Dyo Making

In light of recent discussions of ink and the ingredients used in it's manufacture.  I thought it might be helpful to post a detailed explanation of how it's actually made.  I apologize if the post is somewhat long, but hopefully it will shed some light on the issue. 

All recipes for sofer's ink centre around three basic ingredients:

1. Oak Galls -Afeitzim

Oak galls are formed when the tiny torymus sp. a wasp, lays her eggs in the twigs or leaves of a living oak tree.
Here is the torymus sp. perched on a blade of grass, which gives the scale of the insect.

  The tree tries to eliminate the invader by producing a gall around the eggs.  This gall happens to be extremely high in gallo-tannic acid. It is is this gallo-tannic acid that we are interested in for making ink.  Certain types of oak trees produce galls with greater concentrations of this tannic acid and consequently are more sought after.  The most effective for ink-making are the Aleppo galls from Turkey.  Nonetheless, here in California there is a ready and abundant supply of perfectly adequate galls that the would be ink-maker can find simply by walking through virtually any area with oak trees. I find it's best to gather as many as one can, because those which are not used up now, will keep and will come in handy when its time to brew another batch of ink. 

2.  Copperas -Kankatum

Despite its name this mineral salt is actually derived from iron not copper.  In older texts it is often also called vitriol.  In scientific parlance it's called ferrous sulfate.  It's a slightly greenish white crystal produced by soaking iron in a 30-40% aqueous solution of sulphuric acid, allowing the water to evaporate and collecting the crystalline residue left behind. 

These ferrous sulfate crystals are approximately a centimetre across, for our purposes we will use copperas reduced to about the consistency of table salt.

For a fuller, and quite interesting description of how ferrous sulphate is produced I recommend the following CR Scientific Experiment page www.crscientific.com/ferroussulfate.html

3. Gum Arabic -Gummi

Again the name of this ingredient is misleading as it comes not from Arabia, but Africa.  The name may have originated from the gum having at one time been procured from Arab traders. This particular gum is exuded from the acacia tree, which grows in hot dry climates. 

The branches and trunks are deliberately scored to cause the sap to ooze, the resulting tears as they are called are collected, dried, sorted and exported to the world.  In addition to its use in ink and other artist's materials, gum arabic is frequently used in foods, particularly candies, but also in cough drops where the gum soothes the irritated mucous membranes. 

For our purposes, gum arabic is essential for at least three reasons, a) it keeps all the ingredients evenly supsended in solution; b) it increases the viscosity of the ink which makes it flow more evenly from the quill and keeps it from bleeding into the surface of the parchment; c) it increases the brilliancy and gloss of the ink.  From the perspective of conservation the high proportion of gum arabic in sofer's ink acts as a buffer which prevents ferro-gallic acids in the ink from corroding the parchment, a problem frequently seen in older documents.

For this recipe we are going to add a fourth ingredient to intensify the colour of the ink, namely logwood.
 Logwood comes in the form of shavings taken from the tropical haematoxylum campechianum.

Here's the basic formula for ink. I've reduced it somewhat as the original recipe I have yields some ten gallons of ink.  I write a lot, but that's more ink than I could use in two lifetimes. This will produce about 2 quarts of fine, durable ink.

3 oz oak galls
1 oz logwood shavings
2.2 oz gum arabic
1.9 oz copperas

The trick to making really, really good iron gall ink is long, slow cooking of the galls and logwood.  Some recipes I've seen call for just tossing all four ingredients together in a jar of water and allowing it to 'macerate' for a few weeks.  This is great if you want to write with a disappointingly grey ink.  However, if you're like me and want an rich, deep black ink, straight from the bottle then we need to prepare the ingredients a bit more.

Stage One: Assemble, weigh and prepare the ingredients for cooking.

**Be sure to use containers specifically designated for non-food use.  There's a good chance that these ingredients will leave a residue that would not be so good to ingest.  So just like our meat and dairy dishes, we keep our ink pans separate.

We'll be using one ounce of logwood to make this ink.  Be sure to get the good stuff for this.  The best logwood comes from the heartwood carefully planed into shavings.  This grade costs about five dollars an ounce, but is much stronger and more light-fast than cheaper varieties.  To prepare the logwood, it needs to be soaked overnight.  Use enough water to saturate and cover the wood shavings, but there's no need to go crazy and use a fifty gallon drum for one ounce of logwood.  A small Rubbermaid dish will be perfectly adequate.

Soaking the logwood overnight is an essential part of the process.  Do not skip it or you will achieve inferior results.  In the picture above you can see that the logwood has turned the water a deep, reddish colour.  It is this property that gives the logwood it's scientific name Haematoxylum, which means 'blood wood' in Greek.

Now on to the oak galls.  We need three ounces. As with everything here weigh accurately!

