactly your grandpa’s idea of woodworking. In fact, he wisely offloaded a lot of the dead tree cutting and shaping to the burly gentlemen at the local sawmill so he could better focus his efforts on the sparky bits.

At its core, he’s created what’s generally known as a “river table” — a surface made of two or more pieces of live edge wood (that is, a piece of lumber that features at least one uncut edge) that are linked via a band of colored epoxy which looks like flowing water. It’s not uncommon to embed stones or even fake fish in the epoxy to really sell the underwater effect, but this is Plasma Channel we’re talking about, so [Jay] had other ideas.

The first step was hitting up a local neon supplier who could fabricate a pair of neon tubes which roughly followed the shape of his epoxy river. While he was waiting for them to be finished, [Jay] played around with a clever experimental rig that let him determine how thick he could pour the epoxy over the tubes before he lost the capacitive coupling effect he was going for. By embedding a short length of neon tube off-center in a block of epoxy, he could see how the thickness impacted his ability to manipulate the plasma with a wave of his hand just by flipping it over.

With the tube placed on clear standoffs, he was able to position it at the ideal depth for the final epoxy pours. It was around this time that he scattered the remains of his previous projects on the “bottom” of the river, so they can spend the rest of their days looking up at his latest technical triumph. We’re not sure if this is to punish the fallen silicon for giving up early or to honor their sacrifice in the name of progress, but in either event, we respect anyone who keeps a jar of blown components laying around for ritualistic applications.

Once the table was assembled, all that was left was to power the thing. Given his previous projects, [Jay] had no shortage of existing HV supplies to try out. But not being satisfied with anything in the back catalog, he ended up building a new supply that manages to pump out the required amount of juice while remaining silent (to human ears, at least). The unit is powered by a battery pack cleverly embedded into the legs of the table, and is easy to fiddle with thanks to a pulse-width modulation (PWM) module wired hooked to the input. All the components were then held in place with a wide array of custom brackets courtesy of his newly arrived 3D printer.

There’s a lot to love about this project, and more than a few lessons learned. Whether you’re interested in recreating the Tron-like effect of the neon tubes, or have been contemplating your own epoxy-pour worktable and want to see how a first-timer tackles it, this video is a great resource.

16 thoughts on “Domesticating Plasma With A Gorgeous Live Edge Table

    1. Combustible material combined with electric discharge tubes? No thank you.

      Let’s also add in some epoxy so we can make sure it has some Bisphenol A right where you physically touch it and put things as well. Sigh.

      1. Epoxy has BPA? Huh. I should have known this already. I always did kind of dislike the trend of putting your wooden furniture inside a cube of epoxy. Seems tacky. Just let the wood be wood ffs

        1. Ok. So use ceramic or silicone or polyimides instead? Or just don’t be in direct contact with a table made entirely out of chips and PCBs for hours a day?

          The issue isn’t so much the material itself being detrimental to health but the repeated contact one has with it. When you have a desk, you use it. You put things on it. Food or beverage. This is not a food grade material. You might even sit in front of it for most of the day, directly in contact with it for years. That’s when it becomes more of an issue.

          Asbestos is (somewhat) ok as long as you don’t interact with it, directly or indirectly. Meaning it just sits there, say it was essentially sealed. Asbestos is NOT ok if you are breathing it in or it is being kicked up or you make a desk out of it. Same goes here.

          It’s on the outside of a piece of furniture. That’s the issue.

          This desk is a neat idea, it just needs to use better quality materials. Which you can actually do and actually yields a healthier product. It just costs more and isn’t made out of wood (or MDF) or BPA (or BPF).

      2. Not all epoxy has BPA in it*. Totalboat’s Table Top formula, ArtResin, etc are all certified BPA free, just for a couple quick examples.

        But this was a good reminder that I do need to double check the clear deep pour stuff I have, since I can’t remember which brand right now.

        Anyway, the use here of neon for the sake of the capacitive effects was… really actually beautiful and neat. Normally I’d be quick to point out that COB LED strips have been becoming available in increasingly thinner options for this type of project, but doing this in order to be able to play with the capacitive coupling effects for an entirely analog manual “control” effect is beyond worth it to me, that’s so fun and satisfying!

        Addressable strips of LEDs can do neat things, and certainly different things, but you’d never quite get the same outcomes as this, aesthetically and otherwise.

        *We could of course get into details on what “BPA free” does and doesn’t actually mean in terms of PPM, etc, but honestly it’s low enough that there’s other things that are far higher risk. Most people I know don’t slap food down on their table surfaces and then lick it off, but with that said it does sound like a certain kind of fun dinner party.

        1. Totalboat needs to get their MSDS in order, then; because the TableTop part A lists “approx 85% CAS 25068-38-6” which is Bisphenol-A.

          Just pulled this from their website. I don’t know which is worse, legally: claiming to be “BPA free” without being, or having bad safety data.

    2. Civilizations have been constructing *hacks* with wood a lot longer than almost any other material. Some of theses prehistoric hacks include, discovering fire and inventing the wheel. ;-)

  1. Damn that’s a nice looking table. I appreciate that he didn’t go overboard with the neon, just a touch to make it unique.

    Practically speaking, will be interesting to see how it does long-term. Like are there any concerns with expansion and contraction here?

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