Is all ebony waxed?

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Forum topic by Lumber2Sawdust posted 12-16-2010 07:00 AM 5664 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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139 posts in 3061 days

12-16-2010 07:00 AM

I like the idea of using ebony for some small details on projects. I would like to pick up a small piece to have on hand for when I want to use it.

My problem is that I have only seen ebony that is waxed to preserve the moisture content. Is all ebony treated this way? I think that using it with a high moisture content would pose problems for small plugs. Wouldn’t they dry out and shrink pretty quickly?

I’m sure some of you LJs wiill know that answer to this.


11 replies so far

View Bill Davis's profile

Bill Davis

226 posts in 4120 days

#1 posted 12-16-2010 09:56 AM

Don’t know the answer to your specific question as to whether all ebony is waxed. But I doubt that it would do more than minimal good at containing moisture. It is even less protective than Linseed oil. It is the closest thing to having no finish at all on the wood other than to give it a glossier appearance.

On ebony – I love it! I’m just now making a mirror frame with an ebony inner part.
I’m using lacquer on this project but I also built a pool que rack from ebony and applied no finish at all. I sanded it up to about 600 grit and it was mirror smooth. I kind of like it plain.

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3238 days

#2 posted 12-16-2010 10:55 AM

I believe they put a thick coat of wax so it keeps it from cracking. I believe you can take it off and let it acclimate prior to use. But I am sure there is someone on here that has a better answer. I don’t know of any place that sells it without wax but that doesn’t mean there isn’t.

View tnwood's profile


261 posts in 3283 days

#3 posted 12-16-2010 03:41 PM

I have never seen it without wax. I have never seen any evidence of shrinkage after cutting trim pieces for use in my materials. I suspect that if it dries quickly, it will crack and warp badly so they coat everything. I doubt that ebony is a high volume mover so it probably dries slowly and evenly and presents few problems later.

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3478 days

#4 posted 12-16-2010 04:06 PM

Ebony, like many exotics, is sold green. It’s subject to a lot of checking when drying and the drying is left to the end user. It’s not easy to properly dry it and drying is left to the end user.

A lot of people don’t seem to understand this and it’s created a lot of problems for some who should know better. A few years ago Shepherd Tool, and infill maker, went out of business partly as a result of green cocobolo. While they had some business practices that set them up for failure, their demise was triggered by machining a lot green cocobolo for plane parts only to watch it self destruct from uncontrolled drying before they could get planes or even plane kits assembled and out the door. There’s another well-known contemporary plane maker struggling with drying issues around exotics right now. It’ll be interesting to see if this one makes it to general public knowledge.

View newwoodbutcher's profile


776 posts in 3046 days

#5 posted 12-17-2010 01:48 AM

I have never seen it without wax either

-- Ken

View Lumber2Sawdust's profile


139 posts in 3061 days

#6 posted 12-17-2010 05:54 AM

Thanks for the responses everyone.

Bill, for the projects that you do in ebony, what is the moisture content? Do you give it a long time to acclimatize in your shop before building something with it?

I think I will pick up a small piece sometime and just have it in the shop for when I need it. That way it will be adjusted to my environment when I need it.

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3238 days

#7 posted 12-17-2010 06:17 AM

I try to get wood two weeks prior to use but that is not always possible. I only use it in small inlays which I am horrible at. I only buy wood from a supplier that has nearly the same weather as mine, like El Paso, Phoenix, Tucson. I really just check the moisture level when I get it and test it occasionally to make sure it isn’t changing to much. So since I live in a rather dry area than it should be low to start and stay that way within a few percentages. Mine is somewhere in the range of 7 to 9 percent. I don’t use a lot of it, for the obvious reasons.

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 3933 days

#8 posted 12-17-2010 06:18 AM

Ebony as well as other fine woods should always be coated with wax after fresh cutting. This reduces or eliminates checking. However, the wood does not really dry out. I have been using a product called Nelsonite for many years. First, strip off the wax. Then soak the blank in Nelsonite. Note: this stuff really stinks and MUST be used outdoors and the stored in the garage or other area that can handle the smell. This product will dispel the water in a way that keeps the wood from checking. I have some 4”x6” thick ebony that was treated with this product and it is perfect. It will work on any wood. Even olive wood which is very oily and is known to check heavily.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View Bill Davis's profile

Bill Davis

226 posts in 4120 days

#9 posted 12-17-2010 11:44 AM

The ebony I get is usually fairly high moisture content since it’s usually stored outside unprotected and here in the Philippines the humidity is quite high. I haven’t really gotten a fix on the original MC, but just monitor and control the rate of moisture removal so as not to do it too fast. I build a dehumidifying kiln to bring the woods I get here down to about a 12% moisture content so the target RH in the kiln is about 55% for most of the time then when it’s about where I want it I bump RH up to 65 for the final time. Ebony changes MC very slowly in my experience, I have a test piece oven dried to 0% then left out in the shop. It has risen to only 5.45% in the same time similar size pieces of other wood samples have gone from oven dried 0%MC to 8 or 9.5 %. Some of the stuff I get has not been properly seasoned and has some damage but for what I get it for and can do with it I’m happy. It really helps to have the ability to dry it in a controlled way.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3844 days

#10 posted 12-18-2010 09:25 PM

The wax helps prevent end checking. Ebony takes a long time to
dry due to its density.

Once its dry it doesn’t need the wax. I have ebony guitar fingerboard
blanks that I’ve had for many years that don’t have wax on them and
they have not checked.

View tnwood's profile


261 posts in 3283 days

#11 posted 12-19-2010 12:03 AM

I just checked the piece of ebony I bought a couple of months ago which was coated in wax. I had resawn a 1/8” strip from one side of the block at the time for use in some trim. I did not check the moisture content at that time but I have no cracking in either the block or the excess thin material I cut at that time. The moisture content on both pieces is 7% which is identical to my air dried rock maple and some kiln dried cherry stored in the shop. While ebony may be sold green, it think it probably sets on dealers shelves for some period of time after it has been received from the wholesalers and certainly it has been in shipping for some period of time. Again, I have been using it for trim for several years and have yet to see a piece crack or otherwise change significantly after I’ve cut it from the block and used it. I have finished it with Tried and True and with shellac without problems. It also takes a nice shine if you just use a scraper on it and give it a coat of wax.

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