fine modern desk

… but empire inspired and made of blackened ebony like peer wood

1 Inspirations

1.1 Fender Rhodes

  • warm fuzzy sound
  • simple and rich
  • somehow old and obsolete, yet still a reference
  • black and white
  • top heavy, bottom light
  • prognate, strong forehead and long bottom jaw


1.2 Bureau à gradin

Le "bureau à gradin" is a typical Napoleon III furniture, a desk with a set of shelves and drawers, even a mirror on top sometimes, looking like bleachers (gradins).

The modern part of this design aim at integrating computers, typically laptop with external monitor to a classic or otherwise classy design and finish.y


1.3 Poirier noirci, faux ébène

1.3.1 Ebony

Black ebony 1 is a very fine, very dense, very hard and very dark-heart wood, mostly from Africa, harvested from the Diospyros and Dalbergia genres of the Ebenaceae family. Ebony from south america are usually pink or green ebonies, from other genres, such as Handroanthus.

1.3.2 Poirier / peer

Poirier is a very fine, dense, hard wood, as most fruit trees. Compared to ebony, it's much lighter and more softer, a pleasure to work with.

Poirier is butter like once smooth planed.

It's not grown for wood usually, it's not a big straight tree and sourcing is limited.

1.3.3 Ebony alternatives

Ebony wasn't cheap nor politically neutral, so veneer was chosen for the face / front parts and poirier / pear was used as an alternative for the less prominent parts.

It became pretty popular for Napoleon III furnitures, second empire style.

Pear was tainted with iron acetate, by disolving steel wool in acid. It was then varnished with shellac or something similar.

Pear being hard, dense and quite smooth, it makes a great wood for tainting.

Information on this is pretty hard to come by.


1.3.4 Sourcing

Poirier is pretty rare to find and goes from 500 to 4000€/m³. For reference, oak should be around 1000€ for decent quality.

Most often, it's old new stock from a recovered barn. I would be cautious with old fruit trees, and inspect them for insects and pests thoroughly. Moreover, peer is prone to fungi degradation.

I found some good deal at leboncoin from a guy in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises(52330). leboncoin-offering.png

2 Turning it black

2.1 Iron acetate

Basically iron wool and vinegar.

  1. clean the wool to remove the wax / grease
  2. cover the wool with acetic acid, as concentrated as possible
  3. let it sit there for a week or so until the wool is disolved

Iron acetate reacts with tanins, of which peer wood is pretty poor.


2.2 Tanin boost

It's possible to boost low tanin wood by adding tanins to the mix, prior to the iron acetate application.

2.2.1 Bark tea

Get some bark, smash it to powder and make a decoction. High tanin woods preferred. I used chestnut shavings too, it works great.

3 Designs

See ipad concepts file.

4 Cutlists and materials



: "Bois d'ébène" was also the euphemism for african slaves.

See wikipedia page for ebony.

Ebony was used for centuries, at least since the 11th for small objects and since the 17th for fine furniture, once veneer process was mastered by the dutch. This innovation created the "ébèniste" french specialization in the early 18th, mostly located in Paris, faubourg Saint-Antoine. Fine furniture maker are still called "ébèniste" nowadays.