Walnut husk stain – chapter 2

The Walnuts (in their husks) soaked in the household ammonia for eight days.  The Walnuts  turned very black.  The ammonia fluid was about the same color as Guinness Stout, so it was time for a test.

I picked four samples from the scrap box; White Oak, Red Oak, Walnut and Cherry.  I applied a liberal coat of the fluid and allowed it to dry.  Later I applied a second coat at the right side of each sample.  There was little, if any, difference in color when the second coat was applied.

Top to bottom:  White Oak, Red Oak, Walnut and Cherry

Top to bottom: White Oak, Red Oak, Walnut and Cherry

The color on the White Oak is very similar to that of many Craftsman pieces.  This should come as no surprise, as many pieces in that style were fumed with ammonia.  The stain turned the Red Oak sample a very attractive reddish brown.  On Walnut, the stain deepens the color and might be used to “balance” stock that is “streaky”.  The color on the Cherry sample was a very nice warm brown.

After the stain had dried, I “slapped on” (with little or no attention paid to technique) a coat of Garnet Shellac, just to see what it would look like.


I believe that the colors created by the Walnut Husk stain are very similar to those produced by the application of dilute potassium permangenate (commonly available in crystalline form at hardware stores and plumbing supply houses for use in water filtration equipment).  Care should be taken when using chemical dyes as they are, at least, an irritant and can be dangerous (skin contact and inhalation).  Do your reading.

Well, I think I’ll put a fresh batch of Walnuts back in the jar to see if I can actually manage to darken the stain a little.  To see what “Van Dyck” Walnut stain (commercially available crystalline dye made from Walnuts) looks like on Elm, take a look at the Irish Elm Dressing Table on Mr. Jack Plane’s blog, Pegs and Tails.

Explore posts in the same categories: Finishing, historic woodworking


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4 Comments on “Walnut husk stain – chapter 2”

  1. Jack Plane Says:

    Excellent samples!

    The tonal qualities of Van Dyke make it one of the most versatile stains – natural or synthetic.

    I brew the stain to reduce it and then pour some into a very large plastic storage container – just enough to cover the bottom. I then place the lid loosely on the box to keep out contaminants, while allowing moisture to escape.

    I leave the container in full sun until all the moisture has evaporated and the walnut solids have dried and curled up. The solids are then ground up and stored for future use.

    I keep a jar of concentrated Van Dyke stain made up, from which I draw and dilute as necessary.


    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Thanks Jack. I’m going to give your concentration method “a go”. Walnuts are falling all over the neighborhood, so I may wind up with a lifetime’s supply.

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      I forgot to ask about your re-hydration method. Do you simply re-solubilize with warm water, or do you add a bit of ammonia or some other caustic agent? Truth be told, the finish on the Irish Elm Dressing table re-invigorated my interest in this particular coloring method. That coupled with my desire to spend as little money as possible.

      • Jack Plane Says:

        I make up Van Dyke with hot tap water and a drop or two of non-foaming surfactant. The dry stain is some somewhat water repellent (at least it is inclined to clag initially), so the surfactant aids with miscibility and also assists penetration.

        The stain doesn’t need to be hot when applied.


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