#74: Texas Ebony

Bird number: 107
Date: October 8, 2012
Wood: Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)
Source: Fellow carver

A fellow carver dropped this piece of wood in my lap a couple of weeks ago, along with the story of where he got it. He said that a friend of a friend owned a ranch in Mexico, near the Texas border. My friend asked his buddy to bring back “some of that Mexican ebony” on his next trip. He came back with the wood and a challenge: “My friend says that there’s no way you’re going carve that without some serious power tools.”

For some carvers, saying “That wood is too hard to work with knives and gouges” is just asking to be proven wrong. I’ll admit that I tried it, but this stuff is seriously hard. The wood is so dense that it doesn’t float in water, and I’d have to re-shape the bevels on my knives and gouges if I was serious about carving it.

In addition to being exceptionally hard, this wood has a lot of oils in it. Attacking a piece of wood with the power carver usually results in a lot of fine dust particles. Like sawdust, but much finer. This wood, however, just created a lot of fuzz. It reminded me somewhat of small dust bunnies (in military school, we called those “ghost turds”) that you’d find under the bed.

Carving this bird took a while because I had to use quite a light touch on the power carver to avoid burning the wood. I spent some extra time power sanding before I started hand sanding. And hand sanding started with 60 grit in order to get an even surface. I then worked my way up through several grits before finishing with 1,200 grit, sanding wet.

For a finish, I’ve hand-rubbed the figure. I have not and will not put any chemical finishes on it. Just oils from my hands. After a couple days’ rubbing it while I’m watching a movie or reading, the wood is glass smooth and it shines. My meager photographic skills don’t do this figure justice.

Texas Ebony grows in south Texas (south of a line drawn from Laredo to Corpus Christi), in eastern Mexico, and in isolated areas of central Mexico and the Yucatan. It’s not a true ebony (i.e. not in the genus Diospyros). Apparently, the genus name Ebenopsis is a combination of the Greek words for “ebony” and “view.” Thus: “looks like ebony.” According to the Wood Database entry, the heartwood ages to almost black.

The tree is not commercially harvested for lumber. It’s used in xeriscape because it’s drought tolerant. It’s also used in bonsai. It’s interesting to note that some people misidentify Pithecellobium tortum (Brazilian Rain tree, another popular bonsai tree) as Texas Ebony.

Because the wood is not commercially harvested, it’s somewhat expensive when you do find it. Specialty wood shops in Texas always have some, usually in the form of bowl turning blanks, but it demands a high price. If you live in south Texas, you can probably get as much of this stuff as you can harvest. It’s commonly removed, piled, and burned in the construction of new roads or subdivisions. Be forewarned, though: your chainsaw will need frequent re-sharpening.

Beautiful stuff. I’ve been wanting to get some of this for a while now, and am looking forward to carving other things from what I have left. I even have a couple of ideas that should really show off the wood.