Power-Pole Re-Use Potential

Old treated utility poles may have some potential for salvage re-use, but they are trouble to deal with. April 18, 2009

I have the chance to pick up about 60 used power poles. I would like to saw them up on my mill and use the lumber to build fences and stuff around the farm and shop. Does the treatment go all the way through the pole? Do you think I can do this or will the lumber just act like untreated lumber?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor C:
You might want to find out what kind of treatment has been applied to the poles. You might end up creating a toxic waste site if you saw them and disperse sawdust on the ground.

From contributor W:
We grab all the power poles we can get. We use them for post and pole buildings. Sawing them into boards may be pushing it a bit because they are toxic and you would spend a bunch on blade re-sharpening. We saw two cuts that gives us 90 degree for the corners and one cut for a flat between corners. This helps to keep the building plumb. We always wear a respirator.

From contributor S:
I agree. Sawing them up into boards may be counter-productive. Beams or other dimension material for retaining walls, posts or other rot prone applications would be great.

From contributor B:
What is the species? Most likely either southern pine, douglas-fir or western red cedar. If douglas-fir or cedar the penetration of the preservative will be fairly shallow and pretty limited to the thin outer sapwood band so many sawn boards will have little treatment.

The cedar heartwood has good natural durability whereas douglas-fir is only fair. With southern pine poles preservative penetration is likely going to be deeper than three inches. What is the treatment? If it is a CCA treated southern pine pole you will have sawdust with high surface area to volume CCA, which though likely not a meaningful environmental risk or issue may get into the soil just the same. If creosote or penta in oil you might get some heat buildup and burning while sawing. Also, watch for dirt and grit which has built up over time in the surface of these old poles. This will cause excessive dulling and damage to saw blades, and may lead to such problems as wavy cuts.

From contributor P:
One of the first jobs I took was sawing about 3,000 bf of western cedar that was in old electric poles. They had been on the ground (they ended up shrinking as much as any green boards I have cut so far) and were creosote treated which penetrated to about two inches. They were full of every kind of hardware you can imagine, had pea gravel ground in where they had been dragged in the utility company’s lot. Also I am not allergic to anything, never even got poison ivy after weed whacking it by accident but itched worse than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest after sawing it. To end let me say that it was a wonderful learning experience that I am not soon to repeat, and even worse it was a trade deal with my dirt guy who def got the better deal!

From contributor W:
If they are creosote, slather any exposed skin with Vaseline to prevent itching and skin irritation.