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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I decided to make my own black stain using white vinegar and steel wool for a bowl I turned from red oak. While I like the color and the fact that I can still see the grain pattern, it seems to make the wood appear dry and luster-less. I lost everything I had after polishing. What can I do to restore the shine without resorting to a poly? Or should I just sand it down and do something different like BLO? Plus no matter how many times I coated, there are spots that just wont stain and others that are blotchy. Is there a fix??? I'm near to ripping my hair out!:censored:
 

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Old School
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So I decided to make my own black stain using white vinegar and steel wool for a bowl I turned from red oak. While I like the color and the fact that I can still see the grain pattern, it seems to make the wood appear dry and luster-less. I lost everything I had after polishing. What can I do to restore the shine without resorting to a poly? Or should I just sand it down and do something different like BLO? Plus no matter how many times I coated, there are spots that just wont stain and others that are blotchy. Is there a fix??? I'm near to ripping my hair out!:censored:
Why not just use a black dye?






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You could have sealed in the color from your homemade stain with linseed oil or tung oil. Without knowing how you polished the bowl out it would be hard to say what the fix would be. If you used any kind of wax it's too late to use an oil finish without stripping it first. The best you could do is tint some paste wax with some universal tinting color and apply the black color with the wax.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Steve, All I did for a polish was sand, sand, and sand, then polish with a 0000 steel wool, followed by a French polish. I hadn't put anything on it until the stain. If I do put linseed oil on it do you think that will help with the blotchiness? And I didn't just use a black dye cabinetman because... well admittedly I'm a bit of a nerd and wanted to see a chemical reaction take place plus learn one method old-timers used to use. I can't help myself lol.
 

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Did you apply shellac? A French polish is a method of shellac application. If not, then I would do one of two things: Rub in a couple of coats of tung oil, or dye with a slightly thinned india ink and then apply the tung oil. Typically a topcoat brings the luster back after applying the ebonizing solution, wipe a touch on mineral spirits on an inconspicuous part of the bowl to see if you like the final color, if you want it darker, go over it with the india ink.

Next time if you want a darker black from your solution you can pre-load the wood fibers with additional tannin by brewing a tannin tea and applying that about an hour before the ebonizing solution. The best thing for tannin tea is Quebracho bark powder.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Did you apply shellac? A French polish is a method of shellac application. If not, then I would do one of two things: Rub in a couple of coats of tung oil, or dye with a slightly thinned india ink and then apply the tung oil. Typically a topcoat brings the luster back after applying the ebonizing solution, wipe a touch on mineral spirits on an inconspicuous part of the bowl to see if you like the final color, if you want it darker, go over it with the india ink.

Next time if you want a darker black from your solution you can pre-load the wood fibers with additional tannin by brewing a tannin tea and applying that about an hour before the ebonizing solution. The best thing for tannin tea is Quebracho bark powder.
I did not apply shellac. I don't know if I have the right name for what I did, but I cranked up the rpms on the lathe and took handfuls of shavings to it and let the oils of the wood polish it for me. As for the tung oil, I think I'll try a test piece on some scrap first. Thanks
 

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Steve, All I did for a polish was sand, sand, and sand, then polish with a 0000 steel wool, followed by a French polish. I hadn't put anything on it until the stain. If I do put linseed oil on it do you think that will help with the blotchiness? And I didn't just use a black dye cabinetman because... well admittedly I'm a bit of a nerd and wanted to see a chemical reaction take place plus learn one method old-timers used to use. I can't help myself lol.
I've heard of many people using the vinegar and steel wood for a stain but personally have never done it. Really I don't like the idea of putting an acid on the wood under the finish but like I said I don't have any first hand experience with it so I won't say if it's a bad idea. I would be more incline to use an dye like cabinetman suggested but an alcohol based dye. The alcohol based dye wouldn't raise the grain and would dry in a couple of minutes where it is compatible with any finish. If all you have done is sand and apply a French polish you would be able to apply the dye over the top of what you have done. The alcohol based dye is more similar to ink.
 

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Steve,
I don't have much good news for you.

The first problem is that the steel wool must be very rusted. Then the rusted mass must sit in Distilled White Vinegar for a few weeks. Finally pour the liquid through a paper coffee filter to remove any remaining gunk. The mixture can be used for a few weeks. Keep the unused solution in an air tight container.

The process of "Ebonizing" oak works almost instantly.

The bad news is that the process raises the grain. You'll need to knock the grain down with some 400 grit and apply a second coat.

More bad news is that the solution reacts with the Tannin in the oak to produce the ebony look. Any variation in the Tannin content of the oak will cause the blotching that you describe.

The worst news is that the process works very well on white oak but not so well on red oak. I've got rather good results on white oak but poor results on red oak. The red oak does not seem to have the Tannin evenly disbursed. YMMV

To rust the steel wool, wash the steel wool in the sink with any liquid dishwashing detergent. (If you value your life don't use the automatic dishwasher. DAMHIKT :no: ) Then let the steel wool "age" in a damp environment for a few weeks. I usually put the steel wool on the plastic lid from a coffee can. I'll splash a bit of water on the steel wool daily. If you have a damp area in the basement, this is a good place. Also on the floor under the toilet tank in the bathroom where most showers are taken is another good place. Do not attempt to "seal in" the moisture. The rusting process needs oxygen from the air. (Another DAMHIKT)

With the steel thoroughly rusted, do your process.
 
