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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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

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

Modern Meets Traditional

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A chance meeting and subsequent conversation with an Architectural Technologist recently has led me to read his CPD blog, you can too at: blog.konstrukshon.com . His ability to look at the things that surround us inspired me when I visited London last week. The day was bright and warm and I decided to wander east along the south bank from the Tate Modern Gallery  to Tower Bridge. It is amazing, London must have one of the most diverse mixes of Buildings of any city in the UK.

globeNot far from Borough Market is the reconstruction of Shakespeares Globe theatre. Framed in Oak, it has used traditional construction methods to recreate the atmosphere of yesteryear London.

I carried on along the south bank towards Tower Bridge passing Boris’s Office of the Lord Mayor of London, and across the bridge to St Katherines docks. There has been a dock here since 1125, and similar to the rest of London, has an amazing history. Today it has been converted to offices, apartments andGloriana credit DC07703 Daren clarkev3   leisure facilities, with the dock used as a marina. Here I found the current home of the Gloriana a boat built to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee last year, and one that we had pleasure in supplying timber for. Have a look at my post from last year.

Now on the north bank of the Thames, I made my way Eastwards back towards the oak in london building 002Millennium bridge. Past the Tower of London, and nearer to the traditional seat of finance in the City of London. I wasn’t rushing and in a moment I had to do a double take, amongst the acres of glass were huge baulks of Oak holding the fascia of a building up. On further investigation I found that the building is the home of Nomura – a Japanese financial services company in London. This was the first Carbon Neutral building in London. Designed by Fletcher Priest Architects on the site of a former telephone exchange, it is a brilliant example of how one of the oldest materials known to man – Oak Beam, can be incorporated into a hi-tech building with acres of glass. It looks amazing and if you have an hour spare in London, its well worth a walk along the river. You can see it easily from the south bank as well.oak in london building 005v2

So my jaunt finally brought me back to the Tate Modern, a former power station, recycle, recycle, recycle.

oak in london building 003Timber? A natural resource, a renewable resource, an amazing resource, and one we must encourage more architects to use.  Mix it with Glass, Stainless Steel, Stone, Brick you name it and it will look good with it. Brilliant, what an amazing material our industry has available.

Dave West

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