Introduction: Black Walnut Ink

this is my method for turning black walnut hulls into ink

please note that the images may not always perfectly coincide what what the text describes (wet grounds directly in a pot, or squeezing filtered ink into a bottle instead of a pot). if you see a conflict like this, always follow the text instead. the images were taken while i was still experimenting and figuring out what works best, but the text is the final draft of the tutorial.

you will also see me handling ink with my bare hands. my hands were already stained, so i didn't care about this. if your hands are clean, and you want to keep them that way, use gloves, but know that it is not necessa

Step 1: Materials

things you will need

-dried black walnut hulls
-something to crush the hulls
-a pan or pot
-rubber gloves
-nylon tights
-coffee filters
-a small bowl
-white vinegar

Step 2: Preparing the Walnuts

you can use rotted wet walnuts, but all I had to work with were dried walnuts. they had fully fermented, and sat on the ground for so long that they'd become completely dehydrated.

to turn fresh green walnuts into dried walnuts, simply pick them up and leave them somewhere safe from insects until they ferment and turn black, and eventually dry.

afterward, you can roll the whole nut under a boot or shoe. the hull will break off, leaving the shell intact. separate the shells from the hulls. collect all of the hulls and resultant dust and crush it into a fine powder however you see fit. I put them in a container, and pounded them with the end of a wooden broom handle, like I was churning butter. you could use a hammer, a rolling pin, a blender, a mortar and pestle, etc. a grain mill would give the most consistent results. after this is done, it should look, smell, and feel like dirt.

the reason why I turn them into dust, is because by increasing the surface area as much as possible, the extraction process is faster and more efficient, like how finely ground espresso creates stronger coffee.

I don't know how many nuts I collected, but I ended up with a total of 4 cups of powdered hulls.

Step 3: Boiling the Powder

fill a nylon sock with the powdered hulls. put several more socks on top of that, you should have at least 4 layers. tie off the open end tightly.

place the powder sock in a pot, and fill with water enough to cover it. boil for about at least a half hour, pressing and compressing the sock every now and then with a wooden spoon or something similar.

to test your progress, put a small amount in a small bowl and let it cool. use a dip pen, or whatever you have, to write on paper. keep going until you are satisfied with the darkness. DO NOT use a fountain pen, it will clog and become useless.

when you're done, let it cool and squeeze the water out of the sock into the pot.

the reason for the multiple layers of socks, is that you will be ringing it out, and you DO NOT want it breaking open, spilling the grounds into your ink. my innermost sock tore open while I was doing this, and fortunately, there were more layers holding it in.

Step 4: Filtering

using coffee filters, pour the ink into them in small increments over a clean pot. close the top like a tiny bag, and holding the opening closed, CAREFULLY squeeze the liquid through them to filter out solid contaminants.

you may need to manipulate the filter a bit, to gain access to unclogged areas of the internal surface of the filters, but the best way is to take it nice and slow. if you squeeze too hard too fast, and a filter bursts open, it will spill contaminants into your filtered ink, and you will have to filter it again. remember to be gentle and patient.

you may think of using multiple layers of filters, but this is not necessary, and may give you a false sense of how hard you can squeeze them, while squeezing the ink through.

Step 5: Concentrating & Preserving

if you are content with the yield and darkness of your first boil, you can skip to the bottom of this step, after the line break.

the grounds can be reboiled many times.
to make your ink darker and increase the quantity, take the first batch, and simmer it a bit to reduce the water and concentrate it further.

IMPORTANT: a double boiler may be used for concentrating, and may produce better results.

remember to CONSTANTLY stir with a spatula, or anything that can firmly scrape the bottom of the pan/pot. you do not want large, solid pieces congealing in it. take it off the heat every few minutes, put a little test amount in a bowl to let it cool. you want the consistency to be like a thin syrup- thicker than plain water, but thinner than, for example, slightly warm honey.

remember to check this very often, as the water will evaporate from it much faster than you would expect. if you go past this point, you can add a little water back to it to bring it up to the right consistency, but it's always best to avoid having to do this.

now that the first batch is concentrated, make a second batch, the same way you did the first. boil it, test darkness, strain, and filter it, but do not concentrate the second batch. add the first (now concentrated) batch to the second normal batch, stir thoroughly, and if you wish, you can filter it again through coffee filters to remove any solid contaminants that may have been created from concentrating the first batch. if you did it correctly, you should now have more ink, and it should be slightly darker than a plain boil. now we can move onto the last step of processing

line break

put this final mixture back on the stove, and heat it up a bit. now, add a large splash of white vinegar, and a few large pinches of table salt.

the vinegar and salt will prevent it from growing mold and spoiling. it will, however, make it corrosive, so make sure to read more about that in the last step.

if the vinegar makes it thinner and lighter than you would like, you can heat it up and reduce the water content a bit, checking consistency often until it is how you want it. remember, again, to stir constantly.

now, use a funnel to put it into a glass bottle or jar, with an airtight lid. do not use a metal bottle.

Step 6: Storing the Grounds

as previously mentioned, the grounds can be boiled many times, to make more ink. if you wish to save them for future use, squeeze out as much water as possible, and remove them from the sock. they should now have the consistency of slightly damp soil. break apart any large chunks, and spread it out flat on a piece of cardboard, or a cookie sheet, in a thin layer, and leave it somewhere out of direct sunlight to dry. after they are dried, you can store them in airtight bags, until future use.

now i know what you're thinking- "it looks like dirt, its organic, its made from plants. i can use this as fertilizer or compost". this is actually a terrible idea. walnuts contain a chemical called juglone, which has herbicidal properties. this prevents predatory plants from creeping into the territory of the walnut tree, because it is toxic to many species of plants. so i give you this as fair warning- if you decide to use it as compost, and it kills your plants, i will not take responsibility.

Step 7: Notes and Tips

things to note

-this ink is completely water soluble, and not waterproof or water resistant

-it can be easily cleaned off of any smooth, non-porous surfaces, such as glass, smooth metal, linoleum, etc

-it can and will stain fabrics and skin, so don't make ink in any clothes you're not willing to stain

-it is highly acidic and corrosive. if you have a dip pen nib that you take good care of and you want it to last forever, don't use it with this ink. do not use with any nib you do not consider "eventually disposable". do not allow it to dry on your nibs. after you are done writing, clean the nibs thoroughly with a toothbrush and water, and dry them thoroughly i have provided a picture of two nibs i have used frequently with this ink, and one that i have not used. the two i have used have a corroded surface, despite it being stainless steel, while the unused nib is still shiny and clean.

-the corrosiveness can be lessened by replacing the vinegar and salt with concentrated alcohol (isopropyl- 90% rubbing alcohol, or ethanol- anything over 150 proof. i recommend using everclear, since it is the highest concentration ethanol you can buy), but do not add it while it is on the stove, as alcohol is flammable. also worth noting, is that rubbing alcohol will cause more feathering and bleeding than ethanol, so take that into consideration.

-shake well before using. it is at its darkest immediately after shaking, and it becomes progressively lighter, the longer it sits and settles. it does not take long for a noticeable decrease of darkness. if you need it to be at peak darkness for a long writing session, give it a good shake every minute.

Step 8: Dyeing

walnut can and has been used as dye. the nylon socks were dyed a dark brown color. I tested it on cotton fabric as well.
the cotton came out as beige. it may have come out darker, if I'd boiled it like the nylons.