Oak – It doesn’t grow on Trees!

IMG_1747I know, it’s an old joke but the inference could be nearer than we think.

I was at the first Timber Trade Federation conference on European Oak in April held in co-operation with the European Organisation of the Sawmill Industry. There were representatives from the principle Oak producing countries in Europe. They gave some quite amazing/shocking statistics, and I describe it in that way because it is both of those things. I refer to the increasing demand by China for timber generally, and in this case Oak.

Now you might think what’s China got to do with the UK’s use of Oak? Well, an enormous amount as it happens. Their hunger for Oak in log form has grown by 244% in the last 7 years!! In 2010 the bought 183,362 tonnes of Oak, in 2017 this rose to 630,827!! For France this has risen from 101,160m³ in 2010 to 352,139m³ in 2017.

What is the impact of this? Well it doesn’t stop there, the barrel market is also extremely buoyant ( I guess all of us Wine and Whisky drinkers are responsible for that!). The barrel trade takes the very best, clear and straight logs, ironically, they then crosscut it into relatively short lengths.

The impact is that there is a reduction of available Oak in both log, plank and square edge form. Sawn timber production in France reduced by around 30% in 2008, and it really hasn’t increased much since. Oak prices have continued to rise over the past 10 plus years, and the consensus of the conference is that it is very unlikely that this trend of price increases will change. Availability of larger diameter and longer logs is also reducing. We have been Cherry picking those specimen logs for many years and this has resulted in larger diameter and longer logs being less available. So to continue the woe, this is topped of by the recent appalling winter weather preventing access to the land, shooting and hunting across Europe, which, unfortunately for our industry, takes a priority in the landowners eyes!

 

What about UK Oak stock? Well there is Oak available in the UK and some of it is very good. We need more landowners to start managing their woodlands and think about releasing some, not all of their timber stock. Selective felling is obviously a better, more aesthetic way of harvesting timber.  Can we be self-sufficient? I very much doubt it. The Grown in Britain campaign is championing this cause and it has definitely had an effect on the demand for UK, but we would be unable to meet the whole demand in the UK.gib-logo-dual

So what is the future for Oak? I think it is still rosy, but we need to be prepared for price increases. We also need to think about the grades we ask for and the application it is being used for. Is first quality really needed? Does the end customer understand character Oak? They may prefer the beauty that character Oak can bring.

We do have a responsibility to use timber more economically. Lets face it, its been growing for 100’s of years. Consider the price and the work that has gone to get it to the workshop bench. The tree has been (hopefully) looked after in the woods, thinning has been done to allow it to grow good and tall. An experienced forester has selected the trees to be felled, and a skilled tree feller has felled, trimmed and crosscut the log. A professional timber haulier has transported it to a sawmill where a sawyer, probably with decades of expertise will mill the log into whatever the log has been selected for. It doesn’t stop there. Further machining, cross cutting, planing and sanding will create the most wonderful pieces of joinery or furniture. So all in all, a lot of work to bring the humble Oak tree to a building near you.

Don’t forget there are alternative species for some uses, Ash, Beech, Sycamore to name a few. These seem to have fallen out of favour, but they can all have their place.

Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk

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Certification Body Change

We have changed our certification body (CB) to the Soil Association with effect from 23 June 2017.

This means that our FSC and PEFC certificate numbers have changed. These can be downloaded from our website at: http://www.wlwest.co.uk/about-us/certified-timber/

We have taken the decision to move our audit responsibilities from Exova BMTrada to the Soil Association following a review of our company certification. We appreciate that this impacts on our customers that also have chain of custody certification, and apologise for any inconvenience this causes.

Make the most of Timber!

IMG_7262As part of the construction industry, the timber trade is one of the oldest parts of it. But are we making the most of the timber we use? Could we be more aware? Could we reduce the wastage and get more from the timber? Haven’t we got a responsibility to make the most of a piece of timber that may have been growing for up to 200 years?

The answer to all of these questions is yes!!

Often our salesIMG_7675 team get asked for wider boards and longer lengths of timber, which we are happy to supply where required. However, often, either in passing, or after extensive conversation about the customers project, we find that the 200mm wide board that we have been asked for (and could be harder to find) is being ripped down into 4 x 45mm width boards. Similarly, the customer who insists on 5m long boards we discover is cutting them into 2 x 2.5m lengths!!

