Photos of African Blackwood
Photographs of African Blackwood, or mpingo, wood in log and cut
forms. Dimensions and weights in both English and metric units are given to provide a feel for this wood in its raw form. This extremely dense wood will not float in water, having an average density of 75 lb/ft3 (1200 kg/m3). Image download size is given in ( ).
Please note these photos are of the species Dalbergia melanoxylon, and are not of the Diospyros spp. family of woods. Historically, Dalbergia melanoxylon was known as Ebony, the name originating with the Egyptians, and it was the wood used in antiquity, for example, in extant examples of furniture from various Pharoah's tombs. In modern usage, Ebony has come to refer to the Diospyros spp. family of woods, not to African blackwood/mpingo/Dalbergia melanoxylon. There are multiple Diospyros family trees available in the wood market and sold as Ebony, whereas only this one variety of Dalbergia is African Blackwood. Because of this confusing historical usage of names, now across the Internet there is much incorrect information as to what is Ebony and what is African blackwood, but all photos and references on this website relate to the Dalbergia melanoxylon species, and not any of the woods known by the modern commercial name of Ebony.
1. Half-section of mpingo log 9" (23 cm) in large diameter and 12" (30.5 cm) in length. This cut through the center of the log shows some of the heart checks, shakes and other defects which are common in mpingo. (26k)
|2. Planed surface showing the striking contrast between the dark purplish-brown and black heartwood and pale yellow sapwood. (25k)|
|3. End view of the log in photo #4. Dimensions are 6" across x 7" high (15 cm x 18 cm). Endgrain of cut sections are coated with various compounds such as wax or petroleum jelly to create a moisture barrier. This is done to forestall the inevitable checking, or cracking, of the wood caused by too rapid drying out of the log through the endgrain pores. (29k)|
|4. Side view of mpingo log about 7" (18 cm) in diameter and 18" (45 cm) in length showing the yellowish band of sapwood that lies directly under the bark. Weight is 34.5 lbs (15.6 kg). (22k)|
|5. Opposite end view from (photo #3) of the log in photo #4 showing the origin of a fork in the tree and the scarring where the limb joins the main trunk. This tree typically has many folds, buttresses and other irregularites on its trunk and limbs which make cutting square stock from the log a difficult and wasteful process. (26k)|
|6. Endgrain view of a very fine log section of mpingo showing the irregular shape in which it grows. This size log is considered large compared to most mpingos harvested. This piece has very few heart defects but is beginning to develop a significant check at about 9 o'clock. The dimensions are 8 1/2" x 11" (21 cm x 28cm) across the small and large dimensions of the end and it is 11" long, weighing 56 lb (25.5 kg). (30k)|
7. A stack of reject blanks from the musical instrument trade. 90% of the mpingo cut for this purpose ends up on the scrap pile. Some is diverted to native carvers for their use and others like these pieces are sold as imperfect pieces for other woodworking purposes such as woodturning, ornamental turning and knife handles. (24k)
|8. Another view of the instrument blanks in photo #7. The long pieces are roughly 1 3/8" x 1 3/8" x 9-10"(35 mm x 35 mm x 225-250 mm) and were cut as body blanks for clarinets. The truncated prism shapes were intended to be made into clarinet bells and they are about 3 1/2" (88 mm) in height and base dimension. (24k)|
|9. High-resolution image of the stack of instrument reject blanks from photo #7. The various chalk marks are still visible from the grader's pencil as the imperfect areas on these pieces were marked at the sawmill. Only perfect specimens are suitable for the complex manufacturing processes of the woodwind instrument manufacturing trade. (64k)|
|10. Endgrain view of one of the clarinet bell blanks from photos #7-9. The growth rings are barely visible curving about the right uppermost corner. This wood is so tight-grained and uniform in texture that the pores in the wood are difficult to see without magnification. (29k)|
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Last revised 19 November 2008.