Shipping country

Ebony-then and now

Ebony has been a much sought-after commodity for thousands of years. Already in ancient times Phoenicians, Greeks and Babylonians traded ebony for furniture and cult objects. Also the Egyptians loved this precious material, objects made of it were found in Egyptian tombs, and on wall drawings in the Burial chamber of Nebamun and Ipuki in Thebes were wood craftsmen sawing ebony already depicted around 1300 B.C.

Today only West African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora) can be found on the market, mostly from Cameroon and Nigeria, more rarely from Ghana and the Republic of Central Africa.
Today ebony trees are rare and much smaller than 50 years ago, they can grow up to 15 meters tall and 60 cm thick, if the tree can grow for about 100 years, because deep black heartwood only comes from the really big and old specimens, which have become very rare today.

The heartwood is traditionally removed immediately at the place of felling, the trunk is split into smaller segments or sawn and cut to length so that these blocks of pure heartwood weighing approx. 30-50 kg can then be carried by porters on the impassable paths through the savannah landscape to centrally located collection points.

Ebony of this origin is mostly dark grey to black, but perfect blackness is very rare, most of the volume of the heartwood of an ebony trunk is more or less interspersed with grey parts. The trees have relatively little black heartwood compared to the very broad light brown sapwood, a ratio of approx. 60% sapwood to 40% heartwood is not untypical.

Even slightly grey ebony or ebony with lighter stripes darkens relatively quickly under the influence of light and oxygen, so that many of these lighter stripes fade with time and after some time the wood actually looks deep pitch black. Also a treatment with oils as a surface treatment usually immediately darkens ebony so strongly that a rich deep black is the result.

We have experienced again and again that even very old blocks, which have been lying in the shelf and drying for years, already show lighter colours after the first cut inside, this is also an indication of self-changing colours like common with almost all woods.

Fortunately, a change is taking place in the evaluation of the colour qualities of ebony, initiated by the owner of the company Taylor Guitars USA, under the name "The Ebony Project" the responsible handling of this valuable and only in limited quantities available wood is redefined. A rethinking of the use of non-perfect black ebony is the first and very welcome step on the way to the sensible use of this valuable treasure of nature.

Among the many applications for ebony, parts for musical instruments are probably still the most important today. Ebony is used for fingerboards, bridge blanks, swivel heads, end pins, keyboards, etc. in almost all string and plucked instruments, in pianos. Some woodwind instruments such as flutes and recorders are also made of ebony. It is also used for valuable furniture, carpentry, carvings and sculptures, inlays, knife handles, turneries, billiard cues, writing instruments and handles, walking sticks, jewellery and other valuable objects.

So if you, as a customer or user of ebony, are looking for perfect black ebony, you should be aware that perfect blackness in this wood is anyway only found in fairy tales with Snow White, whereas in nature the wood is as naturally grown and as a natural product cannot adapt to the wishes of man. Either you accept the natural colour of ebony, or you should choose a perfectly black coloured plastic or a perfectly black lacquered surface as an alternative. To project one's fantasy ideas onto such a natural product as ebony only shows ignorance, narrow-mindedness and ruthlessness in dealing with one of the most valuable precious woods of mankind.

By responsible and appropriate handling of such valuable and slowly growing natural resources like ebony and of course all other precious woods you can help to preserve the world's population and enable the children of our children to understand the fascination and appreciation of this wood with their hands.