The very ink with which history is written

Or the simple process of making black walnut ink using objects found around the home and yard.

I will start this tutorial by admitting that I have not found any definitive evidence that black walnut ink was used by the English in North America during the greater 18th century. However, the materials are easily obtained often for free, the process is almost fool proof and the resulting ink creates a nice dark brown to black color which looks nice on reenactment paperwork and personal letters.


Large, non-reactive pot. I use an old canning pot that I have reserved for just such an occasion.

As many black walnuts as you want. I simply went into the yard & gathered what ever semi-green, semi-black nuts that the squirrels had left scattered in the grass. Three handfuls later and I had plenty of nuts for more than one batch of ink.

Two or three rusty objects. In ink, rust creates an iron-tannate solution which deepens the final ink color. I found 2 old bolts in the basement that were suitably rusty & tossed them in.

Enough water to cover your walnuts with plenty of room for the nuts to move.

A wooden spoon that you don't mind staining a darker color.


Toss everything in the pot, cover & allow to boil for several hours. This will smell up your kitchen, so use your oven vent fan if you don't want everything smelling strangely organic and musty for the next several days.

At this point some instructions suggest crushing the walnuts outer hull. This is beyond messy and not something I wanted to tackle indoors, so I skipped it. I've seen no ill effects in my resulting ink. If you want to dye your hands, floor, stove top and everything else within 10 feet of the pot, feel free to crush away.

Allow the walnuts & ink to steep over night or longer.

Strain out the walnuts and rusted pieces.

Continue to boil the strained ink until the liquid is reduced by approximately half. Periodically test the ink color as it boils using a paint brush or quill pen.

Allow the ink to cool in the pot.

Add 1 tablespoon gum arabic to increase ink flow. I prefer to use powdered gum arabic because it stores indefinitely & is inexpensive when purchased on-line. Adding 5% denatured alcohol can prevent mold if this becomes a problem in your ink bottles.

Bottle, label & use.


  1. Thank you for this recipe. I dye wool and silk with natural dyes like walnut and always wondered about a working recipe for ink.

  2. I am not even sure they GROW black walnut down here. But I sure wish they did, cause I would LOVE to try this!


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