#78: Gaboon Ebony

Bird number: 111
Date: October 19, 2012
Wood: Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassifora)
Source: Woodcraft Store

Ebony is another of those woods that I just had to include in the project, but was unlikely to have drop in my lap. So when I was at Wodcraft for my monthly carving club meeting, I picked up a turning blank. At $30 for a 2″ x 2″ x 6″ piece of Ebony, this turns out to be the most expensive bird in the collection.

Ebony is very hard. There are people who carve it with edged tools, but I used power. It carves beautifully, and makes a very fine dust. It’s a little hard to sand, but the result is stunning.

I’m a little disappointed that the wood cracked after I’d finished the bird. When I cut and carved the blank, those cracks were not there in the breast. I sanded the figure (up to 1,200, wet), and left it to dry overnight. When I came back the next morning, those cracks were there. I’m going to let the bird sit without a finish for a few more weeks, then sand it again and fill the cracks with thin CA glue. That should give a smooth finish, although it probably won’t prevent the cracks from showing.

Of all the Diospyros species, Gaboon Ebony has the darkest heartwood. Close up, you can see that it is a very dark brown color, sometimes with streaks of lighter brown. From a distance it looks black. The wood has been in high demand since at least ancient Egyptian times. It is used for sculptures, carvings, door knobs, tool handles, pool cues, guitar fingerboards, black piano keys, chess pieces, and other decorative items. It’s also the wood of choice for the fingerboards, tailpieces, and tuning pegs on all orchestral stringed instruments.

The wood has very fine pores and polishes to a high luster. Sanded to 1,200 grit, this piece feels as smooth as glass. When I’m done repairing the cracks, this figure will receive a natural finish. A few days of holding and rubbing it will give a very nice shine.

I usually throw out the smaller scraps left from cutting a bird figure out on the bandsaw. Not this time. I put every little scrap of leftover Ebony into a little plastic tub. I can use some of the larger pieces for small carvings. I’ll use the really little scraps for highlights on other carvings: buttons on a snowman, for example, or perhaps eyes on some small figures. I also have a piece that’s about two inches square and an inch thick. I might be able to get a small turtle or frog from that.