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

  1. #1
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    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: https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....tain-Oak-black

    and from 2009: https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....Ebonizing-wood

    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.

    20210719_173008[1].jpg20210719_212608[1].jpg

    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.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
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    Interesting how wood reacts to different liquid's
    I made a outdoor grilling tool box a while back and wanted it to look weathered. I used Lipton Tea as my tannic steel wool and vinegar for the iron tea.
    It was interesting to watch it change colors over about an hour. It was pretty simple and made New Pine look Gray as an old barn board.
    I took a wire brush to it first and make the grain really stand out.

    Your idea about QSWO would be interesting if you could sand down to the rays and leave the rest black...

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Burke View Post

    Your idea about QSWO would be interesting if you could sand down to the rays and leave the rest black...
    First attempt at same was the one thing I made time for in the shop today. I got started with 1000 grit sandpaper, too fine, couldn't find any 400 grit and got to here with 220 grit. I should have used a hard block (note to self) so as to not sand the corners down to bare wood. After sanding surface prep was dry wipe with a paper towel, tap over trash can, wipe with paper towel and isopropyl alcohol, photo while wet.

    The line between heart wood and sapwood is visible again in the black area, I don't like that. I read a couple internet blogs where folks were planing back down to not black wood with a hand plane, but that can't be good for any edge. With sanding I did kind of pass through a zone where the grain was starting to show in the all black surface, but I kept going instead of taking a picture (or pictures) of that.

    I think this could work well as an undercoat on a thing like a chair with a top coat of milk paint in a contrasting color, then sand the corners and edges through the milk paint to the underlying black. There was a fair bit of sanding involved to get through to exposed ray pattern. I am going to let this one dry all the isopropyl off it and try a little oil or wax to see how that looks for a different project. Plus I get to sand back all the other pieces to see what happens with them. There is a little bit of figure in the edge grain of the birch piece, and I am real curious to see penetration depth in the beech.


    20210720_200757[1].jpg

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Burke View Post
    I used Lipton Tea as my tannic
    Do you remember how many tea bags you use for how much water? I saw one reference to 12 tea bags (also Lipton's) for one quart of tannic tea. Sounds like you are happy with the results. I would love to see a picture. I need a grab and go tool box in the garage for my grilling stuff too, curious to see both the box and what you put in it.

  4. #4
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    Scott
    here are a couple photos of my grill box. It's more brown than gray but old looking anyway. I did this to New Pine, roughed up with a hand wire brush to expose the grain some.
    It's nothing fancy but it was interesting what the Tea Tonic and Steel Wool Tonic did to the New Pine.
    I don't remember what I did for the Tea Bags...I found something on the web. Steel wool in vinegar for the other part. Nothing fancy but serves the purpose. This was my first and only time doing this Tonic thing.
    box 1.jpgbox 2.jpgbox 3.jpg

  5. #5
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    Scott, a retired dentist and friend came to me asking about how to stain small pieces of wood for the crucifixes he made. I steered him to the vinegar and tannic acid method. He really like it.
    Ken

  6. #6
    One feature of an ebonized finish that I have not seen mentioned in the thread is lightfastness.
    The end table below has been subjected to the most intense sunlight exposure imaginable in the Southwest and two years on, no signs of fading.
    IME ebonizing can take the wood all the way to jet black if you re-apply the solution multiple times or use a very high dose of tannic acid. I usually stop at dark chocolate brown but it's all a matter of personal taste.

    4Y1A6804.jpg

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edwin Santos View Post
    One feature of an ebonized finish that I have not seen mentioned in the thread is lightfastness.
    Thank you Edwin. I saw lightfastness mentioned several times in my google research, but you are that I remember the first person to post a picture of an ebonized thing that has been in the sunlight X long and still looks Y good.

    Beautiful work as usual. Is the corner of the top closest to the lense actually down to bare wood, or is that a light trick thing? I ask because i am having a devil of a time keeping the treatment on my corners even sanding with a hardblock. If Edwin Santos can't keep ebonized on his corners I will just stop trying.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Burke View Post
    Scott
    here are a couple photos of my grill box.
    Well it looks good to me.

