Australian Ebony

    (Diospyros humilis)


Also known as: Native ebony

Australian Ebony is not exactly common around the Highlands but there's a few to be found. Growing to about 8 metres high with a trunk to around 300mm diameter, it has a few distinguishing features. One of the best means of identifying it is the way the stumps turn black anywhere a branch is broken off or damaged as you can see in the picture below.



The tree at left was photographed in July and then again in September covered in a flush of new growth as seen at right. They stand out like the veritable dogs thingies at that time of year - too easy to spot!

  I used to reckon there were no big Ebony trees close to Emerald until I found this one - eat your hearts out guys!!!

Don't think for a minute that you can just cut one of these trees down and expect a big haul of lovely black timber! - as with the logs pictured here, the healthier the tree, the less the timber has been ebonised. As far as I can tell, the process is the same as 'spalting' from exposure to the elements where the tree has been damaged. Unlike normal spalting however, the degraded wood stays black as the bacteria works its way through.
There are a few other trees out here that develop similar 'ebonizing' in their heartwood such as Bauhinia and Peach Bush but they aren't as truly black as Australian Ebony.
The dry log pictured, from which I turned my sample egg, was given to me by a generous member of our local club. As it had air-dried naturally and slowly as a full tree, the heart was in fairly good condition with only minor cracking. The green logs I have processed are a different story though. Once the ebony heartwood is cut from the log it splits very quickly and severely right to the pith so I have experimented with other drying methods like microwaving and soaking to see if there's a quicker way of recovering the ebony without halving through the heart or waiting 6 or 10 years for it to air dry. At this stage, the only samples that haven't split to the pith are those completely sealed in wax. This of course means that they will take longer than I would like to dry but at least I should end up with solid pieces.
Geez ya gotta be quick!!! It was late when I finished cutting flats on each log of this haul and I naively thought they would be OK overnight and I would be able to halve them through the heart with the bandsaw and wax them in the morning . . . NOT!. A lot of cracking but I will still get some useable bits from it.
The 'ebonised' timber is fairly brittle to machine but sands well and takes a beautiful shine with a wax polish. The unchanged timber turns, sands and polishes quite well also and if you don't allow a little of it to show in the piece, it is so thoroughly black that it tends to look more like plastic than timber.
I had a request for an Ebony wedding band and these were the result. As the ebony on it's own would be a bit weak, I sandwiched it between other timbers for strength and visual contrast.
On the left is my 'test' piece with Conkerberry sides, and the final version on the right has River Oak burl for the sides. Both are coated in clear epoxy for stability and protection from the knocks.


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