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  1. #1

    Default Ebonizing: Steel wool & vinegar method

    Alright, I thought I'd do a little something on my attempt to ebonize using the steel wool and vinegar method.

    The reason I wanted to try this over the Fiebing's dye (that Stew-Mac sells) is that it seemed like a more interesting method that wouldn't be as aggressive to binding and details.

    I scoured the Internet, googling and reading all I could find on the subject (and there is a lot out there). However, most sites list roughly the same "recipe", with a few variations thrown in there, like adding rusted nails etc.

    I'll link to a few sites and videos that I found useful, and you can read for yourselves and make your own opinion on whether you think this is something worth trying.

    My knowledge when it comes to chemistry is absolutely nonexistent, but I have understood that this procedure works by the "iron acetate" (which is what you get when the steel wool and vinegar reacts) reacting with the tannic acid that naturally occurs in wood. Different woods contain different amounts of tannic acid, thus reacting differently.

    You can add tannic acid to the piece of wood by brushing a strong solution of black tea to it, but all this is further exaplined in this article and video, which I found very useful:

    http://www.wwgoa.com/articles/projects/ebonizing-wood/




    Here is another article, that also deals with the issue not to contaminate the solution you've made:

    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/te...ebonizing_wood


    This is the only article I've come across to claim that rosewood's not a particularly good candidate for this process due to it not being able to absorb water very well:

    http://www.wkfinetools.com/contrib/j...son-EbWood.asp


    This guy on the other hand managed to ebonize a rosewood pen, without even attempting to:

    http://www.nickengler.com/Forum/vani...iscussionID=53


    Here is an article using the method for coloring leather:

    http://www.dererstezug.com/blackeningboots.htm


    Another youtube video:





    My solution:



    So how did it work for me?

    Not very well. I was really bummed, because I put a lot of effort and time into this, really hoping that it would work.

    I tried my solution on a couple of pieces of oak, which it worked great on. It was awesome to see!

    I tried my best to clean and dry out the fretboard beforehand. I cleaned it thouroghly with naphtha, and used a steaming hot wet towel. The fretboard just wouldn't accept the solution. It would seep under the frets, leaving the rest of the wood covered by the solution.

    Perhaps I didn't go about this the right way, but I tried to find out exactly how to do it before I started.


    Before:



    After:




    A thing worth noting here is that you really gotta use the right steel wool for this. I had a large pack of "Trollull" 0000 steel wool, which cannot be used for this. I THINK (not sure) the reason why it didn't work is that it's produced in some "water based emulsion" which makes it extremely resistant to corrosion. And I let it sit in the vinegar for over a week.

    After searching through every possible store in my town that could possibly carry steel wool, I found a pack of "Liberon" 0000 wool, which I immediately bought and tried, and it worked great. I let it sit for about a week as well (the longer the better)!


    I would love if anyone here (I know that Mark, mm2002 had good results with this method) has achieved better results than I did! Feel free to share your experiences with this. And also, if anyone is about to try this, please report back with your progress!

  2. #2

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    I've tried the same thing and got similar results. Didn't really seem to make too much of a change. I even used some mineral spirits to clean all the old oil and lightly sanded to remove all the old oil.. Still not much of a change...
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  3. #3

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    A couple of the videos talked about raising the grain of the wood. Wetting it to open it up, then sanding again. Wondering if you tried that? Also, is Rosewood high enough in Tannins for the darkening reaction to take place? Did you try adding the tea? Just some thoughts for you. Looks like a cool idea.

  4. #4

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    I am wondering if the oils that are already in the wood prevent the wood from soaking up the ebonizing solution? I mean we all put oils in the woods from our hands, and most people use fretboard oil of some sort. I just wonder if that prevents the woods from soaking it in? anyone? bueller?
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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonemonster View Post
    I am wondering if the oils that are already in the wood prevent the wood from soaking up the ebonizing solution? I mean we all put oils in the woods from our hands, and most people use fretboard oil of some sort. I just wonder if that prevents the woods from soaking it in? anyone? bueller?
    That's why I doused it with mineral spirits first, but still not much luck. I'd say you are right though..
    1996 Jackson PS-4 Performer - Trans Green flame
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  6. #6
    JCF Member Jayster's Avatar
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    Perhaps I'm confused at the whole idea of this?

    You can not turn rosewood into ebony, the woods feel different and have different densities... I didn't take the time to watch the videos though.
    Enjoying a rum and coke, just didn't have any coke...

  7. #7

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    The idea is to darken it, same as using the leather dye Stew Mac sells. It doesn't change the wood, just the appearance.

  8. #8

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    I darkened a rosewood board to a near-ebony appearance using a minwax "ebony" stain marker. At a distance of just a few feet, it's hard to tell it's not the real deal, even alongside my ebony-boarded axes.

  9. #9
    JCF (I have no life)Member DonP's Avatar
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    Jackson import rosewood fretboards like this and my DK2 seem to have a "finish" on top, like a urathane. If so, that would explaing the solution not soaking in. No issues with my Gibson or Fender rosewood fretboards.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by etepbbb View Post
    A couple of the videos talked about raising the grain of the wood. Wetting it to open it up, then sanding again. Wondering if you tried that? Also, is Rosewood high enough in Tannins for the darkening reaction to take place? Did you try adding the tea? Just some thoughts for you. Looks like a cool idea.
    I forgot to write this in the original post. Yes, I wet it to try and open it up, but I didn't sand the fretboard (didn't really know how to do that in a good way without harming inlays, and also I thought it would be hard to do since the frets were still on). I also added the tea, and the fretboard looked really dry after I'd gone over it a couple of times with naphtha. I applied both tea and the solution several times, since I didn't get much of a reaction with the first application.

    I tried to find out if rosewood is high in tannins, but no luck. I couldn't find anything on that through google at least.

  11. #11
    JCF (I have no life)Member xenophobe's Avatar
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    I was trying to buy that flat black custom charvel on ebay with the rosewood fretboard and I was pretty heavily invested in looking for the best way to do this.

    I ruled out Fiebing's Leather Dye. Too many reports of it coming back off unless you seal it, and I didn't want to do that. And it's very, very messy. Very messy. And goes all over the place, under tape, in between cracks in the binding, and can sometimes not take and sometimes rub off and depositing itself everywhere else to permanently stain.

    It seems that this is one of the best recipes for ebonizing:

    Sand fretboard with 400-600 grit paper.
    Wipe down with naptha if you have binding. Other solvents, acetone or lacquer thinner would work fine for unbound necks but might not be good if you have synthetic fret markers or inlays. I know from work experience both melt extruded plastics and naptha doesn't. MEK is just unnecessary overkill. Enjoy pancreatic cancer in a decade or something like that. I would personally use acetone on straight wood to get out oils over lacquer thinner which leaves a residue.
    Then use either the MinWax Black Pen or india ink, in very controlled applications, no taping required, just a steady hand.
    One or more coats until you're happy, then 0000 steel wool to knock the coarse grain back down.

    I researched this for about 2 1/2 hours last night and have deemed this to be the most effective combination, least messy and having the best result.

    I think pre-cleaning and sanding of the neck is probably the most important part if though.

    And I've never tried this, but I am confident in the procedure.


    I like your procedure a lot more though. Chemical reactions for the win. lol
    Last edited by xenophobe; 08-20-2012 at 01:59 AM.
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  12. #12

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    Pencil erasers will often help remove dye from binding and inlays. Really!

  13. #13

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    I used the Fiebing's leather dye on the rosewood board on my Epiphone Les Paul and it came out fantastic.
    The board was SUPER dry and was a pretty light-colored rosewood, and had very little grain pores when I started.
    I cleaned the board with naptha, then applied the dye with a foam paint brush.
    I left it sitting for 10 minutes, then cleaned off the excess.
    The stuff stained the binding and the inlays as expected, but a light rub with 0000 steel wool cleaned it right off.
    I then lightly coated with Formby's low gloss tung oil finish.
    Let that dry completely, then gave it a light once-over with the 0000 steel wool and it was done.

    The only issue I can say I have is those micro cracks that sometimes occur in the binding where the fret slots are cut darken and show a lot more with the dye.
    Honestly, even next to my real ebony boards, you cannot tell this is rosewood. I'm very happy with the results.

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  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by xenophobe View Post
    I was trying to buy that flat black custom charvel on ebay with the rosewood fretboard and I was pretty heavily invested in looking for the best way to do this.

    I ruled out Fiebing's Leather Dye. Too many reports of it coming back off unless you seal it, and I didn't want to do that. And it's very, very messy. Very messy. And goes all over the place, under tape, in between cracks in the binding, and can sometimes not take and sometimes rub off and depositing itself everywhere else to permanently stain.

    It seems that this is one of the best recipes for ebonizing:

    Sand fretboard with 400-600 grit paper.
    Wipe down with naptha if you have binding. Other solvents, acetone or lacquer thinner would work fine for unbound necks but might not be good if you have synthetic fret markers or inlays. I know from work experience both melt extruded plastics and naptha doesn't. MEK is just unnecessary overkill. Enjoy pancreatic cancer in a decade or something like that. I would personally use acetone on straight wood to get out oils over lacquer thinner which leaves a residue.
    Then use either the MinWax Black Pen or india ink, in very controlled applications, no taping required, just a steady hand.
    One or more coats until you're happy, then 0000 steel wool to knock the coarse grain back down.