    I will add a test piece of red oak to my testing regimen. For my cookers that are outdoors year round I shape the pieces out of red oak, submerge them in BLO until they sink, air dry, buff, and put into service. I will try shaping a piece or two, ebonize, then as above and leave them outdoors over the winter to see how they do.

    That looks like a big enough box for what I am thinking of. A clean spatula, clean tongs, some paper towels, good olive oil, some safflower oil for oiling the grates, salt, pepper, a little extra space for wahtever specific to the current cook.

    It looks to me like you broke the corners before you ebonized and the treatment has stuck to your breaks.

    It is interesting to me that both Edwin and Mike got to dark brown with their projects. It does seem a useful technique to have. I will have to fiddle with that some, maybe make up some half strength tannic tea.

  9. #9
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    Two more findings. I am pretty sure the original guy building tables said the shelf life of the iron tea is "years" - but I found some precipitate in my metal lidded glass jar when I refiltered this evening to move the iron tea to a plastic bottle. A bit of corrosion on the metal lid too. I expect some of the acid is letting go of the iron in solution and attacking the jar lid or otherwise doing stupid chemical tricks.

    My first batch (5% cooking vinegar), the one I refiltered this evening, I used a couple nylon wireties to hold the steel wool sumbmerged, and that didn't work good. The iron tea has some rust in it. The brown color can be quite pleasing when I dilute the tannic tea and use less of it and so on, but no way can I make iron tea with the same amount of rust in it batch after batch.

    My second batch, still cooking on 6% cleaning vinegar was going real good with a ball of Saran wrap in the top to keep the steel wool submerged. The hydrogen bubbles collect in the plastic wrap sort of like a jellyfish getting ready to swim, but as long as I wrung it out everyday my steel was staying submerged - until my wife and I took a quick weekend getaway. Now I got "some" rust in the second batch too.

    I did finally find some pickles with the food lifter basket in the jar. I am confident Kroger carries something like this around Thanksgiving; in July it was Amazon for me. If you have a big Walmart grocery store nearby you might check there. The grocery section at my local Wally World is pretty small, but WM does carry some products from Tillen Farms, at least they used to in some stores.

    I did also find some stronger vinegar at an ethnic Russian market, the small glass bottle is labeled 70% acetic acid, the tall one with the narrow neck is labeled 9%. I think the picture tells the story.

    If you are curious about this and want to try a little, I would start with one basketed pickle jar around 12 ozs net weight, half a steel wool pad (mine come in at 13-15 grams, about half an ounce before cutting in half; and one pint of houehold vinegar. If you use 5-6% grocery store vinegar that is going to take a couple or three weeks to dissolve, I would be OK parking it next to my boiler to keep the hydrogen flared off- but now I have three jars running in a well ventialted shed away from the house. Notice in pic two, a pair of pickle jars (net weight 12-13ozs each) was enough pickle and brine to pretty well fill up the 1 quart mason jar far left. DO REMEMBER to poke a couple or three holes in the jar lid with a finish nail to let the hydrogen gas out without the jar bursting from excess pressure.

    A pint of iron tea with a half pint of tannic tea is plenty to decide if you want to make any more. I think once I have my process dialed in some of my dandelions are going to experience heavy metal poisoning.

    20210809_171808[1].jpg20210809_174455[1].jpg

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Winners View Post
    … A bit of corrosion on the metal lid too. …
    In case you are not aware, plastic lids are available for mason/canning jars in std and wide-mouth sizes. I often use them instead of metal when bottling quart jars of honey.

    JKJ

  11. #11
    I was successful in staining red oak black by first soaking it in strong tea then letting it day. The next day I applied the two week old steel wool in 5% vinegar solution.

    That show aired on PBS over a year ago and I've saved it on my DVR so that I might one day try building a similar table.

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