IMG_1197I could say ‘It doesn’t grow on trees’ but obviously it does, but for how long? The trees that make those long lengths and wider boards are in the minority they are not the norm. So please, when you are ordering, tell your supplier what your end sizes are, you may find that they can offer a more competitive price, and we make more out of a natural product that has been growning for decades.

Our industry has an environmental duty to make the most out of our natural resource, please, think when you order.

Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk

Grown in Britain Licence – Achieved

gib-logo-dualHardwood sawmilling in the UK is probably one of the oldest of the construction industries, indeed here at W L West & Sons Ltd we can trace our tangible company links back 152 years to 1865 in the West Sussex and East Hampshire area, and family links in the forestry and timber industry back over 200 years!

But what of the future of UK hardwood industry? Well we feel it’s got a great future. We are proud to have been involved in the Grown in Britain project from its inception in 2013. We understand that there is a hunger for Great British timber, and img_5267from our point of view this means hardwoods. Over many decades we have relied on European imports, mainly of Oak, to meet our demand, and, to be honest, that probably will not change. The consistency of supply, consistency of quality and size will probably dictate this. However there are British hardwoods out there. I have recently bought and milled some great Hampshire Oak, the quality is good, the diameters were good, but the usable length shorter than we find across the channel. This parcel of Hampshire Oak is our very first timber that we can now label as Grown in Britain timber. There really hasn’t been a better time for British timber. With the advent of Biomass, we should be able to use all of the different grades of timber found in a tree, from joinery, beam, fencing to heat and power.

img_7668In October 2016 we employed Andy Grundy from the Soil Association to conduct an audit on our procedures to enable us to get a Grown in Britain licence.  All went well and we received our licence in January 2017.

We feel that it is important to actively support and grow the UK timber market. Sadly, there is a lot of woodland in GB that is currently unmanaged, but probably has some great timber on it. Our thirst for timber products continues, but our choice of species has got very narrow, with Oak being the key hardwood species being used. So, if img_7554you are someone who specifies hardwoods, what about Sycamore, Ash, Beech these species are all out there. Elm is a great timber, but sadly stocks are becoming rarer each year, but there is still some stock available. Let’s all start thinking outside of the box and support Grown in Britain timber.

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Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk

 

 

2016 – What a year!

img_6049Well here we are, nearly at the end of 2016, and what a year it has been. From the depths of the recession to a year that has brought some great growth and some interesting projects. Working with the preservation team from a few projects in HMS Victory, to 13 kilometres of fencing for the MOD, to a project in  Westminster Abbey that will open up a new area for the public in 2017. img_7496

The Brexit vote hit us mid-year and did some damage to the exchange rates. For those of us buying timber in North America and Europe it increased our prices significantly, which has unfortunately, had to be passed on to our customers.

Partly as a result of Brexit and partly as our commitment to supporting the gib-logo-dualGrown in Britain project, we have bought a small parcel of Oak and Ash logs from Hampshire this year, and we’re hoping to buy more in the New Year. What will be more difficult to find in the UK than across the Channel is the consistency of logs that do not have significant knots in the first 4-5 metres. If our industry can start to understand timber better, and is willing to work with the character of the timber, the UK supply chain has a great chance. But if we continue to reject timber for the smallest blemish, we will be wasting a great resource and timber of the very highest quality will become scarcer and, of course, more expensive.

On a positive note I am confident that in January we will have our Grown in Britain licence and will shortly be able to offer our first GiB timber.

Our Fencing and Gate division continues to grow with the team some 40% bigger than a 2016-12-17-photo-00000002year ago, servicing some of the UK’s largest house builders. Gates have always been a staple product of ours and we have some great gate makers in our workshop, making bespoke entrance gates and field and hunting gates. Please contact us if you have a gate in mind, we can either copy one that you have that has seen better days, or one you have passed and photographed.

As we grow our team has to grow, and with effect from January 2017, we have three job opportunities. One in our machine and product workshop in Selham, Petworth, one for a skilled fence erector and one for a fence labourer these can be Selham or Farnham based. Click here to take you to the job details and instructions.

merry-christmas-isolatedWe would like to thank all of our customers for your custom in 2016, we have been involved in some very interesting projects with you this year, and we look forward to working with you in 2017.

