Making you own Walnut Ink/Dye

A very traditional dark brown dye for wood can be easily made by macerating or boiling walnut husks.  The same chemical that makes “Black Walnut” black is present in abundance in husks.  The beauty of this product is that it can be used to “balance” the color of walnut pieces that may differ significantly.  Ultimately the dye will be alcohol based.  It will cause little, if any, grain raise and it can be used as an absolutely beautiful drawing ink (although it should be used in dip pens only).

My friend Bilko has several prodigious walnut trees in his backyard and I asked if he might collect a couple of dozen of the fruits for my little venture, when they began to fall.  Today Bilko pulled up in the driveway and literally handed me my nuts in a plastic bag.  Good friends are hard to find.

So, I could have simply put the nuts (in their husks) into a covered container of water, stuck them in the basement and allowed them to macerate over the next few weeks.  But a more straightforward method is to boil them on the stove.  But FAIR WARNING, don’t do this right before you have company, as the boiling of walnut husks produces a somewhat earthy, although not offensive, aroma that some people might wrinkle their noses at.

I chose two dozen fruits of good potential and tied them up in a bag made of cheese cloth.  I put them into a stock pot (that my wife has vowed will never again be used for chili, onion soup, etc.) and covered them with water.  The cheese cloth bag will allow me to get ride of the spent product with little mess.

I’ll boil this for about four hours, give or take (as my Irish ancestors were fond of saying).  I’ll let it cool a bit, so I can handle the “nut bag”, then I’ll dispose of the husks in “one fell swoop”.  I’ll return the liquid to the fire and continue to reduce it till I arrive at a fairly thick “tea”.  (Experimentation is the key here.  Be not fearful.  Soldier On.)

After I’ve arrived at a viscosity I’m happy with (take a brush full and see how dark it is on the wood species of your choice), I’ll remove the pot from the fire.  I’ll let the pot cool till it can be comfortably handled.   Then,  I’ll begin to add denatured alcohol. (KEEP THE ALCOHOL AWAY FROM THE FIRE!!!!!!)  My ultimate goal is to add enough alcohol to absorb all of the remaining water.  There are several reasons for this.  First is that you’ve just created a medium that will support life as you do NOT know it.  Strange hairy critters will grow on this stuff faster than on a agar medium in a petri dish.  Second, we want to create a dye that will not (or minimally) raise grain, ergo alcohol.

That’s it!  Now it’s all about you taking the time to figure out how you use this stuff.  But remember, the material needed for this little experiment is “falling off the trees”.  Don’t let it go to waste.  And, remember, this is a wonderful medium for artists.  Christmas is coming and what better gift could you give to those artistic friends of yours than handmade walnut ink.  Just for fun, try dissolving a little flake shellac in the mixture.  It will give a lovely gloss to the product when used as an ink.  But, go slowly and examine the results before you start adding a “pound per gallon”.  In the near future, we’ll see how we can make and use Iron/Gall ink (the type used by the English Exchequer and the US government prior to the common use of typewriters) for ebonizing small detail pieces without all of the mess normally associated with the ebonizing process.

Notes in Walnut drawing ink

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One Comment on “Making you own Walnut Ink/Dye”

  1. Carroll Says:

    How cool is this!?!? I always loved calligraphy and to do it with homemade ink and my grandfather’s pens is ethereal! Thank you!


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