What am I getting into with black locust?

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Forum topic by lumberjoe posted 09-17-2012 12:32 PM 11626 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2899 posts in 2490 days

09-17-2012 12:32 PM

I went to the mill on Saturday to get some Ash for a table I am making and had two nice surprises:

1 – One of the select Ash boards (4/4, 10” x 9 feet) was putting up a HUGE fight in the planer. Once it came out we discovered why; it curly the whole way down. Score for 1.50/bf!

2 – I usually spend a lot of time talking with the owner. He is a nice older guy with a lot of cool stories. He ended up giving me a 12/4×14” wide x 3 foot long piece of dry black locust.

What the heck can I do with this? I attempted to slice a piece off to turn a mallet. I don’t have a bandsaw, and 12/4 is too thick for my TS, so I tried a rip saw. Yeah right. I then took out my monster sawzall, again, lots of effort, 0 progress. I brought it outside and clamped it to the picnic table. I fired up the beast of a chainsaw I have. It cut it, but was NOT happy about it.

Is there any tricks/tips to working with this stuff?


23 replies so far

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

8623 posts in 2570 days

#1 posted 09-17-2012 01:03 PM

Hi Joe,

Though I know nothing about the woodworking aspects of black locust, I’d suggest saving it for an outdoor project like a arbor, adirondack chair feet or grill table….

Black locust is one of the absolute best woods for natural rot resistance and has been traditionally used for fence posts.

-- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2490 days

#2 posted 09-17-2012 01:09 PM

Thanks! This piece is not very useful for any of those things. It’s really thick and only about 3’ long. My intention was to turn it – cut it into blanks. However my only method of cutting it currently is a chainsaw. The mill owner did tell me he uses it for fence posts and they last 70+ years in the ground.

Actually I do need a mailbox. Maybe I’ll take it somewhere and see if I can get it resawed.


View upinflames's profile


217 posts in 2403 days

#3 posted 09-17-2012 01:35 PM

There is an article in the new issue of Cabinetmaker+FDM magazine that covers black locust, very hard wood, everything has to be super sharp, and won’t stay sharp long.

View AandCstyle's profile


3185 posts in 2498 days

#4 posted 09-17-2012 01:39 PM

Joe, I have only used black locust for fence posts. I learned the hard way to use the shortest possible staples because anything more than 3/4” would get bent over every time. This is because the wood is that hard…think of trying to drive a nail into aluminum. :D Anyhow, if you do make a mail box, plan to pre-drill for every fastener. Good luck!

-- Art

View EPJartisan's profile


1122 posts in 3367 days

#5 posted 09-17-2012 01:50 PM

Hi, I got a dust-bin mind for trees, so here is some bits of info. Black Locust is one of my favorites. IT does not work easily, but here is why. Of all the trees in North America, Black Locust is the only remnant of when this land was a tropical rainforest.. so it’s grain is a strange combo of interlocking grain and open celled growth rings. Like most tropical trees it absorbs a lot of calcium, silica, and other crystalized chemicals giving it rot resistance and difficulty in workability; a survival means against heavy moisture. It is a pioneer tree, meaning it grows anyplace there is poor nutrient soils, it has a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen collecting and expressing bacteria which is allows to grow in nodes along the root systems. Also like some tropical trees, it poisons other plants around it and grows thorns to protect itself. Only one natural grove exists in the world in the mountains of North Carolina, but it can be found all across the world now. Used in mines to support the walls, fence posts, board walks, and all kinds of outdoor applications. It weathers to a beautiful silver and dulls tools quickly…and it has difficulty taking stains and finishes (blotching is really hard to avoid.) oh and lastly … it is no where near related to Honey Locust. Maybe some of this will help ya. :) PS: I am very jealous at the size of stock you have.. here in Chicago it is hard to find and I have to either wait for a tree to die or order it out of Penn. and since it is so heavy.. shipping is expensive.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5149 posts in 4202 days

#6 posted 09-17-2012 02:06 PM

I usually cut blk. locust with det cord and high explosives. Makes the neighbors mad as hell, but its the only way. :)


View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2490 days

#7 posted 09-18-2012 12:08 AM

Thanks guys! I hacked a few blocks of with my 18” Sthil farm boss. I wasn’t expecting that much of a fight, this wood is ridiculous! I just sharpened the chain too.

