Exotic and Beautiful Black and White Ebony

Geographical Distribution

Black and White Ebony is scientifically known as Diospyros embryopteris by most authorities, although some wood sold as Black and White Ebony may in fact belong to other species of the Diospyros genus, including Diospyros peregrine and/or  Diospyros malabarica.  In some cases these may reflect synonyms while in other cases distinctly different trees may be indicated.  Black and White Ebony comes mostly from Laos, although the trees may be found in other parts of southeastern Asia including, it is reported, Indonesia from which Diospyros celebica (Madagascar ebony),is harvested despite its misleading common name.  D. celebica is prized for its luxuriant, multi-colored wood grain, making it an excellent candidate species for Black and White Ebony.  Diospyros ebenum is another species that is known for striped instead of solid black wood and it may also be sold as Black and White Ebony.   In most all cases, these are academic disputes that do not affect the wood turner.

Black and White Ebony with its origins in southeastern Asia, should not be confused with true Ebony, which has its origins mostly in Africa, or India, where it has been critically overharvested.  Beware vendors who sell wood as Ebony which is in fact cheaper woods that have been blackened with dies or other chemicals.  Indian and African ebonies include: Diospyros ebenum (Ceylon ebony), native to southern India and Sri Lanka;  Diospyros crassiflora (Gaboon ebony), native to western Africa and the wood most commonly commercially available as a true ebony; and Mauritius ebony, Diospyros tesselaria, was largely exploited to extinction by the Dutch in the 17th century.

General Characteristics

The most striking characteristic of Black and White Ebony is that which gives it its common name, the richly variegated coloration mixing vivid white with darkest black streaks, sometimes reversed to yield mostly black wood with white stripes.  The wood is quite strong and dense and some specimens may sink in water.  There is no reported distinctive odor associated with Black and White Ebony.

Over long periods of time, the dark color of the wood might fade on lengthy exposure to strong ultraviolet light such as in standard sunlight.  Fortunately, there are some well-known and relatively simple means by which color change in exotic lumber can be prevented or slowed.

Working Characteristics

Black and White Ebony is extremely hard and because of this it makes an excellent turning wood that cuts beautifully provided that extremely sharp tools are used.  Because the wood is so incredibly dense and hard, frequent sharpening is required, or the use of replaceable carbide tools bits will make for an even better experience.  The wood takes a natural high gloss with simple wax polishing and if cut with some skill, sanding is not needed.  The wood will sand relatively easily with little loading of the paper.  There have been no reporting problems with gluing or other aspects of working with this wood since it seems that most authorities know very little about it.

One reported issue is the woods tendency to crack and check.  One retailer of Black and White Ebony reports that it tends to crack easily and they recommend special procedures for drying pieces thicker than 3/4″ thick.  Note that most pieces of Black & White Ebony have a few tiny (usually 2mm) insect holes and/or hairline checks; this is normal and is best finished by putting superglue in the holes/checks.   The only fairly reliable way to dry this wood is to turn it completely down to a thin walled piece all in one setting.  They also suggest spreading superglue, especially on the end-grain during the turning process.  Finish the project in one sitting if possible, and apply shellawax cream as a finish.  The piece will then dry very slowly through the shellawax, with minimal or no distortion.  Do not part turn these pieces to dry them unless you have some magic that others have not experienced.


Only relatively small amounts of prized Black and White Ebony reach the world market and therefore it is fairly expensive.  Pen blanks can be purchased for $3.50 to $5.00 each, while a more substantial bowl blank size measuring 5”x5”x3” retails for slightly under $40 at an exotic wood retailer such as Griffin Exotic Wood, a reliable source for bowl blanks from many species at fair prices.  Other exotic wood suppliers may also have Black and White in stock, however aside from Griffin, I was able to turn up only pen blanks and other such thin long stock.   Woodfinder is a website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers and I can’t speak to the quality of any of them, but they do have the advantage of performing searches based on your location which might allow you to visit a wood dealer in person to hand pick what you want to work with at a price you are comfortable paying.


Because of the general rarity and expense of this type of exotic hardwood, most work done with it involves small pieces used for wood turning special projects such as high-end pens, inlay, marquetry, parquetry,  and other craft items, as well as knife blades and small bowls.  I have no heard of this wood being used as a tone wood or for other typical applications of exotics such as flooring.

Health Hazards Associated With Black and White Ebony

Severe negative allergic reactions are uncommon but woods in other Diospyros species have been known to cause reactions in sensitive individuals.  Therefore, care should be taken especially if an individual has experienced allergic reactions with other woods or wood dust.

Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database along with additional information about the best use of a dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, which is highly recommended when machining this wood.  Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative side effects from working with Black and White Ebony.

My Personal Experiences with Black and White Ebony

Personally I have greatly enjoyed my limited experience with Black and White Ebony.  I found that the extremely hard wood cut beautifully, help any shape I could come up with, and by using sharp carbide tools I had no troubles with breakage or tear out at all.  I was especially pleased with the high luster that wood showed even without waxing or finishing and I would be very pleased to have a bowl sized blank to work with in the future if one should become available at a price that didn’t leave me breathless!