Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky Homestead | August 23, 2013

Removing Old Ink Stains From Wood

Woorworking Tips & Trade Secrets collage jpegWho would think that a stain the size of a quarter would be the source of so much frustration and work!

For those of us who purchase pieces at Goodwill, garage sales and junk shops, it is inevitable that at some point we will buy a “just too darn cute to pass up” and end up with a piece that has old ink on it.


  This is one tough table to photograph!

This vintage telephone table had a small round stain on its top when I purchased it. The main culprit here was that this ink stain was old, black ink. Not your mother’s kind of ink!


If you look closely in the lighter, sanded area, you can see a small, round black spot. That’s the perpetrator in this mystery series!

Apparently old inks were more like stains as opposed to what we think of today as ink. Quite possibly mine is India ink. And unlike more modern inks this ink is one of the most durable inks out there.


The top was beached multiple times and ultimately stained three times in Minwax Dark Walnut and then two times in Jacobean.

India ink is made from finely ground “carbon black” or soot, and not a “dye” as modern inks is. Solvents so not do much to carbon black.

Because I really wanted the top of this table to be sanded and stained, we tried all the tricks for (modern) standard ink removal; stripping, mineral spirits, baking soda and tooth paste, sanding (this top is veneer so we have to proceed very cautiously with sanding) and finally bleaching.

This old black ink was a real challenge to get out! Finally multiple coats of wood bleach did the best of any trick we tried and using dark stain to mask the slight residue that remained.

I’m told that most of the old inks were more like stains than modern-day inks as we know them. And there are two one additional trick’s one can try.

1)    Purchase some Ritz color remover that you would use on fabric and mix the powder being sure to use hot water. Form a paste and put that on the old ink stain. Leave the past on for two to three hours after covering it in plastic to keep it damp. With veneer, allow the table to slow dry with weight on it so that the veneer does not buckle.

2)    Use the solvent acetone (nail polish remover).

Then if you get to the point where you are about certain you have India Ink to contend with try these:

  • Dilute oxalic acid in warm water and apply with an artist’s brush to the stained area. Caution: Oxalic acid is poisonous, so wear rubber gloves when applying it.
  • On painted surfaces, wipe with a cloth moistened with detergent suds.
  • For unpainted or stripped surfaces, after applying the oxalic acid, neutralize the area with white vinegar and rinse with rubbing alcohol. Allow to dry. Note: Permanent inks are almost impossible to remove.

The Finishing:

Once we got the ink out it was time to paint and stain. The top was stained first in Minwax Dark Walnut and then Jacobean. The main part of the table base was painted using ASCP Old Ochre with CCC Kansas Wheat accents on front inset and side panel.

This piece is part of my working towards having lower price point options and more neutrals in the shop for our two October open houses.

Now that this table is all prettied up won’t this make a nice side table in nearly any room of your house or cottage? This table is for sale through White Oak Studio Designs.

Dimensions: H 29″ X W 21″ X  D 14″.

Sharing at:

1) Miss Mustard Seed / Friday Furniture Feature

2) Funky Junk Interiors

3) DYI Vintage Chic / Friday Features

4) The Dedicated House / Make it Pretty Monday Week 63

5) Embracing Change

Small House / Big Sky Donna

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