This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
Of this wood there are several varieties in the market, the only one serviceable to the carver being that with a close and even grain, so close indeed, that under the gouge it appears to have no fibre whatever. The hardness renders it extremely difficult to work, and for this reason ebony carvings are of great value. The great defect which this wood has, is its tendency to exfoliate, and to split. An imitation ebony is sometimes offered, which is made by soaking pear-wood in an iron and tannin dye-beck for a week or more. The colour penetrates to the very heart of the wood, so that the cut is as black as ebony. Ebony is above all woods the most suitable for small carvings of every description, whether for use or ornament, the deep black colour and the hardness and fine texture of grain giving it, when polished, the appearance of black marble. This wood is also somewhat difficult to procure in large blocks - not, however, on account of the growth of the tree, which is very large, but, either from the carelessness of those who are employed in felling it, or the extreme heat to which it is exposed it rarely arrives here in logs of any size that are not more or less riven and spoilt by cracks and flaws - "shakes," as they are termed in timber merchants' parlance.
There are two kinds of ebony - the green and black; of these the former is for some reason the more highly prized, and consequently is the more expensive; but for carving purposes there is little or nothing to choose between them; they are both equally pleasant to use, but the blacker, being the harder of the two, is capable of taking a higher polish, its only drawback being an occasional white or red streak, but these are rare, and can be obliterated by applying a little ink to the spot after the carving is done. Black, or iron wood, as it is sometimes called, is a species of ebony, but has little to recommend it but its extreme hardness and weight; indeed, on the former account it should rather be shunned by the carver, as it will turn the edge of the tools.