This topic may already have been dealt with, but I can't find it in Discussions.

I have a Temlett 5 string zither banjo. Around the rim the abundant Mop decoration is set into a black (or near-black) finish. In several places this finish has been accidentally chipped off. At first I thought it was a veneer, then possibly ebonizing; but neither hypothesis convinces me, since it hasn't come away like a shard of veneer, and it seems too thick for ebonizing.

Since both this finish and the damage would seem to be common on z.b's of the period, can anyone advise - firstly, what the finish is and, secondly, how I might make good the damage.

The trial 'solution' I have come up with so far is to take a Liberon wax retouching crayon (black), bring the end of a heated blunt knife to the tip of the crayon, and allow the melted drops of wax to spill into and just around the damage. Then, once the wax has cooled, by carefully scraping off the excess with a sharp blade I can achieve a pretty much perfect match; but of course it is far from durable - so I'm hoping that someone can suggest a better method of repair, preferably one that doesn't presuppose an apprenticeship in cabinet making.


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I had a similar Temlett zither-banjo. I remember the black finish as being paint. But it's been over 10 years since I've seen the banjo so my memory may be flawed. It may have been black stained wood which had then been varnished.  What do you see in the chipped areas? Is it raw wood? 

Thanks for your quick reply. I think that I may need to upload a close-up photo or two . . . but indeed, it could just be paint.  If it is, it's built up of several coats, finally burnished very smooth so that it resembles a black Bakelite.

Now, on a further close look in a strong light, I'm inclined to think that it may be an ebony veneer (streaked with very dark brown) just under a millimeter thick, a veneer that was so well glued that when knocked/damaged it broke off leaving up to half a millimeter of itself behind and only occasionally revealing the raw wood. Since, if veneer, it would take expert and expensive cabinet-making skills to make good, my wax-drip efforts may temporarily be better than nothing in that they successfully hide the damage and are readily reversible. Pictures coming tomorrow.

Here are three photos showing the damage to the 'veneer', if such it be. Judging from images on several eBay ads, this kind of chipping damage is all too common on banjos c. 1900, so I'm hoping that others before me have found and can advise on a repair solution - short of simply passing the problem over to a professional repair man. Not that that wouldn't be ideal, of course, but the cost would no doubt exceed the modest cost of the banjo.

 --- I still can't decide whether it's veneer, or some kind of composition paste, or a combination.


 Ebony has a grain. This veneer is probably  something else.

I'm willing to bet this is "mastic" (or sometimes called "black mastic"), which was very commonly used for inlay. Trouble is, just about everybody had their own recipe for it. One of the more common one is to simply mix very fine ebony dust with hide glue. Once it is hard, it sands and finishes nicely...but it also shrinks over time and doesn't stick very well to hard materials like pearl. Best if you put a draft angle on the pearl so that it gets locked in.

Today, I would do the same thing with epoxy and ebony dust. You can get thick black CA glue as great but may take some special techniques to make it look like the old stuff.

Many thanks for Trapdoor2's reply. That is really very persuasive . . . I'll ransack my box of old piano key ebonies and see what I can achieve on some scrap hardwood, and then, if all goes well, move on to the Temlett.

Incidentally, I've seen a recommendation on the net to use a very 'watery' CA along with ebony dust to infill splits in ebony fingerboards - splits caused,  apparently, when the wood has contracted/expanded over time. My Temlett has several such splits, not enough to cause any playing problems, but nicer if they were not there. As I recall, the advised technique is to pack the split with ebony dust then pipette some drops of thin CA on top. The CA is supposedly so thin that it sinks into and bonds with the ebony dust and binds it within the split. If this procedure is NOT to be recommended, or if any alternate is known, I'd be grateful to know.

Yes, very CA and ebony dust is indeed commonly used for such repairs. Also to fill the 'divots' in the fingerboard from playing wear. See Frank Ford's repair article...techniques of which can be applied to your splits/cracks, etc.

I forgot that he also uses lampblack to color his glue/background. I guess I'd have to make some test pieces to see which gave me the most closely matching results.

I have repaired similar damage with a black epoxy putty called Milliput which can be smoothed with water and sanded/ filed/ polished when set- has also been useful for small chips/ splits in ebony fingerboards.

Thanks for the suggestion, Nick, and for the persuasive before-and-after photos. Funny you should mention Milliput and silly of me not to have thought of it, since I used the white variety to repair damage to two Belfast sinks some years ago. I'll give Milliput a try, but keep hide glue/CA and ebony dust in mind as the more traditional repair method.

nick langton said:

I have repaired similar damage with a black epoxy putty called Milliput which can be smoothed with water and sanded/ filed/ polished when set- has also been useful for small chips/ splits in ebony fingerboards.

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