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Ebonizing oak with vinegar and steel wool solution.

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Blog entry by bigfish_95008 posted 904 days ago 6418 reads 5 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A while back I was reading about using vinegar and steel wool to ebonize wood – particularly Oaks. I took the last of the wife’s vinegar and and some steel wool threw them in an old peanut butter jar and set it on the shelf. Nothing seemed to be happening with it – don’t know what I was expecting, but even after a few days in solution there was not significant color change of the liquid. Yesterday, a fabulous day here in SOCAL by the way, I looked at the solution and noticed a bit of settling. After shaking it up to mix it the solution turned almost black. After straining it through some cheesecloth the wife dipped a couple of woods in to see what would result, interesting, very interesting. The oak that I was hoping to use it on turned a almost red after drying and was very rough. After resanding it to 220 it felt smooth again but was still and ugly color red. I decided to try some linseed oil on it to “wet” it – WOW – did that make the process worth while. The oak turned a dark black and the grain really lit up. Time for some assembly of parts to see if it contrasts with the other oak parts well. Once the clock’s is assembled I’ll post some pictures of all 12 using various woods and finishing processes
Have a great day out there.
Allen

-- bigfish "I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it." Vincent Van Gogh



23 comments so far

View Ben's profile

Ben

302 posts in 932 days


#1 posted 904 days ago

That is a really interesting idea. I would love to see pictures of this. I’ve thought about trying to find some less chemical ways to color wood, and I do like to experiment so that is something to try for sure. I have plenty of oak to try it on. Is it a reaction with just oak or would it work on other woods too?

-- Welcome to downtown Coolsville, Population: US! --Hogarth Hughes

View Dlow's profile

Dlow

70 posts in 1289 days


#2 posted 904 days ago

Several years ago there was a show called “furniture to go” with 2 guys that would do repairs to all kinds of furniture. I remember one episode they did that they used the same technique to make a dye for a piece they were restoring. They put a bunch of steel( nails, chain and what have you) into a bucket with vinegar and the resultant product made a very interesting dye. I always wanted to give it a try but haven’t found the right project to use it on. I don’t know if you can find the episode on YouTube but they had some interesting techniques.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

5412 posts in 2030 days


#3 posted 904 days ago

I suspect that the tannin in oak will yield the best (darkest) results. But, it would be interesting to try it on other woods.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Ben's profile

Ben

302 posts in 932 days


#4 posted 904 days ago

That is what I was thinking Gene. It is also the tannin in the oak barrels that gives whiskey that nice golden color and some of the flavor ;)

-- Welcome to downtown Coolsville, Population: US! --Hogarth Hughes

View DIYaholic's profile

DIYaholic

12953 posts in 1277 days


#5 posted 904 days ago

I want a grey/silvery tone to red oak & red oak ply. Would this technique work or does it just make the oak more or less a black?

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procratination a bad thing?

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1276 posts in 2338 days


#6 posted 904 days ago

For a gray or silvery look try mixing some baking soda in water and applying it to the oak. Let it sit a while ( can let it sit for a day or two on the wood ) and then wipe it off with clean water to remove the excess soda. Let dry and try different clear finishes.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View shipwright's profile

shipwright

4843 posts in 1399 days


#7 posted 904 days ago

I have used it on Oak and on Walnut (which has a close enough grain appearance to pass for real ebony) with good results. If the solution is strong enough you can literally watch it go black before your eyes. ... Fun!

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View DIYaholic's profile

DIYaholic

12953 posts in 1277 days


#8 posted 904 days ago

John,
Thanks for the info. I’ll have to give it a try.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procratination a bad thing?

View Brit's profile

Brit

5107 posts in 1444 days


#9 posted 904 days ago

It works a bit quicker if you wet the steel wool with water and let it go rusty before putting it in the vinegar. Add some rusty nails and any other metal too.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View Ben's profile

Ben

302 posts in 932 days


#10 posted 904 days ago

Walnut is my favorite wood, for both look and workability. I’m going to try this and I will try it on walnut too. Does walnut contain tannin like oak? maybe just not as much I suppose…

-- Welcome to downtown Coolsville, Population: US! --Hogarth Hughes

View ~Julie~'s profile

~Julie~

572 posts in 1636 days


#11 posted 904 days ago

I use it on pine often, to make it look old. You have to experiment with how much vinegar, how long to sit it, and I sometimes add water after. I’ve used it on old barn board when I cut the ends and they appear fresh, you can add some of this mixture to make the cut look darker like the rest of the board.

-- ~Julie~ followyourheartwoodworking.blogspot.ca

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 2314 days


#12 posted 904 days ago

yes, to second what Brit said, it’s often referred to as “rusty vinegar”, so throw some easy rusting metal with it. Also, most common steel wool will require being broken up and washed a bit, as it gets a thin coat of oils on it somehow during it’s early life. So if you take a pad, wash it a bit in water, break it up, and many people swear by cider vinegar instead of white. I did this a while back and it QUICKLY turned red oak into a deep beautiful dark color that made me think of old libraries.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." - http://www.willmego.com/

View Brit's profile

Brit

5107 posts in 1444 days


#13 posted 904 days ago

Other possibilities for ebonizing wood are Indian Ink from an art supplies shop and Ebony wood dye. Indian Ink looks nicest in my opinion, but it isn’t cheap if you have a lot to do. Fine for a drawer knob or small items like that though.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View stefang's profile

stefang

12592 posts in 1936 days


#14 posted 904 days ago

I have read about this method for oak, but not for Walnut as Paul described. I would be interested in seeing a photo if possible from Julie to see what it does to pine.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View doncutlip's profile

doncutlip

2832 posts in 2158 days


#15 posted 904 days ago

Hey I use that solution all the time, but I think you have to wash the oil off the steel wool first. I use this solution on pine and it turns it grey, after it dries I put a solution of tobacco and ammonia on it and it turns it a real nice brown.

-- Don, Royersford, PA

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