Properties of Timber: Ebony

Those who classify plants are not agreed as to which is the true ebony tree. Usually the name is applied to one or more species of the date plum growing in south-east Asia and the adjoining islands, or that which is a native of Jamaica. The former, Diospyrus Ebenus, is usually considered to be the true ebony.

The fact is that the name ebony is applied to trees of various generas, producing wood of different colours, and only agreeing in the common qualities of great compactness, weight, and durability.

Of the several cabinet-makers' woods bearing the name, there is African cliff ebony, which is black with a white spot; and the spotted ebony, a beautiful wood, and extremely hard (more so than the common ebony), of which the ground colour is black, with brown and yellow spots.

Ebony was much more in use and esteem in the past than it is now.

When good, it is very valuable for certain tasks, because it does not shrink or warp. It does not hold glue so well as mahogany, and is often imitated by less valuable woods stained black.

In his Journal, Bishop Heber describes the ebony tree of Ceylon as a magnificent forest tree, with a tall, black, slender stem spotted with white. A great deal of the furniture in Ceylon is made of ebony.

At Fonthill Abbey there were some splendid ebony chairs, carved in the most elaborate manner, and of prodigious weight, which were said to have belonged to Cardinal Wolsey. There were formerly some similar chairs in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle.

summarised from "The Library of Entertaining Knowledge - Timber trees" (1829), pub. Charles Knight, Pall Mall.

ND, habitat21

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