Yet Another Texas Treasure

Of the 56 million acres of mesquite in the USA, Texas owns 53 million. As a legume, the tree thrives in conditions all other trees might die and has always defied extremes of droughts, over grazing by longhorns and then too the US Federal Government trying its best to eradicate it by fair means and foul altogether. To me it’s always been yet another Texas treasure few will ever encounter, one of the most amazing woods in the world. You either love it or hate it. Ranchers came to hate it but woodworkers unanimously give it a thumbs up everywhere. Whereas ranchers may generally hate it with good reason, the mesquite is one of the few trees you can pulverise and feed to cattle and they will actually gain weight from it. In past centuries ranchers used the mesquite to feed to their cattle during droughts and indeed the cattle survived where they otherwise would have perished. Of course it also seems to be an unlimited resource for the barbecue fans of the world and indeed for meat eaters it again knows no equal. Slow cooked brisket over mesquite is an art few ever master.

Well, this one is signed by me and dated October 1999. It’s one of the treasures I returned from Texas with last week and I can recall so many happy thoughts and memories in its arrival to England. The tree came from the banks of the Nueces River south of Uvalde, Texas. The area was better famed for the native pecans that grew there and wherever a pecan grew in Texas you’ll likely find a homestead because pecans were a good indication that water was never far away be that by river or below ground.

Mesquites are slow growing and the colour in this box is natural not stained. The canary yellow centre is the sapwood and curly is common to the wood in its general growth. Mesquite ranks amongst the most stable woods in the world and shrinkage from green to dry shows only minimal change. Once dried down to 10% you will never detect surface changes normally associated with other woods because it just doesn’t happen. In my case here the box was stored in a non-climate controlled storage unit for 8 years and whereas some of my other pieces did show change, the mesquite pieces were absolutely perfect. Of course you won’t find mesquite in normal wood suppliers even though harvesters have tried and tried again. Mostly it’s because of its unpredictable grain patterns, colour and availability. But for small pieces like this the wood knows no equal and buying even short sections can be book-matched as shown to make wider areas and this especially works well for veneering to create quartering and such.

The box was a gift for my wife in this case but I made several to this design either as jewellery boxes or for silverware as in this case for Liz. When we made the White House pieces in 2008/9 I used the same crossbanding but added inlay in ebony for accenting and oak from what they at the White House called the Harrrison oak, because President Harrison planted the original oak tree during his term of office. Then, amidst my treasure finding, I found a spare knob I designed especially for the cabinets. The oak ring is the Harrison oak also. Perhaps one day I will find time to make a video on how the knob was created with the Harrison oak ring and the ‘eye’ in ebony.

9 Comments

  1. Joe Allen on 23 December 2016 at 3:29 pm

    That mesquite is beautiful stuff. Another timely post for me as well, as my wife recently requested a jewelry box, and said that she wanted it in the style of my tool box. Don’t have any mesquite handy, but I’m sure I’ll find something to do the job.



  2. Marty on 23 December 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Plenty of mesquite available in Texas for BBQ grills. The problem is most often it’s cut into small chunks, but it is available in longer pieces as well if you’re willing to hunt for it. Of course you can always just pull up to a lonely patch of road and cut it yourself from mesquite trees.



  3. Stephen on 23 December 2016 at 4:46 pm

    That’s a beautiful piece, Paul. The wild grain makes me cringe a little, imagining what it was like to plane.



  4. Ray Huntley on 23 December 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Yes, Mesquite is a wonderful wood with lots of figure. I have made jewelry boxes, small tabletops and a other items. It stains my hands blue. May just be me and I suspect the stain is caused from some chemical in the wood that reacts to oils in my hands. Having been raised in South Texas and now living in New Mexico I have been able to find sources for Mesquite. A friend of mine in the Phoenix area is always on the look out for me for Mesquite from trees that have been knocked down in severe wind storms or those slated for removal from building sites.

    A few years ago while visiting Guanajuato in Mexaco I was amazed at how common large Mesquite trees are and the availability of the wood for sale. If you can find a source you should give Mesquite a try. Hardwood sellers in my area get top price for the wood, say $25 to $35 a foot. so I am always on the look out for salvageable trees.



  5. Jeremy on 23 December 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Fantastic box. If it didn’t move from shrinkage in a storage unit in Texas it never will move.



  6. Joe on 23 December 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Paul, I am visiting Austinas we speak visiting family. Do you know of a local lumber store where I could buy some mesquite from? I’d love to build your wall clock from mesquite.



    • Joe on 31 December 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Turns out it was really easy to find mesquite in Austin. I called the local Woodcraft store. They had plenty. I picked up enough to make the wall clock. Not cheap at $16 a board food. But I only need about four board feet and for the memory of the trip it will create it is priceless. I plan to make this clock for my brother who lives outside of Austin. On the face of the clock I will do the Texas star as well he will love that.



  7. Chris Bailey on 23 December 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Paul, you never cease to amaze me (and I’m sure all of us), with your work.
    Beautiful and an inspiration to any box maker/woodworker.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family and may 2017 be even more prosperous!
    Best wishes and kindest regards,
    Chris Bailey



  8. Keith on 23 December 2016 at 9:58 pm

    Paul, I understand the word “gobsmacked” a little better now. The harmony you created from such variation in figure and grain direction is lovely. It looks like an act of worship. I am grateful to have seen it. Thank you.