Anyone who has purchased any Ebony wood in the last few years will realize why anyone would even bother to try duplicated this fine exotic wood. The reason is simple, costs. Ebony is somewhat difficult to obtain and is therefore VERY expensive to buy, even in small quantities as a highlighter to a project.
In order to "ebonize" or make your own ebony wood, the first thing to do is to choose the wood. Obviously darker woods will be easier to make darker that light colored woods. If you have ever examined ebony closely, you will see it is a very fine wood with almost no grain visible. Almost like black plastic. If you use a gainy wood like oak, the grain will easily show through the dye, so for close-in work I would suggest using a finer grain wood, even if it means more work because it is a lighter colored wood.
There are a variety of ways of ebonizing wood. Essentially all of them involve coloring or dying the wood until it appears black. There is no right or wrong way to ebonize wood, you just do what ever works, and here are a few tried and true methods. It's wise to remember that water based dying methods will tend to raise the grain of the wood you are working with while alcohol will tend not to do this. This could be an important factor if the wood needs to be sanded after. If your coloring is too thin, it will be easy to sand through the dyed portion thus revealing the natural wood underneath.
Use a black felt pen to color the wood. This technique works well on smaller projects, but the wood must be prepared (i.e. sanded) ahead of time. The reason for this is that the felt pen does not penetrate most woods very well, so if you sand AFTER you ebonize, you risk sanding off some of the black dye.
Some woodworkers have used Leather dyes, somewhat akin to shoe polish. This has been a long used method of dying wood black. Many of these are alcohol based. Another method used for smaller pieces of wood involves soaking a fine steel wool in white vinegar. In pretty short order the vinegar will dissolve the steel wool which in turns makes the vinegar appear black. Pieces of wood can then be soaked in this mixture or alternately be painted with it to turn the wood black Since this method is a chemical it will be wise to neutralize the dye after it has been applied with ammonia. I understand this method is very stable in terms of the wood retaining it black look over long periods of time.
If you are opting to use a dye, look for "aniline" type dyes. The are made from coal tars, and you can't get anything blacker than that! The preferred method in term of getting the wood absolutely black is to use India Ink. You will have to look a bit harder for this but it is worth if you want a quality job.
And lastly, some of the paint and stain manufacturers have some very dark stains that may work for you, like Minwax who has an "Onyx in their water color version stains. To date, this has been the best, and easiest way I have found to ebonize wood. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to do and works great.
Just remember, no matter what you do, you can't make a mistake if your wood turns out black, and looks like Ebony.
Copyright Colin Knecht