Embracing the true essence of Black Locust: To oil or not to oil?

May 3, 2024

The debate around oiling black locust is persistent, fueled by the wood's innate beauty and the desire to preserve it as long as possible. While oiling can offer aesthetic benefits, it's not without its considerations.

Embracing the true essence of Black Locust: To oil or not to oil?

Black Locust Boards

In the realm of outdoor building materials, black locust occupies a revered spot for its durability, beauty, and resistance to the harsh elements of nature. At Black Locust Lumber, our journey over two decades has immersed us deeply in the nuances of this exceptional wood, giving us a comprehensive view on whether oiling is a necessity or an optional enhancement.

However, the debate around oiling black locust is persistent, fueled by the wood's innate beauty and the desire to preserve it as long as possible. While oiling can offer aesthetic benefits, it's not without its considerations.

Durability of black locust 

Black locust's natural resilience to rot, insects, and weathering is unmatched, positioning it as a top contender for outdoor projects that stand the test of time. This durability and robustness stems from its dense cellular structure, which naturally wards off moisture and pests, ensuring longevity without the need for chemical treatments.

Choosing to let black locust age naturally is a commitment to sustainability and an appreciation for the material's organic beauty. However, we understand that some projects may call for the preservation of the wood's original hue.

An aesthetic debate: oiling versus natural finish for black locust

Black locust’s natural resistance to rot means it demands minimal upkeep, standing strong and durable through the decades. Over time, it adopts a silver-gray patina, a testament to its resilience and a symbol of its natural journey through the seasons. However, this aging process also brings about a shift in appearance from the original vibrant yellow-gold to a more subdued silver-gray. This transition, while natural, may not align with everyone’s aesthetic preferences, particularly for those who wish to preserve the lumber's initial hue.

Oiling black locust comes with a mix of benefits and considerations that can influence the decision-making process for those looking to maintain or enhance their wood projects. On the beneficial side, applying oil to Black Locust wood helps in preserving its original, vibrant color for  a limited period of time, which can be particularly appealing for projects where aesthetic appearance is paramount.

However, the choice to oil isn't without its downsides. Firstly, the nature of oil treatments means that they aren't a set-and-forget solution; they require periodic reapplication to maintain the wood's appearance and protective layer. This can introduce a regular maintenance schedule and expenses that might not be ideal for everyone. Moreover, the application of oil can sometimes result in uneven aging or aesthetic inconsistencies over time, especially in outdoor environments where elements like sunlight and moisture vary across different parts of a single piece of lumber. 

Oil Patches on Black Locust Bench Slats

Another point to consider is that oiled surfaces can become magnets for dust and dirt. This can not only affect the wood's appearance, making it look grimy or patchy, but can also increase the maintenance required to keep the wood looking its best. These challenges highlight the importance of weighing the aesthetic benefits of oiling black locust against the potential for increased upkeep and aesthetic issues in the long run. Also be mindful that the oil has really no beneficial extension of the lifespan of the naturally rot resistant black locust. 

Mold caused from Oil Applications on Black Locust Fence Boards

Additionally, an important aspect to consider when opting for oiling Black Locust lumber is the potential for mold growth. The nature of oil treatments can sometimes create conditions that favor the development of mold and mildew, particularly in environments that are already prone to dampness and limited air circulation. While Black Locust wood itself is notably resistant to decay and insect damage, introducing oil into its surface can trap moisture against the wood, providing a conducive environment for mold spores to flourish.

At the end of the day the choice between oiling and embracing the natural patina of black locust wood often comes down to personal preference and project requirements. 

How to care for black locust

Power washing Black Locust Decking

For those leaning towards a natural approach or contemplating the benefits of oiling, here are some expert care tips:

- Embrace the natural aging process for a maintenance-free option that celebrates the wood's inherent beauty.

- Regular cleaning with mild soap and water to remove dirt and debris.

- To keep your black locust wood looking neat and clean, we recommend a simple annual power wash. This straightforward care routine ensures your wood remains in excellent condition, reflecting our commitment to ease and sustainability in maintenance practices.

- If oiling, choose a high-quality, natural oil suitable for outdoor use and reapply as needed to maintain the desired look. When choosing an oil for black locust lumber, look for products that are designed for outdoor use and compatible with hardwoods. Typical options include teak oil, tung oil, and linseed oil, among others. Be careful: some of these oils may contain substances with potential toxicity. It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and maintenance to achieve the best results. 

Choosing the best approach for your black locust project

Deciding on the best maintenance strategy for black locust is a personal choice that balances aesthetic preferences with practical considerations. At Black Locust Lumber we're here to provide the information and support you need to make the best decision for your project, whether you embrace the wood's natural aging process or opt for oiling to preserve its original color.

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