In the parched Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there's precious little that is made of wood. When the designers of a new park in the Saudi port city of Al Jubail needed help with wooden pilings for walking piers, they found their answer with a unique product made in the U.S.A.
Manufactured by American Pole and Timber, gun barrel pilings are specialty milled poles that, unlike other round wooden pilings, have a uniform diameter from tip to butt. This past summer, 187 of them, each measuring 12 inches in diameter and ranging from 24 to 40 feet in length, were sent by container ship to Saudi Arabia, where they'll be driven to support three 150-foot long wooden bridges being constructed to provide access to an island within the park in Al Jubail.
Eric Lincoln, senior vice-president of sales for American Pole and Timber, maintains the project is the first of its kind in the Middle Eastern country. The designers, he says, were seeking a highly distinctive look and they determined that wood was the way to go.
"They wanted to use something that looks really nice," said Lincoln, adding that an obvious barrier was the scarcity of lumber in Saudi Arabia.
"They don't really do any wood construction at all over there. Everything is always done with concrete because there are no trees," he said. "They are not traditional users of wood, so this is going to be a very new thing for them."
Lincoln says the project contractors sent a small group of engineers and Saudi government officials to American Pole and Timber's headquarters and manufacturing facility in Houston, Texas, for three days in May so they could see first-hand how gun barrel poles were made and learn the basics of wood construction.
According to Lincoln, the crash course included looking at the characteristics of wood, how various treatments affect its longevity and what kinds of treatments are available for different types of applications.
For the Saudi Arabian project, the timber pilings were made from southern yellow pine (gun barrel poles are also available in white pine, western red cedar, white cedar and oak). Because they were being installed in salt water, the pilings were treated with a 2.5 pcf CCA wood preservative and they were also treated with a special polymer coating to provide additional protection.
Gun barrel pilings are purported to be excellent choices in applications in or near water. American Pole and Timber maintains that because they have no exposed heartwood as many square timbers have, the poles are less susceptible to attack by termites and marine borers, and their round shape also enables them to withstand storm surges better than square timber pilings.
Importance of aesthetics
According to Lincoln, the gun barrel poles are often used in applications where aesthetics are a primary consideration, which is why a growing number of zoos, theme parks and vacation resorts are now using them in the U.S. and other locations around the world, such as Hong Kong, Jamaica and Belize.
Lincoln says the pilings are not only visually impressive, but they also provide strong support and are usually easier to install than regular, tapered wooden poles.
"A traditional wooden pole is a tree that's just been peeled so it has all the normal things that you would find in a tree, but a gun barrel pole is a perfect shaft," he said. "It's perfectly straight, and it's dimensionally sound the entire way."
Lincoln notes that gun barrel poles are most frequently used in place of square timber piles and he maintains there's not much difference in price between the two options.
Lincoln describes gun barrel poles as a signature product for American Pole and Timber and he says he's not aware of any other businesses producing the specialty milled, uniform diameter poles in the same sizes that his company can provide.
"It's one of those things that people know us for. They know that we can do them and that we can do big ones," said Lincoln.
"We've manufactured some specialty equipment and machinery to be able to make them as big as we make them," he said, pointing out that gun barrel poles can be made from five to up to 20 inches in diameter and up to 52 feet in length.
"We can even make them 60 feet long if we can find the tree," Lincoln said.
American Pole and Timber was founded 27 years ago by William Plant and Dorian Benn, who is now the sole owner following Plant's death earlier this year. The company offers extended life building materials, distinctive manufacturing services and building materials solutions for a wide range of marine, industrial and commercial builders and manufacturers.
According to Lincoln, approximately 50 percent of the company's customers are in Texas, with the rest of the U.S. adding about 30 percent of their market and international clients accounting for the rest. t
Photos courtesy of American Pole and Timber