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

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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

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

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