Wooden fence posts provide an economical alternative to plastic, metal or concrete posts because they are not only cheap but also naturally rot and insect resistant, or treatable to be so. You can use many types of wood for fence posts. Some are significantly more sturdy than others. Every part of the country has native varieties of wood that are well-suited to building rail and wire fences. Other types are better suited to milling and treatment for decorative fencing.
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A variety of woods, like southern, lodgepole and red pine or Douglas fir have become popular post choices thanks to chemical pressure treating. They would not be suitable for posts otherwise. Treating posts doubles and triples the working life of posts. Since the banning of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated lumber in 2003, other treatments like alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) and copper borate azole (CA) have come to the fore.
Relatively new, these treatments need years to determine their efficacy. Naturally disease resistant post woods often get treatment in the field from substances like creosote, pentachlorophenol, Osmosalts, linseed oil or even motor oil to increase their durability and weather-resistance.
Osage Orange, common in the West and Midwest for untreated posts, may be the most durable fence post you can find. The average working life may exceed 60 years, according to the University of Oregon's 1985 report on the service life of untreated fence posts. Posts made of Osage orange at the beginning of the study in 1928 were still standing 52 years later. It's little wonder that Osage orange is a favourite of western farmers and ranchers.
Heartwood black locust has an average service life that exceeds 30 years. Less prone to rot than its cousin, the honey locust, black locust is a popular post wood from North Carolina to Ohio and Kansas.
Red cypress, found throughout the south, provides straighter, more knot free posts than its cousin, the bald cypress. Cypress doesn't shrink when cured as much as cedar or pine and is less susceptible to warping. In areas near where it grows, cypress can be an affordable fence post material.
White oak grows in most parts of the country, making it economical for fence posts. Some fence-builders don't like it but if it's harvested in spring when the buds are just appearing, it lasts far longer in the ground than if cut later in the season. Treated, white oak lasts for two to three decades..
Farmers and ranchers have long used cedar varieties like red cedar or Eastern white cedar for naturally durable fence posts. They have trunks that make nice sized posts and resist insects and disease. Treated cedar posts last for decades and occur naturally throughout the United States, making them an economical choice.
Western juniper resists decay. The 1928 Oregon State University study showed a lifespan of more than 30 years for untreated juniper posts. With even simple field treating, they can almost double this lifespan. Juniper resists termites, fungus and even high moisture tropical climates, making juniper posts a potential major western forest industry export.
The hardwood forests of the Northeast provide a variety of tough young trees for harvesting for posts and poles. Farmers in western New York use woods for fence posts not often seen in other parts of the country. With some in-the-field treatment, cherry, maple, ash, hickory, or ironwood posts can often be seen holding up lifestock fences in areas where these hardwoods grow.
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- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service; Installing Wooden Posts for Greatest Longevity; Terry Connors
- Treated Fence Posts: Overview
- Ask the Builder: Long Lasting Fence Materials; Tim Carter
- Oregon State University: Juniper Page
- Woodweb: Good Species for Fence Posts
- Western Wood Preservers Institute: How to Recognize Quality Treated Posts and Poles