Ebonized oak

To Dye For Or Be Ebonized

A friend of mine has made a few tables, the kind where you make a lip around the edge and you pour the goop in and let it set. I’ve helped stir up ideas, trouble shoot some issues and what not over is past few attempts. The current one is his first commission, so he is being extra cautious as I think he would like to make more of them in the future.

The trouble this time, “hey how do I turn wood black without painting it”. Things that riffle through my head, stain but black isn’t typically easily found and dye which would be a new experiment for him. I told him I have some black dye that we can try, but my previous attempt ended up much like paint.

So a week goes by and he asks if he could come over to try the dye. My response was “of course you can”, my brain goes into overdrive. Then I ask what are you using for wood again? He responds “oak, just like the others”. I think to myself, well DUH we have other options. I say how about we try to ebonize it? I get the wrinkled look of huh, what on his face. I told him to show up with a sample and we will experiment.

I do a quick Google search to verify I wasn’t smoking something I shouldn’t have been that day. Sure enough, This should be a simple experiment. When I get home I take about a cup of vinegar and some tore up steel wool and put it in a glass container. I set it in my double boiler, which is my wife’s potpourri/candle warmer thingy (a small crock pot). I let it warm up while I eat dinner.

He shows up at 7, I tell him we are all set for the experiment. Which was only partially correct as i couldn’t find my black dye. We were stuck with blue for the dye portion. We head down to the shop and I clear some much needed space on the bench. I grab a scrap of oak that I have laying around a cut a small chunk. I sand one side, plane another for a comparison. I stir the concoction that I have brewing with the stick, set it down and tell him I will be right back. I run up stairs and make a cup of black tea quick, bring it back down to the shop. Look at the sample and go woah, that’s changed a lot already. Lets try adding some tea and a second stir. I made sure to only overlap a portion so we could compare a single vs a double dip. We go through the motions, and compare after it had dried. The tea and second dip did almost nothing, other than confirm that its not needed and that we can be sloppy and miss spots without worrying about overlapping or evenness.

Ebonized oak
Ebonized oak sample example.

We discuss options for a coat of finish and decide to try a bit of everything I have on the shelf. He has really liked the tung oil I suggest he try previously, so we slapped some of that on and a bunch of other things. Frankly they all turned out nice in the experiment. But more importantly he was impressed with how dark the black got without much of any fuss. It was dark, yet the grain showed through, which was exactly what he was hoping for.

How does it work? The rusty vinegar reacts with the tannin in the oak and it turns black. Its nearly the same process as used in making ink. But instead of painting it on, we are making the ink directly in the surface layer of the wood.

So this stupidly simple experiment worked GREAT! Keep in mind this process is very surface, so you can sand or plane it off with minimal effort in case you have a blotchy spot. Give it a try!

Now to figure out where I am going to apply this on a future project.

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