View Full Version : ebony

Rob Grant
Jul-30-2005, 5:45am
A mate recently recovered a rather nice example of ebony from the nearby limestone country. The tree had died of natural causes within the last year or two. I've posted a couple of digital shots to show our local gear in the "raw."
Here's an end shot...

Rob Grant
Jul-30-2005, 5:49am
Here's one along the face of the split...
(forgot to display a "measuring stick." The black wood in this photo is 150mm across and almost faultless.)

Jul-30-2005, 6:12am
Do you want to sell some?

Rob Grant
Jul-30-2005, 6:39am
"Do you want to sell some?"

Not really.

Nice ebony of this size and quality is rather difficult to obtain. Most of the "pipes" (the black core) are very thin and full of faults. Generally the local ebony trees have a very thick layer of white sapwood. I mainly posted these images for those who have never seen the wood in the "raw." The local ebony tree has a rather beautiful, fine green foliage with "chucky" square, black bark. The tree is found associated with what we call limestone karsts.

Jul-30-2005, 11:57am
Thanks for the photos Rob, I had no idea that is how ebony looked in the raw, really cool!

Jul-31-2005, 7:57am
I never really thought about where the ebony really comes from and/or what it looks like.

I must have been totally impressed with this: I dreamt about going to a stand of ebony trees, watching them grow and eventually harvesting some.
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Jul-31-2005, 4:00pm
what do the leaves/needles? look like, and where do they grow (zones/regions?)also does the white region around the black part have the same propeties ie density, weight etc as teh black ebony commonly used, or is it just a spongy coating??? so many ebony questions, so little time http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Rob Grant
Jul-31-2005, 7:02pm
Glad to have such an enthusiastic response on this. I find the tree, its growth patterns and of course its widely used black core very fascinating.

Our local ebony, like the traditional African ebonies, is of the genus Diospyros. The species of our local gear is "ferrea." The tree grows in the dry limestone regions of the Cape York Peninsula. The growth patterns of the tree are variable. In general it is a small, multibranched contorted tree with numurous, tiny bright green leaves. In the dead of the northern dry season, ebony can be identified by the fact that it often retains its green leaves.

I'm not sure of the validity of this concept, but I have been told that the black core (specifically its presence, size and shape) is the result of the plant's defense against pathogens, insects and environmental stress. Note in the first image (above) how cracks and borer holes in the white sapwood have been "filled" by the black core wood while the tree was still alive.

The white "sapwood" is not "spongy", but neither is it as dense as the black core wood. Some local woodworkers often leave portions of the sapwood in place for a contrasting decorative effect. I usually strip the sapwood off as soon as I obtain a flitch. I've found in the past that uneven shrinkage between the sap and core woods will cause severe splits through the valuable black material.

The tree is truly a beautiful thing to behold in its natural situation. I'll check through my photo files and see if I can find a decent digital image to post for those that are interested.

Steve Davis
Jul-31-2005, 8:04pm
I wonder if the white sapwood is useful as well.

Rob Grant
Aug-01-2005, 6:03am
"I wonder if the white sapwood is useful as well."

Years ago I got hold of bit of local ebony from a dead tree with a very narrow (>20mm) pipe of black wood. I was tempted try using the white sapwood because it had a rather beautiful, fine matrix of reddish lines running through the white. I ended up giving the specimen to a wood turner, but I forgot to follow up the finished product. A friend near Brisbane makes lovely, small, complex jewelry boxes using the black and white sapwood of the local ebony.

Rob Grant
Aug-02-2005, 7:46am
Here's an image of one of the ebony trees. The tree in the photo is around 10 meters tall...

Aug-02-2005, 8:25am
I know just enough about this to get me in really deep dooty, so take this with a grain of salt . . .

In the Southeast United States, the closest relative to Ebony is Diosypros virginiana, the native persimmon. #I have often wondered if persimmon could be utilized as a fretboard material - it is dense and very hard. #It was once commonly used to make shuttles for the textile industry, and golf club heads.

I suspect the technical properties of the sapwood of Diospyros ferrea would be very similar to the dark "heartwood". #The obvious difference would be color, but there could be chemical differences as well (the color is indeed a result of the defense processes of the tree, whether they are age-related or a response to a specific injury or infection). #Chemical differences could affect glueing and/or finishing, I would speculate, but it would certainly be worth a try.

