Tag Archives: Ebonized Wood

In the Studio: Restoring an Ebonized Elephant Table

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Recently we received a call from a new client with a furniture problem. She had inherited a table with a base carved in the form of an elephant. The finish was black and badly damaged. I went up to meet the lady, her table and, it turns out, her dog Sadie.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie is a charming young dog with good taste in furniture. She adopted the elephant table as her own with visible consequences. She even chewed the tail off the back of the elephant. Now, we TreasureTrackers are highly dog-friendly so this was not shocking. Sadie helped me examine the table, I took some photos, then I took the table back to Center Art Studio for treatment.

When I inspected the table closely, I found some surprises. First, I noticed that the eyes and tusks were actually ivory even though they were now black. I also saw strange drips in the black finish under the top. Clearly someone had painted over the ebonized mahogany to “restore” the black. Remember that “ebonizing” is not the same as painting wood black to resemble ebony. Proper ebonizing is done with black or brown-black stain (nowadays we use aniline dye – I get good results with Solar-Lux by H. Behlen). This produces a thin but strongly colored finish that allows some sense of the wood grain to show through. I determined to remove the black housepaint with solvent to expose the wood, allowing me to then recreate a proper ebonized look.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

For the top coat I chose amber shellac, applied with a brush. The first coat was very thin, to soak deeply into the wood. The final coat was applied more thickly, then lightly sanded. Then paste wax applied with steel wool and buffed with old rags, and I was ready to return Sadie’s table.

Sadie was out, but the family cat took a test drive.

Sadie was out, but Baby took a test drive.

As it turned out, Sadie was out but the family cats, Baby and Angel, took advantage of her absence and inspected my work.

Happily scratches in an ebonized finish are easily touched up with a Q-tip and some aniline dye (available at a paint store). Some people use black shoe polish, but I recommend trying to find the dye (or contacting us!).

I may see this table again.