Family: Ebenaceae, the ebony family.
Origin: Cameroon, Congo and Gabon, especially in the coastal areas.
Other common names: Gabon ebony, Nigerian ebony, Calabar, Lagos billetwood.
The tree: It normally grows to a mature height of 50 to 60 ft. with an average bole diameter of 2 ft. Its evergreen leaves range from 4 to 10 in. long and 3 to 5 in. wide and are alternate and elliptic with acuminate tips. The round fruit is 1 to 2.5 in. in diameter and contains several seeds.
Appearance: The sapwood is pale yellowish-white. The heartwood is jet black with some gray-green streaking, younger trees yield a beautiful brown and black tiger stripe. Straight, indistinct, grain with some interlocking and a very fine texture.
Density: Average reported specific gravity is .82(ovendry weight/green volume), equal to an air-dried weight of 66 pcf. Janka hardness is 3220 pounds of force.
Drying & shrinkage: It dries well in small dimensions with little tendency to split or warp. Average reported shrinkage values (green to ovendry) are 5.5% radial, 6.5% tangential. The wood is dimensionally stable after seasoning.
Working properties: Prone to checking and scratching but glues well and because of its hardness, it should be pre-bored before screwing or nailing. Severely blunts cutting edges of tools so constantly sharp tools are a requirement. Polishes to a very high finish and produces an excellent end result. It can be turned and carved with good results. Possible adverse reactions from the dust and wood include dermatitis, conjunctivitis, sneezing; possibly a skin sensitizer.
Durability: Black ebony is highly durable and is very resistant to decay and termites, so it is not given a preservative treatment. Occasionally some damage from pin hole borers may be found.
Uses: Black ebony has many uses, turnings, carvings, inlay work, piano keys, billiard cues and musical instruments. The light-colored sapwood is often used for inexpensive tool handles.
Availability: There is no great demand for black ebony, it is expensive and there are only limited supplies available commercially.