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There is a possible substitute for ebony now offered by Lee Valley Tools. As you know, natural ebony is hard to work and glue, as well as creates toxic, messy dust. The polyester substitute is available in rods or sheets. Sheets are about 9" x 11" and about 1/8" thick. Synthetic ivory and bone are also available. I can't vouch for gluing properties or longevity, but these might be worth experimenting with.

Be sure to sign up for an epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series  http://trafalgar.tv

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Thanks Druxey, that sounds interesting.   I'm assuming that heat would be used to bend it?  

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
 La Belle Poule 1765 - French Frigate from ANCRE plans                             Triton Cross-Section   

                                                                                                                       USS Constellaton (kit bashed to 1854 Sloop of War  _(Gallery) Build Log

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Non-Ship Model:                                                                                         On hold, maybe forever:           

CH-53 Sikorsky - 1:48 - Revell - Completed                                                   Licorne - 1755 from Hahn Plans (Scratch) Version 2.0 (Abandoned)         



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If you want to stick with wood rather than a non-wood substitute you might try soaking basswood in carbon black water color.  The stuff I have is Hydrus Fine Art watercolor 11H carbon black.  It comes in a small bottle with an eye dropper.  Gives a deep black color to the basswood.  To give it the slight glossiness of ebony I use a light coat of clear gloss sealer over the color.  Looks pretty good, is cheap, is easy to work and has no health issues to worry about.


I have tried various ebony stains and different types of black paint but none of them are as good as the carbon black watercolor paint.

My advice and comments are always worth what you paid for them.

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Carbon black is used in the rubber industry to make products deep black. A little goes a long way.


Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section


Member Nautical Research Guild

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I personally dye wood to resemble ebony, but I mentioned the substitute for those who want to avoid dyes.


Mark, I don't know how flexible the product is. I've not tried working with it.

Be sure to sign up for an epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series  http://trafalgar.tv

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The shoe dye that Druxey mentions work very well to simulate ebony. It does have one drawback. The stuff has almost zero surface tension and will flow through any size aperture including a tightly closed bottle cap if the container accidentally falls on its side.  Trust me, I know! :(

RE carbon black: a most interesting material. The stuff is extremely hydrophobic and is very difficult to disaggregate and disperse in water (special wetting agents are required). Carbon black is rated by particle size and "jetness" i.e., blackness. These properties are controlled by what is combusted and the amount of oxygen used during carbon black manufacture.



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22 hours ago, druxey said:

...... As you know, natural ebony is hard to work and glue, as well as creates toxic, messy dust. .....


Considering the un-friendliness as a modeling medium, I'm curious as to the background/tradition on the desire to use ebony in wood ship modeling.


Luck is just another word for good preparation.


Current builds:    Rattlesnake (Scratch From MS Plans 

On Hold:  HMS Resolution ( AKA Ferrett )

In the Gallery: Yacht Mary,  Gretel, French Cannon

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Gregory: I believe that the popularity of using ebony in models was started by the late Harold Hahn. His stylized models have ebony false keels and wales. Certain trends and fads in modelling come from a wish to emulate star model-makers.

Be sure to sign up for an epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series  http://trafalgar.tv

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Myth or reality?


Ebony does not glue well: myth, it does glue as well as any other wood.


Every dust  wood is bad for lungs  with the years. One particularity of ebony dust, it is probably the finest dust, it is so fine  it can inlays skin hand pores.



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You are right, Gaetan.  Ebony glues as well as any wood.  I like to wipe it with an acetone soaked paper towel before glueup because of the high oil content. The acetone dissolves and removes the surface oil assuring a good bond.  I do the same with rosewood and have never had a glue failure with either.

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I've been using ebony for my Morgan and have had no problems with gluing.  I haven't found the dust to be problematic either - I just am very careful to wipe it down after working with it, which I probably should be doing with all woods.  Ebony is gorgeous - the various ways of ebonizing pear and other woods don't really come close.



Current Wooden builds:  Amati/Victory Pegasus  MS Charles W. Morgan  Euromodel La Renommèe  


Plastic builds:    SB2U-1 Vindicator 1/48  Five Star Yaeyama 1/700  Pit Road Asashio and Akashi 1/700 diorama  Walrus 1/48 and Albatross 1/700  Special Hobby Buffalo 1/32  Eduard Sikorsky JRS-1 1/72  IJN Notoro 1/700  Akitsu Maru 1/700


Completed builds :  Caldercraft Brig Badger   Amati Hannah - Ship in Bottle  Pit Road Hatsuzakura 1/700   Hasegawa Shimakaze 1:350

F4B-4 and P-6E 1/72  Accurate Miniatures F3F-1/F3F-2 1/48  Tamiya F4F-4 Wildcat built as FM-1 1/48  Special Hobby Buffalo 1/48

Citroen 2CV 1/24 - Airfix and Tamiya  Entex Morgan 3-wheeler 1/16


Terminated build:  HMS Lyme (based on Corel Unicorn)  


On the shelf:  Euromodel Friedrich Wilhelm zu Pferde; Caldercraft Victory; too many plastic ship, plane and car kits


Future potential scratch builds:  HMS Lyme (from NMM plans); Le Gros Ventre (from Ancre monographs), Dutch ship from Ab Hoving book, HMS Sussex from McCardle book, Philadelphia gunboat (Smithsonian plans)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have been whittling away on my billet of ebony now for about 40 years it was 36 x 7 x 6 with an adze finish when i purchased it cost me the (exorbitant sum of $70 at the time) very happy I spent the money then. I still have enough left to last the rest of my lifetime given the rate at which I have been using it.






it is sitting on the cherry top for the new end tables.



Current builds  Bristol Pilot Cutter 1:8;      Skipjack 19 foot Launch 1:8;       Herreshoff Buzzards Bay 14 1:8

Other projects  Pilot Cutter 1:500 ;   Maria, 1:2  Now just a memory    

Future model Gill Smith Catboat Pauline 1:8

Finished projects  A Bassett Lowke steamship Albertic 1:100  


Anything you can imagine is possible, when you put your mind to it.

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  • 1 year later...

Holy smokes Michael- you could probably sell that ebony now and get a better return than if you had invested that $70 in the stock market! 😂 I can't argue with the messiness of ebony dust but i think the whole toxicity thing gets blown a little out of proportion. I'm all for substitutes, but I agree with Mike that IMO nothing really comes close to the beauty of finished ebony. i look forward to seeing the Lee Valley substitute in action, though!



Completed Models:

Triton Cross Section


In Progress:

Brig Eagle


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