The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Walnut fence post 5 year field report

Close up of a fence post with barn in background and me working on barb wire deconstruction

5 years ago we put up a barbed wire fence on a limited budget.

One of the corners we cut was using several walnut posts because we ran out of cedar and spent most of the budget on 2 rolls of barbed wire and a new chain for the chainsaw.

Fast forward to today when I spent the afternoon taking part of that fence out and you can see why walnut is a poor choice to use as a fence post. It's still a solid piece of wood above ground, but each one I tried to remove ended up breaking off at the base. If I had to guess I'd say a walnut post can be expected to fail somewhere between 3 and 5 years, maybe more in a dryer climate.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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You seem to be taking the long view so why not go with (black)locust posts. If you can't find any trees growing in your woods you ought to find some seeds or seedlings. Grazing animals love to eat the leaves, they are fairly fast growing and repsrout after cutting as they have a vigorous root system. In wet ground the posts are known to survive 30 years and much longer in dryer ground. Also depending on how big you let them get, the trunks can be used for long tool handles or lumber if big enough to mill. One tip - black locust have thorns that will tear the hide right off, so treat them carefully.
Comment by vester Thu May 5 19:14:34 2011
Black locusts are sun-lovers, and our woods are just a hair to old to support them. They are still popping up here and there in the understory, and I did get Mark to open up the canopy around a few last year, mostly for the bees since their flowers are a great source of early summer nectar. Red cedars are much more common on our property, which is why we use them so much more than locust. It would be interesting to see a side by side comparison of locust vs. cedar longevity in the ground.
Comment by anna Thu May 5 19:38:41 2011
problem with cedar is only the red part resists decay. Small cedar has very little heartwood and the rest rots quickly.
Comment by Errol Thu May 5 21:34:10 2011
You all can come over here and cut as much locust as you want. ;-)
Comment by Everett Fri May 6 10:42:57 2011

Daddy --- good point! I kept meaning to post some photos I took of a cedar post I used for our clothesline (but the garden always seems more interesting. :-) ) I put the posts in the ground a couple of years ago and the thicker post is still good, but the post that was only about 5 inches in diameter cracked over the winter. When I pulled it out, I could see that the red heartwood was still firm...but since it was only about an inch thick, it couldn't hold up the weight of my wet clothes. There's probably a formula somewhere (or should be) about how big the heartwood is for a certain diameter cedar so you can see if it will hold up in the long run.

Everett --- Thanks! Don't know if we'll ever take you up on that, though. :-)

Comment by anna Fri May 6 12:11:59 2011
Ideally, cedar posts should be from cedar big enough to split. And the fence is fastened to the heartwood side, which is turned toward the fence.
Comment by Errol Fri May 6 14:34:43 2011
That makes a lot of sense --- not only do you see how much heartwood you're getting, you also have a solid surface to attach to.
Comment by anna Sat May 7 07:20:40 2011

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