Woodworkers Source Blog
Finishing Tips & Project Help from Your Friendly Lumber Supplier

Blog Home > Tips and Tricks, Videos, Wood Finishing

You can get a magnificent effect by making ash totally black – also known as ebonizing. That’s because the wood has a large open grain, much like red oak, and you can make that texture show through while ebonizing the wood. The result is an astonishing juxtaposition of a 100% black color with the nice visual warmth of beautiful wood grain texture.

Admittedly, it’s not for everybody. Some woodworkers despise the idea of coloring wood in any way. But others don’t. Frankly, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate technique in the art of working with wood.

So how do you do ebonize ash? You have a few ways to do it, but this demonstration is by using a jet black wood dye. It’s straightforward, easy to do, inexpensive, and very fast.

Black India ink is a good choice because it comes out perfectly black with about 3 coats. The downside is it's waterbased and will raise the grain.

Black India ink is a good choice because it comes out perfectly black with about 3 coats.

If you were to do what everybody does when they want to learn about something — that is go to Google and pluck out a search — you’ll find some legends and fables about using various home-brew remedies like a solution of vinegar and steel wool. A home chemistry experiment might be fun, but sadly, it’s an exercise that won’t work well on ash. The iron ions that result from the reaction of mixing the steel with the acid (vinegar) will react with tannic acid found in some woods, such as oak, and that reaction makes the wood turn black. But there is no tannic acid in ash. So it won’t do the job on ash.

Waterproof India ink, however, will work and it’s a good option. You get a solid black color in about 3 coats. The only problem is it’s waterbased so it will raise the grain and therefore requires some extra care in order to get a good smooth wood finish.

Using a jet black dye, in this case Jet Black dye from Solar-Lux, is another fine choice and it’s the product I’ve chosen to use in the demonstration video above. Unlike dyes that you mix yourself, Solar-Lux is a premixed alcohol based dye. The trouble with mixing your own black dye for ebonizing wood is that it often comes out too gray, or sometimes blueish. The Solar-Lux Jet Black dye turns out to be a good answer to these troubles. It doesn’t raise grain and it’s solid black.

Like all dye on open grained woods, there does remain one small problem. After you apply the dye and take a close look at your piece, you’ll see that the dye just doesn’t reach down deep into the pores. You’ll see little specs of wood peeking through, but they’ll be deep in the pores. That’s due to the surface tension of the liquid, it doesn’t matter what color. But it’s most obvious when putting black on such a pale wood like ash — white specs will stand out amid a black dyed board.

Applying a jet black dye gets the surface wood totally black. It won't raise the grain because it's alcohol based. The Spanish Oak Wiping Stain by Old Masters makes sure the deep pores get colored black.

A powerful combo for ebonizing wood: a jet black alcohol based dye gets the surface wood totally black. Then the Spanish Oak Wiping Stain by Old Masters makes sure the deep pores get colored black.

But there’s a fix, and this is where it’s handy to understand the difference between dye and stain. Wood stain’s job is to color wood pores rather than the wood surface. Therefore to ebonize ash is to employ the strengths of both dye and stain.

So, in this demonstration I’ve made one sample with three parts to show you a few things:

  1. A black dye on ash
  2. A black oil stain on ash
  3. A black dye followed by a black stain on ash

Take a look for yourself, you’ll see how easy, quick, and effective this is.  If you use this method, just finish it off with a top coat of your favorite kind of clear finish. That could be polyurethane, lacquer, etc.


Ebonizing ash has a cool effect because the texture of the wood grain shows through. You get a 100% black wood without the look plastic - the wood grain shows that you indeed used real wood in your project.

Ebonizing ash has a cool effect because the texture of the wood grain shows through. You get a 100% black wood without the look plastic – the wood grain shows that you indeed used real wood in your project.

With a little side light you really get to see the grain. This may look like white specs, but in fact it's just the clear lacquer topcoat reflecting light.

With a little side light you really get to see the grain. This may look like white specs, but in fact it’s just the clear lacquer topcoat reflecting light. This is the same board you see on the left.

Vice President of Operations – Woodworkers Source
We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers

  • Defoy Nancy

    Hi Mark. Thank you so much for this extremely informative and useful video. I was wondering if using Old Master spanish oak but the water-based formula would work also. Thanks in advance for your guidance.

  • Lauren Kimberly

    I have a similar question as the last…
    A few months back I restored some bentwood chairs and loved the idea of black stain vs black paint. I stripped to bare wood, applied 2 coats of India ink, followed by the oil based black stain, then top coated with a clear shellac.

    However, the problem was some areas didn’t want to “take” the ink or stain very deep. I’ve heard of this happening with antique wood. I believe it has something to do with sanding and the pores being filled?
    Anyhow, my remedy at the time was to actually mix some of the India ink with the first layer of the shellac coat, followed by several more clear shellac coats to protect the finish. This worked beautifully at the time.

    However, many months later (and after much use and therefore cleaning) some areas are no longer opaque. Now while this has NOTHING to do with any error in your method, which produced gorgeous results, I was still hoping you may offer some guidance in how to proceed with restoring a uniform finish.