As you can see it doesn't take many, 59 galls in total, all of them smaller than an acorn.  If we estimate that it takes something on the order of half a pint of ink to write a Torah scroll and that there are eight pints to a gallon, and that this recipe makes 1/2 gallon, then with just these 59 oak galls we could write 8 Torah scrolls! Not bad for a little wasp. 

As one cannot simply write with oak galls in their solid state, we need to crush them coarsely in preparation for cooking.  I find it easiest to simply use a pair of nutcrackers.  Be warned, the galls are incredibly hard!  You could easily hit them hard with a hammer repeatedly and experience no result, or else no result that was afterwords retrievable.

This is what the galls should look like once they've been broken up a little.  Now, if you're feeling terribly Medieval, as I was,  you may of course proceed to grind them to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle.  Otherwise, you may feel free to use a spice mill. 

In any event, which ever course of reduction you choose, the above should be the final result.  It may be wise during this stage to wear some type of protective mask, as you wouldn't want to inadvertently breathe in powdered oak gall, it does after all contain gallo-tannic acid.  From experience I can confirm that the dust does irritate the respiratory passages.

Once done, the powder should be put in a suitable container and covered with hot water, which we will allow to steep overnight.  We have begun to extract the tannins in the oak galls.

At this point the logwood and the oak galls have been reduced finely and soaked in hot water over night.  We are now ready to begin the cooking process.  The cooking process involves three separate boilings.  In the first, take the galls and the logwood and put them into a 4 quart stainless steel pan and add four cups of water, distilled if possible.  Chlorine, flouride, salts and minerals in tap water do funny things to ink over time.

First Boiling:  Over a medium fire, boil the galls and logwood for one hour.  Replenish any liquid lost to evaporation.  Strain the liquor and set it aside.

Second Boiling:  Using the same galls and logwood add 2 1/2 cups of water and boil for half an hour.  Strain the liquor and add it to the first.

Third Boiling:  This time add only 1 1/2 cups of water to the galls and logwood.  Boil for half an hour,  and add to the rest.  Allow the whole lot to cool and steep over night.

The next day, using a bit of flannel, filter the liquor into a separate container.  Then squeeze the galls to extract whatever potency they may have left.

The liquor as you can see has turned a very deep brown.  If it comes in contact with your skin it will leave it looking quite orange and shiny.  Add water if necessary to make up the full two quarts.  Using a pitcher marked for quarts is useful at this stage.

The next day, I measured out the 1.9 ounces of copperas and crushed the 2.2. ounces of gum arabic to powder then dissolved it in about 1/2 cup of hot water.

Return the gall liquor to the fire and heat it until it is quite hot.  Then add the copperas and stir vigorously.  The dark brown of the galls will turn deep black in seconds as the chemical reaction between the gallo-tannic acid and the ferrous sulphate takes place.  Then pour in the tincture of gum arabic and stir.   

This change took place in about 3 seconds. 

In theory, you could begin writing with this ink immediately, however, I would recommend letting it age a bit.  Leave the pan uncovered for a couple of days stirring occasionally.  Oxidisation does seem to improve the the darkness of the ink. 

Then sample: 


  1. Thanks Binyomin,
    Beautiful post.

  2. Great visual post. But i always wanted to see a video of the actual ink preparation.
    Also, would be cool to see how carbon ink is prepared but i doubt people will share that..

  3. binyomin, how has this dio withstood time? If you have any long term experience with it. I would like to make my own, but am skeptical if I should actually write something of importance with it, because of this question. Have you written anything in specific with it?

  4. Any time you write with what is called an iron-gall ink, which includes hadar, nahari and this recipe as well, your writing will fade over time. With Hadar and Nahari it will also crack and crumble because of the high gum content say within fifty years.

    I can say that this is an old recipe that I inherited. It is intensely black, it dries matte, it has only a little shine when it dries and that it lies flat on the klaf. I've used it several times when clients have found the usual ink too difficult to read because it is so shiny. Personally, I know that it has lasted with no change on megillos and mezuzos that I wrote ten years ago and see no reason why it wouldn't last a century or so without fading if stored carefully.

    It seems to me that this ink would be virtually eternal if a quantity of lampblack were mixed in and a bit more gum added. There are Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries made with this type of hybrid carbon/oak gall ink that look like they could have been written yesterday.

    If you are really concerned about longevity and the permanence of your writing then I think you should probably try dyo lenetzach. All of our other inks will fade and crumble.

  5. YK,
    You wanted to see how carbon ink is prepared - here is how it starts

  6. Reading this post again where do you see something here that is not Muttar Lephicha - The Galls are not made by the Fly rather the tree to surround the eggs. - No, or have I got this wrong?

  7. Divrei Kodesh: see


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Not a "khaf"

shin in "Alter Rebbe" script