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Old 02-10-2020, 08:49 AM   #1
EquusRacer
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Default ABW/Ebony Distinction

For the wood and pipe experts, how do you tell ABW pipes from those made of Ebony, particularly if the ABW set is very uniformly black? Someone in our band was talking about differences in 'gloss' or something, which made little sense to me (given the different types of finishes out there).
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Old 02-10-2020, 09:36 AM   #2
John McCain
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

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Originally Posted by EquusRacer View Post
For the wood and pipe experts, how do you tell ABW pipes from those made of Ebony, particularly if the ABW set is very uniformly black? Someone in our band was talking about differences in 'gloss' or something, which made little sense to me (given the different types of finishes out there).
I asked a pipemaker this and he said that it is difficult. He said that if he could see the grain, it was likely ABW.
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Old 02-10-2020, 12:28 PM   #3
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

I don't think a wood that remains jet black in direct sunlight is blackwood.
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Old 02-10-2020, 01:00 PM   #4
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

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Originally Posted by CalumII View Post

I don't think a wood that remains jet black in direct sunlight is blackwood.
I’d agree.....the blackest abw shows more as browny-grey in broad sunlight. Hasn’t been pleasant enough here lately to jog my memory how does ebony show,..but remaining ‘black’ iirc.

Re graining in abw...yes..even very fine grade abw still seems to have an ‘open’ finish with minute graining seen if looking closely.
I have 6-7 old brownish color RGL chanters 40’s- 50’s. (with the square cut chalice design.... Not radiused) ..the Wood is flawless...like glass ...even with their no varnish or whatever finish.
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Old 02-10-2020, 01:29 PM   #5
EquusRacer
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

I appreciate the comments. I assure you that my pipes, ABW from very old and long-cured stock, is quite black. However, now that it's pointed out, I do agree that there is a 'grayishness' in sunlight, and even with a very, very faint brownish-black in parts under bright sunlight.

I also think, as mentioned, the grain is perhaps more distinct. I've just not set drones of the two woods side by side...I think. One guy in the band claims his pipes are ebony; but, looking at them both, I really do not see an identifiable difference. Perhaps his are more black...and, with tigher grain, that may be the identifier. It may be my lacking; or he may be wrong. He didn't seem to be all that confident, saying he 'thought' they were ebony.

When I was an instructor in a junior band, I noticed a lot of the newer pipes they were getting were much more brownish than mine, or than many more vintage pipes I'd seen.
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Old 02-11-2020, 08:25 AM   #6
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

Most blackwood for the last fifty years or so has been grown for the trade, and hence it has probably grown a lot faster, I would guess (relatively, as these things go!).


Ebony actually comes in all sorts of shades and colour but the stuff historically used in piping was the finest grades. The most obvious difference to me is that ebony usually has visible grain lines/pores visible on the surface, which looks almost like very fine cracks at times. In blackwood this isn't visible at all, whatever the colour.
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Old 02-11-2020, 10:53 AM   #7
EquusRacer
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

Thanks for the input. Regarding grain, however, I've read two different opinions. One said that a pipe maker said that "if he could see the grain, it was likely ABW." Others indicated that more visible grain was likely ebony; so I'm now confused on that. What happens in sunlight, however, does make sense.

The maker of my pipes--and I realize that he might have just been telling me a story--said that the ABW he used in my pipes had cured for 50 years. I do find that hard to believe; but I do believe the wood was very old and slowly cured (and these pipes were, in addition, made nearly 40 years ago). Not sure if that makes a difference (at least compared to newer wood). I do agree with CalumII about the ABW over the last 50 years.
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Old 02-11-2020, 12:15 PM   #8
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

Lot's of great opinions here. I have a couple of sets of ebony pipes (1, 2), one of cocus wood (3), and have and have had various sets of blackwood pipes in my possession (4, 5, 6, 7). One set of mystery pipes in ebony were with me for a couple of weeks (8). In all of these cases, the ebony sets were clearly ebony, though the mystery set had a slight brown tinge. Mostly, there was no mistaking the pure jet black look of the wood, varnished or not. This was particularly true in bright sunlight. Two of those ebony sets have some sapwood in them, and the delineation between heart and sapwood was very clear.

The blackwood sets have ranged from dark brown to tiger stripe in effect. That set that was dark brown, got even darker after an oiling. However, there was still always a brown-gray hue, especially in sunlight. Check out this image of a 1940s blackwood Henderson bass top with my 1915 ebony Henderson bass top: http://www.lockyphoto.com/bagpipeeco...608_132056.jpg This was taken in late day sunlight and nothing enters the ebony.

The cocus wood set is interesting because in bright sunlight the colours are vivid red. Here's an image of the 1910ish cocus wood Henderson tenor top beside a 1950ish blackwood Henderson tenor top: http://www.lockyphoto.com/bagpipeeco...421_095006.jpg. Now here is that same set of cocus wood pipes on a cloudy day...

Of course, as noted, age or era of the wood is also a consideration...
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Old 02-11-2020, 02:37 PM   #9
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

If I remember correctly, there are different species of ebony, including Macassar ebony from the east Indies, so wouldn't one expect slightly diiferent appearance from the various species?
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:57 PM   #10
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Default Re: ABW-Ebony Distinction

Usually spot grain difference on wood that looks like small end pores on ebony. Tough to differentiate by color, although old ebony can be deep black. If you want to see the natural grain, Mike, drive to north Portland by old Monkey Park to Gilmer Woods and ask to see some pieces of each. It won't take long for you to learn to spot the grain difference. See Mark for a chat.
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