I'm making a loooong table top (11 ft) out of a butcher's Block. I'm trying to end up with a black tabletop with hints of gray/blue in the tones of the wood, sort of like this chair:

enter image description here

I was told that European Alder is a good, cheap wood that'd take ebonization well with India ink. I would appreciate if someone with more experience could detail the steps needed and advise on the choice of wood.

I was thinking to take butchers block, sand down with 220 grit sandpaper, wipe clean, rub India ink on with cloth. After that what type of finish can I use? Varnish? Waterlox? The table will be used as a computer desk.

  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. I'm glad you already discovered the India ink method for this, because in many ways it's the best way to ebonise wood (which is why some pros use it preferentially to all other techniques, all of which they have access to). "What type of finish should I use? varnish? Waterlox?" Waterlox is a varnish. And yes, varnish would be the superior finish for something like this as a rule for the inexperienced or first-time user. Full instructions on converting any standard varnish to wiping varnish, and how to apply it, are in previous Q&As here.
    – Graphus
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:18
  • If you go with varnish DO NOT add linseed oil to it, this reduces the ability of the finish to build a film and significantly (I can't stress this enough) cuts down on the durability and waterproofing, both because of reduced film thickness but also a material weakening of the finish itself.
    – Graphus
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:18
  • Forgot to mention two things about the wood side of this. First, alder would be a great candidate for staining because it's close-grained but takes stain well. But it's quite soft — much softer than cherry for example which is already a big step down from oak or hard maple — so if durability (lack of denting, scoring from bumps and knocks) is a primary consideration you may want to rethink. The second, what do you understand "butcher block" to mean? The term has become debased in recent years. If you intend to join pieces face to face so their edges are facing upwards that's merely lamination.
    – Graphus
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:50
  • Hi, would India ink result in wood with hints of gray/purple/blue, like in the photos (if that makes sense) it would it be more of a deeper black?
    – Marcel Doe
    Jul 30 '20 at 16:07
  • @Graphus to clarify, I'm talking about lowes.com/pd/…
    – Marcel Doe
    Jul 30 '20 at 17:40

Butcher blocks can be made from any wood although I would recommend a hardwood. Oak, walnut, or maple come to mind. Oak has a pronounced grain and the wood will express more visually. Maple or walnut are more closed grain and should give a more uniform appearance.

I can't speak to the permanence and uniformity of ink, so I would recommend using a dye such as TransFast black powdered dye. There are other dye colors worthy of consideration as well. Dissolve it in denatured alcohol. Water can raise the grain requiring additional sanding which, of course, can re-expose natural wood color, where alcohol will not. Use a test board to determine how concentrated you want the mix and how many coats give you an even finish. The pigments in dyes are much smaller than in stains and allow the natural beauty of the wood grain to be expressed while achieving a deep rich color, where stains actually can hide the grain more.

Your 220 grit sandpaper should be adequate, although you may want to go for a final of 320 and steel wool to finish it off. Use a sanding block or powered sander to insure a flat surface is maintained. If you have access to a paint sprayer you can achieve a better result than with a brush. Although a mix of 1/3 each of linseed oil,, varnish and mineral spirits can be applied with a rag (it may take 3-6 coats to achieve your final finished appearance).

  • Thank you so much! What would I use to sand the butcher block prior to attempting to dye it? Does the denatured alcohol make it sneak deeper? Why do you mix the linseed oil, varnish, and mineral spirits? I've read that Bark Powder Tea might be good to wipe on the wood prior to attempting to ebonize, do you have any thoughts? I'm very interested in learning, thank you.
    – Marcel Doe
    Jul 30 '20 at 3:11
  • Ashlar, did you miss the bit about the table being 11 feet long? An alcohol stain on even a largish kitchen table is challenging to say the least...
    – Graphus
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:15
  • @MarcelDoe, Bark powder tea and other similar things, or just plain tannic acid solution, form part of an ebonising process with iron dissolved in vinegar, i.e. a solution of iron acetate. They're irrelevant to other methods.
    – Graphus
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:28
  • @Graphus The largest I have dyed is 30" x 60" with success. I do it in 2-3 passes (more dilute) to insure that it blends well and I get to the color I desire.
    – Ashlar
    Jul 30 '20 at 15:54
  • The mix is used to create a finish medium that can be hand applied with a rag and yield VG results without brush marks (if that is how you were to apply varnish). Depending upon the number of coats, appearance can be that of unfinished natural wood to a full varnished layer with sheen.
    – Ashlar
    Jul 30 '20 at 16:00

I’ve had really good results with general finishes product enter image description here

Oil based gel stain. Ash will also take an ebony stain well. I’ve also had good luck with alder. Here is a photo of my monitor stand done with ash. This will give you an open grain texture and grain lines will show.

enter image description here

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