Can Electricity Travel Through Wood?

Does electricity travel through wood? Well we see trees, homes, and power poles get struck all the time, but we’re also told that wood is an insulator…so what gives?


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Electricity is considered an insulator, for the most part, however, it’s not a very good one. There are certain things you can do to make wood a conductor (again…not a very good one). If you add water/moisture to wood or coat it with a more conductive coating, it will act more conductive than it normally would.

The number of electrons in the outer valence shell of atoms is what determines whether or not a material is conductive or not. Typically great conductors have only one or two electrons in the outer valence layer, and insulators have more than 4 but less than 8 electrons in their outer shells. And atoms with 8 electrons are said to be chemically stable, meaning there’s not much interaction that will affect the atom because it is so stable.

With a high enough voltage it is possible to send an electrical current through wood. There is an artform that does just this, and it’s called fractal wood burning. With fractal wood burning the artist takes a typical electrical current from a home, boosts it (transforms it) to 2,000+ volts and hooks the wires to two rods/nails in the wood. Once the power is turned on current begins to find its way from one rod to the other (very haphazardly, yet beautifully). The current visibly creeps along through the wood, which shows that wood is a poor conductor.

With a typical 120 volt circuit there is not enough “pressure” to allow the valence electrons to be freed up and flow from atom to atom. The wood is too stable because there are many electrons in the outer valence shells of the compounds of atoms that make up the wood. But putting a much larger amount of pressure (adding energy to the valence layer) can excite the electrons enough to free a few up and allow a small current to flow through the wood.