Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)
Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)

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Common Name(s): Gaboon Ebony, African Ebony, Nigerian Ebony, Cameroon Ebony

Scientific Name: Diospyros crassiflora

Distribution: Equatorial West Africa

Tree Size: 50-60 ft (15-18 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 60 lbs/ft3 (955 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .82, .96

Janka Hardness: 3,080 lbf (13,700 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 22,930 lbf/in2 (158.1 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,449,000 lbf/in2 (16.89 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 11,060 lbf/in2 (76.3 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 8.3%, Tangential: 11.2%, Volumetric: 19.6%, T/R Ratio: 1.3

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is usually jet-black, with little to no variation or visible grain. Occasionally dark brown or grayish-brown streaks may be present.

Grain/Texture: Grain is usually straight but can also be interlocked. Fine even texture with very high natural luster.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; medium to large pores in no specific arrangement, few; solitary and radial multiples of 2-3; black mineral deposits present; growth rings indistinct; rays not visible without lens; parenchyma reticulate/banded, possibly marginal, apotracheal parenchyma diffuse-in-aggregates, paratracheal parenchyma vasicentric.

Rot Resistance: Ebony is rated as being very durable, with good resistance to termites and other insects.

Workability:  Can be difficult to work due to its extremely high density. Has a dulling effect on cutters. Tearout may occur on pieces that have interlocked or irregular grain. Due to the high oil content found in this wood, it can occasionally cause problems with gluing. Finishes well, and polishes to a high luster. Responds well to steam bending.

Odor: Ebony has a mild, slightly unpleasant odor when being worked.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Ebony in the Diospyros genus has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Gaboon Ebony is among the most expensive of all available lumbers: usually about two to three times more expensive than most species of Rosewood. The small size of the tree, and its high demand for ornamental work may contribute to its seemingly outlandish price.

Sustainability: This wood species is in CITES Appendix II (for Diospyros species from Madagascar), and is on the IUCN Red List. It is listed as endangered due to a population reduction of over 50% in the past three generations, caused by exploitation.

Common Uses: Small/ornamental items, such as piano keys, musical instrument parts, pool cues, carvings, and other small specialty items.

Comments: So named because historically most of the wood was exported from the nation of Gabon, though today it’s much more likely to be sourced from Cameroon.

There’s no mistaking Gaboon Ebony as there are few woods that are deep and solid black (unless dyed), and even most species in the Diospyros genus aren’t black. Other types of ebony  include: Macassar (striped) Ebony, and Black and White Ebony. African Blackwood is very similar in density, color, and (unfortunately) cost, but is technically in the Dalbergia genus and isn’t considered a true ebony. Wenge and Katalox are two woods that are sometimes used as an ebony substitute.

The wood is exceptionally dense, strong, and stiff, though it is considered to have moderate to poor stability through seasonal changes.

Related Species:

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: For the endgrain zoom, I’ve slightly modified the brightness of the image to help show the details of the pores and parenchyma. Due to its high density, you can also view a video showing how Ebony sinks in water.

A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the turned photo of this wood species.

Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)
Gaboon Ebony (sanded)
Gaboon Ebony (sealed)
Gaboon Ebony (sealed)
Gaboon Ebony (endgrain)
Gaboon Ebony (endgrain)
Gaboon Ebony (endgrain 10x)
Gaboon Ebony (endgrain 10x)
 
Gaboon Ebony (turned)
Gaboon Ebony (turned)
 
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K Eareast

Hi Eric,
Many violins’ fingerboards are made of ebony, but mine doesn’t look very typical. Could you tell from the photos what kind of wood it is? Does ebony have grains like that? It’s certainly some kind of hardwood because for over 20 years the strings haven’t left any mark on the fingerboard.

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K Eareast

This violin has been played very often in its first decade, and less often recently. No scratch on fingerboard. Every time after playing, my fingertips turned black and i thought it was because of the strings. When I first got the violin, the fingerboard was solid black and the grains weren’t so obvious, they slowly showed up over time and I noticed the brownish not long ago, that’s when I started to realize the fingerboard might be stained black. I can’t say if this is the original color yet. Just wondering what wood could it be. :)

K Eareast

That’s true. So would you please let me know if you have any guess on what this wood might be? I’ll be appreciated.

K Eareast

Still, thank you very much!

Nancy Britt

Please help. My husband found this 5.6 lb piece of (what I think is Ebony) wood on the ocean beach in Wa Sate.. It’s 12″ long x 6″wide x 2′ thick. it matches the Wood-database’s description of Gaboon Ebony. It took over an hour to drill press the holes in it for the air plants. I sprayed on a thin coat of lacquer to give it some sparkle. Second picture is the under side after he planed it smooth. Does anyone think this is Gaboon Ebony wood and how much is a hunk of wood like this worth in US… Read more »

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Diane Oleary

Hello…I have a walking stick with inlaid mother-of-Pearl that appears to be 2 different woods- half if more black and half more brown. Are you able to tell if the darker part is ebony?

Anastasia

Hi, I’m repairing a 19th century demi lune table and its banding (7mm x 2mm) in some places is very hard to tell what it is. its black and it breaks like plastic and it seems to have no grain(?)

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Anastasia

Hi Eric, thank you for your quick response. I have taken a better picture which might help to see more detail…(?)

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M T

I got some ebony that is more very dark brown and heavy. When I cut into it from any direction, the wood is bright yellow. After a month the yellow wood darkened somewhat. Is this some kind of dyed ebony? It was from a nice store.

Nanine Pachy

Hello, I’m trying to find out if this little trinket pot is wood? It has clinking sound like clay! Thank you

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Nanine Pachy

Thank you very much for getting back to me. I’ve posted a close up of the lid, this might help to see the grain. I hope it’s clear enough. (The pot sinks by the way, when put in water). Thank you

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Margie

I’m looking for the ebony used in Egypt by the Pharos. Where can I find that?

JR

Just remember that this is wood ia all but extinct.

Bill

I made a custom pool cue case out of this for a client. It took 3 months just to locate boards wide enough! As you can see for the attached picture it turned out awesome but I will never attempt it again. Too heavy to be practical and the box could break if dropped. But I have to admit it is the most beautiful case I have ever made!
The wood is brutal on your tools. The most interesting thing I discovered is the weird sawdust. Jet black is just strange to see!!

80sGuy

I have this wood on my Gibson Les Paul fingerboard and boy does it look (and sound) gorgeous!

Cheryl LaViness Fisher

I came across the word ‘ebony’ while reading the Bible book of Ezekiel in chapter 27 and verse 15. So I searched on line to see where it is grown. I have an all black rescue cat that I named Ebony. Not only is it fitting due to er color, but also because she is stubbornly quite vocal when she wants fed or just wants attention.

casa

Jake is totally right about this expensive wood — Gaboon Ebony.

jake

a better natual finish would be hard to find, just remember that the wood is murder on your hand tools, and you must go slow with the power saws. the smell from the dust can be nasty, it feels like you have swallowed soap.