Care and Feeding of an Ebony? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I just became the proud owner of an Ebony RSW45 from Robert White. I was wondering if anyone had any good information about how I should care for the Ebony wood and the titanium?

-- Matthew Cordery (, February 28, 2002


Matthew: A lot of people may suggest you outsource that nasty maintenance.

-- Kevin Crisp (, February 28, 2002.

Matthew: Don't take it appart, dont bath it, dust it, otherwise leave it alone unless it goes wrong.

its a fine camera


-- Robin Coutts (, February 28, 2002.

You could send me the camera for a free evaluation of the required maintenance and suggested intervals.

This evaluation can often take three to five years, and would require frequent use of the camera. Please send film as well, I have my own holders and meter.

-- Michael Mahoney (, February 28, 2002.

First thing to do is to announce on the Internet that you own one. Why don't you mention how much you paid for it, too?

-- Wilhelm (, February 28, 2002.

Two suggested methods:

Film and plenty of it. Think of any scarring as badges of honor. This works if you are a photographer.

metal and wood polish rubbed in with soft cloths. This approach works if you are a furniture collector.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 28, 2002.

If it gets wet then dry it with a cloth. If it gets dusty give it a brush. Easy!

-- paul owen (, February 28, 2002.

I know how you feel, a couple of the others don't 'get it', you've just unpacked you're new 'pride 'n joy', and you're excited like I was by my first LF camera. Somebody doesn't like it, so what.

I'm both a Photographer and Woodworker, get a can of Liberon furniture paste wax, the best, cost $13.90 and I've been working on the same can for 5 yrs!

Use the wax on the metal and wood, it's more protection than you think, and whatever else scratches, nick, and/or marks you get, you get, but if it's made out of wood and you care about it, use the wax.

-- (, February 28, 2002.

I own a metal field camera not a wook one, but I've seen enough of the Ebony to know that woodworking was done by a true Artisan. The bevels, the joinery is beautiful, sure it was made to be used, but waxing periodically is good for the wood, and is a gesture to the craftsman who put his time and sweat into the piece to say 'I appreciate what you did'.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, February 28, 2002.

Anything made out of wood is only as strong as it joints. Joinery with the right glue proprerly done, is almost as strong as the wood itself, and supplemental fasteners like screws are secondary. The enemy of bare wood and it joints in a workpiece is the sun/UV, and temperature/humidity swings, which causes expansion and contraction in both the wood and joints.

Anything made out of wood and its joinery tends to get torn up not from use but from expansion and contraction which can cause the joints to fail. In an effort to combat all of this, any combination of stains, Danish oils, Shellacs(french polish), urethanes, and Spar varnishes are used.

Spar varnish among these has the ability to flex with the wood as it expands and contracts, and is used on a workpiece that has to deal with being outside. Even though these overcoats can look like hard glass none of them are complete moisture barriers.

Your wax is supplemental protection moisturewise and its biggest advantage is that it's simple, renewable, and cheap, and it cannot hurt and usually helps protect whatever finish the manufacturer has on a workpiece.

I went through all this technical 'macaroni' to emphasize to Matthew that what will tear up a workpiece isn't necessarily use, but the elements, that's why you use the wax.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, February 28, 2002.

When my Grandfather, who was a carpenter, died, no adult in my family had sense enough to save his tools. The old craftsmen not only loved their work, and its products, but also loved the tools that helped them make a living for themselves and their families.

There are some wonderful books of photographs of hand made tools and toolboxes from around the turn of the century. One toolbox I have in mind must have taken over a thousand man-hours to make.

Tools are latent wealth full of promise, and it saddens me to see them taken for granted. Fine cameras are not only a testament to the craftsmen who made them but to the long line of engineers and inventors who found new and clever ways to make them work better and more reliably. Anyone who has ever taken the time to puzzle their way through the workings of even a simple shutter canít help but be awe struck by the evidence of genius that resides there.

It saddens me when I see a screwdriver that was used for a pry bar, and broken. I have one camera that was used by a professional photographer who worked to his 70ís. He was a friend of mine, and he is dead now. It has marks on it, that are his marks, and I revere those, however it doesnít show abuse or lack of maintenance.

