#1: Mesquite

Bird number: 1
Date: December 4, 2011
Wood: Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)
Source: Backyard

Not only is this the first of the birds I carved, it’s the first project that I started and completed with the Foredom power carver.

In Central Texas (actually, most of Texas), “mesquite” refers to honey mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, a very hardy tree or shrub that is very drought tolerant. A mesquite tree’s root system is very broad and very deep–often much deeper than the tree is tall. Ranchers consider the tree a range weed and will go to great lengths to eradicate it because it steals water from other plants, including the grasses that the cattle feed on.

Honey produced by bees who have been visiting mesquite flowers is very light colored, with a much lighter flavor than, say, clover honey. The mead I made from mesquite honey was by far the best mead I’ve ever tasted.

The most common use of mesquite wood is for barbeque. Mesquite burns slowly and very hot, and the smoke adds a distinct flavor to the food. Mesquite is very commonly used in “Texas style” barbeque. I’ve learned, though, that you have to be careful with mesquite. Cooking steaks over a mesquite fire makes for some delicious steaks. If you smoke a chicken for two hours over mesquite, however, you will taste nothing but the smoke. A little mesquite smoke is good, but you can have too much of a good thing.

Mesquite is a very popular turning wood for making bowls and plates. It’s very hard and stable once cured. Most furniture makers don’t like it much, it seems, although I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps because of its hardness. It’s also difficult to get very large pieces of lumber quality mesquite. That’s too bad, because the mesquite furniture I’ve seen is stunningly beautiful.

Some people carve mesquite, although that’s typically done with power. I’m one of few carvers I know who will use a knife on it. It’s hard, and hard on tools. But the beauty of the wood makes the extra time spent sharpening worthwhile.

Speaking of hard, you might want to read Rat-Tail Joe Explains Why Mesquite Is Hard.