Mesquite: Southwestern wood only recently appreciated for its beauty.

Mesquite includes three common species in the Southwestern United States: Prosopis glandulosa, often called honey mesquite and Texas ironwood; P. pubescent called screwbean mesquite; and P. velutina, called velvet mesquite. References, suggestions and data herein are for honey mesquite, but also apply to all the mesquite species in general.
Honey mesquite is a slow growing, small tree, typically at maturity 12 inches in diameter and 20 to 30 feet high, with a few trees exceeding 50 feet. The tree is found throughout the more arid regions of Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. It is a legume adding nitrogen to the soil, has fragment yellow-green flowers, produces long pods (8 inches) with edible beans, and has spines or thorns several inches long on the branches.

Its pods have nutritive value, and those pods, the gum, bark and other parts of the tree were once used to cure a number of diseases and ailments.

It is only within the last two decades that mesquite wood has become appreciated for its wonderful properties and beauty. Its character includes swirling grain and a variety of colors, and occasional character defects such as ingrown bark, mineral streaks, insect blemishes and latent buds. In the 19th Century, European settlers fashioned hubs and spokes for wagon wheels from mesquite, as well as ribs for small boats. Mesquite fence posts were not affected by decay or insects. Consumers can buy mesquite furniture, lamps, flooring, various turned products, and an array of other articles from golf clubs to jewelry. 

Processing suggestions and characteristics
. Mesquite, a heavy wood, about 50 percent heavier than red oak, weighs about 58 pounds per cubic foot. This means that kiln-dried lumber surfaced to 15/16-inches will weigh about 4-1/2 pounds per board foot, or a piece that is 6 inches wide and 12 feet long will weigh 27 pounds at 8 percent MC.

Drying. The lumber takes 30 days to kiln dry to 12 percent MC or less. It is critical to achieve a low MC in the dry kiln. If not fully dried, bowing will result as it dries further in manufacturing or in use. Very good stacking with stickers aligned perfectly is critical.

Gluing and Machining. Glues well but the surfaces need to be flat to assure the best joint strength. Mesquite is somewhat difficult to work due to hardness, internal stresses and cross-grain (interlocked grain). Sharp tools are essential. Slow feeds and/or shallow cuts may be required to prevent stalling under-powered equipment.

Stability and Strength. Once dried, mesquite is extremely stable. It requires about 18 percent MC change to develop a 1 percent size change in the radial direction and 9 percent MC change in the tangential direction. Mesquite is hard, strong, and stiff and estimated strength (MOR) is over 15,000 psi. The stiffness is estimated to be nearly 2 million psi. Hardness is estimated to be over 2,500 pounds.

Color and Grain. The thin layer of sapwood is a lemon yellow. The heartwood is a deep reddish brown, and the grain is medium-coarse in texture with a fine, wavy, interlocked grain.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Profile picture for user genewengert
About the author
Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.