Those who work with mesquite may appear a little nuts to woodworkers who are used to the likes of cherry, walnut, oak, and similar woods.
Mesquite’s beauty comes from a different breed of criteria other than clear wood. Namely the worm holes, splits, checks, knots, and bark inclusions that characterize the tree and her timber. “High quality” has an entirely different definition when it comes to mesquite lumber.
Some years ago, I had a customer lodge a demand for mesquite that was 8″ wide and totally clear – he needed a lot of it too. I had to tell him, not out of opinion but of fact, “If you absolutely need it that wide and that clear without cutting or gluing, you don’t want mesquite.”
The mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) is a desert tree that beds down in the Southwestern U.S., Mexico and several subtropical deserts around the globe such as in Argentina. It thrives in dry soil, withstands droughts, and grows slowly. Because of this, the tree often forms with oddball twists and generates a maze of splits and cracks within its trunk. It’s one tough dude that grows in the worst of conditions.
And the wood that comes from the tree echos those conditions in which it grew. Boards are often “short,” which means they are rarely, rarely, longer than 6′. While kiln dried lumber is certainly stable (not prone to unwieldy movement), it’s definitely going to include the gamut of defects that you’d typically balk at and say, “What crap!”: knots, cracks, perhaps worm holes and bark pockets. Those characteristics are exactly why those of us who work with it like it – well okay, that and the unique dark tan color and intricate figure that appears in many sections of the wood. Few trees, maybe no other trees at all, grow in the same conditions and generate a wood as distinguished with excellent working properties, superior durability and strength, and with perfect representation of the life it lived in a dry, rough environment.
Mesquite’s not for everybody. The defects – excuse me, I mean the beacons of beauty – require some special care and techniques. Chiefly the checks and splits have to be cut out or filled. Filling is far more fun. I’ve made a number of picture frames from mesquite with the intentions of utilizing the cracks and holes as points of interest. Here’s my latest effort for a 20″x30″ photo print.