#5: Osage orange

Bird number: 5
Date: December 4, 2011
Wood: Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)
Source: Southern Oklahoma

Osage orange, also known as hedge apple, horse apple, bois d’arc, or bodark, is considered a small tree. The fruits are green, orange-sized balls that are apparently edible but not very tasty. The tree is native to southern Oklahoma, southwest Arkansas, and eastern and south central Texas. It’s been naturalized in large parts of the U.S., including most of the Midwest. The piece I have is from southern Oklahoma.

The wood has an unusual color. When I first cut into it with the bandsaw, it was canary yellow. This picture gives you some idea of what it looked like, but the yellow was much more vivid. I’m not good enough with my image editor to adjust the colors properly.

The combination of ultraviolet light and oxygen darkens the wood fairly quickly. Left un-finished, the wood would darken to a brownish orange, much like the color in the center of the top picture. Still beautiful, but not quite as striking as the bright yellow. I’m not sure how this piece will darken with the oil and wax mixture I used for a finish.

The wood is hard. I mean really hard. It rates about 2,760 on the Janka scale, compared to 2,345 for mesquite. Hickory, traditionally considered a very hard wood, comes in at only about 1,800. White oak at about 1,300. Specific gravity for Osage orange is 0.76. A cubic foot of the wood weighs 60 pounds. Trust me, it’s hard. I tried to carve it with a knife once, and gave up.

The piece I made this first bird from had a crack down the center. I noticed it before I started carving, of course, but I didn’t realize just how big the crack was. I carved it anyway, figuring that the crack just adds character. I’ve carved three more birds from this wood, none of which had cracks.

I’ll point out two other things about Osage orange. If you want to know more, you can look it up. The Osage indians used it to make longbows, which is where the French bois d’arc comes from (wood of the bow). Some modern bowyers say that the wood is superior even to yew, which is what the historically famous English longbow was made from.

The other interesting thing is that, when dried, Osage orange has the highest BTU content of any wood. It burns slow and hot.

I got two pieces of this wood. One was a 5″ x 5″ board about two feet long. That’s a piece of it sitting on my bandsaw, and is what I cut my birds from. The other piece is a 4″ or 5″ limb, about 18 inches long. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that, but I’ll definitely carve it. And if I run out, I know where to get more. The tree grows in several places nearby.