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Tips for Ebonizing Wood

Tips for Ebonizing Wood

Ebony is a name used for wood that is rich black in color. It is used as an ornamental wood in making exquisite pieces of furniture and items of home d├ęcor. There are many species of trees that yield black wood, and these can be found in parts of South East Asia, Africa and Mauritius. Ebony is prized for its smooth finish, fine texture and rich color. Most ebony trees belong to the genus Diospyros. The history of ebony being used in carving furniture, can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. However, during the 19th century, the popularity of ebony was revived in China and it slowly spread to the West.

Today, people are once again taking a liking to this rich, lustrous wood. Black is a color preferred by most people, when it comes to choosing exquisite furniture and other wooden artifacts for their homes. However, due to the rising price of pure ebony, people are more in favor of coloring their wooden furniture in a shade of ebony, instead of opting for the real stuff. This is what exactly the process of ebonizing is all about. It lends that expensive touch to your wooden furniture at a fraction of the cost! Sounds interesting? Well, you might be wondering if the look will be real enough. The fact is, with the advanced ebonizing techniques available today, you can get a look that is almost as “real” as the real thing, if not better!

There are several methods of ebonizing wood and you can choose one according to the kind of effect you want. In this article, we’ll look into a simple and effective method, along with some useful tips.

How to Ebonize Wood

So, you’re interested to learn how to ebonize wood? Let’s have a look at what all things you would need for the process.

Materials Required

Plastic jar with lid
Steel wool
White vinegar
Paint brush
Coffee filter
Tannic acid or tree bark powder
Measuring cylinder
Ammonia solution

So, now that you have all the required stuff ready with you, let’s begin with the process of ebonizing wood. But before that, let me remind you that you must wear the rubber gloves throughout the process, to protect your hands.

Step 1: Prepare the Iron Solution
This step involves soaking the steel wool in white vinegar till it gets completely dissolved in the vinegar. Take the plastic jar, pour white vinegar in it and place the steel wool in the jar. You can use small pieces of iron, such as nails, for the process as well. Here we shall be using steel wool for the simple reason that the thin filaments get readily dissolved in the vinegar and you get a solution in lesser time. It usually takes 5 – 7 days for the steel wool to get completely dissolved in the vinegar. So, make sure to start with this solution well in advance, so that it is ready by the time you begin with the ebonizing process. Also, make sure that the jar you are using for the solution, is not air tight but has a vent for the release of gases that are formed during the process of the metal getting dissolved in the vinegar.

Step 2: Prepare the Tannic Acid Solution
Start with this step only when the iron solution is ready. The tannic acid solution acts as a base for the ebonizing agent, which in this case, is the iron solution. You can either use tannic acid powder for the solution or use tree bark powder. Either way, you’d get the desired results. Just add the powder to hot water and use the stirrer to make a uniform solution.

Step 3: Soak the Wood
Once you have both the solutions ready with you, pour the tannic acid solution on to the wood. Use a rag to spread the tannic acid solution evenly on the wood surface, but be careful not to rub too hard. Wait till all the tannic acid solution is absorbed, before you start applying the ebonizing solution.

Step 4: Apply the Iron Solution
The final step is the application of the iron solution to the wood surface. Use a coffee filter to filter out the solution into a plastic jar. Then, using the brush, apply a thin coat of the iron solution and wait for the surface to turn a shade of black. Then apply further coats till you get the shade you are looking for. Once you feel that the wood surface has acquired your desired shade, allow it to dry. After that, apply a coat of the tannic acid solution and again leave it to dry. Your piece of ebonized wood is ready! Finish off by applying a coat of ammonia to seal the dye within the wood.

Useful Tips

Now that we have a brief idea about the process of ebonizing wood, let’s have a look at some wood ebonizing tips.

Remember to always use real steel wool for the solution. Synthetic steel wool will not serve the purpose.
When choosing the jars for preparing the solutions, make sure to use plastic jars, as metal containers might react with the contents.
If you wish to get a darker shade, you can do so by increasing the strength of the tannic acid solution.
Use a blotting paper to soak excess tannic acid from the wood surface, if necessary.
You can obtain the best results by sanding the wood before beginning with the process of ebonizing.
While soaking the steel wool in the vinegar, make sure that the entire steel wool is immersed in the vinegar. This will prevent formation of rust on its surface.
To test if the iron solution is ready for use, you can dip a piece of wood into it and see if it turns black.
During the process of ebonizing, it is possible that traces of one solution might end up in the other. You need to be careful to prevent this.
To prevent any inconsistencies, stay away from applying too much pressure on the wood surface.
You can use spray finish on the ebonized surface to enhance its look.