Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making Ink after the ferment

OK. Lots of photos today! I finished making ink after waiting 10 days for my oak galls to soak & ferment.
After 10 days of soaking/fermenting. 
You can see the dark color - more like coffee after 10 days. You can also see the layer of mold & bits  on the side & bottom of the pickle jar.

 This is sitting on the floor right next to my stove.
Drips can make permanent stains! I'm wearing old clothes. I set up this pickle jar with paper towels on the floor next to my stove to hold my spoon while I'm stirring and straining.

All the empty jars waiting to be filled!
I also put all the waiting empty ink jars on a layer of paper towels atop a plank of scrap wood to protect my kitchen counter. There will be spills.

Pouring the liquid through a strainer will take out all the larger chunks of oak gall & remove the surface layer of mold. I did not line the strainer with anything while pouring through the first time.

 I'm taking Ian the Green's advice & straining the mix through linen cloth rather than coffee filters for the second straining.

I have to agree with Ian. Straining through linen is much faster than through a coffee filter. 
You can see all the little particles caught by the linen. the resulting liquid is pretty clear.

The original recipe says to 'pour boiling water over the mixture to kill the ferment.' I'm going to bring the strained oak gall juice to a boil to make sure that I kill whatever mold may be growing in the mixture. I'll turn off the heat once it reaches a boil.

You can see the steam & bubbles.
I let it cool for a bit before adding the iron sulfate, although it was still pretty warm.

Bingo! Lovely black shade after adding iron sulfate.
Now to add the gum Arabic. I've dissolved it in a cup of tap water.

The extra cup of water really won't hurt anything since some of the previous liquid evaporated over the 10 day ferment. A bit of liquid was also lost during the straining process. More water evaporated while I brought the ink to a boil. Adding a cup of liquid with gum Arabic brings the total quantity back to about 4 cups. Stir well!

This is an easy and disposable pouring tool.
I used several paper cups to pour the ink into the bottles. The still warm ink can tend to soak through a bit.

My usual mess. Great black color though!
Keep your trash can nearby too! Everything drips & the less distance to the trash for used cups & paper towels, the better! Wipe down all the bottles after they are filled.

Hmm, maybe some rubber gloves for next time too!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Day 2 of fermenting oak galls.

About as dark as tea after one day.

Here's yesterday's photo for comparison.
Here's the recipe for this batch again:
Oak galls - 4 parts by weight (In this case 4 ounces)
Iron Sulfate - 2 parts (2 ounces)
Gum Arabic - 1 part (1 ounce)
Water - 32 parts (32 ounces, or about 4 cups)

None of these measurements are exact. I'm using a 100g package of oak galls which is 3.527 ounces. I'll probably use a tablespoon to measure the iron sulfate & gum arabic.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Crushing oak galls is great therapy!
 I just put the oak galls in a plastic bag & hit them with a hammer until all of the galls were broken into pieces.

Although there was a bit of powder after I crushed these galls, you can see I didn't totally pulverize them.
Ideally, you'd reduce all the oak galls to powder. The more surface area you create, the faster the gallo-tannic acid will leach from them.

Since I wasn't home much this weekend, I decided to try this recipe where you allow the oak galls to 'ferment' in water for 10 days or so. That way, I don't have to let them simmer/boil for several hours while I watch & stir.

Here are the quantities I'm using for this batch:
Oak galls - 4 parts by weight (In this case 4 ounces)
Iron Sulfate - 2 parts (2 ounces)
Gum Arabic - 1 part (1 ounce)
Water - 32 parts (32 ounces, or about 4 cups)

None of these measurements are exact. I'm using a 100g package of oak galls which is 3.527 ounces. I'll probably use a tablespoon to measure the iron sulfate & gum arabic.

4 ounces of smashed oak galls added to about 4 Cups of water in an old pickle jar. 
I've added the oak galls to tap water & loosely covered it with a lid to keep out contamination. After letting the mixture sit for 10 days, I'll filter out the chunks, add iron sulfate & gum arabic and see what happens. I'll probably crunch some more galls in the meantime & try a recipe where the galls are boiled before adding the other ingredients. Maybe I'll even try a batch with wine instead of water.

I'll post another photo tomorrow to compare if the water is getting any darker.

Friday, June 22, 2018

 Ink-Making Equipment
Some of the basics.
First - DON'T cross the streams! This is a good safety tip. Keep your ink-making equipment separate from your cooking equipment. They may look the same, but get some cheap gear & keep it just for making ink. You don't want to prepare food with any of this stuff after it's been in ink. That bowl in the upper right? It has a permanent black/brown stain which would absolutely contaminate your food.

