Walnut Hull Dye

In an effort to maintain my health and get a little closer to nature, I have been experimenting with black walnut hulls, and their potential for dyeing both wood and leather. Here is an example of the result:
Leather knife sheaths, and maple knife handle, dyed with black walnut hulls
The dye is made by boiling the hulls in water, which is a non-toxic solvent. This is its biggest advantage, as I need to limit and reduce my exposure to tolulene and other toxic petroleum distillates that are used in commercial dyes.
Another benefit of the walnut hull dye, is its historical authenticity. Woodsmen have used it extensively, since it makes a functional, low-profile earth-tone for outdoor clothing and equipment. So, if you are a historical reenactor or blackpowder enthusiast, this might be your preferred color.
In both wood and leather, we saturate the material with oil or grease after we put the dye on. This should prevent the dye from bleeding out later with moderate exposure to moisture. But, time and use will tell.
Want to join the experiment?


About christophersknifeblog

I am a knifemaker and dealer, and live a very diversified life in the mountains of central Idaho. I love nature, agriculture, and homesteading. My knifemaking motto and advertising slogan is, "Knives Built for the Bush." I intend them to be efficient, durable, comfortable, functional, graceful equipment for life's challenges and opportunities. My website is www.ctfischerknives.com. Please visit!
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2 Responses to Walnut Hull Dye

  1. Scott says:

    Hey Christopher,

    I’ve started making leather wallets and am looking for a method to make dye out of walnut hulls. How long did you boil the hulls? Did you cut, chop up, or scoop out the walnut beforehand?

    Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks!


    • Hello Scott,
      Thanks for your question. First, peel the black pulp off the outside of the walnut. The shell and meat can be separated later, or thrown in the stove for a few extra BTU’s. (Black walnuts are so hard to get out of the shell, some have speculated that you burn more calories digging them out than you get from the nut. But they sure have a special taste.)
      Length of time for boiling is not highly important. But I’d say, at least 20 minutes.
      If you plan on oiling the leather, it might be best to use oil instead of water for extracting the dye from the hull. If you do this, don’t feel that the oil needs to boil very much. Just keep it warm and let it soak. And NEVER leave boiling oil unattended! It could burn your house down.
      You might try starting out with a single Black walnut hull in 1/4-1/2 cup of neatsfoot oil or water–just enough liquid to mash the hull down into. Then, strain out the pulp by squeezing everything through a cloth of some kind. A piece of T-shirt fabric or nylon stocking will probably do well.
      On another note–I’ve made dye with English walnuts, where the hulls, shells and moldy/rancid meats all went in the water. It made a nice reddish-brown dye. I still have a wool sweater that is the result. It is amazing how much red color is in walnut shells and meats!

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