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Black Locust

Wood Anecdote

Black Locust

Black Locust

Black locust excels in hardness and durability, so pioneers cut it for fence posts. Shipbuilders, though, preferred it for masts.

When English naturalist Mark Catesby first visited Jamestown, Virginia, 100 years after its founding, he saw only the stark ruins of what the first inhabitants in 1602 had called home. But at each corner of the tumble-down huts remained a post-as solid as the day it was erected. He marveled at the still-sound wood, which had been named "locust" after an old-world look-alike.

Other colonists eventually learned of locust's longevitiy, too, because the tree became widely used. No wonder.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), as it has come to be called, offers superb qualities. Because a locust's trunk contains mostly sapwood, it's strong. In drying, locust hardly shrinks. In stiffness, it outdoes hickory. Fighting decay, it outlasts white oak. Burned, a cord of black locust throws off the heat of a ton of coal. And machined and sanded, the wood takes on a high luster.

Yet, black locust has never attained commercial status. That's because in most of the areas where it grows the tree suffers from insect attack, leaving few trees sound enough to harvest. So instead of becoming commercial lumber, black locust winds up as fence posts, firewood, and railroad ties. Except for one fleeting moment of historical greatness, that's the way it has always been.

You see, a variety of black locust, caringly cultivated in the late 18th century in New Jersey and New York-especially Long Island-earned renown. The tree's straight, branchless trunk proved perfect for shipmasts. Even today in the area, you can still find examples of those once sought after "shipmast locusts."


 

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Comments (4)
8172406438
mcknightr wrote:

We built our house in 1977 and there was an old black locust stump cut off flush with the ground that had been there what appeared to be a long time. It is still there and looks just like it did 37 years ago. My father and I build fence with black locust posts in the early 1950s and it was so hard that we held the fence staples with pliers to drive them into the posts. Some of those post are still standing and have outlasted the fence that was attached to them. So much for steel vs locust

7/27/2014 05:00:21 PM Report Abuse
judith40943 wrote:

In Coloma CA the 12" by 12" corner fence post, at the bridge end of the levee on the Gallagher Ranch, (now state park) was hand hewn and placed by my Daddy's (Melvin Francis Gallagher) father and grandfather in the mid 1800's. It is untreated Black Locust and is still intact today. Dad said that it was the only thing Locust was good for. It is so wonderful to be able to touch something that so many generations before have also touched.

7/26/2014 12:02:16 AM Report Abuse
jlcusimano1 wrote:

To tyb5251: Thanks for straightening that out; I didn't think that sounded right.

1/25/2014 12:43:29 PM Report Abuse
tyb5251 wrote:

Correction: Black Locust is almost all heartwood, not sapwood.

1/22/2011 05:17:19 PM Report Abuse

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