  • jennifer robison

    My question is what do you do if it gets scratched? what is the touch up process. I am planning on using this in my kitchen and on the interior doors through out my house. My builder is very concerned about the ability to touch it up, warning us against this process. Please, any advice would help. I love how this looks over paint.

    • It somewhat depends on size and depth of the scratch, but I’d say most touch up could be easily done with a rag and the oil stain.

      • jennifer robison

        Thank you!! The biggest concern from my builder are interior doors getting scratched and seeing the light wood after the finish. I picked a satin lacquer so he is a tad worried it won’t hold up.

  • Collin Peterson

    When wiping off the stain, some of the dye appears to be wiping off also, causing streaks. Further, I applied some shellac and that is pulling up lots of the black as well. Any tips to avoid that? I’m OK using poly, if that will help the situation.

  • Kyu

    Do you have any recommandation instead of behlen jet black?
    Because, it does’t sell in South Korea.
    Can I use old master gel stain instead of oil stains?
    Because, it doesn’t sell as well.

    And what is disadvantage of raise grain when using India Ink?

    • You should be able to find black aniline dye or tint concentrate in other brands, too.
      Gel stain will work instead of the wiping oil stain, yes.
      The only issue with raising grain is that it requires sanding; it’s not bad, you just need to know that it is one more step you’ll need to do.

  • Carrie Vastano Kutter

    Would you use the same method on an oak table? I’ve had an Amish built table for 20 years but the light oak finish is showing wear and will not match in our new house. This is the look I am going for.

    • Yes, it will work on oak too. The previous finish has to be stripped off for the dye to work correctly. But it will do the same job on oak.

  • Jon

    Thank you very much for recommending these products and how to use them! I’m ebonizing a spinning wheel and it’s looking great! I may even use it on a couple other projects I’ve got planned. Thanks again for all your help!

  • Nate

    I recently used this technique on a small bathroom vanity and it looks great. I used poplar which doesn’t have a grain that’s as open as oak or ash, so it was pretty black after only applying the dye. I wasn’t sure if I needed the 2nd step of applying the stain, but I found the stain brought out the grain and gave it a richer wood look. Tough to see in the pictures, but it is there.

  • Adam C Marshall

    How would I go about getting a matte finish on ash that has a rough cut? I am trying to match the look in the photos for the fronts of my cabinets. I have found a local lumberyard that can provide air dryed rough cut ash, but I’m wondering what products and techniques would help me get a similar effect.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4c3c22ea97aa8a765d9b890a3c0f5a68b82264ac40f609c38d6390ce585c9a2b.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/06146f011f95a7ea9f6288e8060f7a6cf26a427422499b19ff73288d6e003afe.jpg

    • Hard to say. Spraying is probably the only way, if there’s a finish at all. Can’t tell from the pictures, but I think brush on or wipe on products are just going to give you grief, snagging the saw marks along the way. Try a flat or matte spray lacquer on a test piece, see if it works. You might need to toy with doing some very light sanding with a sanding sponge, or maybe a wire wheel, on the rough sawn surface to clean off stray fibers. You’ll have to find your own acceptable balance between the rough sawn look and a clean-ish surface for finishing.

      The chalky black gray color is a challenge. It looks great! It’s possibly just a sprayed dye, but who knows?

      • Adam C Marshall

        Great, thanks! Would the wipe on dye/stain technique work for birch ply or would I be better off to not use birch?

        • Yes, it’ll work. May need to do 2 applications, but it’ll work.

      • Michael Beer

        Hi Mark,

        Quick question. We are currently sampling wood cocktail muddlers, prior to production and want them dyed black to show the beautiful grains, but need them to be food safe, but also not to fade/tarnish when coming in contact with Alcohol. Do you have any suggestions?

        Thanks so much,

        • Michael,
          I think your issue isn’t with food safety as much as it is long term appearance.
          While it will be food safe, the color will wear off. Eventually. Virtually all wood finishes are harmless once they’re cured. It’s just not all manufacturers go through the expense of getting a stamp of FDA approval.

          Use the dye, then coat the muddlers in mineral oil or a “salad bowl finish” (look for the FDA approved brands of salad bowl finish for positive assurance).

          Then test your muddlers repeatedly. See how long it takes to wear through the black dye. All that contact with alcohol and water and downward pressure is going to wear the finish off, and eventually go through the dye. You can prolong the life of the black dye by re-oiling or re-applying the salad bowl finish frequently.

          • Michael Beer

            Thanks for the advice Mark!

  • Breezy McDaniel

    I have solid oak cabinets that have been stained black walnut. The cabinets have not been sealed yet. My painter told me it was a “black” stain, but it is actually a dark brown. I want to achieve a dark bluish black color without using paint. Is this possible? Also, can I apply a wood aniline dye on top of the stain or do I need to sand the existing stain off completely?

    • You could try adding the dye right over the cabinets as they are now. See how that goes. If the color works out the way you want, then give it a couple coats of clear spray lacquer to protect. If that doesn’t work, then, yes, you’ll need to sand off the stain.

