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Old 02-02-2017, 08:47 AM   #1 (permalink)
Join Date: Nov 2016
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Default Ebony Cracking problem

I'm still new to pen turning and I was wondering if Ebony is particularly prone to cracking. I have made pens out of Rosewood, Amboyna Burl, Eucalyptus Burl, Acrylics, and a few other woods and have had no problem with cracking when assembling the pens. However, I have twice turned and tried to assemble an Emperor pen made from ebony and it cracked both times. Does anyone have any tips?

thanks in advance.
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Old 02-02-2017, 09:44 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I've made 3, 2 cracked. The last one I threw in the oven at 200F and let it dry out for 4 hours, then kept it in a ziplock bag until it was time to turn it. That one did not crack.

Other tips go slow when drilling or it will burn and cause structural problems.
Oceanside, CA
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Old 02-02-2017, 10:13 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Right after drilling, I would seal the interior of the blank with a liberal layer of thin CA, to help stabilize it ... then re-drill it to clear out any excess CA buildup before gluing in the tubes.

I would also definitely opt for sanding the ends square to the tubes, rather than using any kind of end mill. I also stabilize the ends of the blanks right after this step with more CA.

Lastly, no matter what finish I was planning on, stabilizing the exterior of the blank with CA and then sanding it back to expose bare wood works decently well, if you plan to give it a more natural look and feel, or just give it a dozen coats and sand it glassy smooth all the way up through micromesh, with the polish and buffing of your choice. Comes out looking like shiny black plastic, but still turns heads when they feel it's weight and realize it's really Ebony. I like the Massaccar Ebony, it has some lovely golden tones streaking through the black.

I also never use any kind of accelerator. Many people do, and many dont ... some have issues with or without it. I've also never yet had a pen barrel crack on me. (knock on wood)
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Old 02-02-2017, 01:56 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Kick the ebony to the curb and get you stabilized African Blackwood. It's higher quality wood, cheaper and easier to get and much easier to work with.
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Old 02-02-2017, 02:32 PM   #5 (permalink)
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What if you left about 1/4" of the tube unglued in the blank. This way when you press the tip into the tube, that no glue zone may leave enough room for the tube to expand without putting to much stress on the wood. With no glue, there should be a hairline gap.

Just a thought
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Old 02-02-2017, 05:52 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Wow! Thanks for the suggestions! Very helpful. About the African Blackwood - It isn't as black as the ebony I've been getting. I'm looking for a glossy jet black effect for the pen. Is there jet black African Blackwood?
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Old 02-02-2017, 06:25 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Sand the components so they are a slip-fit into the tube ends and glue them in instead of press-fitting.
Duncan Suss
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Old 02-02-2017, 07:30 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Yep - ebony has a (well deserved) rep for that. Stabilizing it one way or another is about the only way to lessen the threat.

FYI - some Blackwood will be "more black" than others. Plus it is quite a bit more oily than ebony. Needs to be wiped off with a solvent before finishing.

Might also take a look at Macassar ebony. Some of it is nearly as black as Gaboon ebony. But (I think) it behaves better.
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Old 02-02-2017, 07:49 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Much of the pen blank ebony is not dry. I have stock that has set for several years, and it only cracks where there were cracks in the dry wood.

Treat it as damp wood and the surprises go way way down.
Ken Vaughan
Old Apprentice Machinist - learning a new knee in Tucson
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Old 02-02-2017, 08:33 PM   #10 (permalink)
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You will not get any deeper black than Gabon ebony. Yes there can be some slight streaks of gold in it but I have made pens with it and other projects using it and have not had any problems. If doing a pen I do soak the inside of the blank with thin CA. It is a very dusty wood though and will get into everything, so you need to be very good at clean up after each operation. Will take a shine and imperfections can be filled with thin CA and sanding dust very easily. I have had a stash for some time so I do know it is dry. Sorry none for sale
John T.
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