Beautiful photos, BTW.

Clark B.

oldwave maker
Aug-02-2005, 10:00am
Rob- you certainly have some amazing life forms in Oz, including those peghead veneers I'm still seasoning.
Ten years ago friends Harold and Lily worked in Swaziland for a year helping develop higher education infrastructure. They asked if they could bring me back anything, so I asked for a piece of ebony. They brought back a 30"x4" chunk of heartwood, part of which I put on display for size/weight shock value when I have a booth at local festivals. They went back 2 years later to complete their mission, and when they returned they said there was not an ebony tree left standing in the country with as large a diameter as the piece they'd brought me last time!

"...if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos.....you wouldn't choose human beings for the job" Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Aug-02-2005, 11:43am
I love your quote Bill. I happen to really enjoy Bill Bryson's writing as well. Ironically,I'm reading "In a Sunburned Country" currently and am really enjoying it. I love the book "A Walk in the Woods." Very good stuff.

Nice ebony.....(for content)

Aug-02-2005, 11:56am
Add me to the "never-have-seen" list. Thank you for the pics, info & sharing!! Moose. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Rob Grant
Aug-03-2005, 7:28am
"you certainly have some amazing life forms in Oz, including those peghead veneers I'm still seasoning."

Bill, I thought that dry N.M. climate would turn those suckers to "wooden potatoe chips."<g>

Our native ebony probably couldn't survive the kind of explotation the Diosphyros of Africa receive. The trees are very slow growers and often don't contain the valuable "black pipe." All of the ebony I've been lucky enough to obtain has been from long dead trees. These are often pieces which have been tumbled down our dry country ephemeral rivers and creeks.

Aug-10-2005, 11:31am
Up above tree asked about using American persimmon (diospyros virginiana) as a fretboard wood. I managed to find one medium-sized persimmon tree in a yard which had about a six-inch dia. core of striped balck and brown wood. I milled it into fingerboard blanks and bridge/tailpiece blanks. I used it on several instruments, mostly guitars. It worked nicely and buffed up well. It's a lot harder than the dingy-white sapwood. I'm almost out, though, and I wish I could find another log!

Aug-23-2005, 8:38pm
Its fascinating to see and learn about the species that go into our instruments. Thanks for this thread.

Aug-24-2005, 10:19am
"I have often wondered if persimmon could be utilized as a fretboard material - it is dense and very hard."

I built a mandolin out of curly persimmon once, and it came out fine...

You'd never guess the ebony/persimmon connection by working the wood, though, as the persimmon is a beige wood, and rather pourous as I remember.
Almost oak-like....

It's the only chunk I've ever seen....

Aug-24-2005, 10:31am
Not Mandolin related per se, but here is a beautiful un-bound persimmon guitar (http://www.alcarruthluthier.com/guitars/persimmonOM.htm) made by Alan Carruth, which includes a very striking persimmon fretboard. If you scroll down on this page (http://www.alcarruthluthier.com/new.htm) to the persimmon guitar, he has a short description of the workability/suitability of the wood.


Aug-24-2005, 10:36am
Okay, Bruce, you got me hooked . . .

Did you do back/sides only of persimmon, or was the neck persimmon too? #Was it difficult to work? #Got any photos?

I'm a forester/arborist by profession and a rank amateur woodworker by accident. #Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a common species in my neck of the woods (South Carolina). #I've often wondered if it would be useful for fretboards, since it is also very hard, dense, and tough (resists wear). #It rarely grows large enough to make anything bigger than perhaps a guitar fretboard, and has an odd (for traditional fretboards) pinkish-brown color, so maybe that explains why I've never seen it used. #But I don't see why it couldn't be stained.

Clark B.

Aug-24-2005, 11:54am
"Did you do back/sides only of persimmon, or was the neck persimmon too? "

Back, sides, and neck...
And it was very curly...

" Was it difficult to work?"

Not anything usual, as I remember.
(Although it's been 30 years...).

"Got any photos?"

Wish I did...

The instrument sounded fine, but what I remember is the curl.
Almost koa-esque...