How to Easily Ebonize Wood

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Introduction: How to Easily Ebonize Wood

About: Follow along as I tackle awesome projects including woodworking, metal working, tool restorations, and more! Sometimes I teach and sometimes we learn together. I hope you learn a new skill, build a new proje…

Learn how to easily ebonize wood for your next project! The chemical reaction that occurs when you apply the iron acetate to wood creates a beautiful and durable black finish, a similar look to ebony (hence the name).

Step 1: Supplies

Wood (Duh)

0000 Steel Wool

White Vinegar

Quart Jar

Coffee filter

Funnel

Small jar

Sponge Brush

Black Tea

Step 2: Wash Steel Wool

Wash the steel wool with soap and water to remove any residual grease that may be present from the manufacturing process.

Step 3: Add Vinegar

Place the steel wool in the jar and slowly pour in the white vinegar, leaving a little headspace.

Step 4: Add Lid and Shake

Add a small hole in lid to allow any gases to escape. Screw lid onto jar, put your finger over the hole, and shake the jar and solution to make sure it's well mixed.

Step 5: Wait One Week

Shake the jar up each day for about a week, depending on ambient temperature. Once it looks like most of the steel wool has dissolved and the solution is a dark black color, it should be ready. The chemical reaction between the vinegar and steel wool creates iron acetate.

Step 6: Filter the Solution

Set up a simple filtering stand, I used a kitchen funnel and a couple of quick clamps. Put a coffee filter in the funnel and filter the iron acetate through it. This will catch any large particles that may not have dissolved.

Step 7: Prep Wood by Sanding

Sand that wood that you plan to stain up through 220 grit. Any higher and you risk burnishing the wood, which could prevent the stain form penetrating.

Step 8: Apply Stain

Use a sponge brush to apply the stain to the wood, making sure to evenly coat the entire area.

Step 9: Sand and Recoat

If applying more than one coat (depending on your color preference), sand with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat. This will smooth out the finish and help fill any pores, ultimately helping the darkening process.

Step 10: Get a Darker Finish

If the iron acetate alone isn't a dark enough finish, you can add extra tannins to the wood by applying black tea before the iron acetate finish. The iron acetate will react with the extra tannins to create a darker finish. Apply the black tea prior to the first coat of iron acetate, and then in between each additional coat (also making sure to include the sanding step between each coat).

So sand, apply black tea, allow to dry, apply the iron acetate, allow to dry. Repeat until desired color is achieved.

The piece in the last photo is the result of three coats of iron acetate, with a coat of black tea in between.

Step 11: Comparison of Stain Treatments

This is a comparison of different amount of stain coats and with/without black tea.

The first little block of wood is untreated red oak.

The second one from the left is one coat of iron acetate.

The third block from the left is two coats of iron acetate.

The fourth block from the left is three coats of iron acetate.

The block at the bottom, and the big board at the top, are both treated with three coats of iron acetate with a black tea treatment in between each coat.

I personally like the examples that were treated with black tea, the black is darker and richer in appearance.

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102 Comments

0
pkpai1402
pkpai1402

12 days ago on Step 11

Great instructable.
I suspect that you could significantly speed up the reaction with electrolysis.

0
shloime
shloime

Reply 11 days ago

or as one of the comments above suggested, heat. which begs the question, is there much difference between “hot brew” and “cold brew”?

0
KellyCraig
KellyCraig

Reply 9 hours ago

Interesting suggestion.

I do quite a bit of copper plating. To do that, I always place the metal I want flowed onto an item on the positive lead, which, for such purposes, is called the anode.

It could well be that you could switch from fine steel wool to any iron bolt or nail using this approach.

Any metal would work for the negative lead, called the cathode in plating operations.

Keep in mind, the cathode will be coated with iron from the steel wool, so may not be usable for much else after a significant amount of use, but might be cleaned up by switching it over to the anode and using something else as a sacrifice to the cathode end (of course, what not use that other thing in the first place?).

All my plating is of smaller items and I don't need more than three (3) volts to plate items. Generally, even one volt will do, so an old DIRECT CURRENT phone or other charger may do.

0
nielkmot
nielkmot

Reply 8 hours ago

interesting. i was actually referring literally to temperature, because most chemical reactions occur faster under heat. (even coffee brewing.)

it’d be fun to see what effect electricity would have on making the stain. i don’t know enough about the chemistry to even hazard a guess.

0
RonW52
RonW52

Reply 11 days ago

i assume you mean speed up the steel wool to acetate process, as wood is not viable, how would you do this?

0
KellyCraig
KellyCraig

9 hours ago

NICE ible.


I wonder if this might be better classed as a dye than a stain.

In woodworking, we, generally, think of stains as surface coats, even though the stain does make its way into the pores of the wood and some of the oils (if using an oil based stain) will penetrate, slightly, into the wood.

Dyes, on the other hand, penetrate the surface of the wood. They are less prone to hiding the wood grain because they do penetrate, rather than rest on the surface.


3
mona.blake1
mona.blake1

12 days ago on Step 11

I have done this in the past. My favorite way is let black walnuts drain into a coffee can. I then place a lid on the can and have plenty of black oil based stain that seals the wood! You always get the darkest wood that way!

0
M.J2
M.J2

Reply 11 days ago

Do the walnuts just ooze oil?
I'm intrigued are these whole, crushed, shell/no shell... do tell!

1
mona.blake1
mona.blake1

Reply 11 days ago

Collect walnuts that have dropped in August. Place in a cloth bag when green or turning black.Hang over a coffee can. Let drain. The outside will turn black and ooze. Leave until bag is dry. Collect the stain in jars. Indians used it every year to color and waterproof their TPs and canoes. The stain will Permanent stain everything it touches including your hands. (It eventually wears off.

0
M.J2
M.J2

Reply 7 days ago

Cool!
Thanks for the reply!

0
crowhollowwoodworks
crowhollowwoodworks

Reply 12 days ago

I've used that method also, works really well.

1
lorenkinzel
lorenkinzel

12 days ago

I use the same recipe for blackening steel, except (there's always an "except") Rather than a jar I use an old can or metal bucket. Cook the steel wool & vinegar just below boil for about 20 min. It will begin to smell like it would taste sweet if you were stupid enough to taste it. Add the tea, about another 15 min & throw the steel parts in. The longer you cook the steel, the thicker the coating gets. 1/2 hour is pretty good. Makes for a very black steel. Cooking the tea in adds the tannin that steel is lacking. Does not work well over galvanizing, gotta take that off first.
The leftover mix works fine on wood.

0
crowhollowwoodworks
crowhollowwoodworks

Reply 11 days ago

Great info about using it to blacken steel also. Thanks!

0
GrahamRounce
GrahamRounce

Reply 10 days ago

Any ideas about using it on aluminium?

0
crowhollowwoodworks
crowhollowwoodworks

Reply 8 days ago

I doubt it woudl work on aluminum.

1
lorenkinzel
lorenkinzel

Reply 10 days ago

Never tried it on aluminum & my knowledge of metal chemistry is small enough that my speculating would be less accurate than throwing darts in a dark room.

0
skaegget
skaegget

12 days ago

What I did when I wanted to ebonize beech handles for an old hand plane was that I made the "tea" from oak shavings. So if ordinary black tea doesn't work, try "oak tea".

hyvel.jpg
0
chefspenser
chefspenser

Reply 12 days ago

Nice job there skaegget!

0
skaegget
skaegget

Reply 8 days ago

Thank You! After the ebonizing I coated them with BLO.