Ebonizing is the peculiar treatment to which
wood is submitted in order to give it
supposed resemblance to ebony.
I say advisedly a supposed resemblance, for much
ebony is not of the jet black hue which is generally associated
with this wood.
When furniture, however, is ebonized it is made
to assume as intense a black as possible, one uniform dull
blackness unrelieved by figuring or visible grain of the wood.
In the result it may best be compared to the blackest ebony
which has had the grain entirely filled and then polished with
oil or wax, that is, if the polish is a comparatively dull one.
Strictly speaking, ebonizing implies dull polishing, but it may
also include bright black wood.
In the latter case, however, it is usual to
specify it so, for otherwise ebonizing is synonymous with dull
black. A few years ago black furniture was much more commonly
made than now; in fact it was the fashion for cabinet and other
As the amateur may reasonably be
supposed not to be influenced by fashion to the same extent as
the professional polisher, it will be useful for a few
suggestions as to the advantages which may be attributed to
Taking appearance first, it may be pointed out
that black being neutral does not clash with any coloring of
wall-paper, carpets, or ornaments - it harmonizes with anything.
It is also admirably adapted for displaying ornaments placed on
it to the best advantage, and in this respect is unrivalled as a
finish for cabinets and those articles of furniture which are
hardly complete without odds and ends of china or other
Nor is ebonized work without its advantages from
the point of view of the maker or manufacturer. For it he can
use up his "stainy" pieces of wood, or pieces which though sound
enough are from some defect in color or figuring not usable in
furniture which is to be polished in its natural color.
Then an article need not be made entirely of the
same kind of wood, and I do not now refer to those parts which
are usually made of pine and are not visible, but to the main
portions of the work. Thus the top of a cabinet may be of
American walnut or whitewood, while the drawer fronts, doors, or
any other portion may be of mahogany.
Of course if the work were being polished in its
natural or any other color than black this could not be, for one
kind of wood would have to be used throughout. The hint that
various woods can be used for ebonized work may be useful not
only to the amateur cabinet-maker but to the fret-cutter, by
enabling them to use up waste, or what would otherwise be waste
bits of timber, by making them up into one article.
As there is apparently a vast amount of
misconception among amateurs as to what woods are suitable, or
what is the best for ebonizing, a few words of explanation may
be given. As a matter of fact, any wood may be stained black or
ebonized, but the coarser kind, such as ash, oak, and similarly
open-ground woods, are not as suitable for the purpose as
others. To ebonize a choice timber, such as satinwood or
valuable mahogany, would be of course absurd, as a cheaper one
will do equally well.
In ordinary practice the woods most generally
ebonized is cheap mahogany - cheap because it is plain, not
because it is unsound - American walnut, American whitewood, and
beech. It may be said that pine is not a good wood for
ebonizing, and that it is seldom used for the purpose. American
whitewood is hardly more costly and answers better. Even pine
may be ebonized, but it rarely looks well, and is never used for
good ebonized furniture.
It does not pay to ebonize pine, for the labor
in getting a good appearance on it is as costly as the use of
some more suitable wood. American whitewood, which is not so
easily dented as pine, is unobjectionable; but for ordinary
purposes there is perhaps no more suitable wood for ebonizing
than cheap mahogany, of the kind known as Honduras or baywood.
It is less costly than American walnut, and is, moreover, a
nice, easily workable wood, and readily obtainable.
On the whole, ebonized work requires much the
same treatment as when French polished in the usual way, but is
generally considered more difficult, and perhaps rightly, though
there is very little difference in this respect.
As with other preparations used by the polisher,
the black stain may either be prepared by the user or be bought
ready made. It is, however, one of those which it is better to
buy and should only be made by those who cannot obtain it
otherwise, as for some unexplained reason the quality sold is
generally better than the home-made article turns out to be in
most cases. It can always be got from the same places as French