By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
OTHER NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES 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.
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.
However, good looks are sometimes Macassar ebony's strongest suit. The wood, while very hard, dense and heavy, can be extremely brittle at its heart. With that combination, Macassar ebony's uses are often relegated to the decorative, where strength is not a factor.
The wood is rare in veneer form because the trees usually are not tall. Defects aside, Macassar ebony is a prized wood. Its uses include high-end cabinetry, inlay work, musical instruments, billiard cues and other specialty items like jewelry boxes and walking sticks. Its sapwood, which is not brittle, is used to make tool handles. The wood is also a good choice for turnery.
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.
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.
Girdling and Drying
The lumber is prone to checking so experts recommend that it be dried slowly and carefully. Sun damage is possible so the wood should be stored in a shady spot. Experts recommend an air drying period of six months after the logs are felled when the logs are in plank form. The wood should be covered during this period. Slow drying avoids problems with checking.
Ebony has an interesting history, filled with myths and legends. "Believed to be an antidote to poison," The Encyclopedia of Wood notes, "ebony was popular with the ancients for use in drinking vessels - such was their perennial agony. The Greek historian Herodotus records that Ethiopia paid an annual tribute of 200 ebony logs to the Persian Empire. Most supplies came from India and Sri Lanka, so it was not readily available in Europe until the 1600s.
"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."
Macassar ebony is one of some 300 species of shrubs and trees belonging to the genus Diospyros, which thrive in tropical or temperate areas. The American species of ebony, persimmon, thrives in the Southern states.
Challenges and Rewards
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.
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