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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Training in the Timber Industry

wlw logo v6 1865-2015www.wlwest.co.uk

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

150 Years in the Timber Industry

wlw logo v6 1865-2015There are not many companies that can boast 150 years in business !! But we can!

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Donald & Cecil West 1930s with mother at New rd site
Donald  with Cecil West and Mary, their mother in the wheelbarrow

This year we are celebrating 150 years in the timber industry. We have standing timber records back to 1865 (see below), these were used to record the dimensions of the round timber being purchased. To be honest, it is probable that these were not the first records, our current family members can trace their Great Grandfather – James West, back to the 1851 census. He was aged 52 and described as a ‘Wood Reve’ – which, according to Collins Dictionary was a ‘Steward responsible for wlw timber records 004a wood’. 

So ….. the West family have been in the timber industry for a long time. Indeed of Walter Luke West’s 15 children, yes you read right, 15 children, 6 of the sons were wlw timber records 001involved with the business at some time. Latterly various members of the family have been involved, some long term and some dipping in and out at various times.

  

Sawmill Severals road midhurst 1912_1918
An early sawmill 1912-1918

The foundations of the current company were laid in the 1920/30’s by Walter Luke West and Cecil Owen West – Father and Son and Grandfather and Uncle of two of the current directors. Initially working in the woods, the early premises were located on a corner of the railway yard in Midhurst. working with steam to power the saws. Slowly additional ground was purchased, with Dr Richard Beeching MP increasing the availability of land with his cuts of the railways. We eventually bought the whole  site and developed our sawmilling there until 1986 when we moved to our current location.

Our directors have included members of the family for the whole of our history. Family members are still on the board of directors which also includes Simon Smith as one of our Joint MD’s and Heather Rickards who is our Accounts Director, both of which have over 20 years each with the company.

WLW Steam engine 1951 being towed to Ansells
Our static steam engine being towed to a new owner

I had a look at the current team here, and in particular the members that are involved in the timber production. Of the 16 people involved in the various stages of buying, selecting, converting and manufacturing timber products, there is 469 years of experience in our industry.

Unloading at New Road 1960s
Unloading Oak in the 1960’s

The timber industry in the UK has changed over the years, that has meant changing with the times. We focus very much in working with our clients on projects, many of which we work with for many months working through to project conclusion. Our portfolio is wide reaching these days, spend a few minutes having a look at our website – http://www.wlwest.co.uk it includes machined and profiled timber, cladding, worktops and bartops, bespoke gates, beam timber and much more.

What is clear, if you have a project that includes timber, having a chat with us is a good idea. We would love to get involved with your projects.

 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

Young People in Furniture

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I had the pleasure again to attend Chichester College’s Construction Award evening recently. I make no apologies for repeating what some of you may have heard me say before, what amazing ideas and quality work.IMG_2255

We have had the pleasure of sponsoring Chichester College Furniture section for nearly fifteen years and sponsoring the Best Furniture Newcomer 1st Year for over a decade. The quality of the students work is amazing, and the ideas of some of them – mind blowing. The student tIMG_2256hat won our prize this year, Liam Maskell, is an apprentice at Rolls Royce Motor Cars in nearby Goodwood. Liam is a very ambitious and skilful young man, who was a pleasure to spend some time with. He produced a very delicate occasional table in Oak and Walnut veneer. He tells me that he hopes to become a member of Rolls Royce’s management development program in due course, I have no doubt he will be successful, and wish him every success.

I had a look around the college end of year furniture show, again, great ideas and quality. I was pleased to see that the winner of our prize last year – James Millard is continuing his training into the IMG_2252second year and still producing great items, a couple pictured here. The one piece that really took my eye was a beautiful barrel topped box made by one of the second year students, brilliant workmanship.

Chichester College is certainly leading in the education field, with a number of their students taking part in the World Skills competition and winning! They were graded 7th in the UK last year, this year 4th!! Keep up the good work and working with industry.

W L West & Sons are truly proud to continue the relationship with Chichester College.

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

How Green is your Timber Merchant?

Solar panels 011‘Green credentials’ are certainly topical buzzwords. Businesses are changing the ways they are working, from product sourcing to waste management to Power Generation. As long established Timber Merchants (we have good reason to believe that our forebear’s might have supplied Nelson’s navy!!) we feel that we have been green and managed our bi-products (we hate the word waste) very well over the years, and therefore feel we are very Green. But there is always room for improvement.

