I also had a chance to write a story about some folks here in central PA who decided to build their deck from black locust lumber. Here is the link to that story. I wrote it up after the couple contacted me for some help in locating the black locust, and I followed their progress from there. The resulting technical note has become the most-viewed article I've ever posted on my Penn State site. I think building decks is a popular topic of inquiry and interest, so I'll try to include some deck stories in future posts.
Black locust has a great history in American farm life. It was the preferred fence post in the East for almost two hundred years, because of its rot-resistance. Many are the stories of fifty-year-old black locust fenceposts. In his great classic, A Reverence for Wood, Eric Sloane described black locust in this way:
The scraggly locust that looks like a dying tree even at its best, during the summer...
Charles Fergus, in his Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, gives a nice description of locust wood and its historical uses:
Black locust wood is very heavy, at 52 pounds per cubic foot. Hard and strong, it is stiffer than hickory and more durable than white oak. Its fuel value is among the highest of any American tree: a cord of black locust contains as much heat energy as a ton of anthracite coal; the wood burns cleanly, with a blue flame. Because it lasts for years in contact with the soil, black locust is the top choice for a post: a locust post has held our our mailbox for twenty years, and will probably outlast my tenure on the place. The heartwood is an attractive yellowish brown to cherry red color, surrounded by a narrow band of greenish or yellowish sapwood. People have fashioned the tough wood into trunnels ("tree-nails") for holding together the wooden frames of ships, insulator pins on telegraph or telephone poles, ladder rungs, buggy hubs, and policemen's billy clubs. Other use include mine timbers, railroad ties, boxes,crates, and stakes.
Early colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, cut locust corner posts for their dwellings. Those same settlers named the tree for its supposed resemblance to an Old World species, the carob, Ceratonia siliquia, also known as the locust; one wonders if the settlers had ever actually laid eyes on Ceratonia siliquia, which grows in the Mediterranean region. Other names for black locust are honey locust, yellow locust, white locust, common locust, and false acacia.
Yikes! I'd hate to get whacked with a black locust billy club!