A Ping-Pong Table That’s Actually Cool (Thanks To Science)

It’s equal parts science experiment and gorgeous craftsmanship.

Of all the tech industry cliches, none receives more shade than ping-pong tables. They’re the butt of Silicon Valley jokes and subject of many eye rolls. And rightly so: They’re often symbols of the type of perk companies think their employees want (we’re a fun, casual, hip office!) when ultimately what they want is more vacation and money.

However, we came across one ping-pong table design that’s actually badass–a custom wood-and-steel table by Denver craftsman James Davis for the architecture firm Vertical Arts. Here’s why it earned our stamp of approval: Davis used a fabrication process that looks like it was borrowed from a mad scientist’s lab.

Photo: Paul Duffy

The fractal-like shapes etched into the table’s surface are actually called Lichtenberg figures–named for Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the German physicist who discovered and studied the shapes of electric current in the late 18th century. The figures look like little lightening strikes, and getting them to appear on a piece of wood was a laborious process.

First, Davis clamped a microwave transformer to a slab of unfinished walnut wood. Then, he applied a thin layer of water, baking soda, and salt to the surface, which allows electricity to flow more freely. Next, he switched on the transformer and the electricity it generated burned the patterns into the wood. (This video shows the wood-burning process.) Finally, he filled the etched areas with epoxy, sanded the surface down, and coated it with wax so it would be ultra smooth.

We bet Richard Hendricks would buy one of these for his new startup. See the table in the slideshow above.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.