Shop-made Ebonizing Stain

Exotic hardwoods like ebony are expensive, but you can create your own stain with some steel wool, old nails, and vinegar. These common items combine to make an acid stain. Vinegar is acetic acid, and when it combines with iron, it produces a stain that ranges from a silvery gray to dark black. This shop-made stain is a lot less expensive than buying the exotic woods.

Please note: Whenever you are going to work with any chemicals, be sure that you always wear personal protective gear before you start doing any mixing.

Mixing the Stain

Step 1: Start with a clean, 1-quart glass or plastic container.

Step 2: Add unfolded steel wool pads, rusty nails, and old metal screws. The more iron content, the faster the color will develop.

Step 3: Fill the container 3/4 full with household vinegar (common 5% vinegar).

Step 4: Cover the container with a piece of cardboard, and allow it to ferment. Do not use a tight-fitting lid because the fermentation process creates a non-toxic gas that needs to escape. Take out the iron items after you achieve your color. Over time the acid stain may start to turn a greenish color as the iron continues to oxidize. Also, as the acid stain ages, it will lose it potency and the stain will become a lighter color.

Step 5: Allow the chemicals to react for a few hours.

Step 6: Test the color on a piece of scrap from the wood you plan on ebonizing. Mix the solution thoroughly before applying it.

Different Woods Yield Different Results

Baltic birch, oak, and walnut are all treated with the stain. The top section shows the natural wood, and the bottom section shows what the color will be like after you apply the stain and a clear finish.

Certain woods will take the stain better than others. Oak and walnut, which are higher in natural tannin, work the best. Allow the test stain to dry and then apply several clear coats to see the fi nal color.

The color of the stain depends on the length of time you allow the stain to ferment and the iron contents of your materials.

Once you have achieved your target color, stop the aging process by filtering the liquid through a paint strainer, coffee filter, or cheesecloth into a clean jar. If the color becomes too strong, you can add water or clean vinegar to dilute the color strength.

Documenting Your Process

For consistent results, keep notes and test your stain on the same wood you want to color. Testing on the same wood will alert you to any compatibility problems. Note the length of time you allowed the stain to react next to the test area, so you can achieve the same color in the future. Be sure to stain your pieces right away and only make enough stain for each job. Over time the acid stain will start to turn a greenish color as the iron continues to oxidize.

The Staining Process

Step 1: Sand the wood. Make sure the wood is clean and dust free. The stain may raise the grain on some wood. If this happens, sponge clean water onto the wood, allow it to dry, and sand off the raised fibers.

Step 2: Wipe or brush the stain onto the wood. Use a clean rag, foam brush, or synthetic bristle brush.

Step 3: Apply a clear finish. Make sure the stain is completely dry before applying your clear coat of choice.

This article is courtesy of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts.  
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