We’re having a medieval science expo here in Tir Ysgithr this weekend. There’s some fighting and stuff, and some dragons and sea creatures and all… but I’m most excited about the SCIENCE! Yeah, yeah, I am biased being a scientist in real life (I should be working on an actual science manuscript right now, but my brain shut off therefore I am posting this).
I made some ink last month and it was fun, so I thought I’d share some of the pictures. First I read lots of period recipes and instructions for iron gall ink from modern ink makers. The chemistry is pretty simple and it seems like you can combine pretty much any mixture of tannic acid, water, and iron and its gonna turn a dark color. Getting that to be stable and work with your pen of choice is a little different.
I decided to use this recipe from the Booke of Secrets (1596):
Take a quart of strong wine, put it into a new pot, and set it on a soft fire till it be hote, but let it not seeth, then put into it foure ounces of gauls, two ounces and a halfe of gum Arabike, and two ounces of victriall, al beaten into smal pouder, and sifted through a siue, stirre it with a wooden sticke, and it will be good inke.
Now let’s be honest. I chose this recipe for the wine. I have a whole box of red wine in my kitchen because I am classy that way.
Step One: Oak Galls. I ordered mine from Griffin Dye Works. None are to be found in the Sonoran Desert, and I no longer have my awesome gall collection from the 6th grade. In case you don’t know, these are growths which come as a response to the injection of eggs by a super cool wasp (actually a whole group of thousands of species of wasps).
Step Two: Crush up oak galls. I used a hammer and then a mortar and pestle. This was fun.
Step Three: Steep in heated up wine and water. I used a 50/50 mix for solubility reasons, and heated it to steaming but not yet boiling. As directed, I stirred it with a stick. Tasty.
Step Four: Add gum arabic for viscosity and then iron sulfate (also from Griffin Dye Works). This is the cool magic-like part because the color change happens immediately with the addition of the iron. In fact, I got this color change all over the place: anywhere gall material and iron came into contact. For the record, Windex-type cleaner does not work at cleaning this up, but 409 bathroom cleaner does. The first picture is the iron, the second is the ink.
It goes on the paper purplish-grey, and then darkens over the next few minutes. The challenge was really in getting it the viscosity I needed to work with a quill on vellum. I first tried adding more gum arabic, and then tried letting a small amount evaporate overnight. That was too long, so I had to add more moisture. Eventually I got it to work reasonably well on the vellum. And now I have a giant bottle of more ink than I can ever use. Just in time for me to want to try many more recipes. Still waiting on the results from my light-fast and general stability tests.
Version with actual amounts I used:
½ cup filtered water, ½ cup red wine, heated
1 oz oak galls, crushed with hammer and ground with
mortar and pestle
½ oz iron sulfate crystals
¾ oz powerred gum arabic
Crush the galls with a hammer and then grind further.
Heat the wine and water.
Add the crushed galls to the liquid, and let it steep.
Stir in iron and gum arabic.
Let sit for some hours.
Filter the mixture to obtain ink.
- The Iron Gall Ink Website
- Griffin Dye Works
- And there are many versions online of: A Booke of Secrets: Shewing diuers waies to make and prepare all sorts of Inke, and Colours… necessarie to be knowne of all Scriueners, Painters, and others that delight in such arts. (1596).