Walnut vs Ebony

If you purchase a product through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Details

The beautiful wood grain and color of walnut often motivate woodworkers not to change the color of the wood. But sometimes, they may use walnut as an alternative to another more exotic wood. Ebony is one such wood than could be replaced by walnut on occasion, and a woodworker may or may not alter the color.

Walnut vs ebony is an interesting topic for discussion in woodworking circles. While both types of wood are visually striking, ebony is rare and prohibitively expensive, and walnut is more available and affordable. While several species of walnut grow in the United States, ebony is not native to this country, and the primary species of Ebony grows in West Africa.

Walnut vs. Ebony

Walnut is a universally acceptable type of wood acclaimed by woodworkers and furniture makers alike. It adds a classy touch to furniture and is relatively easy to maintain. We use walnut to make furniture, flooring, paneling, and a variety of other applications in wood.

Ebony is an exotic wood in its class. The jet-black color of this wood with almost no visible grain pattern sets it apart from other woods. It is one of the densest types of wood available, so heavy that it sinks in water. Ebony takes on a high shine by polishing it, which makes it an ornamental type of wood.

Walnut: Background

Walnut wood surface - horizontal lines

Walnut comes from a big family of trees, but only a few species grow in the United States. The most prominent walnut species in the United States is the eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra) that we also call American black walnut or simply American walnut.

The trees are tall and grow up to 100 feet, with tree trunk diameters reaching 5 feet. The fruit of the walnut is edible. Woodworkers attach great importance to walnut wood. It is a hard type of wood but you will find it relatively easy to work with. The price of walnut can range from expensive to very expensive.

Walnut is chocolaty brown punctuated with dark, almost black streaks. The wood has a smooth, natural texture. In the market, you will see two categories of walnut wood – Grade A and B.

Grade A walnut wood is the premium grade and the most expensive. We use it to make fine furniture. Grade B Walnut wood is a lower-priced version we use for cheaper furniture and construction.

Ebony: Background

Black wood. Expensive ebony texture.

Ebony is a type of wood with a long history dating back to ancient Egypt. Archaeologists discovered ebony in Egyptian tombs. It is an evergreen hardwood and one of the densest types of wood. It is so dense that it doesn’t float on water, but sinks.

The jet-black color of ebony sets it apart from other types of hardwood. The primary type of ebony that is considered to be true ebony is Gabon Ebony from West Africa. However, you can get other types such as Mauritius ebony, Madagascar ebony, Ceylon ebony, and Indonesian ebony.

You will find a variety of delightful objects made from ebony. They include handgun grips, chessmen, crucifixes, statuettes, and pool cue butts. We know this wood also for fretboards of stringed instruments that it makes.

Artisans used ebony to make the black keys of pianos for decades. In this context, it features in a famous song sung by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder in the eighties, Ebony and Ivory.

As a result of the continuous exploitation of this fine wood, it reached near-extinction. Today ebony is a highly restricted commodity, banned in several countries. Therefore, you cannot expect to find virgin ebony on the market.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Appearance

Walnut comes in a dark, chocolate color with darker streaks across the wood grain. But you can also get lighter versions of this wood. You might see a few striations of gray, purple, or red in the wood. In contrast, the sapwood is pale, almost white.

Walnut has a straight grain, but occasional figuring does occur, and you can see burl, curl, or crotch. The surface of walnut wood is smooth with natural color. You shouldn’t use an opaque color to stain walnut, lest you mask the natural beauty of the wood.

Ebony is jet black. There isn’t much variation in the wood grain except the odd dark streak here and there. The texture is fine and the wood takes on a beautiful shine if waxed, polished, and buffed. The downside of using ebony is that when polished, it is so black that it sometimes resembles plastic!

Walnut vs. Ebony: Durability

Modern living room

American black walnut is not an outdoor wood. It resists moisture and rot to some extent but will fare poorly in resisting insect attack. So, using walnut for indoor applications like furniture, flooring, and other wooden items is the way to go.

Ebony is also not an outdoor wood. It is considerably durable indoors and also resists termites and other insects. The natural luster of ebony makes it last longer without having to wipe it down too frequently.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Maintenance

You need a bit of skill and prior experience to maintain walnut wood. It’s easy enough to clean with a bit of soap, water, and a cloth. But you must exercise caution while applying a finish or reapplying it.

Walnut wood is a bit tricky to maintain unless you know what you are doing. You can clean it with a cloth and some soapy water. You need to exercise some skills while reapplying the finish. Oil, wax or polished walnut to prolong their life expectancy.

Ebony is a low-maintenance type of wood. It doesn’t show up dust and grime easily because of its dark color. You need to wax and polish it from time to time. You can also clean it using home remedies with commonly-available household products.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Workability and Uses

Real photo of a walnut wood sideboard standing against white wal

Walnut is an easy wood to work with. You will find the straight-grained section a breeze to cut and sand using machine and hand tools. But you may find dealing with the areas where the wood grain interlocks a bit challenging.

You will find it easy to apply finish and stain to walnut, and it accepts glue well. Use a semi-transparent or transparent finish on Walnut wood to highlight its natural beauty.

We use walnut to make fine furniture, cabinets, kitchen counters, flooring, and cutting boards.

You may find ebony rather challenging to work with due to the extreme hardness of this wood. Be particularly cautious while working on places where the grain interlocks to prevent tearout.

Also, ebony contains a high concentration of natural oil which can hamper glue application. You can remedy this by cleaning opposite surfaces with a solvent before applying glue.

If you take the necessary precautions, you can get satisfactory results by applying a finish, waxing, and polishing ebony to a high gloss. Also, ebony bends easily when steamed.

The primary use of ebony is to make carvings. It also makes ornate furniture, pool cues, and small ornamental items.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Price

Walnut is a universally-popular wood in the United States. But it is this popularity that tends to push the price up. There are different grades of walnut, so you can expect to pay accordingly. But generally speaking, walnut comes at a higher price than many other commonly-used hardwoods.

Ebony is an exorbitantly expensive type of wood, that is when you get it. Overharvesting of this precious natural resource has resulted in its scarcity, pushing up its price to fall between highly and outlandishly expensive. The small size of the tree limits the stock size, further escalating its price.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Sustainability

Although walnut is expensive and not always easily available, it is not considered an endangered wood species so they are considered sustainable. Ebony on the other hand features on most of the lists of endangered woods in the world. It is not a sustainable wood source.

Walnut vs. Ebony: Comparison Table

Parameter Walnut Ebony
Botanical name Juglans nigra   Diospyros crassiflora
Color Chocolate to dark brown  Jet Black
Durability Moderately durable  Highly Durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,010 lbf.  3,080 lbf.
Strength Strong wood  Stronger than teak
Maintenance Low maintenance Low maintenance
Price Medium to high-priced Prohibitively expensive
Suitability for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors
Suitability for wood carving Suitable for carving Suitable for carving
Workability Easy to work with Hard to work with but yields satisfying results for an experienced woodworker.
Smell Faint odor while cutting Slightly unpleasant odor when being worked.
Availability Mostly available  Extremely rare
Special features No special features Exquisitely beautiful to look at
Gorgeous walnut wood interior of the Parliament Library
Image Credit: shankar s. from Dubai, United Arab emirates via Creative Commons

Whether you are a woodworker or not, the subject of exotic types of wood is always an interesting one. We have featured these two exotic kinds of wood for the characteristics that put them in the “exotic” category.

Walnut, you will probably get a chance to work with. You have fewer chances of laying your hands on ebony. But either of these woods would make for an attractive-looking woodworking project.