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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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

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

‘Its a piece of wood isnt’t it??’

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‘Its a piece of wood we can do anything with it’ !!

Can we? There is no doubt that timber is without doubt the most versatile raw material on this earth, but sadly many users really do not understand its properties and what you can and can’t do with it.

There are many questions that need to be asked: Is it being used externally?

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Does it need to be structurally strong? Is it being used for painting? Does it need treatment? Does it need to be easy to work? These are but a few of the questions that need to be considered when you select a species for a project.

So, would you, for example, use Beech for external joinery or fencing – the answer is no, Beech is not a durable species and should not be used outside. Oak in contrast is durable and can be used externally very successfully, however, the sapwood on Oak, indeed all species is not durable and will be susceptible to decay and insect attack. In contrast, sapwood is perfectly acceptable to use inside. I know, I know, I know, some of the cabinet makers and joiners out there will say the contrast in colour is not acceptable!! Well, from a timber merchant’s point of view, sap on Oak is not a defect, so we count it in.

On another tack, would you use American Black Walnut if you wanted a painted finish – No of course you wouldn’t, far too precious a resource and expensive. You would choose a joinery grade softwood or inexpensive hardwood such as American Poplar. Generally softwoods are used for strength and hardwoods for aesthetics – albeit we do have graded structural hardwoods readily available.

We still get many requests for timber not suitable for the end use. There are still some unscrupulous traders that would just sell what they are asked for. This can result in a disaster for the customer. We try to get to know our customers, especially if it is the first time we have met them. We want to understand their requirement, to make sure we supply not only to their requirement but also to suit the end use. Talking to our customers is key – we call it ‘hand holding’.

So – Questions, Questions, Questions – we are here to help.

I guess what I am trying to say is that timber is not just ‘a piece of wood’. Each species has its own character, beauty and abilities for end uses. Our customers do not always understand what species can or can’t do, we do, so – please ask us, we would rather take that extra bit of time to ensure a satisfactory outcome rather than rush and have a complaint.

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

Wine meets Wood ……. Oak in particular

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What does this tree have to do with this glass of wine?

So, where do you think these two, initially, unlikely partners would meet? Yes of course, in the Wine Barrel. One of our French suppliers are experts in the Barrel market, their buyer is always looking for large trees of a first class quality for this market.

The picture shows a couple of the logs of the dimensions that they look for in the French forests. Now our colleague is about 5′ 7″ tall so you can see that these logs are quite large. As a result the price for these logs reaches nearly double what we pay for first quality plank. These boules are destined to be made in barrel staves.

But there is another area that Oak and Wine meet. Obviously a vast amount of wine is now produced using more mdern methods through stainless steel vats. Other than being a clean and robust container, they give little to the character of the wine, our suppliers then make various alternatives to flavour the wine, from net bags of small cuts of Oak to short staves. These are ‘toasted’ to give different flavours.

  • Fresh Oak – smoothness, intence coco aromas
  • Light Toast – vanilla, coco, fresh Oak aromas
  • Medium toast – vanilla with some sweet notes of coco & spices
  • Medium+ toast – complexity, vanilla, spices, cacao
  • High Toast – rich content of toasted empyreumatic notes

So you can see, there is more to timber than you first thought. It is natural, renewable, versatile, beautiful and clearly, flavoursome!!

If you have an interest in Oak specifically for the wine trade, give us a call, we are sure we will be able to help you.

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


The Power of Oak ….. the master of European Timbers

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We told you in the previous Beam blog about the power of Oak, and its ability to be stronger than bricks and mortar. We weren’t exaggerating when we said that, it is a remarkable hardwood. We have seen examples of Oak being used in buildings and as the timber has started to dry, it moves and splits and can push walls apart!!

We have recently been to France to buy planking logs, we are very selective as we are buying for 1st quality boards. The last load came in this morning, great logs with one exception!

Nice log, looks OK dosen't it?
Hang on whats that at the other end?
Crikey, how did that happen?
Thats a hell of a split!!

Just shows you the power of tension in Oak. We would not have spotted this issue, the log had been crosscut in the woods after we had done our selection. Just shows you that all is not always what it seems!! I think we need to have a word with our supplier!!!

Call us for all of your Oak requirements.

01798 861611