The recession has made every business review nearly everything they do and buy to make sure their purchasing decisions are cost effective. I know we have, and reviewed them again and again.Solar 003

So in the middle of 2012 we started investigating the possibility of installing Solar Panels to generate some of our own energy. It seemed a good thing to do given the UK Governments contribution for 20 years through a Feed In Tariff payment scheme. We approached two companies based in the South East of England and after a couple of proposals, we appointed a company called Solar Resources as our supplier. To enable the project to move forward we contacted the Carbon Trust to find a suitable funder, this was achieved with Siemens Finance. So when we came back to work in the New Year the scaffolders moved in, the panels were delivered and in mid-January the engineers started the installation of a 80Kwh system.

Once all of the preliminary work is done, surveys, structural checks etc, the install is done very quickly, and on Thursday 31 January 2013 we generated our very first Kilowatt of power. Being a sawmill we are a major user of electricity, so we anticipate that the 80kwh system that we have installed will supply approximately 24% of our demand. Not much you might think? But you want to see our electricity bill!!

To date we have generated 7904kwh in 4 months, and the weather has not been brilliant, so shine sun, shine!!

But that’s not the end of the Green story, oh no.

Chipping 012There was a time when our ‘bi-products’ had to be almost given away to get rid of them, now all bi-products have a value. What do we call a ‘bi-product’? Well, there are three main products:

  • Slabwood – this is where we are cutting logs and flatten the round sides of the log or where we are cutting a length of timber to width. These can vary in length from 2 metres to 4 metres.
  • Offcuts – this is where we have cut a piece of timber to length and created a short offcut.
  • Sawdust – or more correctly, wood dust and shavings. This is the result Chipping 003of cutting, planing and sanding.

So, what do we do with these bi-products? Well it has been an interesting journey to find good home for them, and periodically the demand for them changes in the nature of the businesses that require it.

With the slabwood we have now found a market for wood chip for biomass fuel. We stockpile our slabwood until we have enough to hire in a chipper, the slabwood is then chipped into a measured size chip, suitable for an automatically fed biomass boiler. We then sell the chip to a chip supplier. This process is volume critical, and it is important that we ensure we have enough to make chipping economical.

Bi Products 003Offcuts are fairly simple, our local customer love this for their fires and woodburners. The only part we have a problem with is the very small offcuts, they still burn, but we are finding hard to convince our customers to take them!!

Dust Collection 004Sawdust has been one area that has gone around the houses a bit. Going back a decade or so it would go to the board manufacturers to make products like chipboard. That industry slowed down on demand and we supplied local farmers and the Polo industry. The farming side has slowed down so a new customer had to be found. So currently it is being supplied either to biomass fuel users, pellet manufacturers or board manufacturers.

So, all in all we feel very proud of our Green Credentials and our contribution in reducing demand on UK power generators and getting the very best value out of our timber resources, after all, it doesn’t grow on trees you know!! (tic)

A new Direction – Signage at its best.

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Good quality and tasteful signage adds a lot to a business or domestic property.

We have been signing the countryside for a number of years now, working with many agencies to supply footpath signs. So lots of you will have been following our lead when you have been out for the Sunday walk.

More recently we have been working with the National Parks Authorities supplying signage for various areas across the South Downs.  Most of these signs have been in Oak, naturally durable and a fitting material for the countryside. The lettering on these have been spray painted to allow the sign to stand out, something we are able to offer with all signs.

Gate backs are a really good way of showing a name of a property without have to have a separate sign. Prior to constructing the gate, we engrave the back (top rail) of the gate, the gate is then constructed and sanded to leave a stunning finish.

Customers often ask us to make memorial benches to be sited sometimes in public areas such as sports grounds or parks, but occasionally in private gardens. I think this is a lovely way to remember someone, especially if they were outdoor people. We use a similar method to the gates, we engrave the tope rail of the bench before assembly.

More recently, we have been making commercial business signs, including our own. Our technology allows us to use a small CAD package to create lineage and most logos to be engraved into timber. The signs can be either left natural or treated to maintain the colour of the timber, the letters can be painted to meet your company’s colour scheme.

Call us to discuss your sign, we are sure that we can make you a sign that will meet and beat your expectations.

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