Ebony – one of the most precious & expensive woods in the world
Diospyros celebica or Diospyros macassar of the Family Ebenaceae. The rough translation of Diospyros is “fruit of the gods.”
Macassar ebony, Indian ebony, marble wood, coromandel, calamander wood, tendu, temru, tunki, timbruni.
Ebony is a collective trade name given to all species of Diospyros, which have a predominately black heartwood, by contrast to the North American white ebony, also known as persimmon. Macassar ebony from Indonesia is more variegated still. With a heartwood that is dark brown to black interspersed with contrasting bands of yellow to golden brown, Macassar ebony yields a bold and attractive look by offsetting the darkest of the dark woods with a variety of color.
The name Macassar is most likely from the famous Macassar seaport on the islands. Some retailers have used the term Macassar ebony for any ebony that has a high contrast of light and dark streaks, although most people today limit the term to the species Diospyros celebica.
Macassar ebony is a prized wood. Its uses include high-end furniture and cabinetry, inlay work, musical instruments, billiard cues and other specialty items like jewelry boxes or walking sticks. Its sapwood, which is not brittle, is used to make tool handles. The wood is also a good choice for turnery. Macassar ebony can be difficult to work with hand or machine tools if the material is brittle. Hardness of the wood contributes to blunting of cutting edges. Pre-boring is recommended for nailing. Wood can be difficult to glue, but has a natural luster and finishes extremely well. Timber can be difficult to dry, with slow, careful drying recommended to avoid checking. Experts recommend kiln schedule of T3-C2 for 4/4 stock and T3-C1 for 8/4 stock. Wood should be stored covered to avoid sun damage. Wood has small movement in service.
Challenges and Rewards
Most forms of ebony offer challenges to users due to the innate hardness of the material. Early on, the wood was sliced for veneer and glued to oak or pine, which was not only cheaper but easier to work. The process of veneering was common in France, where woodworkers were credited with perfecting early veneering techniques with ebony for furniture and cabinetry. In France, cabinetmaking was called “ebenisterie” and the French name for a cabinetmaker is “ebeniste.”
Ebonizing, a common woodworking term, refers to the staining and treatment of lighter-colored woods to produce the look of ebony. “There was a time when Victorian interior decorators would ebonize everything from chair frames to door cases, but the method continues today, in a more perfect form, in the finishing of the cases of grand pianos,” the Encyclopedia of Wood notes.
Musical instruments and parts for instruments – especially points of stress, such as fingerboards and tuning pegs – have long been made of ebony, which joined rosewood as a wood of choice for many instruments and parts. Ebony was an especially good choice for woodwind instruments, although African Blackwood now competes with ebony in those uses.
As a carving and turning wood, Macassar ebony is a definite favorite. In addition to being attractive, it is durable, has a fine, even texture and finishes well.
Average height is 50 feet. Average weight is 68 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 1.09
The trees are native to the Celebes Islands, which are also called the Sulawesi Islands of the East Indies. It is also found in Maluku and Borneo, known as the Greater Sunda Islands of Indonesia, occurring in lowland rain forest.
Red listed for vulnerability for extinction 1998 due to having been heavily exploited for its fine streaked ebony timber which is used for carving, inlay, furniture and musical instruments. The number of mature trees has declined and large parts of the habitat have been converted to crops. Due to conservation actions and efforts felling of the species is now only allowed by quota but unfortunately continues illegally.