    I researched this for about 2 1/2 hours last night and have deemed this to be the most effective combination, least messy and having the best result.

    I think pre-cleaning and sanding of the neck is probably the most important part if though.

    And I've never tried this, but I am confident in the procedure.


    I like your procedure a lot more though. Chemical reactions for the win. lol
    Thanks for the tip xeno! What is MEK?

    When I started this thread, I had actually already given up on the steel wool & vinegar, and ordered a bottle of Fiebing's Leather Dye.

    I've just applied it to my new KV4. I figured it would be a good candidate, since it lacks binding. So far, I'm really liking it! I've given it a couple of coats, letting it sit for some time (the fretboard was really thirsty), wiped it down with a cloth, and went over the inlays with a cotton bud soaked in naphtha.

    I'm gonna let the fretboard sit for the rest of the day, then give it some mineral oil, and wipe down the back of the neck with naphtha to get rid of any excess run. I didn't tape off the back of the neck since I can't imagine the dye doing any harm to a black, clear coated surface..?

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by sully View Post
    Pencil erasers will often help remove dye from binding and inlays. Really!
    Thanks Sully! Yes, I've heard this (probably from you) before.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by DalyTek View Post
    I used the Fiebing's leather dye on the rosewood board on my Epiphone Les Paul and it came out fantastic.
    The board was SUPER dry and was a pretty light-colored rosewood, and had very little grain pores when I started.
    I cleaned the board with naptha, then applied the dye with a foam paint brush.
    I left it sitting for 10 minutes, then cleaned off the excess.
    The stuff stained the binding and the inlays as expected, but a light rub with 0000 steel wool cleaned it right off.
    I then lightly coated with Formby's low gloss tung oil finish.
    Let that dry completely, then gave it a light once-over with the 0000 steel wool and it was done.

    The only issue I can say I have is those micro cracks that sometimes occur in the binding where the fret slots are cut darken and show a lot more with the dye.
    Honestly, even next to my real ebony boards, you cannot tell this is rosewood. I'm very happy with the results.

    That looks awesome!!! I'll post pics of my KV4 when I'm done with it!

  17. #17

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    Just to clarify, I don't have anything at all against a nice rosewood board! Actually it's the other way around!

    However, when it comes an all black guitar, that will be used for playing Death Metal, I really prefer the look of an ebony fretboard. It just blends in more nicely with the overall look IMO!

    I would never do this to my sunburst Fusion for example though... because it looks really nice with a chocolate brown rosewood board!

  18. #18
    JCF (I have no life)Member xenophobe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anders View Post
    Thanks for the tip xeno! What is MEK?

    When I started this thread, I had actually already given up on the steel wool & vinegar, and ordered a bottle of Fiebing's Leather Dye.

    I've just applied it to my new KV4. I figured it would be a good candidate, since it lacks binding. So far, I'm really liking it! I've given it a couple of coats, letting it sit for some time (the fretboard was really thirsty), wiped it down with a cloth, and went over the inlays with a cotton bud soaked in naphtha.

    I'm gonna let the fretboard sit for the rest of the day, then give it some mineral oil, and wipe down the back of the neck with naphtha to get rid of any excess run. I didn't tape off the back of the neck since I can't imagine the dye doing any harm to a black, clear coated surface..?
    MEK is Methyl Ethyl Ketone, it's an industrial grade solvent used to weld plastic, clean plastic and other gunk off surfaces and it's been shown to cause birth defects and cancer I believe.

    Yeah, well the leather dye results, often would look amazing, but there are quite a few reports of it not taking on some boards and rubbing off and sticking everywhere else unless you seal it. I've never tried it, but the amount of people that seem to report having issues with it was large enough for me to stay away.

    And yeah, from what I understand, it's pointless to use tape with it, just use a q-tip. And if the back of the neck is painted black, yeah, you don't have to worry. It should come out fine.



    Quote Originally Posted by Anders View Post
    However, when it comes an all black guitar, that will be used for playing Death Metal, I really prefer the look of an ebony fretboard. It just blends in more nicely with the overall look IMO!oard!
    That's why I was gonna do it. I love a beautifully grained rosewood, it is one of the prettiest woods, hence it's long history of use in furniture. But that was a flat black body and headstock, and it just looked wrong with rosewood. Plus I love all black guitars too. Every one of my guitars could be black and I would be happy with that. All black is great variety to me.
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  19. #19
    JCF Member RobRR's Avatar
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    I tried the leather dye on a rosewood board a few years ago. Looked great but would rub off on my fingers, so it was pretty much useless.
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  20. #20

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    Bringing this back from the dead, interested if you still have the pictures as the links are broken.

    I would like to darken my rosewood and havent seen anyone else try it on a rosewood board.

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