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Thread: Ebony handle, putting a finish on it?

  1. #1

    Ebony handle, putting a finish on it?

    Hello everyone,

    I have an Asai guyto with an ebony handle. It looks like there is no finish at all on the handle. I quite like pure tung oil, and I have the bad habit of putting it on pretty much every wooden thing that end up in my possession.

    I do not have much experience with ebony, all I know is that it's dense and somewhat brittle. Is there some people here who have been using a knife with an ebony handle for a while? Unfinished, how does it look after several years of use? Is it unequal with shiny spots where your hands rub it, or does it stay even? Any issue with splinters or stuff like that?

    For people who put a finish on it, how did it turn out? Would you have some cautionary tales?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    As it is an oily wood oil finishes take longer to dry and stay tacky for a while. Sanded to a high grit and then polished with a wax blend gives a good finish IME

  3. #3
    Yeah, I'm used to tung oil taking forever to dry. It can be annoying for volume production, but I don't really mind for that kind of small scale job (except I won't be able to use the knife for a few days...). Happy to know that the result can be good!

  4. #4
    You might try a thinned tung oil mix, say 50/50 with acetone. That should improve your drying and might even give better penetration.

    Be well,
    Mikey
    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t
    Mikey

  5. #5
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    Ebony polishes and buffs incredibly well....even without a finish, you can put a decent level of sheen on it if you're willing to put in a little work sanding and polishing through very fine grits. Sanding, mineral spirits or acetone to remove the ultra fine dust followed by buffed out wax is not uncommon as a finishing schedule.

    If you do want to oil, pure tung oil will usually work fine. I've done it many times without thinning...but you can thin to assist penetration too as suggested....

    For ebony -- dry sand to 400, wet with water to raise the grain, sand to 600 or 800 ...then 0000 steel wool. Clean dust with mineral spirits or acetone. Then apply oil -- it can be applied with the steel wool too. Pure oil (as opposed to polymerized) will probably take a few days to dry....and you'll probably need to do two to four coats. Sanding with steel wool lightly between coats. Same approach works for linseed oil.

    As an alternative, I've sanded ebony with micro mesh pads (which run to 12k grit) using a little mineral oil as lubricant. Once sanded that high, it picks up a nice sheen. I then protect it with a wax coat - either a homemade blend of beeswax/carnuba dissolved in mineral oil, or better option: renaissance wax. Periodic re-waxing is all that's needed to maintain the sheen over time.

    As a side note that sounds like a TV DIY warning -- be sure to wear a dust max, and probably gloves, when you work with ebony. The true rosewoods and ebonies are among the more noxious of the exotic woods when it comes to reactivity. They throw really fine dust and both can cause skin and eye reactions...or inhalation allergies. They're also sensitizers for many, meaning they don't cause a problem with a few uses, but cumulatively over time can become rather..um..unfriendly.

  6. #6
    Senior Member chefcomesback's Avatar
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    CPD I am going to save this thread, thank you


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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by chefcomesback View Post
    CPD I am going to save this thread, thank you
    sure thing. glad to help

  8. #8
    Great summary CDP, thanks!

    I usually proceed in a similar way as what you are describing here. The only thing is that I do not sand above 300-400 grit before applying the oil; I feel the oil doesn't penetrate and "stick" enough on the wood if it is too polished prior to application. Maybe thinning with acetone would circumvent this problem, I'll have to try.

    And yeah, micro-mesh pads are great for the final buff. I didn't use any lubricant though, something else I will have to try!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brett_M View Post
    Great summary CDP, thanks!

    I usually proceed in a similar way as what you are describing here. The only thing is that I do not sand above 300-400 grit before applying the oil; I feel the oil doesn't penetrate and "stick" enough on the wood if it is too polished prior to application. Maybe thinning with acetone would circumvent this problem, I'll have to try.

    And yeah, micro-mesh pads are great for the final buff. I didn't use any lubricant though, something else I will have to try!
    happy to help out.

    When it comes to coating/film based finishes (lacquer, varnish (including "long oil" products like waterlox, or the various flavors of urethane's ), I would usually stop dry-sanding/prep between 220 and 400 too. With oil, even on very finely pored woods like ebony or some rosewoods (African blackwood for example), I've found going a bit higher isn't a problem at all. The key is making sure you clean the wood well before oiling to remove the dust residue filling the pores... and also, wetting it with water to raise the grain is a big part of the secret sauce. Raising the grain, then knocking it back down before the oil, as I've been told, helps maximize the pore size and absorption you'll get. Another tip - warm up the oil. I put a jar of oil in some hot water for a few minutes. The warm oil flows more smoothly. I leave it on for about ten minutes to penetrate before wiping it off.

    One note just to clarify for others - I use this method for true oils/pure oils .... polymerized oils like Boiled Linseed that have drying agents added I'd treat like a film/coating finish.

    With buffing out/polishing - lubing micro mesh pads with just a drop or two of mineral oil as you go, definitely helps improve the sheen quite a bit. Funny side note - old woodworkers trick - you can buy pure mineral oil at most pharmacies for much cheaper than buying at woodworking/hardware stores. Pharmacies sell it as a laxative.... which makes for more than a few funny looks when you buy a big ol' bottle of the stuff. Last time I got some, I got two bottles, a bag of Cheetos, a box of Kleenex, a magazine and some booze. The look on the cashiers face was priceless...you could see the gears going in her head as she tried to add up the odd combination.

    If you like a silky finish that people can't keep their hands off, check out the Renaissance wax as a last step too. I'm a big fan of the stuff. It's a bit pricey but a little goes a really long way. It leaves a really smooth, slightly softened sheen that holds up well and doesn't feel slippery.

  10. #10
    What is the consensus on TruOil gunstock oil for knife handles? I used it on my first knife project that I just completed and it was not very waterproof. Ditto on the mineral oil from the pharmacy.

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