Can Old Wooden Fence Posts Be Salvaged?

Taking down an old fence line? Those wooden fence posts you're removing might be salvageable and reusable for other projects.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

Lately, I’ve been taking down a lot of old fencing around my farm. Actually, it’s not really accurate to call it fencing anymore. Decades ago, my farm was crisscrossed with barbed wire fences installed on wooden posts. But most of the wires have either come loose from their posts or the fence posts have rotted and collapsed. This left the wire on the ground with weeds, shrubs and trees growing up in between.

Cleaning up these old fence lines is easier than you might think. I wait for autumn (when I can comfortably wear heavy clothing), put on safety goggles and leather gloves, and carefully cut the wires into short sections with sturdy bolt cutters. Each piece is placed in a box for safe transport and disposal.

When I get to a broken fence post, I carefully remove the old fencing staples holding the wires in place … and debate whether or not to salvage the post.

Wait—what? Why would anyone salvage these decades-old wooden posts? If they’re rotted enough to have collapsed, aren’t they useless? And if they’re still standing, aren’t they ready to fall over at the slightest touch?

Read more: Follow these tips to safely take down a barbed-wire fence.

Reuse & Recycle Old Fence Posts

Those are all valid questions, but fence posts age gracefully in my opinion, and there’s something about the patina and weathered history of an old fence post that makes me pause when clearing them away.

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And if you’re willing to put in a little effort, old fence posts can often be salvaged and repurposed in useful ways.

In a best-case scenario, the posts you’re removing might be surprisingly strong and sound. A couple years back, I cleaned up the largely fallen barbed wire from a fence line surrounding my farm’s old pond. Many of the wooden posts are still rock-solid and sturdy in the ground.

I could probably dig them out and put them to use somewhere else. I’m more inclined,however, to install boards between the posts, paint everything white, and turn the fence line into an attractive wooden board fence.

Other times, you might run into situations where wooden posts have rotted at ground level, but the aboveground portions are still sound. Depending on the height of the posts, you might be able to repurpose them into a shorter fence. If the posts were originally 9 feet long (with 6 feet above ground and 3 feet underground), you can take the good 6-foot sections, bury the bottom 2 feet, and have a 4-foot-tall fence perfect for growing grapes or other climbing plants.

Read more: Use a tractor to remove stubborn fence posts!

Time to Say Goodbye

Of course, wood doesn’t last forever. Not every fence post will be salvageable.

If the entirety of a post is soft with rot, it might be time to dispose of it. And if you don’t know the origin of an old fence post, you should consider the possibility it may have been treated for rot resistance before its original installation. You should be careful using old posts for gardening or agricultural purposes (like marking the border of a garden bed), because you don’t want the post leaching toxins into your soil.

But posts that still have sound sections don’t have to be disposed of with the rest of the fencing material. Taking down an old and unneeded barbed wire fence line might supply you with enough posts to build something new from the remnants, with a well-aged patina coming along as a bonus.

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