Ebonizing; Steel Wool and Vinegar

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Blog entry by Allison posted 09-05-2008 02:04 AM 110733 reads 35 times favorited 39 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A few months ago I had read an article about ebonizing wood with steel wool and vinegar. Awhile back I tried this and absolutely nothing happened. I never even tried again. Ebonizing is a stain of sorts I guess. I also have heard there are several ways of doing this. The reason the original article caught my eye was because I sure as hell don’t have the money to buy Ebony (wood), and I am forever wanting or needing dark/black wood for my projects and I do not like to use paint, to the point of not making something I want to make if I need paint. (This is just a personal preference). Stain in itself can be quite expensive at times. However I just so happen to always have steel wool around especially the 0000 kind, as I use it as my last sweep of sanding. I also am one of those thrifty homemakers that likes to make a lot of her own cleaning supplies, and almost all have vinegar as an ingrediant. Even in my town, I can still buy a big gallon jug of vinegar with 2 bucks and leave the store with change!

The article I have the link to above says this

The ebonizing solution is made with two common products: vinegar and steel wool. A plastic jar with a plastic lid is best to use because the lid won’t rust.

To make ebonizing solution put a coarse steel wool pad in the jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it, loosely screw the lid on the jar. If the pad is not totally submersed rust will quickly form on the portion exposed to air. After about twenty-four hours pour the vinegar in another jar. Don’t squeeze the vinegar out of the pad or you may get bits of metal in the liquid, which will rust, then just brush the solution on the contoured project pieces you want ebonized.

A couple of days ago I ran into another article about how to do this , and I decided to give it another try. Come to find out the reason it did not work for me the first time was the steel wool I was trying to use was some generic crap that wasn’t completely steel wool. At the time I never really checked nor did I know that you can even buy steel wool that is not real steel wool. LOL!!!

The article I followed starting day before yesterday was slightly different. First of all it said to use nothing but a glass jar. Place your steel wool in it. Then cover with vinegar. (Again making sure that you do indeed completely cover the steel wool with the vinegar.) Then place your lid on it and make sure it is tight. (Not loose like the first article) and to keep it in there for 48 hours.After the 48 hours strain the liquid a couple of times thru a coffee filter and then apply.

Following is what I did this morning messing around and I was so impressed.
Above is a piece of 1/4 inch Birch plywood. This is with the first coat. I painted it on the wood with a brush for blush make-up.

(Sometimes a girls just gotto do what a girls gotto do) as this was all I had! LOL.
The dark side on the left is a second coat. the middle is what the wood looked like before I put this solution on . The right side is the same wood but the other side with just one coat.
Same piece just upside down. Now with 3 coats on the darker side and 2 on the other side.
Well now I am having too much fun. I love the way this is looking , so I gather up some funky odds and ends just to see what would happen.

On the left 1/2 inch toungue and groove pine from a drawer.The middle apiece of pine originally brought home for our wood stove.It is laying on corkboard flooring. And to the right is a 1 inch piece of Douglas Fir, that I only did half of.
This is a piece of the redwood that we just used to make our deck on our house. It has a couple of coats put on it.

I am truly thrilled that I gave this another try.(And used the right steel wool) LOL!

I have so many patterns where I need dark/black wood that I have not done. I now feel as if I can. All this was done today in a hurry.I was so excited by the outcome. I feel confident that I can ebonize wood for my intarsia pieces, yet I won’t feel as if I used paint. When I used the whole jar up of the stuff I made I came in here to write this. In doing so, I had forgotton about reading about how this can be deluted with water if you prefer a lighter dark.Of course I would not recommend doing this on a nice piece of furniture for color, but I think it is going to be perfect for my scroll work , and intarsia!

-- Allison, Northeastern Ca. Remember, Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic!

39 comments so far

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2796 posts in 4098 days

#1 posted 09-05-2008 02:12 AM

Excellent Blog!!! Thanks for the information.

-- Dennis Zongker

View CaptainSkully's profile


1611 posts in 4064 days

#2 posted 09-05-2008 02:27 AM

That beats the heck out of using Sharpie markers! Thanks for the info!

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View bbqking's profile


328 posts in 4229 days

#3 posted 09-05-2008 02:27 AM

Check out my project on it awhile back. It is actually called “iron buff”, and has been used for centuries. Also, rinse the steel wool with lacquer thinner to remove the oil coating that all steel wool has been treated with. I use this often on clock cases & etc. where I want a dark look without the expense of dark wood. If you would like, email privately and I’ll send you my “recipe”. Works great, no secret, but kind of smells like pickles. As always, bbqKing

-- bbqKing, Lawrenceville

View Chris 's profile


1880 posts in 4497 days

#4 posted 09-05-2008 02:56 AM

Wow… Thanks for the how-to Allison. That is definitely a trick to remember

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4234 days

#5 posted 09-05-2008 04:02 AM

This is the type of blog I’ve been missing lately. Something a little out of the ordinary that makes me say “I wonder how I can fit that into a project”. Thanks for posting.

