What do you get when you mix steel wool with vinegar? Yes, you get steel wool that smells like vinegar, but that’s not the point. I’ll give you a hint. You can start ebonizing wood with the product of your mad science experiment! Believe me? Find out for yourself with my tutorial.
- Steel wool (0000 is best)
- An old jar (plastic is better)
- Solvents (I used Mineral Spirits and Lacquer Thinner)
- Coffee filter and rubber band (optional)
Ebonizing Wood – Step by Step
The process is pretty simply. First, find your steel wool and douse it with mineral spirits. I followed up with lacquer thinner to remove the mineral spirits because I’m a bit impatient with things. The solvents are used to remove the oil that most steel wool is coated with to prevent rust. Most any solvent will work. If you’re really desperate, you can swipe your wife’s nail polish remover or use gas (I don’t recommend this and if you catch yourself or property on fire, that’s just your own fault. I’m glad you understand.) Let whatever solvent you use fully evaporate before you proceed.
Now shred your steel wool into dime sized pieces. Wear thick gloves if you like. You can get splinters from tearing steel wool. Find your jar and toss in the steel wool and add enough vinegar to cover your steel wool mountain. Put on the lid and give the jar a shake. Be sure to loosen the lid afterward so that the mixture can off-gas. Wait at least 24 hours and shake the jar occasionally. Don’t forget to tighten the lid before shaking, just speaking from experience here… “Vinegar Steel” isn’t going to be the next cologne to hit the shelves.
If you wait long enough, the steel will completely dissolve in the vinegar bath. Regardless, once your waiting threshold has been reached, you are finished up and can either filter the solution, or use it as is. I noticed that there was debris in the jar and decided to let it soak through a coffee filter. This takes forever. You’ve been warned. I ended up poking holes in the filter with a awl, which didn’t seem to speed up the process… Drat!
Ready To Filter
Now start ebonizing wood on all your projects! Woods with higher tannin content will react more than woods with lower tannin content. All you need to do is apply more solution if one or two of the applications is not dark enough. Apply this just like you would any other wipe-on finish. The grain will likely raise some amount, so be sure to touch up the surface before moving on to a top coat. Also, the solution does not go on black. It will look like really dirty water, but just give it a minute and you’ll be surprised.
Here are a few pieces I grabbed to test out. From top left to bottom right the samples are cherry, white oak, spalted maple, and rock maple. You can see that the cherry and oak pieces darkened to near black. I think with some good surface prep and an extra coat, these two would end up very dark. You can see a color variation on the oak between the sap wood and heart wood. Maple didn’t react to the ebonizing solution as much. It turned a weathered grey, which could still be quite useful.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me. If you use this on a project, let me know how it turned out! Thanks for reading!