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Black Oak

February 26, 2012

So we are currently in the middle of refinishing an oak kitchen table and chairs and the client wants the top of the table to be black. The only problem is that they don’t want the top painted black .They are afraid that if we use paint, they will lose the grain. Our original plan was to use a water based dye. This failed miserably, so it was back to the drawing board.

That night around 11pm my brother texted me, (he doesn’t do this often, he hates cell phones, but that’s a whole other story) he told me to find an issue of Popular Woodworking that he had given me several months back.  In this issue of Pop-Wood (August 2011)

 he told me  there was a recipe for turning white oak, BLACK! Knowing precisely where this issue was, I reached into the basket that is next to my bed. I had to  move a couple of Wood Craft and Rockler issues out of the way, but there it was. I pulled it out and used my phone for light as I knifed through the pages hoping not to wake my wife. The, “I Can Do That” project on page 24. “Lap Desk” by Mag Ruffman.

The article goes on to explain how if you let some rusty nails fester in an open container of white vinegar for at least 2 days it will instantly turn the oak black.

So my brother and I asked around to see if anyone had a bunch of rusty metal that we could have. His neighbor hooked him up with 2 paint cans filled with little rusty nails and I was able to get a bucket of screws that had been sitting on the roof of my warehouse for the last 10 years.

We now have way more than we need.

So we placed a handful of the little nails into a cup with the distilled white vinegar and let it soak for 2 days like the article said.


After 2 days the mixture did not look black, I began to worry that this wouldn’t work. I was wrong, almost immediately you can see the oak turn black. 10 minutes later and the we realized we had found our answer!

Andrew did a little more research on the subject and discovered that if you use black coffee as a wash coat before you apply the rusty nail solution it increases the levels of tannins in the wood, accelerating the chemical reaction, producing a much darker black.

To achieve the finish in the picture above the recipe was: wash coat of coffee+rusty nail solution+wash coat of coffee+rusty nail solution. Everything dries very fast, even in cold temperatures, so we were able to fly through this process.

Now that the test samples are finished, its time to let the client decide which ones we will be using on the finished product.



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One Comment
  1. Thats a great tip, so simple & cost effective. I must try that on my next oak project. Thanks for the idea.
    Ps I like the worktop made from the pallets. Must have been a labour of love.

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