African ebony grows in the tropical regions of Equatorial West Africa and Madagascar. It is most commonly found in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Gabon.
Another name for African Ebony is African Rosewood. Other species of ebony grow in the warm and tropical regions of Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as in Southern India, and on the Island of Ceylon. It is a very slow growing tree, and thrives in moist soil in grasslands and lowland coastal areas of the tropics. It can survive in higher elevations, and the most pure black variety seems to come from those higher altitudes.
African ebony is an extremely strong, hard, and dense wood that weighs 65 lbs/cu. ft. Due to its dense, heavy nature, ebony is one of the few woods that will not float. Its heartwood us usually jet black, but can vary from black intermixed with reddish-brown streaks. Its sapwood varies from pink to pale reddish-brown, and is not considered as useful for commercial purposes as the heartwood. Typically ebony has a very fine texture, and a straight to wavy grain pattern, but on occasion interlocked patterns can be found. Also, ebony is very stiff, tough, and possesses exceptional shock resistance. It possesses high oil content, and as a result is very durable to insects, decay and moisture.
Wood Species Index
Ebony can be difficult to work with due to its hard and dense qualities. It will quickly dull steel blades and cutters, so carbide tipped ones are recommended. Also, working ebony with hand tools can be laborious, and is not recommended. It is an excellent wood for turning and carving purposes. Ebony sands well, and can be sanded to a fine, smooth surface. Due to its high density and oily nature, gluing can be a problem. Like all oily woods, the gluing surfaces of ebony should be pre-cleaned with acetone prior to applying the adhesive. Because off its dense nature glue will not penetrate deeply, so for best results epoxy or polyurethane type glues are recommended because of their superior strength. Ebony holds fasteners extremely well, but pre-drilling is required. Because of its dark color, stains are not necessary. Ebony will accept all finishes without problems, but a clear type finish is usually all that is required. Sanding lightly between coats with 400-600 grit sandpaper will give it a beautiful glossy finish. Also wax coats will polish to a high luster, but occasional coats are required to maintain its appearance.
Ebony has many and varied uses. They range from tool and cutlery handles, flooring, decorative cabinets, furniture accents, woodwind instruments, as well as parts for musical instruments, such as piano keys and fingerboards for guitars and violins. Ebony is mainly restricted to small sizes, due to its threatened extinction, so turnings such as pool cues, bowls, and fancy pens are popular items. Also carvings like figurines, trinkets, novelties, and other specialty items are in demand.
All Exotic Woods: