Introduction: How to Make Lampblack
Lampblack is a type of carbon black. It is very small particles of carbon and is obtained from soot. It is very stable and does not deteriorate over time and is light fast. It has been used since mankind invented fire and is still used as it is a very strong opaque pigment and is very stable.
It has been used throughout history to make inks. It can either be mixed directly with water and a binder to make Indian ink or can be mixed with a water soluble glue to make an ink-stick. It was the dominate ink for writing until the invention of iron gall ink.
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Step 1: What Is It?
It is a mix of very small carbon particles which are made by collecting the soot from oily flames such as candles and oil-lamps, hence the name.
It is created when during the burning not all of the oil or wax is fully combusted and so some of the hydrocarbons turn into carbon (and also carbon monoxide) instead of carbon dioxide. This is caused by inefficient oxygen reaching the flame. This can be achieved either by having a large badly designed wick or by interrupting the flame with a non-combustible object.
Step 2: Method 1 Candle Flame
If you only wish to make a small amount the easiest way to make it is just to take a metal object like a spoon and place into a candle flame. However most modern candles are designed to produce as little soot as possible and so it is best to find a rather bad cheap candle for this.
I used a cheap candle with a oversized wick as it had a rather sooty flame. Ideally you would hold the candle in a proper candle holder so that it is safe but I did not as it would have made photographing it quite hard. Then I took a normal teaspoon and held it upturned in the flame. As metal is a thermal conductor it will get quite hot so I would advise holding the spoon with some pliers.
As you can see from the pictures the spoon turns a very deep black colour as the lampblack builds up on the metal. When lots of lampblack has accumulated, or if you get bored, you can scrape off the lampblack into a container. The issue of this method is it only makes a very small amount as the candle flame is small and not that sooty.
Step 3: Method 2 Oil Lamp
This method involves using an oil lamp to make a very sooty flame. As the flame produced is larger a spoon will not be large enough to catch all the soot, so I used a small upturned copper bowl suspended just above the flame.
To make the oil lamp you need some form of heat resistant, non-flammable container to keep the oil in. I prefer glass as you can see how much oil is in it and by having a narrow neck it is easier to support the wick. For fuel used cheap rapeseed oil but any cooking oil will work. Fats will work but are harder to use as you will have to melt the fat to get it into the container and place the wick into it. To make a wick I took a tissue and rolled it into a tube shape. Twisting it helps to keep the wick together. Before you light the wick it is best to let is soak for a while.
To support the copper bowl above the flame I used two old tin cans, but you can use anything that is the right hight. Then you can leave the bowl suspended above the lamp and let the lampblack build up. I would not do this inside as it is rather smoky and might set your smoke alarm off.
Step 4: Use
Lampblack is black pigment and is very simple to turn into an ink as it does not need further grinding.
The simplest ink that can be made from it is Indian ink. This is made by mixing the lampblack with a tiny amount of alcohol, e.g. vodka, then add to this paste a mix of water in which gum Arabic has been dissolved. The thickness of the ink depends on the amount of gum Arabic used. It produces a very dark black and should not fade at all, the only way the ink might not last is if it is not sufficiently absorbed by the paper.
Lampblack can also be used as a pigment and used to make oil paint.
Step 5: Refining
Depending on your flame there will be other things mixed with the carbon in the lampblack. These can adversely affect it especially if there is any unburnt oils left in it, this can make it oily and clump together. To improve the lampblack it needs to be calcined, this involves heating it away from air.
To do this I took my lampblack in a glass bottle and compressed it to reduce its surface area and then heated it with a blowtorch until the lampblack was red hot. I did this in the small glass bottle I was storing it in as the glass is borosilicate glass and so could with stand the heat of a blowtorch. This will improve the quality of the lampblack but be careful to keep its surface area to a minimum when heating as if in contact with air some can burn.
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