Training in the Timber Industry

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For some time now in this country there has been a lot of criticism of education that there has not been enough practical training for students. Computers and ‘clean hands’ options for students seem to have become the norm, with traditional ‘hands on’ trades falling behind.

I still think that there is a way to go, to ensure that we identify those students who are suited to ‘get their hands dirty’ in a practical way – Carpenter, bricklayer, plasterer, painter …….. the list goes on, rather than pointing them in an academic direction that they may fail in.

IMG_1743But it is changing, there are colleges who have thriving and growing construction skills departments, Chichester College is one of them.

We have had the pleasure in sponsoring the Furniture section of Chichester College for over 15 years. One element of our sponsorship is the end of year awards, of which we sponsor the years Best Furniture Ne wcomer. In 2016 we will also be sponsoring the Carpentry & Joinery Outstanding Achievement Award.

Why is all of this important? Well, from our company’s point of view it is two fold. We are seeing the beginning of the careers of possible future employees, and also the start of future customers.

It is therefore brilliant to hear that Chichester College furniture student Edward Harringman has just won Gold medal in the World Skills competition in Brazil. This is a tremendous accolade at the very start of Edward’s career. We would like to congratulate him on this award.

This is not a ‘one off ‘, Chichester College has entered students into the World Skills competitions for some years now, with previous students also winning Gold and lowIMG_1744er medals. This is a real reflection on the talents, skills and passion of the tutors at the college. Christian Notley, who heads up the Furniture team at the college, also has the role of World Skills UK Training Manager. At the end of each academic year, I get invited to the end of year exhibition for the furniture students, and every year I am amazed both at the quality of the work and the ideas for innovative furniture. Where the inspiration for the ideas comes from I don’t IMG_1754know, but I’m glad it does. The students work is awesome, and I’m glad that we are seeing male and female, young and mature students training together to give a vibrant future to our industry.

Well done Chichester College, its Principal – Shelagh Legrave and all of the tutors. You are leading the way in Construction training  .

 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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Family Heritage in Business – Is it important?

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How many old established family businesses do you know?

Obviously that is a very broad question, so lets narrow it down a little. What about family businesses that are 50 years old? I guess that you probably do. There must be hundreds if not thousands across the UK.

So how about 200 years? Well we are sure that Walter Luke Wests’s father (W L West) – James was born in 1799. In the 1851 census, James was 52 years of age, was married to Elizabeth and had 6 sons and 3 daughters (that were recorded at his address). His occupation was described as a ‘WOOD REVE’. We are struggling to find out what a ‘reve’ is, if indeed that is the correct translation of quite an old text! Four of his sons were described as Labourers in the woods. So clearly they were in the timber industry. Now, remember that James was 52 in 1851, it is probable that he would have started work at 14 or 15 years of age. So, we are sure that this is a tangible link that our hertiage in timber goes back at least 197 years!! It would not be unfair to assume that James’s father would have also been in the timber industry, but sadly, we cannot substantiate this. We have found Walter Luke West in the 1901 census, and was listed with wife, four young children, one daughter and three sons. His occupation was described as a Sawyer Timber.

What we do have are tangible records from 1865, these are timber felling records not disimilar to records used today to record timber purchases. These were James West’s buying records. The business as we know it today was formed in the first part of the last century by Walter Luke West and one of his elder sons Cecil. From that point there have been many many West’s involved in every part of the business.

So back to my headline – Is family heritage in business important? Well I guess that I am prejudiced, I am part of the W L West heritage, but we think it is important. Working with family is challenging, probably more so than non-family business, but it is also rewarding. The knowledge that what we have today stems from something 3 centuries ago is mind-blowing. Family businesses also ensure that there is a wealth of product knowledge handed down from father to son, cousin to cousin and so on. It is imperative that this knowledge is not lost. Our chairman is now into his mid seventies, but that doesn’t stop us asking him for an opinion or him from taking an active interest in what goes on, and long may the knowledge tree exist.

Sadly there are many family businesses that are going out of business, some because of the economic climate, but some because there is no natural family progression or the family is not interested. To date we have not had that problem. My grandfather – Walter Luke West (W L West) had 15 children (no TV in those days!) and we understand he was one of 12 children.

