Ebony stained hardwood vs real ebony (i.e. the species ebony)
Years ago, I wrote an article about real ebony hardwood. This article is about the ebony species, rather than ebony stained hardwood floors. I was recently interviewed by Architectural Digest about the pros and cons for ebony stained wood vs true ebony, so I thought I would share some of the differences between the two..
These days, dark hardwood floors are all the rage these days. And, as you can read in my 2017 hardwood flooring trend article, the preference is to go darker and darker. Later in this article, I will share some tips how how go darker with your hardwood floors as well as provide brands and links so you can find the proper materials. But first, I’m going to discuss ebony stained vs real ebony.
Ebony (the species) vs Ebony Stained hardwood
It’s VERY rare to find true/real ebony floors. Why? Because it’s EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE and a very difficult wood to work with. First, the wood itself is very expensive…it generally will cost 5-7 x as much as oak. Then, the wood is MUCH harder, so it’s very difficult to work with. It’s hard to cut, so it takes much longer and you go through many more blades. And, it’s much more difficult and time consuming to sand and refinish (and of course it’s messier). Most of the dark floors see out there is NOT ebony, but rather oak (or other woods) stained to look like ebony.
The upside for ebony is that it is beautiful and it can be a real show case for your home (if you have a big budget). For those looking for an exquisite, unique and truly rich looking floor, it’s a great option. It’s unlike any other wood out there. It’s also a much harder wood, so it holds up better to dents.
But, there are many downsides to ebony (aside from the high cost). One disadvantage is the timeline. Often, there can be long lead times to source the wood (e.g. 8 to 12+ weeks). Then, because the wood is denser, it takes longer to acclimate (so it would need to sit in your home probably for at least an extra 2 weeks – or maybe even longer). And, then the install and sanding process would take longer as well.
On top of this real ebony hardwood is rare and highly regulated. Most ebony is imported from Africa and they have very strict restrictions on the quantities that are shipped out of the country (and hence the extra high price tag). There are yearly quotas, and once that quota has been filled, no more can be shipped out until the following calendar year. So, if you’re looking to buy in Oct/Nov/Dec and the quota has been reached, you’ll need to wait until January.
Another disadvantage of ebony that scratches show more (as they show more in all dark woods and woods that are stained dark). Ebony has a smoother grain vs oak, so scratches show more.
Note that the scratch resistance is the same as other woods. Hardness and scratching are two different things. Hardness is based on how hard the wood is and likely it is to dent if something is dropped on it. Scratching is based on the finish. So there is no advantage nor disadvantage on scratch resistance. The scratch resistance is simply based on the finish itself. (Related: What are the best brands of polyurethane? How do you reduce scratches in hardwood floors?)
And, another disadvantage to ebony floors is that they are naturally dark..so if your tastes or styles change in the future, you won’t be able to sand it to make it lighter. Compare that to oak where you can go very light or very dark or anywhere in between. This is also an important consideration for when you sell your house (some buyers prefer lighter wood colors or dark floors that aren’t as dark as ebony).
So, it is very rare to find real ebony hardwood floors here in the US. You will see plenty of initial interest in ebony, but when people hear about the costs they usually opt for oak instead.
So what are the alternatives for ebony hardwood?
The majority of customers in New York area (as well as most of Mid Atlantic, North East, Mid West already have oak in their homes (or at least on the main floor) so it is much simpler and less expensive to refinish the existing wood with a dark stain for an ebony look. And, if they need to add wood to some rooms, it’s easy enough to add more oak and refinish the whole area to match.
There are multiple ways to refinish with dark stains, pending on how dark the customer wants to go and how much they want to spend, but all of them are SIGNIFICANTLY less expensive than adding real ebony floors.
The simplest way to get a dark floor is to just use a dark stain. In the past, many used a dark walnut, jacobean or ebony stain (Duraseal comes out darker than Minwax and Duraseal is better/easier stain to work with). But, most were not finding the ebony stain to be dark enough for their taste. So, Duraseal recently introduced a new color called True Black. It’s an opaque stain that is super dark, so it looks much more like the species ebony and it really gives a modern look.
The above picture uses Duraseal’s True Black. Below is a comparison showing True Black vs Ebony. Ebony is a bit lighter and shows the wood grain more while True Black is more opaque and covers the graining for smoother and even more contemporary look.
Other options (which add on to the cost for refinishing) would include doing a water pop on the floors before you add the stain. This opens up the pores so that the stain is absorbed more evenly and it gives you a deeper hue. There is also an option to use an aniline dye. For either of these solutions, you really need to make sure you have an experienced refinisher who has a lot of experience with these techniques. They aren’t easy.
- How to reduce scratches in hardwood floors
- Dark vs Light Hardwood floors – What are the pros and Cons
- What is a water pop and when does it make sense to do that on hardwood floors?
- 2017 hardwood flooring trends
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Real Ebony hardwood vs ebony stained wood