Osage Orange: A Wood for All Seasons

| 2/22/2013 4:03:00 PM

Load of hedge logs on a trailer

I feel like a wimp. Here in the Missouri Ozarks, 20 degrees is cold enough to keep me inside, except for those outside chores that need to be done. I have managed to get in a little sawmilling on the weekends.

We have a tree known as “hedge”, “Osage orange”, “bodark”, or “horse apple”. It is not a particularly large tree, and thought by most people to be a nuisance. Back during the depression, the CCC planted millions of them along the edges of fields to form natural fences, known around here as “hedgerows”. The idea was to reduce the wind over the fields and reduce soil erosion. They also make an impenetrable barrier. Now they are considered a nuisance, because they have thorns, and the wood just doesn’t rot. They are mostly used for fence posts, and firewood. The wood is excellent for both. Fence posts last 100+ years in the ground. As firewood, it burns so hot that it is possible to forge metal with it. I remember one night a few years ago when the house was unusually warm, considering it was below 0 degrees outdoors. When I got up to look at our wood stove, it was glowing in the dark! My wife, not knowing the difference, had filled the firebox with seasoned hedge. There wasn’t much we could do, other than keep an uneasy eye on it for the next few hours.

Hedge has a long and honored place in the history of the Ozarks. Its name “bodark” comes from the French “bois ‘darc”, which translates to “beautiful bow”, referring to the (archery) bows made from it by loca

Loading hedge logs on the sawmill

l native Americans. The theory is that bois d’arc evolved to “Ozark”. Sounds reasonable. The wood is still highly prized by bowyers, luthiers, and other craftsmen. The same properties that make the hedge good for bows and fence posts makes it ideal for tool handles. Cant hooks, shovels, rakes, hammers, and other wooden-handled tools are eventually being changed over to hand carved hedge handles that have unmatched resilience and durability. Hedge makes good foundation timbers and blocking—in fact, it is like growing my own cement blocks! 

I am ranting on about this wood because I recently came across a motherload of hedge a couple of weeks ago. The forty or so hedge trees were bulldozed into tangled piles, just to get rid of them, I was told that I could take all I wanted before the landowner burned the piles. In addition to the usual hassles, I have to winch the logs out to where I can get to them with a chain saw. No flat tires from that job, yet, but I came home looking like I’d lost a wrestling match with a porcupine. While I can have all I want for firewood, my interest is in the straightest stems and root balls. Any wood that will make lumber will go on my sawmill. Fortunately, the Norwood mill can handle the odd sizes and shapes. As one of the most dense hardwoods in North America, milling is slow going, but very much worthwhile. The bright yellow color of the boards eventually turns honey brown, but is still very attractive. Local woodworkers like hedge, because it is so unusual. Bowl turners are particularly anxious to get any roots I can obtain because of the interwoven grain. Hopefully, four more loads will finish up that job. It is time I got back to tending our walnut trees.

The downside of hedge is the tree itself. It is the thorniest, most contrary tree I know. It seldom grows straight enough to put on the sawmill, is often hollow, and the thorns are tough on tires.

11/20/2019 12:31:27 PM

Just a minor correction not altering the main point of your very good article: While "bodark" does come from "bois d'arc" (as opposed to "bois 'darc"), the meaning of "bois d'arc" is not "beautiful bow". The literal translation of "bois de arc" is "wood of bow". In English, we would say "bow wood". "Arc" is French for "bow", referring to the "arc/arch" shape of a strung/pulled bow. Part of the confusion may be that "bois" is pronounced similar to "beau" which mean "handsome" (and boyfriend in English).

6/16/2019 12:35:02 PM

If you can bring yourself to destroy the beautiful wood, Osage Orange has the highest heating value of all of the American hardwoods, according to my "Fuels and Combustion" book.

1/17/2018 8:25:54 AM

Sorry for being off subject but how do you like the norwood sawmill?

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