How big is that Oak Tree?

Running a business always has its tough times, but we try to make ours one big family.

So – are family businesses important? Well we think so.

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

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

The Mighty Oak – The most versatile timber in Europe!

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The Mighty Oak

What a grand name for one of our favourite natural species, to give it its full botanical name ‘Quercus Robur’. It has to be one of the most versatile European species, indeed probably one of the most versatile in the world. But then, I am biased – being Oak sawmillers!!

So what can you use Oak for then? Well its quite a long list.

Building – for constructional purposes ….. beams, (Oh! by the way, did you know that in a fire an Oak Beam behaves better that a steel joist? The Oak will charcoal on the outside and give the inner timber a bit of protection whilst still maintaining strength, where steel gets soft in heat and will bend. Of course nothing will survive a severe fire, but it is an interesting point).

Joinery – windows and doors, the heartwood of Oak has good durability even when left untreated, the sapwood will decay and be susceptible to insect attack, the heartwood is not. When treated correctly with a good timber treatment it will last even longer. Untreated it will turn a wonderful silvery grey.

Flooring and second fix items – By second fix we mean skirting’s, architraves, picture rails and much more. Flooring can be strip or parquet. Used internally the sapwood performs as well as the heartwood. The only difference is that visually it can be a quite different colour. We have many discussions with customers on this subject, from our point of view it is not considered a defect and will be measured in when we sell Oak plank. Furniture makers do not always like it. But it can give a stunning contrast in the right place.

Furniture – Of course, furniture has been made from Oak for centuries, and most of it will outlast us. Tables, Chairs, Beds, Dressers the list is only limited by our imagination.

Fencing & Gates – A traditional Oak fence will last years, match it with a beautiful hand made gate, and your garden and property will look amazing. Oak gates are something that we pride ourselves on. Our family has been making gates for decades, I could probably say centuries. Around Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire you can see examples of our craftsmanship that were made 30 or 40 years ago and are still is service.

I’ve probably missed a lot of uses out, so tell me in a comment.

What do we look for when we buy Oak? Well, if we are buying Oak logs we generally prefer to buy when the trees have been felled and are at roadside. This enables you to get a better idea of the quality of the timber.

Is it straight? Does the bark twist in a spiral? This often indicates twist in the timber as well, as the bark will normally grow in the same direction as the grain of the tree.

Has it got ring or star shake? This can sometimes be caused by the type of ground it is grown on and will almost definitely result in stresses in the timber, which will cause problems when cutting or machining it.

Can we get a good length to the first major stop? By this we mean to the first branch, clearly, where the branches are there will be what we term ‘a defect’ inside the log – a knot. Some small knots are acceptable, indeed they can disappear inside of the log. But larger ones cannot be worked around, especially if they are dead knots. Oh, yes, Dead knots are loose and in some cases have fallen out resulting in a hole, live knots are permissible dependant on size – these are ones that are firmly in place and have no chance of falling out.

Has it got good colour or is it patchy? Colour can sometimes run quite a way into the log, and sometimes it will taper out in a few centimetres. On occasion we find a Brown Oak log, this is where a fungus called Fistulina hepatica or more commonly known as beefsteak Fungus. A good consistent colour right through the tree is great and we can do something with it, but all too often it can be seen at the base, but not the top and will only go a few feet in, this then causes a patchiness of colour – which again, not all of our customers will accept.
So, what about sawn Oak? Well we do buy in two different forms, Through & Through (waney edged where we sliced the tree into plank but left the shape of the tree) and Square Edge where the timber has been cut to dimensions. In the main we use much of the criteria used on buying a tree and apply it to both of these methods of buying – is it straight grained, free of unacceptable defects (knots), good colour, minimal splits, minimal surface checking.

We do buy Through & Through already kilned from Europe, but we inspect and reject. Each plank is turned over and inspected and either accepted or rejected. We only buy what we feel meets our customers requirements. With square edge, this is graded more specifically and we can choose the grade to fit our customers needs.

