Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Monday, January 19, 2015

Making Alkanet Oil

Virtually any English treatment of how to refinish gun stocks will refer to alkanet oil, also known as alkanet root oil, derived from the roots of Alkanna tinctoria (sometimes cited as Anchusa tinctoria or Lithospermum tinctorium).  If you're into making flintlocks, you can astound your friends by casually referring to alkanet root as Spanish Bugloss.

You can buy alkanet oil as part of a refinishing kit like Purdey's Warthog Finish (why warthogs were ever associated with gun stock finishes escapes me, but never mind:  the kit does perform as advertised).  This is probably the best route if you only plan to refinish one gun.  Or, you can make your own in whatever amount you want, as it keeps indefinitely in a sealed container.

Needed ingredients: 
     Alkanet root powder
     Boiled linseed oil (artist's quality, if you can find it)

When I bought my bag of alkanet root flakes from a herbal supply company ten or so years ago, it was only offered in flakes or roots, not in powder.  If that's all you can find, grind the flakes to powder in a small mill like a mill for coffee beans (you can get rid of most of the reddish stain by then grinding sugar or coarse salt in the mill).

Then add alkanet powder to the boiled linseed oil in the ratio of 1 Tablespoon of alkanet root powder to 1/4 Cup of linseed oil.  Shake or stir daily for a few days.  Heat will speed up the process, but stay away from direct heat, or you may torch your kitchen ceiling.  If it's hot enough to make sun tea, it's hot enough to make alkanet oil.  Finally, strain if needed.  Store in a tightly covered container.

Alkanet oil gives a reddish tone to walnut.  I use a coat or two, well rubbed in by hand, after coloring the stock with aniline dyes but before any sealer or finish coats.  It is additive, so more coats will slightly darken the wood.  (You could, of course, simply do an oil finish with the alkanet oil.)  After the finish is complete, I typically add a well rubbed in coat of alkanet oil and repeat periodically.




  1. The only thing you have right is Alkanet's Latin Name! 1 You do not use boiled linseed oil. 2 You do not use Art grade Linseed oil. 3 You use edible flax seed oil for purity. Incidentally English "Red Oil" does not have Dryers added. 3 you can not use this Alkanet and Linseed oil mix as a final finish because it does not put up with sweat from your hands. For the correct form of oil English gun stock finish there is far more to the process than these poor recommendations. Oh I have only been finish gunstocks for some forty years using the English oil finish process, So what do I know!!! Oh! by the way the old name for Alkanet is Called Dyers Bugloss in the UK
    Regards "Damascus"

  2. Gosh, I'm relieved that I got even one thing right! To respond to your other comments, flaxseed oil might indeed work better as a vehicle than linseed oil, but they both are made from flax. My linseed oil and alkanet mix does not seem to be affected by sweat from my hands, but I hunt in a cool to cold climate. Are you speaking from your own experience, or from hearsay? Finally, I respect your experience of some forty years finishing gunstocks by the English oil process, but if you reread this post in a calmer frame of mind you will realize I am not claiming to produce alkanet oil as used in England, let alone an English oil finish. So I'm standing by my guns, as well as by my alkanet oil.

  3. A follow-up note. Commentator "Damascus" is flat-out wrong on one point: the English DO use linseed oil in alkanet oil. As the English gunsmiths Desmond Mills and Mike Barnes state in Amateur Gunsmithing (Boydell Press, 1986), alkanet root is soaked in a mixture of turpentine and--wait for it--Linseed Oil!