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Articles & Stories

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sawing black locust in Hungary

Not long after Columbus had discovered the new world, Europeans began to order exotic American plants for their own gardens. In 1601, the royal gardener of the French king Henry IV planted a small black locust seedling. Now 415 years old, that tree is the oldest in Paris!

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Robinier St-Julien-le-Pauvre.jpg
By Tangopaso - Self-photographed, Public Domain, Link

Robinia pseudoacacia – the name of species – is an amazing tree that grows rapidly (about 20-30 cm in length annually), tolerates dry weather, and is characterised by its strong root system - useful for strengthening the ground when it is planted in sandy soil, on slopes and along railways.

Black locust is not as durable as oak, but its chemical properties allow it to be used outdoors without additional chemical treatment. Endurance, longevity, and fire resistance makes black locust a magnificent ecological material for bridges, railway sleepers, decking, patios, garden furniture and and other outdoor construction.

To learn more about the applications for black locust, we met with the managing director of Robinia Group KFT in Hungary, Mr. Gabor Erdelyi.

"Our company processes exclusively black locust," says Mr Erdelyi. "If we talk in general about Europe, it is a huge market… The current demand for black locust used to be met by tropical timber, which was relatively cheap, however, now the situation has changed. Environmental issues have been made a priority. Since it is clear that much of the harvesting done in rain forests are not carried out in a sustainable and legal way, consumers in Europe have made a choice in favor of more environmentally friendly, and locally grown black locust. And they are even ready to pay a little more for it compared to tropical timber."

"Much of our product line are wooden products for children - like playgrounds," continues Mr Erdelyi. "If you ask a child's opinion, they always prefer wooden play equipment, because wooden products are more natural and inviting materials.”

"For a company to be stable, it must stand on more than one leg – one source of income," continues Mr Erdelyi. "We have developed our business by offering more products than customers could get elsewhere," says Mr Erdelyi. "Additional services, design, transportation, installation and support later."

"I often relate an example of a butcher who decides to sell only pork legs, and throws away the rest of the pig? I doubt such a stupid butcher exists," smiles Mr Gabor Erdelyi. "The same applies to wood. The entire log should be transformed into valuable products - 100% of it. All the raw materials should be converted into products with the highest possible added value."

Following this strategy, in early 2016 Robinia Group purchased a Wood-Mizer LT70 sawmill with a remote command station, a log deck and material handling components for moving both logs and sawn planks.

"Why did we choose Wood-Mizer?" shares Mr Erdelyi. "Black locust forests are located in the south-west and north-east of Hungary, and our company is in the middle. When we cut our own logs, we can buy the forest without prior sorting, making the raw material cheaper. With the Wood-Mizer sawmill we have practically no limitations in log size, because this machine is able to cut logs up to 1 m in diameter."

"Secondly, Wood-Mizer uses the narrowest bandsaw blade available from today’s sawmilling manufacturers," shares Mr Erdelyi.

"This means less energy consumption, less sawdust, and more finished products from every log. This is essential for Black locust processing because the average diameter of the logs is 20-30 cm, rarely do we cut log with diameters of 40-50 cm. Such small logs can be effectively cut using narrow blades. And thin blades are cheaper than wide blades. All these cost savings are very important for small companies, which allow us to reduce the final product cost for our consumers."

"In recent years Wood-Mizer as a manufacturer has been growing. The reputation of Wood-Mizer sawmills is very good. These reasons convinced us it was a good investment. The price was fair and wasn’t our main focus, because our goal was getting a machine that could help us achieve sustainable operation and low production costs".

A recent European Union report of invasive species listed black locust as an invasive species among others. This caused a lively debate in Hungary due to how much black locust is used in the country today.

"Black locust is so deeply integrated into the life of the Hungarian people — in fact, it is used not only in construction, woodworking, but also for firewood production, and due to its abundant blooms, it is indispensable in beekeeping and honey production," says Mr Erdelyi.

An interesting result of the publicity was that consumers abroad begun to be interested in black locust products. On Robinia Group’s website there is information about numerous products available from the company: children's playgrounds, terraces, wooden decking, benches, etc. And among other successful portfolio projects, there are three major international projects showcased.

"The roof of Letzigrund Stadium was a major achievement for our company, because it was our first such large-scale project," says Mr Erdelyi. "When Austria and Switzerland won the right to host the European Football Championship in 2008 at the Letzigrund Stadium, it was necessary to completely cover the roof. The only problem was to find a suitable timber."

It was obvious that the main requirement for the roof of the stadium was durability, among such concerns such as fire safety and aesthetics. Because the roof panels were exposed to the environment, less resistant varieties of wood were eliminated immediately. It soon became clear that only a few tropical species and black locust matched the durability requirements.

"Fortunately, the Swiss also pay special attention to the environment, and using tropical timber wasn’t an option for them either. It was quite a lot of work for us - in total, we delivered about 20 trucks of black locust timber for the roof," says Mr Erdelyi.

More info:www.robinia-group.hu



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