So, what are the benefits? Well, by buying Through & Through that is already kiln dried, we can get it to market immediately. If we had cut it ourselves we would have had to air dry it for 1 year for each 1″ (27mm) thickness. Now, we do still sawmill our own logs but we also purchase kiln dried as well. Its a good mix.
With square edge we have the same benefits as Through & Through, plus we have now reduced the wastage by cutting it to widths. Theses are random widths and we sell ‘as arising’, meaning from the top of the stack. So we have again additional benefits.

Well, I am sure I have missed masses out about The Mighty Oak, but I guess you get the message – it is probably the most versatile European species available!!

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

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

Gates that span decades!!

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We have been making gates in West Sussex for decades. These are mainly in hardwoods and Oak in particular, but we also construct bespoke softwood gates where our customers require them.

The gates are made using skills that have been handed down over the many, many years and quite a few employees. Walking or driving around the lanes of West and East Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire you can often see our distinctive blue gate tags on the top bars of gates.

Recently, we were asked to replace the gates at Rogate Church in West Sussex, together with the church yard gates. These were quite an unusual design and the Parish Council wanted them replicated and for the top rail to be engraved as a memorial. One of our strengths is that we are able to take an existing gate and copy it, sometimes we have to make slight changes that make it a stronger gate, but generally we can copy like for like.

When we recovered the old gates they had some interesting ironmongery on them, which we carefully removed and restored ready to be fitted on the new gates. There proudly sitting on the top rail was one of our old oval gate tags. On closer inspection it had our original Midhurst telephone number on it, well we moved out of Midhurst in 1986 and the gates were installed many years before that. So, we estimate that they were at least 40 years old and they were still in reasonable order. So our gatemaker went to work and produced two superb pairs of replacement gates. They were fitted by our own fence erectors and now sit looking forward to at least another 4 decades.

We can make a variety of different gates from field and hunting gates, to panel driveway gates to specialist gates as I have demonstrated above. Below is a selection of the sorts of gates that we have made, something to wet your taste. Have a look at our website Gate Page (click here) to get an idea of other styles of gate.

I mentioned above engraving, this is something we can do for footpath signs, house signs and indeed gate backs. All we need is the names that you want engraved, we do the rest. Indeed, we are able to undertake sign engraving onto timber for a variety of uses.

Call us with your enquiry; we are certain we will be able to meet your gate enquiry.

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

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

Timber Industry and Education – A Team

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How do we get more young people into traditional industries? We have heard media coverage in the UK of our young people ‘not wanting to get their hands dirty’, and I do think that there is an element of our education system putting unrealistic aspirations into the minds of some of our students. It is not only impractical, but also costly to put them all through a university education. More than that, it is unnecessary. Our local colleges have an amazing amount to offer students, and we should encourage more colleges to offer more in the subject area of Woodworking. We have untapped talent in our students, some of them do not yet know it, and that is where industry and education MUST join in a partnership.

In 2000 I visited a senior tutor at Chichester College’s furniture department. I noticed several large signs from a competitor of ours, this company sponsored the woodwork department. It gave me the idea needed to start a long lasting relationship with the furniture department of Chichester College. Since 2000 we have been sponsoring the furniture department with materials. We regularly host visits at our Sawmills from Chichester college students, together with visits from other colleges and training establishments in the South, where we explain what is involved in taking a tree and converting it into a useable piece of timber, and all of the problems along the process. We explain what they should be looking for and considering when they buy timber. We feel that this relationship is an important part of the future of the Timber Industry as a whole. How else can we encourage potential stars to join one of the oldest industries in the world. It is important that our nations education system takes a different view on young people’s potential, they can’t all become .com millionaires, indeed a minuscule number of people worldwide ever achieve this level of financial success.

Along the timeline of our partnership with Chichester College, we started an additional sponsorship of a prize in the colleges annual prize giving for the construction department. So about 7 or 8 years ago the first W L West & Sons Ltd Best Furniture Newcomers prize was awarded. Over the years some of the students that have won this award have gone on to represent their college and country in the World Skills competition at a very high level. Now that truly is an accolade both for the students and the furniture department. Along the years they have had some extremely talented and dedicated tutors.

