The Dangers of Fractal Combustion, an Art Technique That Killed 33

You don’t usually associate beautiful works of art with death, but an art technique that is gaining popularity also turns out to be extremely dangerous.

People across the country are using intense electrical currents to create unique patterns in wood. They make the designs with home-made devices from microwave parts, which can generate thousands of volts of electrical current.

This is called fractal combustion. And while the process can yield some fascinating designs, simple mistakes can prove fatal.

James Carolfi and Tanya Rodriguez were electrocuted while burning wood. Their Wisconsin home also caught fire.

“It’s not worth messing with,” Caitlin Schmidt told Inside Edition.

She lost her husband to fractal wood burning.

“He loved our family. He never would have done this in a million years if he had known this could be the result,” she said.

Schmidt had recorded her husband Matt showing his artful creations to their children.

“Isn’t that nice? Matt asked his family in a video.

Two weeks later, their son found Matt dead in the garage.

“He was probably gone before he even hit the ground,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt is not alone in this loss.

At least 33 Americans have lost their lives burning designs into wood.

Brenda Trudell’s husband James was electrocuted while making the artwork as a Christmas present for the family. He died a week later.

“It’s heartbreaking. In the blink of an eye, everyone’s life completely changed,” Trudell said.

Fractal engraving can be safe if done by professionals who know what they are doing. Chicago artist Eric Beauchamp showed Inside Edition the carefully controlled method he’s perfected, but even with proper equipment and protections in place, he says there’s risk in fractal burning.

Beauchamp also urged people to stay away from the do-it-yourself method which seems to have gained popularity.

“Incredibly dangerous,” he said. “The way they’re wired and the way they’re configured are very different, and that combination is a recipe for disaster.”

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