by Gene Wengert
Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) derived its common name from the Osage
Indians in Oklahoma and Texas and the
orange-smelling fruits. The Latin name
comes from William Maclura, an American geologist (1763-1840), and from
the grapefruit-size, heavily wrinkled,
spherical pomes or apples (inedible for
humans) it produces. Many a farm child
has used these fruits for baseballs!
The tree was native to Arkansas,
Oklahoma, and Texas, but in the last century the tree can be found throughout
the U.S. It is most commonly known as
Osage orange, but other names include
hedge, hedge-apple, yellow-wood,
bowwood, Osage apple, and bodark
(from the French bois d’arc, meaning
bow wood). The sharp thorns of this tree
led to its planting for hedgerows that
performed as excellent fences for cattle.
The extremely high strength of this
wood led to its use for archery bows (in
the 19th century, a well-made Osage-
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orange bow was worth “a horse and a
blanket”), and for wheel rims and axle
hubs for wagons. It is probably the most
naturally decay resistant species in north
America, leading to its use as fence posts,
insulators and insulator pins on telephone
poles, and railroad ties. Yet it seems
terrible to use such a beautiful wood for
non-appearance items. The beautiful coloring has lead to limited use for turnings
and novelties, such as wooden pens, as
well as for accent wood in musical instruments, substituting for ebony at times.
The potential exists for more widespread
use, especially as an accent species.
The root wood and bark, and to a lesser
extent the wood itself, have a great amount
of yellow coloring that can be extracted in
hot water and used as dye. Native Americans used this coloring. In World War I, the
dye was used for khaki coloring. ❮
Density. Osage orange averages about
50 pounds per cubic foot at 7 percent
MC. This is 30 percent heavier than
oak! KD lumber, 1 inch thickness, will
weigh over 4 pounds per board foot.
high density, but with sharp tools and
patience, machining and the finish
obtain is excellent with a high luster.
Some people do report that the dust
causes dermatitis; use good dust control
procedures, especially when sanding.
Processing suggestions and characteristics
Drying. This wood must be dried
quite slowly to avoid checking. However, it does dry without much warp.
End coating is essential. Treat 4/4
Osage orange like 8/4 red oak. Shed
drying of green lumber before kiln
drying is probably best.
Shrinkage in drying is about 5
percent; quite low, especially considering its density.
Stability. Osage orange is subject to
very small size changes when the MC
changes–about 1 percent size change
for each 7 percent MC change across
the grain parallel to the rings (
tangentially), and about 1 percent size
change for each 9 percent MC change
across the rings (radially). This is
extremely low movement. For this
reason, final MCs in drying are not as
critical as with most other hardwoods.
ally hard and strong. The bending
strength (MOR) is over 20,000 psi ( 50
percent more than red oak). Hardness
is around 2000 pounds ( 100 percent
more than red oak). Stiffness (MOE)
averages 1. 8 million psi (roughly equal
to red oak). The high density means excellent nail and screw holding as well.
Pre-drilling of holes for fasteners will
often be necessary to avoid splitting.
Gluing and Machining. Gluing is easy
with most adhesives.
Machining is difficult due to the
Strength. Osage orange is exception-
Color and Grain. The wood is ring porous, like oak and ash, so it has a strong
grain appearance. The heartwood color is golden yellow, but this color does
age slowly toward a russet brown. The
appearance is exceptionally lustrous. If
you are looking for an excellent accent
species to enhance your products, this
is probably the one.