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Ebony woods


Janel

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Yesterday I was at the Rockler Woodworking store, daydreaming about what one could do with all of the wood there. The ebony woods available this time had some confusing differences and similarities. Could someone help me understand some things?

 

There is Gabon Ebony, and Macassar Ebony. The Gabon and Macassar woods looked very much alike, with mixed color, or figured, areas from dark tans to black. Very handsome woods, but not much difference in them. Then there were turning blanks of very dark wood, just named Ebony, though I think that it was also Gabon.

 

The very blackest, dense and close grained, or closed grain, ebony is on my search list. I have seen some spectacular netsuke carved from the best of the black ebony woods.

 

Is Gabon both figured and blackest black? The blackest black has a light sap wood, though I did not see any light sap wood on either of the figured Gabon and Macassar Ebonys.

 

I tried locating information in the book section of the store, but the images available differed from the woods in stock. (Trees vary a great deal, is one answer to that observation.)

 

A separate issue, the turning blanks are waxed, to keep in the moisture for the lathe-turning process. That means, the wood will be turned from moist wood, a finish put on before total drying which would run the risk of cracking. I want the wood to be dry and not crack when I carve it but do not want the blank to crack while it is drying. I have scraped the wax from the blank, and put it into a sandwich bag, hoping that the plastic is marginally porus and will slow the drying process. Does anyone have experience with preparing/drying waxed turning blanks and billets (longer, narrower pieces of wood for turners?

 

Thanks for any enlightenment with my questions!

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Now you are in for it. real ebony usually take about 10 years to air dry. the wood from rockler and other suppliers can vary a lot on moisture content. i rarley buy totally waxed wood as it is too moist,but a good deal of the wood i do buy has waxed ends.maybe you could try a piece of the cutoffs they have and see if it is really something you want to carve.

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They did not have any black black ebony as cutoffs this time. Just some chop stick sized pieces of dark but not true black ebony. Could go for hair sticks too. I stocked up on them, if I want to experiment with quick projects.

 

Oh well. Time seems to pass for wood in my closest, if they land in there. Some of it has been in there for ten years now, so if I put the new wood way in the back... there might be a forgotten surprise for me some day! One guy suggested using the microwave, or kiln drying. There is a fellow in our region who made a presentation on basswood a while ago at the regional carvers group meeting. Were you there? Would ebony be likely to dry at the same rate as basswood during kiln drying?

 

Could a person make a mini kiln for drying the wood, sort of like an incubator for eggs? Humidity, heat and circulation? Lets see who knows about this one!

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Janel,

It sounds like Gabon is what you want.

Macassar ebony is not a uniform black, but more like a mixture of dark and light chocolates.

Gabon is what you see used when the little carvings are totally black (unless of course they are 'ebonised').

It's quite a nice wood for carving, takes detail pretty well and polishes nicely.

It is however very hard on tools and quite brittle at times.

Now, not all Gabon ebony is solid black. There's ebony and ebony out there. For miniature carving purposes one can find some pretty decent turning blocks of good, even colour and carving qualities. Just like all other materials (ivory, boxwood etc) it helps to be selective when buying it. It will save some hassle further down the road. Having said that, there's no substitute for experience so buy some and put some tools on it to see how it feels.

 

In terms of dryness... trustworthy merchants are key, I suppose. They should probably be able to tell you the moisture content of the pieces, though to be honest, turning blocks with ends waxed should be fine.

For some extra info on ebony take a look here. It's the site I always turn to for information and particularly pictures of wood.

 

best

-t

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So, is it typical for Gabon and Macassar to be the mixed chocolates to black, looking almost identical? This is where I begin to have doubts at the correct naming of the woods in stock...

 

OK, I looked at the links for the Gabon and Macassar woods, and see some swirling lighter inclusions in the Gabon images, though the specimens at the store were very difficult to differentiate. Tricky stuff. Thanks for the help.

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Janel,

to a certain degree, yes I suppose there is some overlap.

If you look at the fact files for Gabon and Macassar in the link i included earlier, you can see that there are similarities, but also some pretty distinct characteristics.

For example, I do not believe Macassar is ever black.

At best it is very dark brown. Even then, there are lighter streaks running through, ranging from creamy to reddish brown.