Just recently I again visited their end of year furniture show, they didn’t disappoint. Again the standard being produced in all of the years is amazing , not only in the quality of finish, but in the ideas. Where do they get the ideas from? Simply amazing. Every year the furniture department ‘raises the bar’ to use an Olympic term.  Recently the college finished In the top 10 of colleges nationally. This can only be as a result of top class tutors and visionary management.  Congratulations to Chichester College, long may it continue.

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

Timber’s Green Credentials

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There have not been many of my posts that have not praised the flexibility and beauty of timber. In the UK we have a very active promotion of timber through various trade associations including the Timber Trade Federation, but especially in the WOOD FOR GOOD campaign. We should be promoting the use of timber at every opportunity. Those of us in the timber industry truely have a product which is helping the world in its task of healing the global warming problem.

But are you aware of the benefits of the use of timber in helping to deal with climate change issues? Well, here are a few statistics:

  • For every cubic metre of timber or wood products used in construction, approximately one tonne of carbon dioxide is saved.
  • Wood products have some of the best thermal performance properties of any mainstream construction material. Wood insulates 15 times better than concrete, 400 times better than steel and 1,770 times better than aluminium.
  • Europe’s stock of wood products stores an estimated 220 million tonnes of carbon.
  • The timber industry employs nearly 200,000 people in the UK and is worth nearly £20 billion to the UK economy. As demand for wood grows, so will the industry, increasing the strength of the rural economy in the UK.
  • Currently, European forests provide a carbon sink for around 150-200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, with an additional 500 million tonnes sequestered annually. These same forests also provide approximately 90% of European timber and wood products, which store an additional 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
  • Climate change experts have claimed that simply by increasing the UK’s forest cover from 12 to 16 per cent, the country could, by 2050, abate up to 10% of our national carbon dioxide emissions.
  • At end-of-life, timber can either be recycled into panel boards and other products or used for renewable energy recovery.
  • Between 12-30 tonnes of carbon can be stored in the fabric and content of an average timber house
  • A ten per cent increase in the percentage of wooden houses in Europe would produce sufficient CO2 savings to account for about 25% of the reductions prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol.

Some impressive figures, I hope you will agree.  Each and every time that we choose a timber product over another material in our lives, we also benefit in another way.

So – wooden doors and windows over plastic, timber beams over steel or concrete, wooden cladding over plastic, wooden garden furniture over steel or plastic – the list is endless.

And………. as we have said so many times, timber is by far more the beautiful raw material.

AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY – USE WOOD!!

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

Hardwoods into Art – Part 2

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Last month I wrote a blog about one of our customers, a woodturner who produced items which I could only describe as Art.

Another of our customers Nicola Henshaw, is a sculptor who produces work that again truely can only be described as Art, again Hardwoods into Art.

Nicola has been sculpting for more than 20 years having studied Three Dimensional design at Wolverhampton University. She produces functional and decorative art for indoors and your garden. Nicola has won various commissions many of which are local to her home in the New Forest.

She received a Crafts Council Grant to set up a studio at 401 Workshops in London, where she worked for 14 years, alongside 35 artists and makers. She moved to the New Forest, Hampshire in 2003 and  produces pieces for commissions and speculatively for galleries. Her work is highly regarded internationally and has been commissioned by a wide range of private, corporate and public clients, including Iwatya in Japan, Himatsingka Siede in India, Freehand in USA, The Forestry Commission, The National Trust, Hampshire, Essex, Yorkshire, Dorset and South Lanarkshire County Councils.

Again Nicola’s work is an example of the enourmous number of different uses that we can put timber to. Nicola uses Oak and Lime sourced from us to turn into Art!! Making a truely unique piece of furniture.

I think one of the amazing things about anyone who creates items in wood is where do the ideas come from? Looking at Nicola’s work there is a clear and unmistakable wildlife theme. Have a look at her website at: www.nicolahenshaw.co.uk or give her a call on 01590 623654. I am sure that she would be only too pleased to talk to you about her work and any ideas you may have for a commission.

Click here if you would like to read the first ‘Hardwoods into Art’.

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