Black Locust Firewood

By Martin L. Klein

Black Locust Firewood

In all my years of woodcutting, I’ve know few trees so loved and so hated as the Black Locust. American elm shuns the splitting maul, Sycamore Maple has the devils own twist to its grain, Osage Orange puts the kibosh on saw chains and impales the careless who traverse the hedgerow with its iron twigs, but Black Locust defies logic.

We know that hardwoods, as a rule, grow slowly and can take a lifetime to mature into usable timber. So, being a very hard hardwood, as hard as oak and very similar to Osage Orange wood in weight and appearance, one would think that Black Locust trees of any notable size must be quite old. However this is not usually the case. In the race to reproduce and reach the sky, the thorny Black Locust seems to outpace and outgrow the softwoods.

When we moved to our present location some 20 years ago, we had a large field out behind the house that had formerly been farmed. Two lots to the west is a Corps of Engineers tract with a spillway and dam project dating back to the 1950’s. In those days, Black Locust trees were planted as a remedy for worked over land that needed reclamation. One can often see them along highways and other places where govt. projects have taken place in the past. But as I was saying, we had a large field mostly in Golden Rod and other wild flowers and grasses . As the years went by, the Black Locust began moving eastward into our field by leaps and bounds. All efforts made since to stop its progress by cutting it down have been futile. Even burning off every year did little to hinder it. Today it has eaten over half of our field. Some areas are so thick with the thorny saplings that a cat couldn’t get through it. In just a few short years, these areas will transform into stands of very tall straight trees competing for sunlight. Cutting, by the way, only further stimulates new growth with the Black Locust saplings. And, not being one to use chemicals in such cases, I have seriously considered the advantages to having a forest instead of a field. And that is the “hated” part about the Black Locust. The “loved” part may not be as much love as it is surrender and acceptance. If you can’t beat ‘em, maybe you can use them for something. And use them you certainly can.

Black Locust wood, when de-barked and seasoned, makes for some long lasting and very rustic fence posts and rails. I have fenced my entire garden with it to keep out the deer. Debarking is most easily accomplished immediately after the tree is cut for posts or rails. Late spring through early summer is the best time to do this when the sap is high. The bark comes off easily in long strips, thorns and all, leaving you with a very green slippery piece of wood. After drying in the sun for a few months, they are ready to use. Mine have taken on a nice sun-bleached gray appearance, and given my garden the look of a post-card scene with wildflowers blooming along the fence most of the summer. The posts and rails check wonderfully, too, with age.

Another benefit to having so much black locust is, of course, the firewood! The BTU output of black locust firewood is exceptional for such a fast growing tree, and it is not a difficult-to-split wood. One of the best choices for the woodstove, in my opinion. It burns long and hot. So, the illogic of such a hard hardwood spreading and maturing so quickly can be a definite advantage. Its usefulness for utility as well as premium heating fuel may outweigh the disadvantages of its tenacity. Besides, my idea of using dynamite to clear the field would probably be frowned upon by the neighbors and it might spread the species to other properties in the area.

Happy Wood Burning!

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