Real manual labor is a fine schoolmaster, that teaches the value of things that are made, and the labor that was put into them. It gives one a respect and reverence for them.

One of my next projects it to photograph grain silos. I suspect most people think that they are ugly, but I bet those that think that they are ugly havenít ever been really hungry.

Photography is art, but it is also craft, and true craftsmen, take care of their tools.


-- Neal Shields (, February 28, 2002.

Matthew: Congratulations, wish you enjoy your new camera for many years to come.

The best you can do for your ebony is to place it in a glass case in the dark at 50% Relative Humidity. As you will agree this is not appropriate the second best is to protect the camera from fast, drastic changes in humidity as would happen if the canoe tipped over. Ebony is a very dense wood with slow uptake of moisture and is extremely durable but it is not immune to dimensional changes brought about by moisture changes. Waxes as others suggested are useful in as much as they provide some protection against moisture changes and protection against abrasion and mechanical dulling of the wood, however I would not trust any wax to provide you with the kind of protection against extreme conditions. Landscape photography involves unavoidable risk to equipment.

Once I was photographing a stormy looking landscape that quickly changed to a downpour. Fortunately I had my focusing cloth so I quickly draped the camera over with it. Yes, my cloth is black on the inside but on the other side is waterproof. No I do not own a wood camera but I do not like my Technika to get wet either!

-- Julio Fernandez (, March 01, 2002.

Julio.....I said nothing about trusting wax to protect a piece under extreme conditions, I wouldn't wax a workpiece and then submerge it in water, and as I said waxing a workpiece is supplemental protection.

Wax on a regular basis as the wax wears off, do it consistently, and the wood is better off that not waxing, it doesn't make any difference whether it is Ebony, or Bubinga, or Padouk. It's the wear and tear over the long run that you try to address with the wax.

Check out 'the Encyclopedia of Furniture Making' by Ernest Joyce for the expansion and contraction rates for many woods, the important consideration for Ebony is that it is NOT zero. My suggestion to Matthew still stands, wax it if you care about it.

Drop your camera in a lake, finish shooting and leave your camera under the bright noonday sun and take a nap, those are extremes that no finish, no wax, nothing can protect against.

Sure if you're outside your camera gonna be exposed to extreme conditions, but you still attempt to take care of it, so that isn't an argument for not using the wax. It's easy to wax every couple of months and the wood's better off with it than without it no matter what, now if you decide to use you camera as a submarine, nothing is going to help.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

'The best you can do for your ebony is to place it in a glass case in the dark at 50% Relative Humidity'.....with all due respect Julio this is not correct.

Whatever the conditions you will be using the camera under, you should place the camera in a similar envirement for at least 72 hours(if possible) or 24 hours if you can spare that, so the camera gets used to the heat or cold or humidity change.

Just putting the camera in a glass case under the conditions you've suggested isn't going to do any good if you're taking the camera up in the mountains for the next week.

Now of course this won't always be possible, but that is the best case scenario.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

You might speak with Ebony directly. I'm sure they've given that a lot of thought.

Does anyone know what happened to Ken Hough's Deardorff site? It's disappeared. He had recommendations on how to care for those cameras. Is ebony wood all that different from Honduras mahogany?

-- neil poulsen (, March 01, 2002.

Ebony(Macassar ebony, Andaman marble, coromandel, calamander wood etc.)......All are extremely hard and heavy, very finely textured and somewhat cold to the touch with a marble like quality. The colours are showy, ranging from dark greay streaked with saffron-green, brown, red and purple to pure black. The trees do not grow much beyond 8 in in girth.

Honduras Mahogany....Yellowish brow, close even texture. Plain lustrous figure. Medium hard, excellent working properties, very stable. VERY HARD TO GET.

Ebony is considered an exotic wood that is only occasinally available and is something very special, Mahogany in general has been called 'the wood that all other woods are judged by'.

You wouldn't be all that wrong in calling these the Roll Royce and Mercedes of woods, and in the hands of Masters as the makers of the Ebony obviously are they are worked into something very special.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

I also feel that you should ask Ebony what they recommend. Their recommendations for the bellows would also be of interest. Please post their response. If for some reason you do not want to contact Ebony, please email me; I'll then follow through and post their response.

