How to Choose Split Rail Fence Materials for Sustainable Architecture & Design

The traditional art of the split rain fence is not lost. Here's how to choose split rail fence materials that honor the past while regenerating the future.

Picture an idyllic pastoral farm or historic battlefield outlined by a time-worn rustic fence. It’s a design element that pays tribute to our American heritage, celebrating and remembering the painstaking labor that once went into the traditional art of split rail fencing.

Appreciating one of these historic fences is one thing, but incorporating one into a modern design project is another. When choosing split rail fence materials, it’s helpful to understand how these materials were crafted historically, how they can be created today, and how to make sure they measure up to your standards for environmental and community impact.

How Split Rail Fence Materials Are Made

Authentic splitting methods for rail fencing involved a mallet and locust wedges, and later steel sledgehammers and wedges. American Chestnut and Black Locust were the wood of choice due to their rot resistance and wide availability, and then after the mid-1900s, solely Black Locust.

At Bark House, our products look identical to rails split the traditional way. We still splinter each price of trim by hand with an axe, though we do use a hydraulic ram to split logs into individual rails. A number of our team members remember trying to impress their grandfathers with their strength and prowess with a splitting maul, and they bring that experience and mastery to each piece of wood they touch.

Most Popular Uses of Split Rail Fences

Our largest customers for split rail fence products are federal and state park services. Indeed, locust split rail fencing is an icon in our national parks. The material itself is historically appropriate, and supports local artisanal heritage. Plus, the split rails reveal natural knots and twists in the wood that weather with great character over time, unique to locust.

However, split rail fencing is also frequently used for residential and other projects. Bark House customer Charles Pickelsimer chose authentic black locust split rail fence and installed it at his property in western North Carolina, pictured above. He loves that the split rails have added beauty not just for him, but his local community as well.

“They add so much to the rebuild,” he said. “All the neighbors love them.”

Split Rails In Sustainable Architecture and Design

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forestry Service, the U.S. demand for wood products is growing at twice the rate of tree population growth. Just as a split rail fence can help conserve our American heritage for future generations, when produced as part of a regenerative process, it can be a part of conserving, protecting, and renewing our natural resources.

Bark House black locust split rail fence and railing is 100% sourced and made in the U.S. Locust trees play a key part in our regrowth plan: we plant locust as an early stage successive tree on old mine sites to hold soil and reestablish its pH for other tree growth to follow. Black locust incorporates into the soil more rapidly than other trees and significantly increases soil nitrogen in upper soil layers.

Bark House invests over 50% of its income directly back into our local Appalachian economy. Everything about our operations is executed with sustainability and regeneration at the forefront of our thinking. Our products are used in many projects that go beyond sustainable architecture.

What a Split Rail Fence Says

Whether used as agricultural or decorative fencing, a split rail fence is an acknowledgment of shared appreciation of wood as a resource, as these fences are common in areas where wood is abundant. They are a tribute to the resourcefulness and resilience of our predecessors: They can be assembled with few tools, without nails or other hardware, and without digging post holes into rocky ground. But today, by using split rails created with sustainable wood, we can also show our commitment to better materials and products that are good for whole ecosystems.

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