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Thread: I have been fiddling with the ebonizing process, and I like it.

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2019
    Fairbanks AK

    I have been fiddling with the ebonizing process, and I like it.

    The impetus for me was an episode of Eric Gorges' "Craftsman's legacy", episode the table maker. It is one of the ones I can see on youtube that I couldn't get to from my Roku.

    Anyway, it sounded too simple, but looked great. I did a little digging, and it really is "that" easy.

    Two older threads here I choose to not bump:

    from 2011:

    and from 2009:

    There are other ways to turn wood black. I wanted to try this one because it is lightfast and relatively safe. In the pics below I used regular cooking vinegar (5% strength) to make the iron tea out of a steel wool pad. I went to the homebrew beer/ homemade wine store and spent about $10 for roughly a tablespoon on tannic acid powder (food grade) enough to make about half a pint of tannic acid tea. My preliminary results are good enough I am likely to bring in a pound of tannic acid powder from Amazon for the next ten bucks.

    On the first run my steel wool pad kept surfacing in the vinegar (took about 9 days to dissolve) so I have "some" rust in there. When it was time to decant I pulled two turkey basters full off the top of the jar and got "most" of the rust out, but not all of it. There is a bit of red/ yellow/ orange tint on the dried wood surface that mostly goes away with sanding.

    I have a second batch running already in 6% strength "cleaning vinegar" with a wadded up piece of saran wrap above the steel wool to keep the metal submerged. I used a couple nylon wire ties on the first go round and that did not work well. All the times I failed college chemistry ( I am pretty sure I had to pass 101 to get into organic, which I failed) we used all glass all the time in lab. There are a few folks out there who dissolve the steel wool in vinegar in a plastic container without specifying what kind of plastic. The main thing is dissolving a metal in an acid will produce hydrogen gas, so you want the lid to your glass jar vented and you want to put the whole shebang out in a shed with a roof vent or out on your patio while it is cooking.

    There is some pickled thing one of the kids likes at Thanksgiving that comes with a plastic insert in the jar that serves as a lifting tray for the pickled food - but I could clip the handle on those to use the same tray as a device to keep the steel wool submerged. Baby gherkins maybe? I dunno, but I am going to eat a lot of them in November this year.

    Method is as in the table maker video, wet with tannic tea, let dry, wet with iron tea, then wet with tannic tea again, let dry. After the first and second coats I sanded gently with an ancient, decrepit 320 grit sanding sponge.

    All the test pieces are off the plane, honed to 4000 grit diamond with no stropping. I didn't have to deal with raised grain after either coat that wasn't already handled with gentle sanding.

    I am not sure how well it shows up in the pics, but both the white oak and birch test pieces have both heartwood and sapwood in the ebonized area. I will look at them again tomorrow after they are thoroughly dry, but they look pretty darn uniform now at dry enough to sand gently.

    My plan is to do a third coat on all to see if I can get the Doug Fir to join the rest of the samples - and then get busy with a plane and / or crosscut saw to see how deep the pigment goes.

    Pic one is the first coat dried and sanded, second is with the second coat on dried enough to sand. This method does work and has brought a bunch of dissimilar species to near uniformity. If you want black.


    Ignore the attached thumbnail, it is pic 2 not cropped/resized, sorry.

    I can pretty well read the species on the first pic, but after the first coat top to bottom, Doug Fir, hickory, poplar, birch, beech and white oak. The beech is american, the birch was incoming firewood but not black birch. Seven of the nine North American birch species grow near here, probably white, yellow or paper birch but I really don't know. Not black birch, no peppermint smell off the drawknife while green.

    For the second pic you can see how orange my iron tea is, left column top to bottom is birch, beech, white oak. Right column top to bottom is Doug Fir, hickory and poplar.

    I am going to keep fooling with this. The end/ exposed grain on the hickory filled in real nice with a second coat. I do want to try to get the rays in the QSWO to pop a little bit while leaving the remainder dark black. And see how much I have to plane off to get to not ebonized wood. And I got to start fooling with end grain. But this is awesome.
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