That said, cheap is good! If you can't find a sauce pan or large metal bowl at the dollar store, use a large soup can or a #10 can of pudding (emptied & cleaned, mmm pudding). Not all ink recipes call for heating the ink, but a metal container can go on the stove if necessary. Hmm, hot pads would also be good. You will probably need two large-ish containers. One for the un-strained ink and one to strain the filtered ink into. It's a real nuisance to try to strain anything while you're pouring it into tiny ink bottles. You'll also need some kind of spoon to stir things, a strainer to remove the big lumps, coffee filters to remove the little lumps, tiny little bottles to store your finished ink (with water-tight caps), a funnel to get the ink into the tiny little bottles, and probably a hammer (not shown.) The hammer is for smashing up the oak galls. By the way, you can get tiny funnels like this one in the sporting goods section. They're used to fill camp stoves that use white gas instead of propane tanks. Again, don't use the funnel for anything besides ink - not sure what it would do to your camp stove to get ink in your fuel.
A good tip from Hroswitha von Lippe, "Remember spills can be permanent." (Good idea to cover surfaces with plenty of newspaper or paper towels just in case!)
Another from Ian the Green, "I recommend linen for filtering. It goes much faster. I also believe it does a better job in my opinion than the coffee filters." (Coffee filters do take a long time. I'll see if I have any linen to use this time around.)

I hope you had a chance to follow links from my last blog & read through some of the recipes. I will probably be using one of the simpler recipes this time. One that doesn't involve cooking the ink, additional ingredients, or letting the galls sit long enough to ferment.


I've posted another link to a book absolutely bursting with ink information. You'll have to contact them by email or phone (listed on the web site) rather than purchasing online, but it's well worth it at $8.95. "Manuscript Inks" by Jack C. Thompson, available from Caber Press:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

You will also need 
to make your ink.

Ink from the last batch I made.
If your ink turns out a funny color, or does something else weird, you might have contaminants in your water. My hometown sends out a water quality report once a year, so I pretty much know there's not much in there that will affect my ink. If you've got well water, or just aren't sure what's in your local water, maybe use distilled or bottled water. I've also seen some ink recipes that call for wine or some other liquid. I haven't tried any of those yet, so I'm sticking with tap water this time.

Here's a little online booklet from Yale University containing medieval ink recipes:

There is a lot of information about making ink and some recipes here:

Ian the Green has been making ink for quite some time. Here's a link to his blog:

More info about medieval ink at Stefan's Florilegium Archive:

There are tons of ink recipes online, and even more in actual treatises from the middle ages. If you find any good recipes that have worked for you, please share!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Making Ink 
Gum Arabic

I'm sure most of you are familiar with gum arabic. It's tree sap from a shrubby tree: Acacia senegal, although it was probably collected from Vachellia Nilotica (Acacia nilotica) and other species of acacia in the middle ages.

Image result for gum arabic tree
Native to Egypt.

The tree sap is collected as dried crystals.

Image result for gum arabic tree
Dried sap around a cut in the tree bark.

You can purchase it as crystals, powder, and in liquid form already dissolved in water.

Gum arabic helps to thicken the ink a bit & makes it flow through a pen more easily. You need a proper consistency for the ink to prevent it from blobbing and feathering out around the edges every time you touch your pen to the paper. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Next Ingredient:
or Iron Sulfate

Image result for ferrous sulfate
Ferrous Sulfate crystals
(Green) Copperas and Green Vitriol are the medieval names for Iron(II) Sulfate (FeSO4 x H2O) used in making Iron Gall Ink.

In the middle ages, copper sulfate was known as 'blue copperas' while zinc sulfate was known as 'white copperas.'

Kremer Pigments carries it, although I'm sure you can also purchase it from numerous suppliers as it has many modern uses. https://shop.kremerpigments.com/en/search?sSearch=ferrous+sulfate

Iron sulfate is what turns ink black when it reacts with tannic acid (extracted from oak galls) and oxygen from the air. Iron sulfate is fairly acidic though, and if you add too much to your ink, it can become corrosive and eat right through your paper or vellum over time.

Image result for corroded manuscripts ink
An example of ink eating through writing paper after many years.
It's also a very good idea to rinse your metal pen nibs after using them with this ink to prevent them rusting & corroding too! I suppose you could buy some Ph test strips - to see how acidic the ink is once it's finished. I'll have to see if I have any test strips & give that a try.

Once you write with this ink, it will turn darker on the page as it's exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere while it dries.