What other materials, natural or synthetic, can be used that are easier to work with simple hand tools than little ebony blanks they sell? Thanks
I wouldn’t recommend a material softer than ebony. The point of using a hardwood is that it stands up to wear well over time. Strings put a lot of strain on the grooves over time as they slide. Some people use bone or ivory, but those tend to be harder.
There are cheap instruments with nuts that are made of softer woods dyed black, but the nuts are very poor and the strings very quickly cut through them.
To be honest, I don’t think ebony is really all that difficult to work with. It can be shaped with planes, chisels, and knives and smoothed out with rasps and files, then scraped and sanded to a very nice finish. Even poorly cut pieces that tear out when being cut are pretty easy to fill in and work with. If you’re struggling with it, you may be using the wrong tools or those you’re using aren’t properly sharp.
Here’s a great tutorial on how to make a good nut:
I agree about using ebony. It's very easy to shape in the ways Rich says, and polishes smooth. It looks better than other materials, too.
Two things come too mind... first there is a wonderful black wood called Katalox....an easy replacement for Ebony... it is used on other instruments, carves easily and polishes smooth... the other and a bit further afield...VT Violin has been working on synthetic replacement for Ebony... I don't know all the details but they are making violins and violas with the new materials for fingerboards, nuts, etc.... worth a web visit to learn more....
Ah what a fine tutorial Rich, thanks. Wish I'd seen it before spending hours on my own ruining a $4 ebony blank. Off to the store again, but still can't get white oak off my mind as an alternative
Katalox is even harder and denser than ebony, and no easier to work. I agree that a softer material will not hold up. White oak may be tough, but its much coarser grained than ebony, which makes it difficult to shape as delicately. Ebony is also much harder than oak.
Edited by - DougD on 06/17/2023 13:30:28
Thanks all, believe now I'll stick with the tried and tested ebony, paying heed to that fine tutorial
Edited by - Saltcured on 06/17/2023 14:08:42
Good idea. One other thing - in addition to being capable of being smoothed to a nice, fine grained finish, ebony is naturally oily, so it provides some lubrication for the strings in the slots (although you still want to lube them with a pencil). If for some reason you might want to use a domestic wood I'd suggest persimmon or dogwood, although if you're having trouble working with a blank you might have more trouble starting with a small billet.
BTW, ebony nut blanks are 75 cents at International Violin, although shipping might be prohibitive.
I wonder why don't see folks much use bone or fossilized ivory; or other materiel that works (some even preferred) for other string instruments.
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