Lo-Cust Raised Beds?

Spring is here in the northeast and added to the various tasks I am engaged with at present is getting the garden ready, which has so far included planting several fruit trees and roto-tilling the 15’x20′ plot we have in the community garden.

Last year we moved into our house at this time and didn’t have quite as much time to get a garden together as we might have liked. We managed to put in some raised beds and had a great crop of tomatoes, basil, and kale. Not so much luck with the arugula, which bolted, or the squash, which suffered from the predations of the squash beetle.

This year we’re doing raised beds again, and for a variety of reasons i have decided to make wooden raised bed frames. As the wood sits directly upon the soil, I needed to pick a suitable wood for that, and it is hard to do better in that regard than Black Locust. There is lots of it growing in this area, and there is a sawmill business just 20 minute’s drive away which specializes in cutting BlackLocust and has lots of stock on hand.

I went and picked up half a dozen 12′ long, 6/4 thick by 8″ tall sticks to start, which should see me through the making of at least two beds. Planning on 3 or maybe 4 beds altogether. The material is green, which is a somewhat rare occasion in terms of my work in recent years. Here I’m making some decisions about where to crosscut:

The material is fairly tight grained:

I decided I could make the beds about 4′ wide and 10′ long, and cross cut the material accordingly:

Some of the pieces were bowed, so I elected to joint some/all of the bow out, without taking the available thickness down too much:

Then a run or three through the planer to dress the material down. Have the planer set on metric at the moment, so took it all down to 194mmx30mm:

I’ll be putting the beds together with nails and glue – – just kidding. I’ll detail the joinery in a follow-up post. Thanks for visiting.

8 Replies to “Lo-Cust Raised Beds?”

  1. Are you concerned or have any thought of processeing the “green” wood on the machines given the higher moisture content? Rust or corrosion? On th ecutterhead, tables etc.?
    Years ago i was making windows and frames for an outdoor shed, using pressure treated SYP, the wood felt extremely dry, even when cut and sized. I left the shop and returned that evening, I had left a piece on the table saw….when i picked it up there was a shadow of light rust under the wood!!!! Not happy! eventually cleaned up well, but I never forgot the experiance.
    Joe M

  2. Hi Joe M,

    thanks for your comment and sharing your observations. I should clarify that the wood was not sopping wet – it has done some drying and had some end grain checking, etc. I have waxed tables on the jointer and planer, both have carbide knives, excellent chip collection, and the planer has bed rollers, so I'm not terribly concerned about rusting – but it would be terrible to come back and find some of that going on to be sure. I can see why that would be a memorable experience. I didn't leave any material on the machine tables, and I'll be at the shop today so I can keep an eye on it.


  3. Pat,

    good to hear from you and thanks for your question. Am I concerned about the wood degrading? Not really. These planter beds are to be filled with dirt and get battered by the weather. No wooden thing is going to look pristine after months outside, regardless if one started with KD lumber or not. The checking I will try to control a bit by sealing the exposed portions of end grain, and the joinery will help keep things more or less together. If the pieces warp a bit, I'm fine with that. Being black locust, it should be good for 50 years outside, based on anecdotal evidence at least. Functionally, I want it to hold together and keep the dirt in – if it starts to look weathered, that is perfectly natural and not a cause for alarm, at least not on my part.

    Another point here that should be noted is that it seems that no one around here will dry Black Locust, so even if I wanted it dried, I would be out of luck. From my research, the best way to dry black locust is in a steam kiln, and there are none in this vicinity. so drying is out, though if it was available and I had more time, I would certainly have taken it to get dried down to under 10%.


  4. Chris

    The black locust I got years ago was a dark ugly green, but nice and hard. Parts of my work bench are of that locust and have faded to a beautiful golden teak-color. So save any off-cuts, even if they are not two feet long!


  5. It seems to me that you want to show-off your awesome Martin jointer and the SCMI planer!!
    That jointer looks big enough to sleep on.
    Much basil and arugula in your future. Pesto freezes wonderfully.


  6. Tom,

    hello again – nice to hear from you. I think that once the locust weathers to that russet brown shade it looks absolutely awesome – I can't wait!

    The main reason that locust isn't utilized more in North America seems to be because of it's raw color of mildly fluorescent yellowy-green.


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