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 4179 days

#6 posted 09-05-2008 04:08 AM

It works by reacting to the tannic acid in the wood, so it works great on some and blah on others.

I have chosen to go with india ink on my upcoming project. I’ve seen some really good results using that. The only issue is its actually too strong and can overwelm the grain pattern so you need to swipe it with sandpaper to reveal the figure again.

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 4273 days

#7 posted 09-05-2008 04:19 AM

Thanks for the tutorial Allison. I have been playing around with leather dye recently. It is relatively inexpensive ($5) and works great. Check out my recent project, Inside Rhapsody. It has a liming wax over the dye to bring out the grain. Prior to applying the liming wax, it was jet black. Thanks for sharing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View PurpLev's profile


8551 posts in 4154 days

#8 posted 09-05-2008 04:31 AM

Allison Also make sure you use REAL vinegar, and not vinegar-free vinegar :o) lol… sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Thanks for sharing – this is a really cool way to darken the door, I usually use Ebony-Stain, but this might be an interesting experiment to try and see the differences, and results. :)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Karson's profile


35201 posts in 4906 days

#9 posted 09-05-2008 05:10 AM

Great tip Allison. I assume that you didn’t use a 3M pad that is suppose to work like steel wool.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4391 days

#10 posted 09-05-2008 07:28 AM

Graet post thanks.
Anybody ever try Black Rite Dye (available at larger supermarkets in the laundry section) to ebonize wood???

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Allison's profile


819 posts in 4304 days

#11 posted 09-05-2008 08:46 AM

Thanks for all the comments. I sure did not expect all these. It is just I have been reading on LJ’s about the India Ink and dyes etc. I just so happen to live many, many, miles from nowhere, and could not find india ink along with the others without driving to another state. (Nevada) Reno, 110 miles from me. After doing this today I realize i probably will dilute next time. It was all nothing but a check it out thing, and I sure am glad I did.
However the hubby may not be feeling that way because every little different kind of wood I could find today ended up being painted black!

-- Allison, Northeastern Ca. Remember, Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic!

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4633 days

#12 posted 09-05-2008 12:19 PM


Great blog – Your aim is true,

Iron and vinegar ebonizing solution is a reactive dye. The iron dissolves in the vinegar (acetic acid) and forms a soluble substance (iron acetate). When this solution is applied to wood, the iron acetate reacts with the natural tannins in the wood to form a black substance known as iron tannate. Depending on the amount and distribution of tannin in the wood, the results with the iron and vinegar solution will vary.

You can increase the ebonizing effect in some woods by pre-treating it with a water solution of tannic acid. One trick is to brew some very strong tea and use that as a source of tannic acid. Pre-treat the wood by soaking with the strong tea solution and let it dry overnight before applying the iron and vinegar solution.

I use iron and vinegar solution on white oak, which is high in natural tannins. It generally produces an intense black color and allows the woods grain and rays (qswo) to show through. On woods low in tannin, such as maple, the resultant color might be shades of grey and not ebony. The tannic acid pre-treatment will help achieve a darker color. As always, test before committing your final project.

You can also make a homemade black dye by mixing some iron and vinegar solution directly with strong tea. Particles and sediment will form, so strain or filter this solution before using. I use paper coffee filters.

Another commonly available source of ebonizing dye is black shoe dye (wax free) from brands such as Kiwi or Esquire. These leather dyes are usually alcohol based and will not raise the grain as much as the water based iron and vinegar solution.

-- 温故知新

View TedM's profile


2002 posts in 4238 days

#13 posted 09-05-2008 02:13 PM

I have read several articles on this and have always found it interesting, though never got around to, or needed to, try it. Nice to see someone in the real world has tried it. I like the results. Thanks!

btw – Scoured my local BORG for a brush for blush make-up but can’t find them anywhere! :)

-- I'm a wood magician... I can turn fine lumber into firewood before your very eyes! - Please visit and sign up for my project updates!

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4752 days

#14 posted 09-05-2008 02:23 PM

Thanks for the info Allison. It’ll come in handy.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View oldskoolmodder's profile


801 posts in 4186 days

#15 posted 09-10-2008 08:15 PM

Since I’ve got a few days to experiment with things, I just got some steel wool and set-up my first jar of solution. I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Thanks for the tip, Allison.

-- Respect your shop tools and they will respect you - Ric

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