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Acorn Iron-Gall Ink?

iron gall

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3 replies to this topic

#1 Chemist


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Posted 25 September 2014 - 20:43

Hello everybody!


Although this is not a recipe as such, it should soon become one if I get enough information on this. Should it become a recipe, I'll share it with you all.

As I live in the UK, oak galls are quite hard to find (we just don't have that many). Acorns, however, are in abundance. As I've heard that English oak galls form the English oak, or Quercus robur, are quite low in tannins (about 20%). Acorns from the same tree however, are (I believe) the Aleppo galls of the acorn world in that they contain much more tannic acid than regular acorns. Does anybody know how much of an English acorn by weight (in %) is in tannic acid? If it's anywhere around the 15-25% mark of our low-quality oak galls, they should be possible to use interchangeably with oak galls in recipes, and it'll be happy days for me, as I could then make a LOT of ink. Anybody have any info or advice on the matter?


Any input would be highly appreciated! 

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#2 dcwaites



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Posted 26 September 2014 - 00:18

Has something happened to reduce the abundance of oak galls in England? Given the amount of high-quality (wrt the ink) manuscripts produced in the British Isles from about 600AD onwards I would not have thought it was a problem.


As for the acorns, if I was going to suggest anybody to try them, it would be yourself...

I do remember reading somewhere that the best iron-gall ink was made by crushing the galls and allowing them to ferment for some weeks. Apparently the fermentation converts more tannic acid to gallic acid, giving a better quality ink.


And, others have used acorns with success. Read the comments at the bottom of this posting --


And watch this --



I have made an iron gall ink at home using tea leaves (the cheapest tea I could find, $2.50/box), steel wool and vinegar. Steep the tea leaves (i.e. boil the bewhatsit out of half a cup of tea leaves) while soaking the steel wool in the vinegar. Combine the ingredients to get a thin, straw-coloured liquid that goes from almost invisible as you put it down with a dip pen to a nice, clear, sharp grey/black as it dries and oxidises.

I wrote about it here -- http://www.fountainp...tc/#entry873869




“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t.

And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”

Granny Aching

#3 Chemist


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Posted 26 September 2014 - 00:30

It might just be the part of the country I'm in. I'll collect some acorns and treat them like oak galls, AND I'll make some batches with differing degrees of fermentation- None, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks and 8 weeks, which is the most you're meant to brew the galls for. I'll post some images of the results as I finish the inks. 


Thanks for the links, too! :D

#4 fiberdrunk


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Posted 10 November 2014 - 01:57

I just tried to make sawtooth oak acorn ink last week, but I got distracted at the very end of the process and burned the dang thing up!  Aargh!  I don't have the will to try again right now (and I still haven't gotten around to scrubbing out the pot!)  Maybe I'll try again next year.  I wasn't going to make it into an iron gall ink, though-- I was processing it the same way I do black walnut ink (i.e. repeated cooking down, adding more water, cooking it down, making it as saturated as possible).  Acorns don't have much tannic acid, or at least not compared with oak galls, but they can make a nice ink similar to black walnut.  I have made a fermented acorn iron gall ink (rather than cooked down) in the past, but it wasn't very successful, probably because it had too little tannic acid.  I've never heard of any acorn containing more than 5-10% tannic acid, though, and some like the white oak have even less than 5%.  Here's a very basic idea:


  •     White Oak (.5-2.5%)

Medium High:

  •     Pin Oak
  •     Red Oak
  •     Bur Oak
  •     Sawtooth Oak (6-9%)


  •     Black Oak
  •     Live Oak 
  •     English Oak


I have a theory that during heavy rainfall years, the tannic acid in acorns becomes diluted somewhat.  Squirrels won't generally eat a high tannic acid-content acorn unless there is nothing else to eat (it's too bitter).  So look for acorns that the squirrels aren't touching if you can (like I said, this can change year to year... some years the squirrels will eat the normally bitter sawtooth oak acorns here, but this year they don't seem to be touching them... we had a lot less rain this year than last).  It's just an observation.


I recommend keeping a close eye on the ink while you cook it down.  It'll reach a stage after some extended cooking where it will begin to caramelize, and after that it can scorch very easily.  When you start to see a caramelized film form on top, drop the heat to low, so that it is only barely steaming and only continue to cook it down as far as you think necessary (make writing samples all the while).


eta:  this is a scan of the fermented acorn iron gall ink I made in 2012.  As you can see, the color is quite thin and gray (and as it aged it turned greenish).  You can read about the process here, but I don't consider it a very good ink, especially compared to the oak gall ones.



Edited by fiberdrunk, 10 November 2014 - 02:17.

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"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

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