We also look forward to meeting all of our new customers in 2017 as well, whoever you may be.

Please note we close at 12.00 midday on Thursday 22 December and return, Bright and Breezy on Tuesday 3 January 2017.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk

Sustainability – Do we understand it?

DSC03305v2Sustainable?

One of the Oxford English dictionary definitions of  ‘Sustainable’ is ‘Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. But what does that mean in the timber industry?

Timber is a sustainable product, we all know that. It can grow again given robust forestry practises. However, lets take the European Oak – Quercus Robur, a staple in the construction and furniture industry in North Western Europe. It is sustainable, but not necessarily in larger sizes and lengths. The Oak, as we all know has a very long life cycle, saplings planted in 2016 probably will not be ready for harvest of a good size until 2116!!! So sustainable yes, but over a long period. Wide diameter and long logs may not be available indefinitely.

TT Oak March 2011 003Why, you ask am I rabbiting on about this? Well, in my view when we talk about ‘Sustainable’ those of us in the timber industry – from Forester to Carpenter and every process in-between, should all be making the absolute most of the timber that we are using.

I see the word ‘Sustainable or Sustainable supply’ on nearly all timber related websites, whether supplier or customer. Do we use the word without thinking about what it means? Why do we see timber returned for the smallest of knots or character? Where have the skills in carpentry, joinery and cabinet making gone? Our forbear craftsmen, many of which are in their 90’s or not now with us, would have been able to look at the piece of timber, turn it around in their hands a few times and then know exactly how to use that piece of timber on their project with whatever knot or character it contained. We have some fantastic modern wood fillers now, some you mix with the species wood dust that is almost undetectable in knot holes once sanded, a great solution to ensure we can use all of the timber.

We take a customer order, then select from either a square edged board or waney edged board to cut and machine the order. We select in good faith knowing through experience that trees have branches. We buy as good a timber grade as the market can supply. We ensure that we get the very best recovery rates possible to minimise wastage at every stage. But having cut the job in good faith, we then have timber returned that, in our opinion could be used given higher skills in the industry, because it has a knot or a small split, what are we meant to doIMG_6036 with it once it is cut?  Our plan to minimise wastage has gone out of the window – together with the profit margin!! So, not very ‘Sustainable’!!!!!

We must, must, must as an industry take a more responsible look at how we use each and every piece of wood we cut. We need to educate our customers that trees have branches and all sorts of other beautiful characters in it. We must encourage them to accept that clear timber is not the be all and end all, that timber is natural and that every piece is unique.

Then we may be able to truly claim our industry meets ‘Sustainable’ practises!!

Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk

Gates of Distinction

Gates have been manufactured by our company for literally over a century. DSC01024Our gates are handmade to order and we put pride and passion into them. On many occasions we are able to copy existing gates, sometimes our customers brings that old gates in for us to measure and copy.

But recently we had the opportunity to make three quite unique gates for the Goodwood Estate.

They asked us if we could replicate some gates that once hung on the estate. We had a photograph that S28C-6e16011418160probably dated back to the 1920/30s and an architects drawing as an interpretation of the picture.

The estate wanted the gates to hang on the entrance of one of their exclusive hospitality lodges.

We took their photograph and plans and constructed three gates from Oak, a matching pair of vehicle gates that have been automated, and a pedestrian gates that sits beside the pair as an entrance to the woodland. As you can see, the construction involved quite a lot of curved work with solid steel bars through the IMG_3363centre of the timber. We used powder coated steel to improve the life of the steel. The gates were made strong enough to be able to cope with the automation. To set off the gates we turned Oak Acorns to sit on the handing posts.

We are very pleased with the result, and we know that the Goodwood Estate are happy as well.

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If you have gates that you would like re-made or if you have seen some gates that have struck a chord with you, then call us, we can discuss what you would like constructed. We can also hang them for you if you would like us to.

Don’t forget, for all of your hardwood and joinery softwood requirements…………………

Call our Sales Team on 01798 861611 or email: sales@wlwest.co.uk