Hardwoods – Are we being respectful??

In my last blog I spoke about the fact that there will be specification reductions in Oak, and continued price increases. I also sowed the seed of thought that we should give timber a greater respect.

I recently visited Carrefour du Bois in Nantes. One of the largest timber exhibitions in Western Europe, and a great opportunity to speak to a wide variety of suppliers. The comments of my previous post were ratified with many, if not all the sawmillers and timber merchants that we spoke to saying that they are experiencing difficulties in sourcing good Oak logs.

I stood chatting to a UK friend in the industry about how we in the UK view timber, and the direction of our conversation led us to the conclusion that timber has become a commodity, an item on the shelf to be selected on a whim. In many ways disrespectful to a material that has been growing for decades if not centuries. As an analagy, we in the timber industry are being asked for ‘Caviar’ timber for ‘Burger’ prices. There seems to be no consideration for the whole process that goes into the production of the end product. Cheap seems to be the way in the UK. We saw a great example of this a few years ago when we tried to market some superb hardwood fence panels constructed with stainless steel fixings, where the British public spend hundreds of pounds on plants, they want cheap fence panels.

We regularly hear – No knots, no splits, no pin holes, no colour change. Why? Those features add character to the end product, they are natural, and environmentally, if we include them we can use more of the timber thus being more respectful to the original tree. We should be using more of the tree and creating less waste or by-product. Is it that we have lost the knowledge of how to utilise the whole tree? Have those skills really disappeared?

I think in the UK we possibly have the worst attitude to hardwoods in that we want the holy grail. Attitudes to a more varied quality really do need to change. A better understanding of timber from those designing and specifying need to be achieved and we in the industry need to encourage that to happen if we truly, as a country, want to be environmentally conscientious.  Our company tries very hard to ensure we utilise as much of the timber we buy as possible, this is not only an economic decision, its an environmental one as well, shavings recycled to animal bedding, slabwood to biomass and small offcuts to firewood.

So, moving forward, we need to think a little more about what we are using the timber for, do we really need clear, no knots timber? Could you use a different grade? Could we fill any knots and make feature? Have you really discussed this with your end client? Are they aware of the amount of waste that can occur from restricting specifications?

Come on UK, we can do better – Use Timber Wisely!!

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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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

New EU Timber Regulations ……. are you prepared?

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Are you aware of the European legislation that will affect ALL timber traders from next year?

With effect from 3 March 2013 – Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 (EUTR) comes into force. This piece of legislation has been in discussion for some considerable time and has been commented on by many different organisations. Our input has been through our membership of the Timber Trade Federation. You can click on the title of the legislation above to go direct to the EU website.

The legislation covers most timber products (excluding recycled) and mandates everyone involved in the supply chain to prove that the timber has originated from legal sources. The legislation classes the timber trade into two categories, Operators – these are people who place timber for sale for the first time in Europe, and Traders – who are people who in the course of a commercial activity, sell or buy within the European market.

Quite a few of us we will be classed as Traders. In simple terms, this means that we have to prove who we purchase timber and timber products from, and who we sell them to. This information must be kept for at least 5 years.  Most of us have some type of purchase and sales invoicing system and this will provide the framework to meet the legislation. From our point of view, we are meeting our EUTR obligations by being signatories to the Timber Trade Federations – Responsible Purchasing Policy. A mandate of membership which is audited every year.

For Operators the requirement is more onerous. Operators must prove that the timber or timber product being placed onto the European Market for the first time is from legally harvested timber. Evidence of a robust due diligence system must be demonstrated. The due diligence systems must be periodically audited to maintain the robustness of the legislation.

But beware – it is possible that even if you are a Trader and therefore purchasing within Europe, if it is proved that you have been supplied illegal timber, and you have received it unknowingly, you can still be liable to prosecution and confiscation of product!!

We are in the favourable position of being ahead of the game with our trade federation, but our feeling is that there are many businesses out there who are oblivious to this new law. This is very concerning, we feel that there are many craftsmen and traders that do not know about the legislation or think it does not apply to them. If you feel that you are unsure, then you really ought to make some enquiries. It is better to be sure than face a prosecution through lack or research.

You can gain more information from the following website:

Timber Trade Federation – EU Timber Regs Guidance

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

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

John O’Groats to Lands End by Pedal Power – The Epilogue

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As you have hopefully read in my previous posts, Gerard Magill, our timber buyer here at W L West & Sons Ltd, undertook to cycle from John O’Groats to Lands End with a group of friends. The trip was very successful. I wrote the previous blogs by gaining information from a closed Facebook page written by the support team using mobile apps. Gerard returned this Monday – Larger Legs – Hungry – and enjoying all of the rest he can get. I asked him to summarise his journey in his own words, the elements that I could not possibly write myself, so here is his summary of his 8 days of cycling.

There were some very hard times during the trip and some very good times.

Waking up each morning I often lay there wondering how on earth I was going to ride 120 miles that day.

Over nine days riding we averaged 16 mph over the day. Previously at home I’d been riding 50 miles at 14 mph so we were on a pretty rich pace, led by Mark and Neil, two very keen, fit (and younger) cyclists.

I hadn’t realised how important nutrition was. Eating late the night before meant we were pretty full in the morning but still managed to down a full English (Scottish / Welsh) Breakfast. Each hour we had to consume 90g of carbohydrate to maintain our calorie input, so our breaks were spent scoffing fruit, chocolate and energy drinks. Generally we had a late lunch after 70 miles and then had a three course meal in the evening. I still managed to lose a bit of weight and have been ravenous ever since completing the journey!!  Each day we were supported by Clare who was driving the Minibus with the bags, spares and food. She was magic and had a great gift for identifying what we needed before we did. It was like having our own personal Guardian Angel!

They were members of the group that I’d met just before leaving and spending such a lot of time together meant I get to know them pretty well in a short space of time. Luckily we had British humour to keep us going and the smiles took the stress out of the miles. After sharing a room with Mark one night he moaned that it had taken him over an hour to get to sleep. I mentioned that he was snoring after ten minutes and he replied that he did that because he didn’t want to talk to me!

Being 53 I feel that I have achieved something doing the ride, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’d seen some beautiful countryside, met some wonderful people and been part of a great team. Then I discovered that I’ve raised nearly £1000 for the MS Society so a big THANK YOU to everyone for all of the sponsorship and donations. After that everything seemed to make sense, including sleeping on my tummy for a week!

Would I do it again? Well Dave West asked me that question when I returned to work and………. Yes, I would, I learnt a lot as it was the first JoG2LE trip that I have done, so I would make some changes in how I did it …. No good getting older if you don’t get wiser!!

Thank you Gerard and a very big congratulations to you and the rest of the team. I know that they all had their own charities and it is likely that the whole team have raise between £3000 and £4000, I think that deserves applause and a well earned rest, although I know it won’t be long before Gerard is back in the saddle.

If you would like to support Gerard’s charity, his Just Giving page is still open at: www.justgiving.com/Gerard-Magill

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