Ebony is a dense and heavy wood used for making a variety of items including musical instruments such as bagpipes, violin pegs, chessmen, buttons, handles for cutlery, and of course stick shafts and handles, for which a strong wood is a necessity. Ebony is one of the most difficult woods to carve given its hardness, and traditionally only master carvers were given the opportunity. Ebony trees are relatively small, and are found in the tropical rainforests of Africa, India, Ceylon, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The bark of ebony is tan and generally light in color, and the outer wood is a soft white. It is the inner portion of the tree that is fine-grained, dense, dark colored, strong and heavy, and has been prized for centuries.
Known for its jet-black color, ebony varies from deep black to dark red, with a variety of rich dark shades. Heartwood may display dramatic and irregular striping of bright brown, gray or greenish black on a deep black background. It is genetics that determines the shade, along with moisture, mineral content of the soil, and age/growth rate of the tree. Generally, the darker ebony is found at higher altitudes and from older trees. Ebony with more red tones has its origin at lower altitudes and from soil with greater iron content. Ebony is a scarce and costly wood.
Special mention must be made of Macassar ebony, native to the Celebes Islands of Indonesia. It is an exceptionally beautiful hazel-brown black-striped wood, and is important in the production of canes and used for the most expensive shafts.
If purchasing a stick described as having an ebony shaft, examine it closely. Ebonized wood is an imitation of real ebony, inexpensive wood that has been stained black, and is identifiable by its grain, mottling or lighter weight.