Category Archives: Ink Making
A Quick Oak Gall Ink update
We are coming up on the end of the two week period of the oak galls soaking in their mixture. Unfortunately, on day 14, I will be gone all day performing on the Firefhouse Follies Radio Show which I’m going to link here because you KNOW you want to give it a listen! (Sunday, 3/5, 4 PM EST, Live on the air and the internet!) The plan is to take an evening after work to finally get the ink together and to see how it all goes.
My newest addition to the experiment has been deciding to extract my own iron mixture. The plan is to use a little of it for part of the mixture and then ferrous sulfate for the other half. This way, I can see if the homemade iron mixture works at all while still (hopefully) getting some working ink from the basic recipe.
Again, this is all experimentation on my part, my idea of having fun. I really don’t know what I’m doing. As long as I don’t explode something in my kitchen I should be ok and can continue to live with the ever-patient Otter Wife! If nothing else, the folks out there reading this that do know what you are doing can get a chuckle. I’m not proud. For some light chemistry reading, check out this link.
I created the iron mixture this way. On my latest walk to my nearby creek, I kept my eyes open for rusty bits of metal. I found a nail and some other unidentifiable bits and deemed my quest a success! (The glob of “stuff” on the left is a chunk of pine tar I foraged to add to my fire pouch.)
After some pounding and bending, I placed these in a baby food jar with a solution of white vinegar and water. I used one tblspn vinegar to about 4 tblspn of water. Then, I let it sit. the vinegar goes to work on the metal and wah-lah you have, uh, something that should work! A similar thing works with vinegar and steel wool to create a wood stain.
The jars have been sitting now for several days in a window that gets sunlight every day for about 6 – 8 hours. Things are starting to look… funky.
My current prediction is that the ink that is created with the ferrous sulfate will probably turn out much better. The ink created by my goofy homebrew will be a bit more gray and possibly just crap. Both inky potions will still not be able to hold a candle to something I could go to the store to buy. See? Science!!!
Also, as a late addition, I stumbled upon this incredible link entitled Making Ink. It makes for some great information.
During the hike over the weekend we found a large collection of oak galls. I decided to baggie up what we could find so I could attempt to make some oak gall ink. With my re-found love of quill pens, fountain pens and lettering (see my Instagram account for that wackiness), I figured combining some outdoors foraging with making ink might be a fun thing to do.
One of the most intriguing things I found in researching the ink was that not only are the galls made by wasps but that the ink created from them has recorded most of European history. Stop and think about that for a moment and let that perspective sink in. Tiny little wasp. Most of written history before 1800’s. All because of how a tree forms around some wasp eggs? Yeah…
After researching on the net, I found a few recipes I liked and decided two things about the entire process. 1.) There were numerous and varied ways to make oak gall ink, from simple to complex. 2.) I was going to take all I read and just make up my own. I wanted the fun of experimentation and not a rote process. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be successful but that’s part of the suspense, right? The recipe I came up with is a bit slapdash and we’ll see how it all goes. At the bottom of this page I’ll link a few sites that were good resources for me. I encourage everyone to do your own searching, however. Do a couple of searches and lose a few hours in research. It’s fun!
My first step was to take the galls and with my “highly specialized equipment” break them down. I used an old towel to keep the remains all in one place on the concrete. I placed these in a spare glass jar for storage while I could get the rest of the recipe sorted out.
Most of the recipes I could find were based in large quantities and I failed at the math involved. (I warned you: slapdash.) At first I had assumed clean water and heat would be used and I was right on my first skim of websites. However, I started digging a bit deeper and I found information for fermenting the galls and it seems the older recipes also called for using white wine or even beer. Being a past brewer I liked the idea of my ink fermenting in some white wine. In proper slapdash fashion I found an unused bottle of cooking wine in our cabinet and figured out the proportions of what I would use. This is what I came up with.
1 cup of crushed Oak Gall
1 cup of clean water (I used bottled drinking water.)
1 1/2 cups of white cooking wine
I poured this all in an empty jar, covered it with seran wrap and then placed on the lid.
The plan moving forward is this. I’ll let the container sit for approximately 12 – 14 days. I’ll shake the container once a day. (Some recipes called for the mixture to sit for 2 months and although I do want to try that angle, I want things a little faster for the first time.)
At the end of the 2 weeks I’ll reassess and if things look dark enough, I will draw off the liquid and give it a solid boil, condensing things a bit. I’ll add in the iron sulfate and the gum arabic that all the recipes I could find called for using and, well, play with things from there.
One of my initial concerns is that the galls we found were very hollow with very thin walls. They smashed quite easily. I’m guessing they were quite old and perhaps do not have the full amount of tannins I would get from a more solid, fresh gall? All part of the experiment and as I find fresh galls this year we may just try this all over again!
Here is how things look after 5 days. Not much change!
After looking at the two pics, I’m thinking I’ll add what’s left of the crushed galls (about 1/2 cup) to see if I can’t get the solution to darken further. I may also add about 1/4 more water as it appears the galls have soaked up some of the liquid. On the other hand, things might change once the iron is added and the solution is cooked down a bit.
I’ll post an update as things go along!
If anyone has any thoughts or experience with this don’t hesitate to chime in on the comments.
Iron Gall Ink Website – http://irongallink.org/igi_indexd7ce.html
California Live Oak Iron Gall Ink Recipe –– http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/234759-california-live-oak-iron-gall-ink-recipe/
Travelling Scriptorium – Iron Gall Ink – http://travelingscriptorium.library.yale.edu/2013/03/21/iron-gall-ink/
A very nice SCA related site for Iron Gall Ink by Ian – https://sites.google.com/site/ianthegreen01/ian’sinkmakingpage