John's Blog
Making Mesquite Furniture
I get so much more out of visiting small towns than I get out of going to the cities. In the small towns, you see the real Mexico.

The pueblo of Adjuntos del Rio is a throwback to the last century—early last century. Plenty of automobiles roam the streets, but animals are still an important form of transport. Like if you're bringing alfalfa (or maybe those are weeds) in from the field.


(Note that the old woman appears to have suffered from rickets (wiki). You sometimes see such people, who grew up in Mexico when it was even poorer than it is now.)

A burro is good for drawing a little cart full of snacks to sell to schoolchildren. This guy probably doesn't make enough to afford gas, much less a car.


(Check out the motorcycle wheels.)

But the main business of Adjunto del Rio is making furniture and other items out of mesquite. Maybe a dozen workshops operate here. I'm told that no other place in Mexico harbors such a concentration of mesquite woodworkers.


I usually think of mesquite as a rangy shrub, but it grows into gnarled trees that yield beautifully grained, hard, dense wood.


It is so heavy that I could not lift one end of this piece.

Like most small workshops in Mexico, machinery is crude and decidedly unsafe.


The wiring on this horizontal saw is an OSHA nightmare.


This table saw looks like it's going to fall over, but it was built this way on purpose. The downhill slant of the table makes it easier to push heavy wood through the blade. The crack in the right leg is, however, not confidence-inspiring.

This worker is pushing a tiny piece of wood through a saw which has never seen a safety guard. He is not using the fence, so the fingers on both of his hands are about an inch from the blade. The blade is set way too high for the work he is doing.

Can you say "kickback?"


Several of the workers were missing fingers. Shaking hands with these guys is, let me say, an experience.

One old (retired) worker engaged me in conversation while my friend, Paul Latoures transacted business with the owner. My chat with the old man quickly turned into a Spanish lesson. Lack of fingers inhibited his writing. Lack of sobriety inhibited his spelling. I wondered, did he lose his fingers because he was drunk on the job, or was he drinking to forget his injury?

This portly man wandered around the premises carrying a framer's square.


I never figured out what his funciton was.

But I had no difficulty seeing what Julieta's job was. I watched her busily sanding, staining and finishing.


Developmentally disabled, Julieta was friendly, shy, and sweet. She would not let me photograph her unless she got to pose. One bright blue eye and one black one gave her an arresting appearance. She wanted to know if I was going to sell her photo.

This unlikely cast of characters, using their crude tools, makes beautiful furniture. We ate dinner tonight with some friends on their glowing mesquite dining table, sitting on their handmade chairs.


All that goes on in Adjunos del Rio is woodworking. There's no night life, no parks to walk in, only one paved street. All you can do is make furniture. Or tortillas.


The only excitement is the occasional lost finger. Maybe there's more to life in some other place.

Well, you can always dream.