-- Michael H. Alpert (, March 01, 2002.

Jonathan: I did not mean to disagree or imply anything wrong with your recommendations, in fact I think you did a very good job with them. That said, you missed my tongue in cheek humour about the glass cage. Placing it PERMANENTLY in that cage at 50% RH would indeed be the best for the Ebony, ....but the worst for Matthew; I clearly acknowledged that after mentioning it. I am quite aware of the relevant technical data for ebony, the wood. For one thing, its volumetric shrinkage can be double to nearly triple that of Teak, depending on wheather it is East Indian ebony, or African Ebony. (US Forest Products Laboratory Wood Handbook); which type of ebony was used for making the camera I do not know, but in neither case getting it wet is not the best for it. That is the message I hoped to convey to Matthew. I quite agree that wax which you suggested is I about the only practical thing for the case in question, but by no means trustworthy when it comes to the soaking that cameras can be exposed to in downpours. Ebony is wood, beautiful, strong, hard wood etc. but the reality is that it still is wood, with all its advantages and disadvantages. Better for Matthew to know that now than latter, no?

-- Julio Fernandez (, March 01, 2002.

As there seems to be an interest in ebony, the wood, here is an excerpt from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2002: "The best Indian and Ceylon ebony is produced by Diospyros ebenum, which grows in abundance throughout the flat country west of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. The tree is distinguished by the width of its trunk and its jet-black, charred-looking bark, beneath which the wood is pure white until the heart is reached. The heartwood excels in fineness and in the intensity of its dark colour. Although the centre of the tree alone is used, reduced logs 30 cm to almost 1 m (1 to 3 feet) in diameter can be obtained. Much of the East Indian ebony is yielded by the Coromandel ebony, D. melanoxylon, a large tree attaining a height of 18Ė24 m and 2.4Ė3 m in circumference, with irregular branches and oblong leaves. D. montana of India yields a yellowish gray, soft but durable wood. D. quaesita is the tree from which is obtained the wood known in Sri Lanka as Calamander. Its closeness of grain, great hardness, and fine hazel-brown colour, mottled and striped with black, render it valuable for veneering and furniture making. D. dendo, native to Angola, is a valuable timber tree with very black and hard heartwood known as black ebony, as billetwood, or as Gabon, Lagos, Calabar, or Niger ebony. Jamaica, American, or green ebony is produced by Brya ebenus, a leguminous tree or shrub; the heartwood is rich dark brown, very heavy, exceedingly hard, and capable of receiving a high polish."

-- Julio Fernandez (, March 01, 2002.

Hi Matthew, I work with ebony wood. It is an oily wood that, in my experience, can be difficult where waxing is involved. There are some waxes that complement it and others that merely stay a sticky film on the surface. I use a beeswax/arnica oil combination that I cook-up in the microwave. The problem with waxing a camera involves the accidental transference of that wax to film, lenses, etc. You might try, in a small area of the wood, a product like Armor- all. I've used it lightly on surfaces and it seems not bad as a sealant. Your best bet would be to not coat the wood and bring along a plastic trash bag in cases where it begins to rain. You might check with The Ebony people and find out if they have treated the wood used in your camera. I would think it is treated and another layer of goop on the wood would only make the camera an excellent dust collecter. Happy shooting. Peter

-- Peter C. McDonough (, March 01, 2002.

Yeesh. Look what I started.....:-)

-- Matthew Cordery (, March 01, 2002.

Yes Julio, that is funny now that I reread you post....thanks for pointing that out....kind of like 'pheasant under glass'. I e-mailed Ebony about their recommendations, told them I recommeded wax and asked them how they felt about it and am awaiting a response.

I am very familiar with Mahogany since I made the coffee table that now resides in my living room out of Mahogany. I stained it with several coats of danish oil and regularly wax it with Liberon paste wax, there's no goop whatsoever.

Bottom line is the wood doesn't know if it's in a camera or desk, wood is wood, so the issue is pretty simple, do nothing, or wax it regularly, for added protection. Good point about whatever possible treatment Ebony has performed on the wood, although I read John Sextons review which say that's linseed oil, and that being true, wax isn't going to hurt.