With Macassar, each annual cycle seems to have both colours.

with Gabon, the most prominent colour difference is between sapwood (light) and heartwood (dark).

Within the heartwood, the colour variation of Gabon is much less pronounced, compared to Macassar.

 

It sounds to me that you are primarily looking for solid black blocks. These will have to be Gabon.

They do exist and I have seen quite a few. There is a dealer near my house that sells Gabon boards and blocks.

I'd be happy to send you a couple of examples (they often have offcuts).

 

-t

 

ps. INS convention pics???????

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This piece of wood came from a (sort of) 2" x3.5" x 4' timber, which I called Macassar on my web site, but having questions about it, I looked and found a paper tied on to it which says Gabon, in my handwriting. It did not have a store tag on it. Having seen the similarities of the two offerings at the store, I am hoping to relieve my concerns. Does it matter much, (shrugging shoulder with palms upward smiley) dunno.

 

Wood & Moth, Gabon (?) Ebony

382_2.jpg

 

382_1.jpg

 

382_t2.jpg

 

I'll try to remember to add a photo of the timber when I get to the studio.

 

Travel pictures, soon I hope! I keep becomming distracted from the things needing to be done. This tangent began when I went to change the wood on the web page for this piece, hoping to have the material correct. I double checked after returning from the convention because someone questioned me about it.

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Janel,

I deal with a local supplier called Cormark International that is very knowledgeable about exotics. If I am not mistaken they are the supplier for all the exotics you see in Woodcraft catalogs. They sell small billets of a black wood called ebony which is very consistent in color and it is very dense. I have seen a stack of a 100 or more billets all close to the same color. Their phone number is 828 658-8455 and they are very easy to deal with.

 

As for drying the wood I use two different methods. One method is to remove all the wax by scraping and using a solvent if need be. I usually cut each end also as this is where the bulk of the drying takes place. The wood is then placed in sawdust or wood shavings which absorb the moisture but also allows for slow drying. Cat litter would probably work as well. Just freshen of stir the shavings occasionally.

The other method may sound odd but it does work. After removing all the wax you can either cover the piece with ordinary salt or paint the piece with a heavily salted water. The salt actually draws the moisture out of the would and when the process is done the salt can be removed with a damp cloth or a heavy brushing. I believe the reccomended times are 3 weeks for each inch of thickness but to speed the process along you can carve a little and dry a little.

 

Hope this helps.

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VERY interesting techniques, Mark! I understand the salt process, having used it to prepare cucumbers for pickles and cabbage for saurkraut (neither is a habit with me, but good reading in cook books). I've got loads of cat litter too, having three cats. Even a fresh box of it is available! Thanks for the phone number for the supplier.

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I purchased some ebony wood from the Woodcraft store. It was a bag with several peices, most of them were 1 1/8 x 1 1/8 and 6 to 8 inches long. the bag was labled Ebony. The peices were for turners and pen makers. The wood is black, but if you look carful with good light you can see the differentcolors of black and dark brown grain. I have made several pendants with some of it, pictures on my site.

Firewood Studio

I would like to trade some ebony for some boxwood. contact me by email for more info.

Ed Twilbeck

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was pricing material today at Cormark International and asked about the ebony coloration. This is what I was told.

Gabon ebony is the blackest and most evenly colored. If there are blotches or brown in the wood it is due to the wood having been harvested from young trees. I was told that it takes the tree 75 to 80 years to mature and the color will then be consistent. The Macassar is black with brown streaks.

They were very helpful and more than willing talk to me about the materials they sell.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Janel, a long time ago I sent you a piece of "ifil" which is apparently found throughout western Pacific and SE Asia including the Phillipines. I discovered its proper name is Intsia bijuga. Although not black, it carves beautifully - as the little piece you send me shows. I know on Guam it is known as "an ebony".

