A little more about making Walnut Ink

This is worth sharing.  After boiling down the two dozen husks for four hours, I decanted approximately 375 ml of liquid.  I put it into a 750 ml, cork stopped bottle (and I can speak to the quality of  Bullitt Frontier Bourbon).  Then I added an equal amount of de-natured alcohol, which, effectively, filled the bottle.  Of course, the liquid was quite diluted.  I let it set overnight.  After about 12 hours, I put the liquid back into the stock pot and carefully reduced it (over medium heat) until it passed the test of writing with a dip pen.  I then re-canted the liquid into the bottle.  I was left with about 200 ml of very fine ink/dye.

What’s left after reducing 750 ml (50% denatured alcohol)

The “pen” (or brush) test let’s you know if the ink is concentrated enough for use.

My goal is to fill the bottle.  So I’ll have to convince my Walnut provider to share a little more of his harvest.  You might ask (justifiably) why I would go to this extent.  Well, the answer is simple.  I’ll use this dye on American Elm, then glaze it with Van Dyke Brown artists oil medium.  The results will be stunning.  Few things that are really worth while are simply done.  And remember, one of our goals here is to really understand how our predecessors pursued their craft.  Clearly, it wasn’t easy.

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2 Comments on “A little more about making Walnut Ink”

  1. Tico Vogt Says:

    Can you describe the first step a bit more, please? You put the husks in a large caldron and then how much water do you add?
    I have a tree farm with hundreds of Black Walnut trees. Were you closer, I’d provide enough husks for you to copy the
    Bible. Also, I’m looking forward to the Elm when you’ve treated it with the ink and dye( I have lots of American Elm as well)..

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Hi Tico,

      I take two dozen green fruits (nuts in husks). I make a slicing cut through the husk, down to the nut, around 3/4 of the circumference. I tie them into a cheesecloth bag (easier to get rid of) then put them into a 2 gallon stock pot. Then I fill the pot with water (tap but distilled may be better). I boil them for four hours. I then remove and dispose of the fruits. Usually, at this point, I’ll continue cooking the mixture until it’s reduced by half. Then I’ll add an equal amount of denatured alcohol. I’ll let this set overnight, then bring it to a boil the following day until it is reduced by half. There’s no known science here, so you’ll have to experiment. But that’s half the fun. You have to test the dye to make sure it’s as strong as you want it to be. I went through 5 dozen walnut fruits to get about 700 ml of really strong dye (some of which I’ll use for ink). Only you can decide whether it’s worth the trouble. But it reinforces the fact that our predecessors had to work very hard. It’s a good thing they didn’t have TV. Generations of fine craftsmanship would have never occurred.


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