I have to admit that, previous to my decision to build a magazine project with this species, my most intimate experience with mesquite was pulling its nasty little spikes out of various and sundry sections of my anatomy while bird hunting. Beyond that, it was most familiar to me as a complement to the barbeque briquettes over which I prepared the fruits of my outdoor labor. In fact, I held an opinion very close to a fellow who e-mailed me his notion of the wood, after hearing about my decision to build with mesquite.
“Mesquite is a small bush that grows out in west Texas where there are no trees. Since those folks have never seen a real tree, they actually think a 3″ stem is saw timber. To call a mesquite board ‘lumber’ is an elastic statement (as in, a real stretch).”
But then I found out about Tumacacori Mesquite Sawmill (www.mesquitedesign.com) in Arizona. There, owner Art Flores has a stock of mesquite lumber that is quite impressive. Mesquite, as it turns out, has a beautiful color and stunning figure. The color, when finished with a clear topcoat like shellac or polyurethane, is a warm brown-orange and red hue with amber flecking.
It is common to have black knot and limb-wood incursions into the lumber. Most people who work with mesquite use those “flaws” as beauty marks to add to its distinctive look. If you look at the photo of the tree, you can easily see how those waney edges and incursion flaws are impossible to avoid in this special lumber. For that reason, Art takes extra care when cutting his stock to keep flitches in order and to be able to sell those pieces in such a way that builders can take advantage of the unique grain, figure and incursion patterns.
Art calls his lumber “velvet mesquite,” and he has a significant supply available. Frank Grant, who built a Mesquite entry bench, has worked with it several times before. It is a favorite wood of his, as it both challenges and rewards a builder’s creativity. While this lumber is not for everyone, it is a beautiful option for woodworkers who like to work with unique stock from time to time.