26 November 2014

Black Veneer Experiment


Here are a few thoughts, and the results of a recent small experiment I did on the permanence of black dyes in rosette making. Basically, I wanted to know what materials, if any, could replace ebony in my rosettes. Even though I only tested a few potential materials, the results were positive and a little surprising.

Given the current scarcity and endangered status of ebony, and given the amount of material wasted in making thin rosette parts, it isn't very environmentally responsible for me (or anyone, really) to be using ebony in rosettes any more. While up close the beautifully rich and permanently dark look of ebony is hard to match with dyed veneer, further than about 60cm (2 ft.) away, you can't really tell it's ebony, it just looks black. I wanted to know if there's a more sustainable substitute that looks good up close, and has the same darkness and permanence of ebony.

It's easy enough to buy jet black veneer from most veneer suppliers, the most common options are made from Swiss pear wood or basswood that have been dyed black. Another variety is black fiber veneer, which is made from cellulose and resembles a high grade paper product. I've used all of these a little in the past and already knew that the up-close appearance of pear is the most ebony-like, at least when it's new, closely followed by the fiber sheet. Basswood looks alright, though not like ebony. But will the dyes used to make these veneers fade? How long before that happens?

To Test the Veneers...

A piece of opaque plastic was taped over a section of each of these three types of veneer and the samples were placed in a south facing window last October. One year later the plastic was removed in order to observe how much each sample had faded after the year in direct sunlight. Although I actually tested only three samples, I was surprised by the results.

After a Year in the Sun...

The Swiss pear and basswood pieces had faded a lot. Too much in my opinion. This was no surprise since I could easily tell after only a couple of months that they were already fading a lot. What I didn't expect though was that the fiber sheet after a year showed no signs of having faded at all. This was a better result than anticipated.

A Note About Black Fiber Sheets

I've seen inconsistency in the blackness of it, some pieces have looked perfectly fine on the surface, but are actually gray in the middle. So check it out carefully before you use it. It can also be a headache to glue, even with polyurethane glue. It's a good idea to do some tests before using it in your projects.


This kind of experiment could of course be expanded to include many colours of dyed and undyed wood, and to include colours produced by traditional/natural means where applicable. For example, there are several natural ways of producing green and black wood veneers, and the permanence of these colours is worth exploring if you're interested in using them. Of course, I'm sure such an experiment has been done by many others before, but I always like to see something for myself before believing it. Perhaps one day I'll give it a go, but I'd be interested to hear about other luthiers' or woodworkers' experiences with colour shifts in natural or dyed wood.... Anyone?

I hope you found this useful, helpful, interesting, or at least mildly entertaining. Thanks for reading.