Locust Fence Part I

I’m currently writing my new book about my recent mule ramble from North Carolina to Idaho. Every day, the process goes like this. First I write my thoughts in longhand on sheets of printer paper. Then I scoot over to my computer and transfer that to my manuscript. Sitting in my saddle of course.

Nothing makes writing about a saddle journey as authentic as sitting in a saddle while you’re writing. To raise my keyboard and mouse, I employ a 12 pack of beer. I believe in incentives while writing. Yes, I really do sit in my saddle as I write.

By mid-afternoon, I’m ready to stop tap, tap, tapping away on the keyboard and knock the hell out of something. Not because I’m mad or angry or frustrated. I just want to get out of the cabin and use my body. Recently I decided to replace the barn yard stock panel fence with a locust fence. In the next few posts, I want to share some pics of how it’s going.

Where the Locust Grows

My wife Julia and I live on a mountain property in western North Carolina. It’s rolling land. The hay pasture is 1,300 feet above sea level. Our property maxes out at 2,100 feet atop White Mountain, the mountain behind our cabin.

That’s where the locust grows.

Up where the locust grows. That’s Julia sitting on Brick looking out over the Brushy Mountains to our South.

I consider locust the best wood one earth for fences. A member of the acacia family (yes, think distant relative of buttered peas) its main attraction is that it’s incredibly rot resistant. Stick a sound locust post in the ground and chances are good it’ll outlast you. Might as well carve your grave marker on locust because I suspect it outlasts granite.

The downside is it’s hard to find commercially. And when you do, it’s expensive.

No problem. We’re blessed with enough locust up the mountain to build miles of fence. Recently I headed up the hill to harvest some logs and, while I was at it, split some of those logs in to rails.

Here are some pics I thought you’d enjoy.

Harvesting Mountain Locust for Posts and Rails

First you’ve got to find a locust log. Sure, you could cut down a live tree. But then you’d have to season the wood. Up on the ridge where the old locust grows, the wind knocks over plenty of them. You have to know what they look like because they look like just any old dead tree. This one’s been lying on the ground about 5 years.
The first thing I do to a wind fall locust is cut off the ragged part. Here, my trusty, 30-something year old Stihl 044 chainsaw. Make sure your chain is reeeeallly sharp! Dry locust is one of North America’s hardest woods.

Making Locust Split Rails

In addition to harvesting posts, I needed some locust rails. These would be used for fence posts and corner bracing. Here’s how I split those out.

In the log’s butt, find a crack that looks like it’s running in the direction you want to split.
Insert your first wedge in the post’s face. Tap it in to place then add a second wedge as the post starts to split.
Note all the protection I’m wearing – steal toe boots, sawing chinks and helmet. You’ll note I’m just holding the 8-pound sledge over my head and dropping it on the wedges. I’m lazy and prefer to let the sledge do the work. Look closely and you’ll see my legs are splayed way apart. The emergency room is a long way from the top of the mountain.
Getting close.
Success! If I want a corner post, I’ll leave these pieces as they are. Since I want to make rails, I’ll split each half of the post 4 more times. This log will give me 8 hefty rails.
Loaded and ready to go. My tractor is a 30 horse power New Holland TC 30. It’s relatively light so I can’t haul too much behind it. These posts weighed so much, when I stood on them, the front of the tractor reared up. Be careful when you drive a load like this over water bars. The front wheels of your tractor can come off the ground and you won’t be able to steer any more.
The material down off the mountain and assembled in the barn yard. The plan is to replace the blue metal stock panels with locust fencing.
Project from another year: skidding locust logs with mule Sandy. You can read more about that here.

I hope you enjoyed these photos. I’ll put some more up shortly as I start building the fence corners. I sure enjoy working with locust. Here’s a post you might enjoy about harvesting locust posts with a mule.


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[…] Locust Fence Part 1: Splitting locust posts […]


[…] hanging with mule Polly. Nights, she and the mules live in a pasture I built with locust posts I harvested up our mountain. Days, she gets to graze in the pasture in front of our house. The white […]


[…] post was going to be about setting the first locust posts in the pasture I’m building for our mules and horse. Then I ran out of posts. So, back up the mountain I […]


[…] post was going to be about setting the first locust posts in the pasture I’m building for our mules and horse….until I ran out of posts. So, back up the […]

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