Wood Burning Experiment with Ammonium Chloride

Hubs and I do a lot of hands on research before we even ‘start’ a project. If you think our instructions are detailed, you should see all the behind the scenes work that goes into perfecting each step! That’s so we can be assured you’ll get the same outcome if you try one of our projects yourself 😉.

Today we’re focussing in on our process by testing out wood burning with ammonium chloride. It’s a great opportunity to take you through the trials and tribulations of a potential project in the making!

Trial and Error

With this wood burning technique, there was more error than success. As a matter of fact, I would consider it a complete fail if we didn’t learn so much along the way! Stick with us and hopefully we’ll improve it to the point that it’s good enough for one of our projects! No guarantees, but we’ll give it the ‘ol college try over the next few weeks and see what happens!

Use Quality Materials

I started with a piece of shelf liner from the dollar store as my vinyl sticker and cabinet grade plywood.

Cut Stencil

You could use a Cricut vinyl cutting machine to cut your stencil. But I thought cutting by hand into the wood itself would eliminate the possibility of seepage underneath the vinyl. Again, I think a better quality vinyl might be key – and using a Cricut will save time!

Once the design (our logo) was cut we took it outside to spray with a clear sealer.

Seal with Clear Coat

Two light coats of waterbased exterior clear coat was applied. Then we let it dry.

Ammonium Chloride

Although ammonium chloride is used as a food additive in ‘salty liquorice’, it’s mildly acidic so can cause eye, skin, and respiratory system irritation. We recommend doing this outdoors in a well ventilated area and using gloves, goggles and even a respirator if you are sensitive.

Online research shows that most people are using a ratio of 1 tablespoon of ammonium chloride to half a cup of water. I used warm water and only half the amounts noted because we were only doing a small test. I find a little goes a long way.

Additional Additive

Many complained of bleeding with this technique so one blogger added a scoop of ‘Thicken Up‘ to the mix. I figure that’s about 1/4 teaspoon for the full strength mix (or 1/8 tsp here).

Thicken Up is a great buy in the States at under $10, but in Canada it’s a whopping $30 on Amazon. No thank you! So I substituted Xanthan gum which is a thickener we use in our gluten free recipes. However, Xanthan gum does not dissolve well in liquid and it just got lumpy. I shook it, stirred it and let it sit to absorb. It didn’t get as thick as I would have liked to prevent runs.

I have an idea to solve both the lumpiness and the viscosity of the liquid in our next experiment, which I’ll share with you then.

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Once the xanthan gum is well dissolved, grab a detail brush

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… and a heat gun.

Brush On

Brush the solution onto the parts that are still bare wood and let dry.

I set the heat gun to the highest setting (4).

Keep the gun moving around; don’t keep it in any one spot for too long.

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I could have stopped with just a light shade. But in the end, I went for it and got a great dark wood burned effect. However, you can also see a fair amount of bleeding along the grain of the wood. If this was a ‘real’ project and not just a test, I’d be disappointed about that.

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Watch the Video (and subscribe)

Have a look at our quick video to see it all unfold in real time!

Blogger Laura Kampf had great success with her logo but used better vinyl and a vinyl cutter.

Laura’s logo is a negative stencil and has thicker lettering which probably helped make it more legible after using the ammonium chloride solution.

We’re excited by the possibilities so we’re not going to give up! Below you can see three other samples we did on bare wood, with a coat of clear coat and with some dry brushed white paint plus a clear coat. All these samples used the same dollar store shelf liner and liquid solution mixed for our logo. As you can see, the last one looks pretty good with hardly any bleed at all.

It’s really hard to say definitively why some samples worked but the logo didn’t! More testing will hopefully help resolve some of those lingering questions.

Lessons Learned

Hindsight is 20/20, so what would I do differently? Use the best quality vinyl. It may help prevent seepage in subsequent steps, like when we spray a top coat to seal. Also, if you leave the sticker on too long, the adhesive backing might contribute to resisting the ammonium chloride solution. The stickers on the first two were left a few days. The last sample didn’t sit for too long – about a day while the clear coat dried.

I suspect the type and grain of wood factors into the mix! The first board almost looks ‘striped’. My guess it that the liquid didn’t soak into the wood properly because of the uneven grain. On the other hand, the second board appears to have a medium grain and the last board a tighter grain. I believe each sample came from different pallets so you never know what you’re gonna get with salvaged wood!

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I’m glad we didn’t go straight to a project-in-progress. As this test proves, it pays to take the time to make samples boards first. For our next trial, I’m going to do a better job of thickening the mixture and use a better vinyl.

One Small Success with Transferring to Wood

My one small success for the week was transferring a (reverse image) paper printout of our logo to wood using a clear coat to adhere it. We let it dry over night, wet the paper and then rubbed it away.

I was surprised at how well it turned out – save for the trace bits of paper I didn’t have the patience to rub off, and the build up of clear coat around the edges! I wonder if it will still look as cloudy if we seal it with another layer of clear or if every last bit of paper has to come off?

This image transfer technique is perfectly suitable for images with finer details, like the wording of our logo 🙂

We Love Hearing from You

If you play with this chemical wood burning and/or transfer technique, or have in the past, we’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment so we can all benefit from the feedback 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Wood Burning Experiment with Ammonium Chloride

  1. So glad you shared this Sara. We’ve been wanting to play around with Ammonium chloride for the longest time. I’m looking forward to see the improvements you make as you experiment. We can’t get Thicken Up here in South Africa. I wonder how pure cornstarch would work? Or maybe even gelatin?

    • I think those are both great ideas! We can get it, but I refuse to pay ridiculous amounts of money just to experiment 🙂 I just did a thicken test yesterday with Xanthan gum again but mixed it with Inulin (which is a dietary fibre). It took care of the clumping problem and I got the same consistency as the Thicken Up but haven’t mixed it into the ammonium yet. I am excited to try it out to see if it will mix well. I’ve got some new samples drying with clear coat now and can’t wait to see if there’s any improvement!

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