I chucked up a piece between centers on the lathe and set the speed low. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it did take the gouge to the grinder 2 or 3 times. HOWEVER – right after I got it round I made a discovery. This wood is green as hell. The chips coming at me were soaking wet. Now, is this “mallet” I turned going to just split and crack? Is there any way to dry it quickly? I’ve heard stories of people sticking wood in the microwave on defrost to dry it after turning, but that seems like a bad idea to me.

Given this is green still and not dry like I was told it was, I waxed up the ends good and laid it flat on some stickers.


View Don W's profile

Don W

19052 posts in 2809 days

#8 posted 09-18-2012 12:35 AM

I’ve had locust take the teeth right off my chain. There are gate post on my dads farm that he put in before he went in the Korean war. They are still as solid as the day they were set. The trick is work it while its green, or use very good, very hard, very sharp tools and plan to sharpen often.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View WrathOfSocrus's profile


24 posts in 2693 days

#9 posted 09-18-2012 12:39 AM

You should be able to cut through one side of the board then flip it over n cut the rest of the way. I have cut a few pieces out of logs where I cut through on both sides and still had a bit in the center to hand saw. You can even do several passes taking a little bit at a time if it’s that rough. Sure beats hand sawing the whole piece or having a lot of waste from the chainsaw. I have no advice for working with it but sounds like a sweet piece of wood. Nice score!

-- "To do is to learn. A brilliant man once said that... I think he had a beard, too." - Joe Burns, HTML Goodies

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3625 days

#10 posted 09-18-2012 12:51 AM

I have quite a bit of black locust. I thought it turned really well when dry. It was easy to resaw with a woodslicer blade too, at least the six inch wide board was that I cut.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2931 days

#11 posted 09-18-2012 02:12 AM

I have been trying to find some black locust. It works a lot like hedge (Bois de Arc) and I seem to gravitate to the tough to work with woods. A good rip blade on your TS and then flip the board should work to resaw this if you don’t have access to a bandsaw. If you think it is tough now, wait til it dries!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View hhhopks's profile


654 posts in 2619 days

#12 posted 09-18-2012 02:54 AM

I am not sure if I got the Black or the Honey. It was sold to me as locust at $2.50/bd. I have used it on chisel handles. Works great so far.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2490 days

#13 posted 09-18-2012 12:53 PM

I can’t put this on the TS. It is rough sawn, and I mean ROUGH. The saw gouges are over 1/2” deep in some spots and are really uneven. It looks like it was cut with a 4 foot circular blade with 10 teeth. I’ve thought about pin nailing a runner to it and sending it through the miter slot but it’s just too rough to lay reasonably flat on any surface. I’ve turned a lot of osage orange and Lignum Viate, but this stuff felt a lot harder even though it technically isn’t.


View IndianJoe's profile


425 posts in 2491 days

#14 posted 09-18-2012 01:23 PM

A friend got a lot of it for fire wood and I made 2 bow’s out of it , love the wood but it is hard

-- Nimkee** Joe

View Ironwing's profile


3 posts in 2318 days

#15 posted 09-18-2012 01:28 PM

The property I recently purchased has a number of large, fallen black locust trees. With a lot of hard work, I’ve managed to get some very nice lumber out of them. My guess is they’ve been lying on the ground at least 10 years, I suppose you could call that well-seasoned!

The biggest problem I’ve run into with this black locust isn’t how hard the wood is but it’s horrible tendency to move and crack. Strong, heavy, rot-proof? Definitely. Stable? Not so much. There’s a good reason this wood is used primarily for fenceposts and firewood. Be very careful when you’re turning the stuff, you never know when you might catch a microscopic crack and throw a sizable shard of wood.

It also, surprisingly, makes pretty terrible charcoal.

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