Before deciding whether the headline of this article is clickbait, please take a moment to watch the excellent video by [BigClive] below the break. And then, go to your local search engine and search the phrase “fractal burning death”. We’ll wait.
With that out of the way, we have to admit that when we saw the subject “The most deadly project on the Internet” on [bigclivedotcom]’s YouTube channel, we were a bit skeptical. It’s a big claim. But then we watched the video and did some googling. Sadly, there are over 30 documented cases of this project killing people, and more cases of permanent grievous injury.
Fractal Burning is a hobby where wood is burned by slathering wood in a conductive slurry and then applying high voltage to either side of the wood, usually using something not rated for high voltage, such as jumper cables. The High Voltage is supplied by an unmodified Microwave Oven Transformer. Other projects using MOT’s typically rip out the high voltage secondary windings and re-wind them as low voltage, high amperage transformers, and are using in Spot Welders and even arc welders.
As laid out by [BigClive], the voltages coming from an unmodified MOT, ranging from 2-3 KV (That’s between two and three thousand Volts) at a very low impedance are right up there in the “Don’t go near it!” territory.
On the face of it, a spot welder is a simple device. If you dump enough current through two pieces of metal very quickly, they’ll heat up enough to melt and fuse together. But as with many things, the devil is in the details, and building a proper spot welder can be as much about addressing those details as seeing to the basics.
We haven’t featured anything from our friends over at [Make It Extreme], where they’re as much about building tools as they are about using them to build other things, if not more so. We expect, though, that this sturdy-looking spot welder will show up in a future video, because it really looks the business, and seems to work really well. The electronics are deceptively simple — just rewound microwave oven transformers and a simple timer switch to control the current pulse. What’s neat is that they used a pair of transformers to boost the current considerably — they reckon the current at 1,000 A, making the machine capable of welding stock up to 4 mm thick.
With the electrical end worked out, the rest of the build concentrated on the housing. A key to good-quality spot welds is solid physical pressure between the electrodes, which is provided by a leverage-compounding linkage as well as the long, solid-copper electrodes. We’ve got to say that the sweep of the locking handle looks very ergonomic, and we like the way closing down the handle activates the current pulse. Extra points for the carbon-fiber look on the finished version. The video below shows the build and a demo of what it can do.
State-of-the-art welding machines aren’t cheap, and for good reason: pushing around that much current in a controlled way and doing it over an entire workday takes some heavy-duty parts. There are bargains to be found, though, especially in the most basic of machines: AC stick welders. The familiar and aptly named “tombstone” welders can do the business, and they’re a great tool to learn how to lay a bead.
Tombstones are not without their drawbacks, though, and while others might buy a different welder when bumping up against those limits, [Greg Hildstrom] decided to hack his AC stick welder into an AC/DC welder with TIG. He details the panoply of mods he made to the welder, from a new 50 A cordset made from three extension cords where all three 12 gauge wires in each cord are connected together to make much larger effective conductors, to adding rectifiers and a choke made from the frame of a microwave oven transformer to produce DC output at the full 225 A rating. By the end of the project the tombstone was chock full of hacks, including a homemade foot pedal for voltage control, new industry-standard connectors for everything, and with the help of a vintage Lincoln “Hi-Freq” controller, support for TIG, or tungsten inert gas welding. His blog post shows some of the many test beads he’s put down with the machine, and the video playlist linked below shows highlights of the build.
This isn’t [Greg]’s first foray into the world of hot metal. A few years back we covered his electric arc furnace build, powered by another, more capable welder.
You’ll no doubt recall [Mark Presling]’s remarkably polished and professional spot welder build that we featured some time ago. It’s a beauty, with a lot of thought and effort put into not only the fit and finish but the function as well. Still, [Mark] was not satisfied; he felt that the welder was a little underpowered, and the rewound microwave oven transformer was too noisy. Taking inspiration from an old industrial spot welder, he decided to rebuild the transformer by swapping the double loop of battery cable typically used as a secondary with a single loop of thick copper stock. Lacking the proper sized bar, though, he laminated multiple thin copper sheets together before forming the loop. On paper, the new secondary’s higher cross-sectional area should carry more current, but in practice, he saw no difference in the weld current or his results. It wasn’t all bad news, though — the welder is nearly silent now, and the replaced secondary windings were probably a safety issue anyway, since the cable insulation had started to melt.
Given [Mark]’s obvious attention to detail, we have no doubt he’ll be tackling this again, and that he’ll eventually solve the problem. What suggestions would you make? Where did the upgrade go wrong? Was it the use of a laminated secondary rather than solid bar stock? Or perhaps this is the best this MOT can do? Sound off in the comments section.
Microwave oven transformer spot welder builds are about as common as Nixie tube clocks around here. But this spot welder is anything but common, and it has some great lessons about manufacturing techniques and how to achieve a next level look.
Far warning that [Mark Presling] has devoted no fewer than five videos to this build. You can find a playlist on his YouTube channel, and every one of them is well worth the time. The videos covering the meat of what went into this thing of beauty are below. The guts are pretty much what you expect from a spot welder — rewound MOT and a pulse timer — but the real treat is the metalwork. All the very robust parts for the jaws of the welder were sand cast in aluminum using 3D-printed patterns, machined to final dimensions, and powder coated. [Mark] gives an excellent primer on creating patterns in CAD, including how to compensate for shrinkage and make allowance for draft. There are tons of tips to glean from these videos, and plenty of inspiration for anyone looking to achieve a professional fit and finish.
In the past half-century, lasers have gone from expensive physics experiments using rods of ruby to cheap cutting or engraving tools, and toys used to tease cats. Advances in physics made it all possible, but it turns out that ruby lasers are still a lot of fun to play with, if you can do it without killing yourself.
With a setup that looks like something from a mad scientist movie set, [styropyro]’s high-powered laser is a lot closer to the ray gun of science fiction than the usual lasers we see, though hardly portable. The business end of the rig is a large ruby rod nestled inside a coiled xenon flash lamp, which in turn is contained within a polished reflector. The power supply for the lamp is massive — microwave oven transformers, a huge voltage multiplier, and a bank of capacitors that he says can store 20 kilojoules. When triggered by a high-voltage pulse from a 555 oscillator and an old car ignition coil, the laser outputs a powerful pulse of light, which [styropyro] uses to dramatic effect, including destroying his own optics. We’d love to hear more about the power supply design; that Cockcroft-Walton multiplier made from PVC tubes bears some exploration.
Whatever the details, the build is pretty impressive, but we do urge a few simple safety precautions. Perhaps a look at [Ben Krasnow]’s 8-kJ ruby laser would help.
Setting up your workpiece is often the hardest part of any machining operation. The goal is to secure the workpiece so it can’t move during machining in such a way that nothing gets in the way of the tooling. Magnetic chucks are a great choice for securely and flexibly holding down workpieces, as this simple shop-built electromagnetic vise shows.
It looks like [Make It Extreme] learned a thing or two about converting microwave oven transformers to electromagnets when they built a material handling crane for the shop. Their magnetic vise, designed for a drill press but probably a great choice for securing work to a milling machine, grinder, or even a CNC router, has a simple but sturdy steel frame. Two separate platforms slide on the bed of the vise, each containing two decapitated MOTs. Wired to mains power separately for selective control and potted in epoxy, the magnets really seem to do the job. The video below shows a very thick piece of steel plate cantilevered out over one magnet while having a hole cut; that’s a lot of down force, but the workpiece doesn’t move.