Frame #185: Ebonized Oak

Alejandro by Diane Eugster

As a framer, my goal is to have the frame compliment the brush strokes, texture, and palette that the artist put into the painting.  This is a painting my wife (Diane Eugster) recently completed which is 12″ x 16″ and titled Alejandro. It’s from a recent open studio session of the Portrait Artists of Arizona.  When I first saw it I just knew it needed something more fitting than the black finish or gilded frame that I usually do.  This painting evokes words such as rugged, dangerous, dark, rough, better not  mess with me in my mind!  I remembered making a couple of frames quite some time ago from Red Oak and then ebonizing them with a solution that was made by dissolving steel wool into vinegar.  I got quite a response on my Instagram about this frame and the process so figured it’s worthy of a blog.

Design Sketch #185

To do this ebonizing process you need a wood that has a lot of tannic acid in it — this makes Oak a good choice.  The painting is on 1/4″ panel so to get any type of visual weight I selected some 5/4 Red Oak from Woodworkers Source.  When I design a profile it’s initially done on graph paper where I add my notes, when the frame is done I’ll usually cut a thin slice of the profile, scan it onto a piece of paper and type it up so I can read it later.  After planing a working edge the Oak was ripped to a width of 3 3/4″.  Next was creating those two  1/4″  beads on the outer edge.  This was done with Veritas’s small plow plane with a bead cutter installed.  This was also used to form the bead on the sight edge, 1/8″ here.  A 1/2″ wide dado head was installed  on my tablesaw to create the area between those beads, there will be a line of Clavos nailed around the perimeter — I found these on Etsy and have been shipped, hope they look as good in person as they did on the site!  Next was cutting the 2° angle on the face, accomplished on the tablesaw then cleaned up with the smooth plane.  Here’s some illustrations to make it a bit clearer:

Vinegar/Steel Wool solution for ebonizing

Let’s talk about the finish,  it is made by using distilled vinegar and either steel wool or rusted pieces of metal.  I prefer steel wool and only the oil free type I get from Liberon — any oil could mess up the finish. Not sure how critical it is but thought I’d note the formula and used about 3.5 cups of vinegar (way more than needed) and measured out 10″ of the steel wool.  In the picture you see me cutting it into small pieces which seems to help it dissolve quicker.  Also putting it in the sun seems to accelerate the process.  It was about a week before all of the steel wool was dissolved.  ** You shouldn’t cap the bottle during this process, I’ve been told that it can explode due to the reaction of the vinegar and steel!  Once dissolved I strain in through a fine mesh filter with a couple of layers of cheesecloth added for good measure.

Sorry, glad I do better woodwork than videography!!  Since there was quite a bit of interest in the process I thought I’d make a video.  My battery in the camera died before the video finished so it’ll stop abruptly.

It’s truly magic what the solution does! It’ll vary depending on the wood but at first it’s a very flat, almost deep bluish color.  Cheap chip brush and just put on and allowed to soak in.  This frame has 3 coats applied and allowed to dry at least overnight.  I suggest making a test piece out of the same wood you use for the project to see how it reacts to your finish. My preference is always an oil, surface coatings will eventually chip, peel, scratch, etc.  Since Watco Danish Oil has changed formulas to meet EPA requirements it’s no longer my go to finish, instead I’ve discovered Osmo Polyx Oil which I’ve been using as a finish for my furniture work too.  I use a white scrubby to work a thin coat into the frame then wipe completely dry.  Two coats will be sufficient, don’t get too carried away rubbing applying it as you’re never sure how deep the solution colored the frame.

That’s it for now, I’ll post the results once the clavos arrive and the painting is in its new home.


About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
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1 Response to Frame #185: Ebonized Oak

  1. Pingback: Frame #185 Completed — Clavos! | Woodworks by John

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