  • Robin

    I love the look! Do you think this method and these products would work on hardwood floors? Thanks so much!

  • Minh Su

    I have just got a new unfinished Ash guitar body and I really like the way it turns out in this video.
    I just have one question before doing this.
    I know that the guitar builder has sanded the wood to 320 grit, so do I need to sand the wood to 220 grit (as in the video) before dyeing and staining? Or can I just leave it sanded to 320 grit and dye/stain it right away?

    • Your question has two answers. First, 320 grit is perfectly acceptable. 220 is just a little bit coarser.

      Second, it’s risky business to trust another person’s sanding job on the project. Don’t assume it was done completely or done well. Give it a good inspection for scratches, and give it a sanding at 320 grit just to be sure.

      • Minh Su

        Sure! Thank you so much for your video and your advice! It helps a lot!
        I will try dyeing and staining my guitar and see how it goes.

  • Chad Yonkman

    Would this method work on Baltic Birch plywood? I’ve read that BB can be tricky to finish.

  • Kimberley Michele Jensen McDon

    What polyurethane would you recommend for my ash ebonies kitchen cabinets?

    • If they’re already installed and you have to apply by hand, get a gel polyurethane. Old Masters makes a great one. Really easy to apply, wipe on wipe off so there’s virtually no risk of runs etc. But you’ll need good ventilation in the kitchen for at least 4 or 5 hours, and you’ll need to do 3 or 4 coats. If they’re not installed yet you could use the same gel polyurethane, as I find it much easier to do than brushing. Brushing has other advantages though. The “best” way (or perhaps most ideal) is to use a spray top coat, but if you don’t have spray equipment you may have to hire someone to do it or go to aerosol cans. It would be a lot of cans! Under that condition, I would still just recommend the gel polyurethane.

      • Kimberley Michele Jensen McDon

        Thank you! We will have to apply by hand.

        I can’t find sponges with linen on one side. I can find them with terry. Do you have suggestions for purchasing the linen sponges?

        • Terry cloth is the stuff. Sorry, my mistake! I’ve been using the term linen when it’s actually terry.

          • One more thing. To apply the gel, you can use blue shop towels – they’re great for the gel poly. The terry sponge is for applying dye.

  • Kimberley Michele Jensen McDon

    I am so excited to try this! We stained several drawer fronts with a dark stain and ended up with the look on the left when I wanted the look in the middle. Thank you!!

  • Zack

    wow! That looks fantastic. I’ve been dreaming of a black bar in the basement. I’m in the process of building everything out of red oak and have been trying to figure out how to get it black. Either stain, aniline dye, or paint. I am really leaning towards your method. Any pointers for a first timer who has zero experience with stain or dye?

    • Sure! First, make a few test samples to get a feel for how the process works, but I’m sure you’ll find that it’s a piece of cake. To prep your wood, you won’t need to sand any finer than 180 or 220.

      I should point out that it’s best to apply dye with spray equipment on a large project like a bar. But if you can’t spray, I suggest applying it with a sponge. Find a sponge that has linen on one side, they’re nice for applying dye. You load up the sponge with the dye, and apply it with the linen side. It controls the flow quite well. Usually with these fast-drying dyes you have to be mindful to avoid creating lap marks, but not so much with black dye. After all, you’re going for black. But you’ll probably need to apply the dye twice. However, it goes quickly and dries within moments. Then move on to the staining and just use a cotton rag or a foam brush. It can be wiped off with “shop” style paper towels. After that dries you’re ready for the clear topcoat, such as polyurethane or what ever you choose.

      • Zack

        Thank you for the advice! I just ordered the Solar-lux jet black and Spanish Oak wiping stain. I’m excited to get to the fun part! I will be sealing with a polyurethane for most of the bar and using Enviro-tex Lite for the bar top. I’m not going to be able to spray it, but the linen sponge idea will work well. Like you said, I’m going for black. More dye can’t hurt!

        • Excellent! Be sure to send me a picture or two when you’re done (mark@woodworkerssource.com), I like to feature these things in our weekly e-newsletter.

          One more thing. You might think the dye dries too blueish or purplish, but don’t worry. It darkens up with whatever finish you put on it. It really is solid black. That’s one reason to do a couple of practice samples from start to finish, so you know what to expect.

  • Pete

    Wow, I’m so impressed that I’m afraid I may not get the same results. I want to try this on my ash cabinets, I just need to sand them down.

    • You’ll be fine. Dying wood to get a black color is about as easy as it gets. If after the first coat of dye you still have lap marks, just give it another coat until it’s black. Don’t thin the dye, it’s not necessary since you’re trying to achieve black.

  • Jt

    Ebonizing Ash is really nice but what other types of wood would give the same results?

    Thank you

    • Other open grained woods like red and white oak and, to a lesser degree, hickory will provide a similar grainy texture that passes through the black. Ash is usually the least expensive wood of the bunch, though.

      These processes in the demo can be applied to virtually any wood, (poplar, walnut, cherry, mahogany, etc), however it should go without saying that the results will vary.

      • Daniel Rodriguez

        Would this do well to stain and dye a rosewood fretboard on a guitar?