December Ink Making

Making iron gall ink can be done in many different ways.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes in Europe for making ink pre-1600.  Today I modified things from my normal way of making ink to adapt some methods from ink recipes I have been looking at.

The first thing I did was make sure to keep the recipe almost exactly the same.  I wanted to make sure that if the changes I made actually had an effect that I could tell it was the methods not the ingredients that caused it.  I realized that the last time I wrote a blog post about making iron gall ink was in January of 2014 “Ink Making in the New Year.”  I’ve posted about iron gall ink, dried iron gall ink, and brazilwood red ink , and what colored inks were used for.  But it has been almost two years since I wrote a blog post about making iron gall ink.  I have made many batches of ink since then including for and in classes and workshops both in the Middle Kingdom and in Ansteorra.  This is the fourth batch of ink I’ve made since moving to Ansteorra.

The recipe I currently use to make ink is very simple.

1 gallon distilled water (as an analogue I can find for period “rain water.”)

6 oz aleppo oak galls, broken into quarters ( 3 more ounces than the new year ink blog post)

1 oz ferrous sulfate (Fe(II) SO4) also called “copperas” and “green vitriol”.

1 oz gum arabic crystals

For more information on “Ink Ingredients Modern and Medieval” click on the link.

The above is a very simple recipe that has great results.  You are more than welcome to make it yourself.  The process is exactly the same as the “New Year Ink” blog post.

For a slightly more complicated ink you can take a look at my “Oak Gall Inks – Comparison of Four” that received first place recognition in the Middle Kingdom Kingdom Final Level A&S competition.

So what did I do differently this time?

This time I crushed or powdered all the solid ingredients as much as time would allow.  I used my mortar and pestle and really broke up and ground down the oak galls.  They were not powdered completely as that would have taken more time than I had, but they were much more crushed and broken down than normal.  I used a different mortar and pestle and powdered the gum arabic.  Using that same mortar as pestle I powdered 0.2 oz of cuttlefish bone.


– Just like they taught you in chemistry class, more surface area equals more reaction.  If you want to know more about how that works just follow the previous link and also this video.  So I increased the surface area for every solid ingredient I put into the ink.

Oak galls. In the case of the oak galls the boiling process extracted the tannic acid in about half the time as just breaking them into quarters.

Copperas.  The copperas domes essentially powdered so that was the same by observation.  I have no way to do a true chemical test to know if it was absorbed more or less quickly, so I simply used my own observation and knowledge from having done this before many time.  Not the more reliable method but for the purposes of making medieval ink, good enough.

Gum Arabic.  I changed two things.  1 – I powdered the gum arabic.  2 – I slowly added the powdered gum arabic to the heated solution that was now black.

Having the gum arabic powdered and adding it in slowly made the process of mixing it in immensely easier than just tossing in the crystals of gum arabic. When you use unground crystals they glop together and take forever to dissolve. its a real pain. When I added the powdered gum arabic carefully it was very easy.

The second easiest in fact. The easiest being putting the gum arabic in water 24 hours before making the ink. You make gum water, the gum arabic is already dissolved and you just dump it in.

Cuttlefish bone.  I also added in 0.2 oz (by weight) ground up cuttlefish bone.  Previous recipes have not used cuttlefish bone before.   Cuttlefish bone is about 85% calcium cabonate which is a base having a pH of 9.9  Any time you add a base to an acid in solution you create water and a salt precipitate.  You also cause the solution to head toward the neutral pH of 7.

To test to see if a precipitate was formed I filtered the ink several times before adding the cuttlefish bone. When I had no more particulate matter filtering out I added the ground up cuttlefish bone. It went into solution just as nicely as the the gum arabic did. In the agitation process of mixing and stirring froth happened. This was a kind of froth that does not happen when I do not add a calcium carbonate.

I kept mixing and the froth kept developing when I poured the solution through a filter the filter immediately clogged up with a very gritty “sandy” particulate. It was characteristically different from the ground up powder of the cuttlefish bone which is soft and light. The particulate was like rubbing small hard coarse grains of sand between one’s fingers. Coloration of course was black due to the ink. Natural coloration was impossible to tell and could be anything.

I will get the ink’s pH tested and compare it to the pH of the last batch of ink and see if the small amount of cuttlefish bone I put in had a demonstrable effect on the pH of the ink.


The basic rule of chemistry that more surface area means more and/or faster reaction is true and accurate.  No surprise there.  The preparation time for ink making went up considerably. But the time to actually make the ink decreased by more than half the normal time.  And it was considerably easier to make the ink when the solids had been ground down and/or powdered.  This alone makes the increased preparation time well worth it in my book.

How period is it to grind and powder the solid ingredients?  Every recipe is different so if you want to make a period accurate ink, follow the recipe as best you can.  To answer the question asked directly, yes, there are period recipes that tell you to powder all the solid ingredients before you add them into the solution.  So the practice is entirely period.

Additional new thing:

I am going to let this ink “age” a few weeks before testing it out.  I do this with my private stock ink and the difference is very noticeable.  We shall see how well it works with a larger batch of ink.

As always, thank you very much for your interest in reading my blog.

3 responses to “December Ink Making

  1. Pingback: Back in the Scriptorium Again? | scribescribbling·

  2. Pingback: Ink Comparison – Impromptu | scribescribbling·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s