Tuesday, September 04, 2012


So, today I crushed up the oak galls I had collected, using my very favorite tool:

I put them in a plastic bag, smashed them good, then transferred the smashed galls into a big stock pot. I didn't have my camera at the time, so I don't have any pics of the ground up galls, but they looked like very chunky cocoa powder, and smelled just about as good -- like warm earth and tea. I had planned to just dump them in some water and let them go to town for a week or two, but then I got antsy, and decided to simmer this batch for a while. They simmered for about an hour, and made the house smell heavenly! Dark chocolate, cinnamon, and tea, all mixed in together. Still no camera at this point, but the water turned a lovely chocolatey brown. While I was in the kitchen doing SCIENCE! (and randomly yelling SCIENCE! at Gamerboy while he played League of Legends with some friends) I cleaned up a little, since I've actually had energy since starting to take iron again.

The water level got a little low on the galls, so I topped it off a bit. I'd initially had 16oz of galls, and now with them reduced down, I had 48 oz of gall-goop and tannin juice. Then I found my camera!

Because I am not exactly known for my patience, I decided to spoon off a little bit of the juice and see if it would react yet. I crushed up a few of my iron pills, mixed them with the juice, and set them going through a coffee filter. It turned black!

I got impatient, again, waiting for it to filter, so I squeezed the last bits out of the filter with my fingers. It definitely stains!

I bottled them up so I can compare them to later batches, with fermented galls. Aren't they handsome?

Then I took a swatch video -- look at that color change!

As it turns out, according to a very smart man on the Fountain Pen Network who is a professional chemist and makes his own iron gall inks for fun, what I need to make these pen-safe is some 25% hydrochloric acid (evidently this can be had from hardware stores). That stops the Fe(II) from becoming Fe(III) (which is what turns it black) while it's still in the bottle or the pen, but once you write with it the HCl evaporates out and it turns black just fine. Lots of folks evidently use simple pen-safe dyes to make sure you can see the ink while you're writing with it -- the HCl turns it back into a clear yellowish liquid until it hit paper. Looking more into that, it looks like some of the stuff I got for nail polish will actually work for that!

Seriously, guys, I'm crazy excited over here. You don't even know. If I can make this work, I might pop up a few bottles on the shop, or mail them out to friends or some such.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Oak Galls, Oak Galls, Oaky Oaky Oak Galls!

I've been getting (back) into fountain pens and calligraphy lately, and while money is tight right now (oh, is that an understatement!) some things in life really are free. Today I was out on our patio, which is next to a large oak tree, and noticed that there were a few galls on it. I couldn't reach any of them that were still on the tree, but I went outside and collected a good number of them from the ground surrounding the tree. The iron pills I've been taking are ferrous sulfate, which is (handily enough!) the very kind of iron that's needed to make iron gall ink! I'm really excited -- I'm going to set this batch fermenting on the patio tonight, or possibly in the morning so I can take pictures, and then in a few weeks I'll collect the liquid from the galls, add the iron, and have me some ink!

Since there are about a million different iron gall ink recipes out there, and I live in Texas, Home of the Live Oaks Motherfucking Everywhere, I'm thinking that tomorrow I'll go out to some of the local parks and see if I can collect any more galls. I'd like to try fermenting one batch, boiling another, and just crushing them up and soaking. If I can see which one makes the best/darkest ink, I'd like to try bottling it up and giving it to some of my geekier friends. An ink that gets darker over time would be pretty goddamn sweet.

I've also thought of trying to make some actual verdigris -- copper and vinegar and scraping and time. I don't think I could powder it fine enough for ink, but what the hell, why not try? Copper sheets and vinegar are fairly cheap.