On the Mahogany pieces I've made, Liberon and Mothers California Gold(an automotive paste wax), work like a charm. I wouldn't recommend Armor all/silicone as once you get this on something, you cannot get it off.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

FWIW, I'm pretty sure that Ebony use danish oil on the cameras.

-- paul owen (, March 01, 2002.

Yes Julio your point is well taken, and something Matthew should take notice, don't expose this camera to downpours, get it soaked. In the woodworking subculture the majority of folks don't even try to make a piece out of Ebony, they buy a stain, another wood, and try to duplicate the 'look' of Ebony with staining.

That is how special your Ebony is, and it is why I bought a metal field camera, so I could concentrate on pictures rather than being careful so I wouldn't bang up the camera(being a woodworker myself, I would be loathe to tear up another mans handiwork).

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

One more thing Matthew, linseed oil and turpentine is Danish oil.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 01, 2002.

To quote Kuniko Yamaguchi of Ebony: "Could we forward some information of the maintenance of your 45SU? The ebony wood is not coated with any laquer, but soaked in a special oil. Therefore, the more your camera is used, the more beautiful the camera becomes. Please spread a little amount of candle (any sorts of) on all the wooden parts and wipe it up with a dry cloth, sometimes. This treatment also makes the camera work more smoothly and comfortably (especially extention rails) and can be sort of waterproof." I hope this helps.

-- Jeffrey Scott (, March 01, 2002.


Welcome to the Ebony club with Paul as acting President. : >))

As you can now see.... everybody seems to have an opinion on an Ebony some good.. some not so good. Just do your best to take of the camera as you would any fine crafted article you own. Make sure you enjoy using it and don't worry too much as the camera is well designed and will stand up very well to frequent use. A few good tips already provided by previous posters will meet your needs.

Enjoy and good light !

-- James Phillips (, March 02, 2002.

I received a gracious e-mail from a representative of Ebony, they've seen the post, they asked not to be quoted directly and I'll do as they wish. Anyone feel free to e-mail Ebony to verify what they told me.

They mentioned that their wood is cured for 15-20 years which is awesome. It is quartersawn, which assures the straightest of grain, again awesome. They encourage use of the camera without worry, and recommend 'wood finishing oil'(I think they're referring to Danish Oil but I'm not 100% certain) for any scratches.

They are indeed recommending candle/beeswax, I would before purchasing anything akin to a candle check to see if it is beeswax or Parafin wax, not that it will probably make a difference.

They take the utmost care in selecting and curing their stock, taking twenty years to cure this stuff is the mark of a real class outfit.

Well Matthew you bought a superbly crafted tool, and got advice from all angles including Ebony, e-mail 'em to confirm what they told me, and good luck.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 02, 2002.

FYI : the Ebony RW45 is made out of mahogany, not ebony wood.

-- (, March 03, 2002.

You haven't bothered to read the original question, he asked about the caring for Ebony wood, everything applies regardless of what wood is on what camera.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 03, 2002.

A while back someone asked for directions to Ken Hough's Deardorff website. Here it is:

-- Stephen Longmire (, March 05, 2002.

so, do you all ever put film in these cameras??

-- DK Thompson (, March 05, 2002.


Now is that really a fair question?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, March 05, 2002.

First order of business should be to engrave your name to it in some prominant place with either a roto-zip, a router or perhaps a branding iron.

-- DK Thompson (, March 05, 2002.

"First order of business should be to engrave your name to it in some prominant place with either a roto-zip, a router or perhaps a branding iron. "

Along with the price?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, March 05, 2002.

Heaven's No!! The price will remain on a little tag hanging from the Minnie Pearl's hat. As for care of the wood, I suggest a can of blaze orange spray paint....this way you can find your camera easily out in the woods.

-- DK Thompson (, March 05, 2002.

Make sure the pigments for the Orange Blaze are made out of Japan colors, we don't want it fading on us, do we?

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 05, 2002.

The fading will be a badge of the brassing on an old Nikon...geez, I can't believe how much I have to explain to you all!

-- dk thompson (, March 06, 2002.

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