HAPPY NEW YEAR. A bit late but this is my first post of the new year. And for me, what better way to start than to document my latest ink making? I also was able to take pictures with a higher pixel rating than before, so I hope the higher quality images will be useful and nice for people. So here is the problem that I have. I love to make ink. When you make ink there are lots of fumes that while they are unlikely to cause lasting damage, are best not breathed by my toddler daughter. The fan over my stove simply takes the fumes and blows them overhead instead of sucking them outside. In short this means I won’t make ink in my own home. Fortunately I have friends who let me use their property to make ink. Yesterday I used their garage which has ample air circulation and conveniently is not around my daughter. Of course, I am in a garage so how am I going to boil the water and make the ink? With a portable gas camping stove and my trusty ink making pots.
Having the portable stove is very handy to say the least. How period is it? Obviously not at all but the chemicals from the fuel burning are very unlikely to interact with the ink making chemicals. And it is still fire instead of electric heat. Step one in making iron gall ink, break up the oak galls.
These are broken Aleppo Oak Galls. The reason we use oak galls is to extract the tannic acid from them into a liquid. I used store bought distilled water to mimic the rain water called for in the recipe. This particular batch of oak galls also happened to be very dry which caused me to have to boil them for longer. Had I taken them out of the package they came in and seen how dry they were, I would have pre-soaked them the night before. This would make releasing the tannic acid from the oak galls much easier when I was boiling them. After breaking them up you put them in the water to boil and extract the tannic acid.
Generally speaking you don’t want to try to break up all the oak galls at one time. In this case I used three (3) ounces of oak galls and simply broke up half and then the other half.
So now the hard part. Waiting. Ink making is sometimes a test of one’s patience.
The color of the water is very important. The darker the water to more tannic acid has been extracted from the galls. Notice how in the picture the water is clear? We want it to be the color of dark tea or coffee.
That is a good sign. The water is steaming, but not boiling yet. Also notice how the water level is about an inch (2.5 cm) from the top? Don’t do that. When the water starts to boil, it will boil over. Besides making a mess if you’re using fire, it can and will put your fire out.
The water took a long time to boil. This is still just the steaming stage before the water boiled. But you can see some color change. The water is just beige at the moment but that is progress!
Taking pictures into steam and still being able to see what is going on is not easy to do. What we have here is boiling water with oak galls in it. Notice the water is darker now. Also notice how the oak galls are no longer sitting on the bottom of the pot because the boiling action has lifted them from the bottom. There is actually a cycle going on here. Oak galls get pulled from the bottom and brought to the top. Oak galls on the top get forced under by the newly arrived oak galls. This cycle is a good thing. it keeps the oak galls under water and moving and this helps to extract the tannic acid from the oak galls more efficiently.
I couldn’t get a good picture of was the color of the water. What you’re not seeing is that it is a wonderful dark rich brown of a strong tea or coffee. Also notice how the level of the water has lowered. Boiling water causes water to leave the pot in gas form. This is normal. Many period recipes actually use this as a way to measure how long to boil the oak galls. They say things like “When you have reduced the water by two fingers…” and “When you have lost 1/4 of the water…” go on to the next step. I have found that typically if I start with 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water, I finish withroughly three (3) quarts (2.84 liters) of water. This is also important to the quality and color of the ink. To much liquid will thin out your ink and not let it become the full rich color it is designed to be. In this case of course we want a black color. Throw in some ferrous sulfate which in period was called copperas and/or green vitriol and you turn the whole thing black.
Ferrous sulfate in chemical terminology is Fe(II) SO4 + 7 H2O. Fe is the symbol for iron, S is the symbol for Sulfur and O is the symbol for Oxygen. Another nice thing about copperas is that it very easily dissolves in water. Why is this important for making this ink? It has iron in it. More importantly it has an iron in it that is readily able to be absorbed into the water instead of staying attached elsewhere and refusing to participate. The iron comes lose plays with the tannic acid and turns the whole thing black. Pretty cool! I used an ounce (28 grams) of copperas. But we’re not done yet. We have to filter out the oak galls. I was unable to take pictures of this process because I only had myself and the process is a two handed technique. I used another pot, used a wired mesh (in period a sieve would have been used) with a couple layers of linen scrap over it (as was done in period) as my filter. This works amazingly well. Far better and far more quickly than say coffee filters which I used to use. Once it was filtered I put the debris free liquid back into the pot. This liquid is for now a black dye. It isn’t ink though you can write with it. For it to become ink we need to add one last ingredient. A binder that will let the ink soak into the writing surface a little but will also keep it on top of the writing surface. For this batch, as I do with most batches of ink, I used gum arabic.
I used three ounces of gum arabic. At this point you can make a decision. Keep the pot on the heat source and constantly stir it so the gum arabic doesn’t cook to the bottom of the pot, or, take it off the heat and let the gum arabic naturally and slowly dissolve into the hot water. I chose to stir it until it was fully dissolved. And so I have a new batch of ink. I will be using this as a base for making a couple of different inks. There are other things that can be added after all this, including some logwood for a late 16th century ink. I plan to get up pictures of how well this ink writes in the next week or so. EDIT: Here are the test strips I did. As always thanks for reading my blog. If you find it helpful, useful or interesting please click on like and rate this post. Comments and questions are always welcome.