 

In my wood books, ebony proper is listed as Diospyros crassiflora. D. crassiflora is listed as endangered by IUCN and "There is no evidence of certified supplies". Similar species are D. piscatoria and Gabon ebony D. dendo. The crassiflora is listed as the blackest of black and is "sometimes mixed up with Gabon ebony." (ref. Nick Gibbs' "The Real Wood Bible" - a short useful reference work)

 

The salt drying approach might work, however in Hoadley's "Understanding Wood", he suggests that the salts be used for controlling relative humidity in closed contaners rather than applying them directly to the wood. He suggests the following salts as useful (note some of these are quite toxic to handle) - in ascending order of desired end point relative humidity - potassium acetate (20%), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, zinc nitrate, sodium bromide, sodium nitrate, sodium acetate, ammonium sulfate, potassium bromide, zinc sulfate and sodium sulfate (95%). The idea is to match the end point humidity with the humidity of the final environment for the wood. I can't find any mention of drying ebony, or other exotic woods, but for hickory 4X4 size of lumber, Hoadley lists up to 7 months' drying time. He also cautions against pushing the drying time too hard (microwave?) as this may cause internal stresses in an unevenly drying piece to seriously fracture and destroy the piece.

 

Hoadley has a diagram (p. 157) of a small (fish tank sized) dehumidifier with an aqueous salt solution at the bottom being aerated with a fish tank aerator and the wood stacked above it. The fishtank is sealed at the top. This might be the sort of arrangement that would work best for you.

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Very interesting! Thanks Ralph. The ifil or rather Intsia bijuga, waits to be cut (by hand, I have not power equipment). Being reminded of it encourages me to place it out in the traffic flow and do a daily routine of sawing until I have some workable pieces! It is a real hunk of wood! My sister-in-law lived on Guam for a number of years with her husband, and saw ifil wood in use. I forgot what exactly, but she was sure of it.

 

The distinction between D. crassiflora and gabon ebony helps me understand that there is yet again a difference in what I saw in netsuke past, with pure black, unblemished (manner of speaking) ebony and gabon ebony black parts. The gabon is nice, but the netsuke past were smooth and even more rich a material than the nice gabon I am working now.

 

The D. crassiflora sounds like it is not available or legal for use or shipping internationally. Would this be true?

 

The turning blank of ebony was scraped of its wax and placed inside a Baggie and sealed with tape. I believe the plastic light weight bag to be porous enough to allow slow drying during the low humidity months, just my opinion. I will not force it right now. When humidity returns to our climate, I'll make adjustments. The salts are an interesting bit of knowledge. I wonder if the moisture absorbers that might be used to dry flowers would be an easily available option?

 

Thank you for the interesting information!

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Hi Janel,

 

I am attaching a scan of the page I took the info from concerning the drying tank. I think the diagram says it better than I did. Also, notice the list of drying chemicals at the bottom. As I said, the idea is to match the desired endpoint humidity with the drying agent. I imagine a good figure to shoot for would be 50% as this is about what most homes average through the year. With very small pieces such as you create, this may not be as much of a problem as larger (over 6") might be. I hope the scanned image isn't too big for the site. I have reduced it as much as possible.

 

Oh, and you're undoubtedly right that no D. crassiflora should legally be on any market.

 

Ralph

post-184-1173388775.jpg

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Janel, here's more information on the ifil tree (Intsia bijuga). See attached file. Notice the hardness of the wood. Also note that it dries slowly. The piece I gave you had been lying on the ground for many years before my friend found it and I had it for about 30 years before I sent it to you; so I expect by now it is as dry as it is going to get. Also notice the toxicity cautions.

 

Ralph

merbau.pdf

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  • 3 months later...

Hi Janel,

Here is an interesting piece of ebony. This is the end of a log which came off a sunken Whaling Ship which sunk off the coast of New England. It was given to me in the 70's. This piece is now 27" long I have used about a foot over the years. Pitch black and very stable. It didn't seem to have absorbed any salt water over the many years it sat under water.

post-15-1183559907.jpg

post-15-1183559916.jpg

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Janel,

There is an interesting and informative book on knifemaking for the beginner that came out 30 years ago by a well known maker named David Boye. In it he outlines a simple wood drying rack to store and dry the woods he used then. There's also detailed info on tools and acid etching. It's a must read for anyone interested in knifemaking and has a lot of side info on tools and shop set ups as well. Here's a link to his book on Amazon.com, so you can check it out....

http://www.amazon.com/Step-Step-Knifemakin...2814&sr=1-1

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