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The one overriding halacha of the dyo (sofer’s ink) is that it must be absolutely black, through and through.  No other color can be mixed in, nor can it have any composite colors.  Black – pure and simple.

Although there are several ink recipes batted about amongst the Rishonim and Acharonim, everyone today makes ink from three basic ingredients:

The most curious ingredient of the lot is Gall Nut juice.  “What is a gall nut?” you may ask…

Some species of wasps (the Marble wasp, for example) lay their eggs in oak tree branches and twigs.  When the tree identifies a possible parasite has having moved in, it quickly grows a large knot, a “gall nut,” around the foreign body to isolate  it from doing more damage.

Oak Gall Nuts on the Tree

Oak Gall Nuts on the Tree

Interior of an Oak Gall Nut.  The White Ball on the Knife Tip is the Wasp Egg

Interior of an Oak Gall Nut. The White Ball on the Knife Tip is the Wasp Egg

Gall nuts are important because they are rich in tannic acid  The pure black tint of the ink results from the reaction between the tannic acid and iron sulfate.

There are a LOT of ink recipes out there.   This is the most basic one and is from the sefer Chasdei Dovid:

Crush the galls as finely as possible.

Mix all the ingredients together into a sturdy pot.

Cook the mixture for a long time on low to medium heat until you have only a gloopy sort of residue left.

Strain out all the solid material using a fine mesh.

Pour the strained residue into a clear glass bottle and seal it tightly.  Let it sit for about 6 months until it turns jet black.

If a Sofer doesn’t have 6 months to wait, or his wife doesn’t like him messing about in the kitchen with gall nuts and ferrous sulfate, the alternative is to buy ready-made ink.

Nahari Brand Safrus Ink - The MUCH Easier Way of Getting Ink!

Nahari Brand Safrus Ink - The MUCH Easier Way of Getting Ink!

The commercially produced safrus ink is pretty good, but tends to dry out.  I have to add water to it to it regularly.  On the other hand, it is much more stable than the homemade stuff, which can develop mold and other odd afflictions.

Another advantage of the commercially available ink is that it has a matte finish (well, at least all the ink I’ve ever bought).  Many sofrim like to make or buy very glossy ink because it looks nice against the white parchment.   I don’t like glossy ink because it’s reflectivity annoys many a baal korei.

Next up – making the quill…


  1. Thank you very much for explaining the source of the “gall-nut” and its chemical interaction to create the black ink. I have wondered for some time what this substance was and how it was obtained. Oak forests were once found in northern Israel, until fairly recently (Ottoman period).

    Comment by Yonatan — July 18, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  2. I am not a sofer but an excellent ink is pure carbon black made by Noodlers and it is available in the US. It is absolutely permanent.

    Comment by Melvin Greenblatt — March 18, 2011 @ 12:51 am

  3. Why don’t the soferim use the old recipe that the rambam brings that consists of soot, gum arabic, and honey? It is not acidic which ruins the torah, and it doesn’t fade!

    Comment by chanan — July 22, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  4. Dear Rabbi Bloomenstiel, shlit”a

    1. Is the iron sulfate ferrous (Fe++) or ferric (Fe+++)

    2. I am looking for a reference as to the pen-strokes
    for each letter, alef to tof, and the final letters.

    Thankyou. Good Yom-Tov

    Jonathan S. Tutleman, Los Angeles, 323-935-3063

    Comment by jonathan tutleman — May 1, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

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