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There is a lot of poor information surrounding this process. What you are doing is making a salt of iron or iron acetate by mixing the steel wool and vinegar. You do not need to let the steel rust first, in fact it will give you poorer results as the rust has changed it's state. Vinegar plus Iron (Fe) makes a Ferrous acetate, Vinegar plus Rust creates a Ferric acetate. The main difference for our purposes is that Ferric Iron Acetate is NOT water soluble; Whereas Ferrous Iron Acetate is. Vinegar is a solution in water so obviously we want the water soluble version. If your solution is very reddish brown that's a big indicator that you have far more of the non-soluble solution.

So this means that you need to use clean, non-rusted steel wool or other high iron content metal, and clean vinegar. It also means that once your solution has properly "cooked" you can filter it and store that solution for quite a long time before using it.

The Iron Acetate reacts with tannin as we know to create a dark black color. But the tannin it reacts with does not have to be naturally in the wood. You can take any wood, add tannin to it, and then ebonize it. I touched on how to do this above. The color of black that this produces is a more natural looking black than you get from any dye, pigment stain or other chemical process; it seems to be a more neutral black on the color spectrum while the other methods will often have a distinct sheen of a different color. With that said, sometimes ebonizing + a thinned dye will give you the particular black you are looking for. Another option is to simply repeat the process a second time. If you ebonize and it's not black enough, wash the surface with a tannin heavy solution, wait and hour, and ebonize again. This will give you a deep BLACK on almost any wood.

When using standard white vinegar it's not necessary to neutralize the wood before finishing, but it won't hurt either. I know some use a highly watered down ammonia for this.
 

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Tyler,
I would suggest that you try ebonizing by using the rusted process.

From a chemical engineering perspective you are probably quite correct. However as a woodworker, starting with the oxidized steel wool works great for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
There is a lot of poor information surrounding this process. What you are doing is making a salt of iron or iron acetate by mixing the steel wool and vinegar. You do not need to let the steel rust first, in fact it will give you poorer results as the rust has changed it's state. Vinegar plus Iron (Fe) makes a Ferrous acetate, Vinegar plus Rust creates a Ferric acetate. The main difference for our purposes is that Ferric Iron Acetate is NOT water soluble; Whereas Ferrous Iron Acetate is. Vinegar is a solution in water so obviously we want the water soluble version. If your solution is very reddish brown that's a big indicator that you have far more of the non-soluble solution.

So this means that you need to use clean, non-rusted steel wool or other high iron content metal, and clean vinegar. It also means that once your solution has properly "cooked" you can filter it and store that solution for quite a long time before using it.

The Iron Acetate reacts with tannin as we know to create a dark black color. But the tannin it reacts with does not have to be naturally in the wood. You can take any wood, add tannin to it, and then ebonize it. I touched on how to do this above. The color of black that this produces is a more natural looking black than you get from any dye, pigment stain or other chemical process; it seems to be a more neutral black on the color spectrum while the other methods will often have a distinct sheen of a different color. With that said, sometimes ebonizing + a thinned dye will give you the particular black you are looking for. Another option is to simply repeat the process a second time. If you ebonize and it's not black enough, wash the surface with a tannin heavy solution, wait and hour, and ebonize again. This will give you a deep BLACK on almost any wood.

When using standard white vinegar it's not necessary to neutralize the wood before finishing, but it won't hurt either. I know some use a highly watered down ammonia for this.
Would any tannin solution work? I'm an amateur home winemaker and I have plenty of wine tannin I could use. Also if I did bathe it, would I have to strip off what's already done or just wash it?
 

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Rrich:
Sorry I was in a hurry when I wrote that up, hope it didn't come off as rude. I'm sure the rusted way works, but I imagine that what it actually working is the iron under the rust. I believe that the inconsistencies many experience with this process is due to having a high concentration of the ferric acetate suspended in their solution. You did hit on an important fact that I failed to mention which is to make sure there is no rust inhibitor on your metal of choice. Washing with dish soap is a great way to remove any. In the end if your process gives you the results you are looking for thats all you need. I just wanted to lay out the info so others can use it to trouble shoot inconsistent results.

Steve_G
The short answer is yes, any tannin will work. I dont know anything about wine tannin, though I would bet it would work. What form is it in? Powder? I use a powdered tannin that taxidermists or leather workers use for leather. But I have also used plain black tea made very strong as a high tannin solution. This darkens the wood a bit by itself, but not in a bad way.

Unfortunately I don't know exactly the concentration you should use of your tannin, but I'd think that a tablespoon in one cup of water would work. If you get bored I would love to see a board done gradient style with different concentrations of tannin solution.

No need to strip anything as long as you haven't added a topcoat or waxed it. You can paint the tannin solution right over the current ebonizing. Let that just get dry (usually an hour give or take) and then reapply your vinegar solution. Let me know if you have any other questions, or feel free to PM me.
 

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Rrich:
Sorry I was in a hurry when I wrote that up, hope it didn't come off as rude.
You didn't and you aren't! Your knowledge of chemistry is far beyond mine. Sorry if I can off as snippy it was not my intention.

I got my recipe from either a book or a magazine. I used an old aquarium pump to aerate the steel wool in a tub of water. (3 or 4 weeks) Then did the distilled white vinegar thing. BTW - The recipe emphasized white DISTILLED vinegar. I don't know why.

I thought that the ferric acetate reacted with the tannin in the oak. I'm not certain what adding external tannin to the oak would accomplish.
 
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