Iron Supplement for your Tea?

Not so much… The last two weeks I’ve been preparing an ebonizing solution for some of my recent personal projects. Ebonizing of oak has a fairly well documented history within the 15th and 16th centuries. A few other woods have also been found to have been ebonized, usually as an accent for inlay or intarsia.

Ebonizing oak by accident had rarely been a trouble for me. I seem to be blessed with a properly balanced acid level that sweating on red or white oak can quickly result in a dark black splotch on an otherwise flawless surface. Add to that the water at my former residence and shop came from a well that had “dangerously” high levels of iron. Even run through multiple filters, I was never in danger of becoming anemic. The other bonus was that any time I wanted to intentionally ebonize oak, all I needed to do was open the tap before the filter and pour out a bit a water from the well.

Now I am attempting to ebonize oak with an iron/water solution, and I need to take a few steps that most others consider de riguer. Namely, the solution has to be prepared with water (tap or distilled), an equal volume of vinegar, and an iron source. In this case, I opted to shred a used steel wool pad and leave it in the water/vinegar mix. The first test came out fine on oak, a deep blue/black color developing in the wood. The same test on a non-tannic wood resulted in a slight greyish cast.

While I might have preferred to use a red-wine vinegar or grind oak galls into the solution, I instead went with what was readily on hand – tea. For a quart of solution I cut and shook out the leaves from four tea bags. How did this turn out?

Popple Side ByHere is a little scrap of popple I’d been testing. Light colored, diffuse porous, tight grain. The center is “clean” of the ebonizing solution. The left shows the solution before the tea was added. The right, with tea and the additional tannic acid provided. The tint of the wood is barely noticeable, though it does provide a grey/blue cast.

2013-05-29_18-14-05_81Side by side with a piece of white oak, the depth of color change is readily apparent. This is the same tea-infused solution on the two different woods. Obviously, the additional tannic acid in the oak makes for a much stronger coloring agent.

Oak 2 panelNow on to the board I had intended to ebonize. This will be a lid for a tool chest I’ve been putting at here and there. The top third or so of the board had nothing differently done to it than the remainder. Both sections are oak, and there are no discernible differences between the two. Yes, the difference does start at the glue line between panels. What might be causing the difference in “take” is currently beyond me.

Oak CloseupAnd there it is in closeup. A deep blue-black one side of the glue line, dull grey hue on the other. I’ve put it down for another coating which is currently drying. It’s amazing that the first time I’ve intentionally tried to ebonize a large piece, it doesn’t want to take.

Overall, I’m thinking that if this doesn’t pan out I may go back to “zero” and throw a bit of cheap red wine into the bottle, seeing what happens from there. I’m thinking there must be a cardboardeaux up to the task.

This entry was posted in Furniture Research, Medieval Tools, Reproduction, Wood. Bookmark the permalink.

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