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Ebonising a Grecian Oak Bowl

Ebonising is a great way to colour wood in a traditional way, and with this second bowl from the nine ring kit I started turning last week, I thought I’d have a go. Here’s how I went about it.

grec001grec019Firstly, Let’s look at the wood. This piece is oak and iroko and I built the piece to have iroko ‘windows’ in the centre segment of the piece. The yellow contrasting with the brown of the oak would look quite nice, I thought….but, as you can see from this picture (right), the iroko looked a bit lost on the lathe amongst the oak.

So, reaching for the paint brushes and the ebonising solution, I set about darkening the oak to make the iroko pop out a bit.[membership level=”0″]


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grec003Yuck – the Ever-so Horrid Victorian Method!
Preferring not to use a commercial ebonising product, I opt for the toxic Victorian method of ebonising which is a concoction of cider vinegar and iron filings (or anything that will go rusty). For my mixture, I used half a jarful of cider vinegar (the type you give to chickens!) and anything I could lay my hands on that was rusting. It was a while ago since I made it up, but I remember putting in very old nails, old wire wool (make sure you clean off any oil first) and filings from the grinder. The lid was placed on and shaken up. Then left.

After a couple of days, the lid was loosened and any pressure released. Then shaken again and left for a couple of weeks with a few shakes as time went by. Needless to say, this mixture is not at all foodsafe, but does produce a fantastic result.

The Result
The difference between the ‘traditional’ method and the modern method is that the traditional method, as I used here darkens the wood but still leaves enough of the grain showing for the wood to still look natural (which is why the Victorians used it on Oak to sell it on as Ebony!) whereas I find the modern methods are much, much darker leaving a lot of the figure in the wood hidden or difficult to see.

Top Tip
The vinegar will raise the grain once you apply the solution. After it has dried, cut the raised grain back with 600 grit paper or 0000 wire wool. The smooth finish will return in no time.

In this video, you can see how I went about applying the solution to the Grecian bowl, and below that are some pictures of the process and the finished piece. Wear safety glasses if attempting this finish. Rusty vinegar in the eyes stings like hell and finish sanding your piece down before applying – just like any other colouring process.


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Thanks for reading and watching,