Blog – Ebonizing or blackening of your spoons

Who wants to decorate their spoons has the choice from many different techniques. In this blog I will focus on ebonizing. What is it, how does it work and how do you make your own ebonizing acetate? This and more you will read in this blog.

What is ebonizing?

Ebonizing is a technique that was used in the past to make cheaper wood look like ebony. This was done by using the natural tannins in the wood. The tannins react to the iron in the iron acetate. Often you can already see this effect while carving fresh wood that’s high in tannins. Black smudges appear on the wood during carving and if you don’t clean your knife after carving the iron gets damaged.

Which types of wood are suitable?

Some types of wood are high in tannins, such as oak, walnut, chestnut, alder and elder.

How to make an ebonizing acetate

It’s very easy to make an ebonizing solution yourself. All you need is a glass pot, a strong white vinegar (like cleaning vinegar) and a very fine steel wool (like 000). For a fast working solution, wash your steel wool a couple of times with warm water and soap. This way, you wash away the protective layer added by the factory to prevent rusting. Pour the vinegar into your pot and add the steel wool. Add something heavy to make sure the steel wool is fully submerged. Otherwise, it will start to rust. Loosely lay the lid on the pot since the reaction will create gasses that need to escape. Wait a day, and your solution is ready to use. The longer you wait, the stronger your solution gets. When the solution settles, you can close the lid firmly.

walnut spoon that is in the process of ebonizing

Ebonizing wood that is low in tannine by adding tannins

To stain your wood black, simply apply a layer of the solution and watch the magic happen. If you want a darker effect, then add extra layers after drying. If the wood you want to ebonize does not naturally contain tannins, then you can add tannins by applying a tanning solution on your wood before ebonizing. One way to do that is by using a powder made from oak bark.
Apply one or more layers of tannins, let dry and add one or more layer of your blackening acetate. Every wood reacts differently, so try it on a wood chip first.

Playing around with decorative effects

One characteristic is that the blackening stain is superficial. This means that when you decorate your spoon with chip carving, the original wood shows. You can also partially carve it off again, creating interesting effects. Or you can apply extra tannins only on some parts of your spoon making those parts daker than other parts. This works best with wood that is lower in natural tannins, so that you can better control were you add extra tannins.

Finally a last warning: this stuff is is good for making stains on anything, so keep it away from children, pets and avoid contact with bodyparts. Also be careful with storage and during use.