Robert Hensarling – Mesquite Chair Artisan – Texas Heritage Rocker
The following information was obtained from a leaflet entitled, "Mesquite – The American Exotic!" produced by Ken Rogers, Wood Technologist with the Texas Forest Service, Lufkin, Texas. Copied with permission.
Texas Honey Mesquite (Prosopis gladulosa) is a tree knows for its tenaciousness, its ability to fight back, its ability to overcome. It’s also a tree sometimes considered little more than a scrubby waste on 56 million acres of the Texas landscape.
The early tenuous days of Texas pushed early settlers to use whatever resources available for survival. Mesquite played a vital role in supplying a myriad of products such as wagon wheels, food, medicines, weapons, and even paving blocks of early streets in many of the major population centers. Many of these applications were adopted from the aboriginal Southwest Indians who utilized mesquite for centuries before early western settlement days.
It has always been one of man’s most useful woods, and today, the interest in the utility of mesquite is increasing rapidly. A myriad of mesquite products are now manufactured in Texas – fine lumber, cooking woods, liquid smoke, pod flour, furniture, flooring, sculptures, crafts, jewelry, turnings, jelly and other foods – and marketed throughout the United States.
Mesquite is one of the most remarkable woods of any in North America. Its beauty and working properties rival those of other fine domestic hardwoods such as oak, walnut, and cherry as well as the rainforest hardwoods. With its swirling grain, colors, and occasional character defects – such as ingrown bark, mineral streaks, bug blemishes and latent buds – mesquite offers a hidden treasure for the woodworker intent on creating fine furniture, flooring, and other items.
Mesquite logs are unlike those cut from oak, walnut, and ash timber in Eastern United States, which are reasonably clear of defects and found in large sizes. The typical mesquite log contains variations and unique features such as bark pockets, swirling grain, ring shake, splits and resin pockets. Mesquite lumber is usually short in length (six to ten feet) and narrow in width (six to eight inches) although larger dimensions can be obtained. A clear board one inch thick, six inches wide and six feet long is an extremely fine and unusual board. A large percentage of mesquite boards can be incorporated into furniture, flooring, or other woodwork, using the defects in the design to add beauty and uniqueness.
The mesquite industry in Texas comprises about 250 persons and small companies operating sawmills, cooking wood operations, and small woodworking enterprises. Of these 250 or so operations, probably three-fourths are operating on a somewhat part-time basis either averaging just a few hours a week or operating full-time only during part of the year.
Mesquite’s sapwood is pale yellowish white in color and is about one-half to one inch wide regardless of tree size and age. Its heartwood ranges from a yellowish-brown, though shades of gray brown to deep reddish, almost purple brown. As it is exposed to ultraviolet light, however, it changes to a fairly uniform warm dark brown, notwithstanding its original color. Age produces a distinct patina.
Mesquite wood is a medium to coarse texture with the grain being quite irregular, often interlocking. It is easy to work, finishes smoothly and takes a high natural sheen when polished. When dried it is extremely stable and quite resistant to decay and insects. Mesquite has many very attractive wood properties that woodworkers desire. Mesquite shrinks little when dried, about a fourth that of oak, and shrinks evenly in the different cellular directions (radial and tangential), leaving little, if any, splitting, warping, checking or cupping defects when dried. Mesquite’s volumetric shrinkage is 4.7 percent, very low when compared to walnut’s 13.6 and white oak’s 15.8 percent.
Mesquite wood is also very hard (hardness of 2336 psi), equal to, or exceeding that of competitive woods such as oak, walnut, and pecan. This makes it very suitable for applications such as floors and furniture like desks and tabletops.
Current Uses of Mesquite in the Southwest United States
Fine solid wood products
Carvings, turnings, sculptures, flooring, jewelry, paneling, veneers, pens/pencils, clocks, lumber, fireplace mantles, rocking chairs, tables, doors, desks, other forms of furniture, band-sawn boxes, humidors.
- Ornamental landscape specimens
- Firewood and stove wood
- Cooking and smoking wood – Chips, chunks, flakes, mini-logs, compressed chip-logs, sawdust
- Foods and flavorings – Liquid smoke, jellies, honey, pod flour
- Livestock fodder and cover
- Wildlife – (deer, turkey, quail, etc.) habitat food and cover
- Fence posts
For more information on mesquite, you can request a directory of the
Forest Products Industries in Texas
Texas Forest Service, Products Laboratory
P.O. Box 310
Lufkin, Texas 75901-0310
(936) 639-8180 Email firstname.lastname@example.org