Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora) also goes by the name zebrawood. It is the most exotic, expensive, and rarest type of wood in the world. Ebony has been coveted by people for centuries, especially in the last 500 years.
In this post, we study this precious wood in the world of woodworking and why it is so expensive. Most of us know that there is much regulation of the cultivation and sale of this wood. But do you know that it is a banned wood in several countries? Read on to find out more!
Background of Ebony
As we mentioned above, people used ebony for centuries. For example, kings and queens used it to make drinking cups because of their belief that it could neutralize poisons. As a result, ebony makes some of the world’s most prized artifacts and exotic wooden items.
Ebony is a dense, heavy, pitch-black wood. It has a striped grain and also contains stripes of different colors. It is among the hardest woods on the planet. Brazilian ebony, for instance, has a Janka hardness score of 3,690 lbf.
Uses of Ebony
Ebony is an excellent tonewood, making it useful for making musical instruments. It also plays a prominent role in making chess board pieces and other exotic indoor games. In addition, ebony makes excellent knife handles, sculptures, and other carved objects.
Types of Ebony Wood
There is a tendency to think of ebony as wood that belongs to a single species. But there are several types of ebony, which vary in price and quality. But the common factor of all these ebony types is that they are rare and extremely expensive, if at all available.
Ceylon Ebony (Diospyros ebenum)
Ceylon ebony or East Indian Ebony has the unique characteristic of being an evergreen. You will find this type of ebony growing in Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia. The trees grow up to heights of 80 feet with trunk diameters of 6 feet.
The heartwood of Ceylon ebony is jet black with occasional grey or dark brown streaks. The sapwood is pale yellow. The heartwood, when dried, takes on the appearance of black plastic.
This wood has a straight grain which can sometimes be wavy with a uniform texture and a natural luster. Ceylon ebony has a Janka hardness rating of 2,430 lbf. It isn’t easy to work with and to dry and glue. But it polishes to a fine sheen.
We use Ceylon ebony for turned objects, carving, inlay, and musical instrument parts like bridges, piano keys, and nuts.
Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)
You will find Gaboon ebony growing in the equatorial region of West Africa near Ghana. It is also called African Ebony, Nigerian Ebony, and Cameroon Ebony. The trees grow up to 60 feet with a tree trunk diameter of up to 3 feet.
The wood grain is jet-black with occasional thick, dark brown strikes or grey stripes. The grain is straight, with occasional interlocking and has a fine, even texture with a high, natural luster.
Gaboon ebony is another hard variety of ebony with a Janka hardness rating of 3,080 lbf. It is difficult to work with but makes piano keys, musical instrument parts, pool cues, carvings, and other small specialty items.
Macassar Ebony (Diospyros celebica)
We also call Macassar ebony striped ebony or Amara ebony. It is native to Southeast Asia, particularly Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. It gets its name from Macassar, the main part of the island, which people also spell as Makassar. The trees grow as high as 65 feet and have trunk diameters of up to 1.5 feet.
The wood grain has wider brown streaks than the other members of the ebony family. These streaks can be black or brown. The wood has a straight grain with some interlocking. It has a decent natural luster and a fine, uniform texture.
The wood is exceptionally hard with a Janka hardness rating of 3,220 lbf. This makes it rather difficult to work with. But the wood makes excellent turned objects, high-end veneer and cabinetry, musical instruments, and specialty items.
This wood is especially good for the fingerboards of guitars. It is specifically imported by Japan to make high-end furniture and posts for the houses there.
Black and White Ebony (Diospyros malabarica)
Black and white ebony grows in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and also goes by the name pale moon ebony. The trees are very tall, growing up to 115 feet with tree trunks up to 3 feet in diameter.
The heartwood is a pale straw color punctuated with black streaks creating a striking contrast that looks unique when polished. The grain is straight, fine, and uniform, with a natural luster.
Black and white ebony is very durable with moderate resistance to insect attack. It is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,780 lbf. It is easy to work with by hand tools, machine tools and turns well. We use this type of ebony for inlay and making turned and ornamental wood objects.
Mun Ebony (Diospyros mun)
We also call mun ebony Vietnamese ebony. It is native to Vietnam and Laos. The trees are small and extremely slow-growing.
Mun Ebony is a medium-brown heartwood that occasionally has a reddish hue, with dark brown to black streaks. The sapwood is pale yellow or white.
The wood has a fine, straight, and uniform grain structure with a natural luster. Unfortunately, the wood is rare and expensive.
It is extremely hard with a Janka hardness rating of 3,000 lbf. It is used for Inlay, carvings, veneer, and turned objects.
Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)
You will find Texas ebony growing in Southern Texas and eastern Mexico. The trees are not very tall and grow up to 30 feet with tree trunks of up to 2 feet in diameter. The unique fact of this ebony is that it is one of the only hardwoods in the US.
Texas ebony has a dark reddish and occasionally purplish brown to almost black color. The sapwood is pale yellow. We can best describe the grain as irregular or wild. It has a uniform texture and a natural luster.
This wood is quite durable and is resistant to decay and insect attack. The wood is quite hard with a Jaka hardness rating of 2,850 lbf. But it is relatively easy to work with, and it makes fine nife handles, inlay, fine furniture, turned objects, and small, specialty wood items.
Although this wood is not real ebony as it does not belong to the Diospyros genus, it is dark enough to qualify as an authentic ebony substitute on par with other ebony substitutes like Wenge or Katalox.
Here we have featured the major types of ebony that you can find in the market. A few other varieties exist. But they are not so significant as they are either not used for timber much or do not belong to the ebony genus Diospyros. You can read more about ebony alternatives in another interesting post.
There is a lot of control and restriction on trading and using ebony as it is now such an endangered species. Many countries have stepped in to make laws more stringent to allow this fine timber to flourish once more. But until that happens, we need to be responsible and support the ban on ebony by using ebony substitutes.