Ebonizing Oak

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Forum topic by Tony posted 03-23-2009 09:38 PM 16375 views 1 time favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Tony's profile


986 posts in 4229 days

03-23-2009 09:38 PM

I have a need to ebonize some white oak for a project I am working on. Obtaining a stain that does not obliterate the grain is quite difficult here, so I thought about using a method shown in several woodworking books – using steel wool and white vinegar.

There is nothing new about this technique, it is as old as the hills. I started by following the simple instructions shred some wire wool in the bottom of a plastic container (about 1/2 oz) and add about 1 pint of white vinegar (10%) – go away and come back in 24 to 36 hours and test it, if it is not strong enough leave it for another day.

So after 40 hours I got a dark gray with with one coat, so I left it for a few more hours to gain a little more strength, but the dark gray now produces a dark brown with a steel blue haze (very attractive but not I was looking for). In fact it almost looks as if the solution has gone “Rusty”.

So has any body got any experience in this method, are there any criteria for storage or temperature that I have missed, any insight would be appreciated.

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

29 replies so far

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 3873 days

#1 posted 03-23-2009 09:53 PM

Honestly just get some India Ink and be done with it. That method is pretty hit or miss depending on the exact level of tanic acid in the wood. I’m pretty sure its almost impossible to get a real black using it on Oak. Walnut will do OK with this method.

View Tony's profile


986 posts in 4229 days

#2 posted 03-23-2009 09:57 PM

I should have mentioned that this is not a small project – double cuboard and drawer unit – I guess a gallon of india ink should do the trick.

Maybe I should paint the project first with some black tea – to even out the tannic acid:)

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4074 days

#3 posted 03-23-2009 11:28 PM

Tony – I’ve heard of the vinegar and steel wool method, but I’ve never had a reason to give it a try, so I don’t have any pointers. I think India Ink might hide the grain like a stain would, but I bet you have a gallon sitting around waiting to be used, don’t you?

Have you considered a dye? I’ve been experimenting with water-based fabric dyes and have had some good initial results. It can actually accentuate the grain in some wood.

-- -- --

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 3873 days

#4 posted 03-23-2009 11:43 PM

This link isn’t my project but the one that turned me onto using india ink

If it obscures the grain more than you like a real light sanding (500 wet dry) helps.

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4327 days

#5 posted 03-23-2009 11:58 PM

The iron+vinegar technique requires that the wood contains a lot of tannin.
Some oak sold as white oak may not be that exact species.

A strong tea solution might work. It is worth testing.

Black shoe dye is quicker and more sure.
Black aniline dye is also available.

-- 温故知新

View oldskoolmodder's profile


801 posts in 3879 days

#6 posted 03-24-2009 12:08 AM

Tony, I’ve tried this method after Allison posted it last summer(ish) and to be honest, I still am not convinced. The best I get is a dirty grey after months of it sitting in the jar on the shelf. It needs something else. Perhaps India Ink or Black Tea is the solution, but I’ve not tried it. Honestly as a tea drinker and someone who usually has 12-15 types of teas on hand, I’m not opposed to trying this way as a cheap alternative.

-- Respect your shop tools and they will respect you - Ric

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14179 posts in 4182 days

#7 posted 03-24-2009 04:00 AM

I have a real stout jar of the red vinegar and steel concoction that I use to ebonize white oak. It is so old that the steel wool is almost dissolved and I’ve added more vinegar to increase the volume. What I have found is the vinegar method works up to a point ( I always use it), but follow the vinegar method with a dark alcohol dye stain and then oil stain. My projects are always small in scale, and I’m not a perfectionist, so I’m happy with the result.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View RWR's profile


42 posts in 3800 days

#8 posted 03-24-2009 04:49 AM

Just get you a bottle of Transtint black dye…works in alcohol or water.

-- Wayne

View WayneC's profile


13783 posts in 4297 days

#9 posted 03-24-2009 04:50 AM

I don’t have any suggestions, but wanted to say hello. Hope all is well.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3658 days

#10 posted 03-24-2009 07:34 AM

I used Speedball ink on a project I did… it was a small table, 24” tall, 16” square on top. I used maybe 1/2 or 1/3 of the small bottle of India ink on that project, and I put two coats down. I was surprised at how much coverage I got out of the ink.

-- San Diego, CA

View Dave Haynes's profile

Dave Haynes

203 posts in 3553 days

#11 posted 03-24-2009 04:42 PM

You may already know this or have tried it but I just recently made a hallway bench out of poplar for my daughter who wanted it painted black. I thought that would be silly to completly cover up the natural grain of the wood. I bought an Ebony stain at one of the big box stores made by Minwax and the project turned out awesome. The daughter was thrilled with the finish. Just another approach idea.


-- Dave Haynes, Indiana,

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 3912 days

#12 posted 03-24-2009 05:22 PM

Start with VERY rusty metal…so get some rusty junk and stick it in with steel wool (and you’ve already pulled apart and “washed” the wool with water, to attempt to get at least a little of the oils it’s coated with off), some people use cider vinegar instead of white, I’ve never used the white, so I couldn’t tell you if it makes a difference. I’ve gotten some pretty dark woods this way, been very impressed with the result..if I run across my old test piece, I’ll post a pic of it, but I don’t know if it’s lying around here someplace or not.

That said, as a previous poster said, this is based upon a reaction with the tannin in the wood. White oak isn’t going to have a much as say a nice red oak, at least based upon the stuff I’ve played with. An aniline dye might end up getting the result you want, a very dark color while retaining the visible grain.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View dadefreese's profile


42 posts in 4220 days

#13 posted 03-24-2009 05:51 PM

I just came across this challenge myself two weeks ago.

I wanted to ebonize oak too and I tried a half dozen techniques, but not the vinegar and steel wool method. I needed something pretty quick so it was either stain or other fast application. I tried each on pine, poplar, maple and oak and pretty much each result is consistent across species. I will say that shoe wax did best on the softer woods and much worse on the maple and the oak.

Anyway, I used:

Zar ebony stain – that looked too watery grey when I finished a few coats.

Kiwi shoe polish – don’t laugh, it is just black wax and looks pretty decent on some woods. I’m going to try it on a pine project and I think it will turn out well.

Cheap India/Japan ink – Those were a bit too thin

Rit black dye – that can work on some wood materials, but it did nothing on the oak.

Speedball permanent ink – this produced a superior and intense color and it soaked in quickly and evenly. Additionally, it dried very quickly so any touchup took only a few moments to accomplish. If I have to ebonize something again, I would start off with this specific Speedball ink and maybe try something else if it didn’t do what I wanted.

Here’s a not-so-good image of the Speedball ebonized oak. I don’t know if you can get a sense of the oak grain and I don’t have the project any longer so take what you can from it:

If I have the time, I’ll try to find my samples and post a comparative picture or two to show the results of my informal test.


View Planeman's profile


97 posts in 3777 days

#14 posted 03-24-2009 06:55 PM

Minwax offers a black stain. How would that do?


-- Always remember half of the people in this country are below average.

View poopiekat's profile


4385 posts in 3934 days

#15 posted 03-24-2009 07:21 PM

Ever tried a concoction of old 78 rpm records broken up and dissolved in denatured alcohol?

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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