Homegrown & fit for an award – English Woodlands Timber Ltd

A typical hardwood boule – Photographs © English Woodlands Timber

Timber selection is all-important when it comes to creating individual items of furniture, whether it be for strength, durability or figure. None so important and relevant today, however, as the sourcing of timber, with trees being the oldest sustainable resource on the planet. As such, it’s feasible to say that, historically, in the entire process from log to table leg, up to 40% of the tree was wasted. Today, however, timber is increasingly regarded as a precious material and furniture makers, such as myself, have always believed the items we create should last at least as long as the tree took to grow. With this in mind, it therefore seems fitting that the Alan Peters Furniture Award has embraced the support of a homegrown English timber company – English Woodlands Timber Ltd – itself an award winner, as a 2022 prize sponsor.

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Post World War II timber milling

Focus on sustainability
English Woodlands Timber Ltd – integrating Hillgrove Timber company – has been recognised by the TTJ Awards as ‘Best Small Timber Business’ for three years in a row. Building on history, tradition and legacy, EWT has evolved alongside makers and woodworkers into a modern business with a focus on sustainability, so that it’ll hopefully be around in another 75 years, continuing to serve makers with beautiful timbers. Some of those makers are widely recognised and admired in the field of fine furniture making and design, including Simon Thomas Pirie, James Ryan and Sebastian Cox.

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Display boards of waney-edge walnut and rippled ash reveal stunning grain figuring

English Woodlands Timber has welcomed the opportunity to sponsor the Alan Peters Furniture Award 2022, as Marketing Manager Sarah Jane Farmer explains: “Our job is to source and supply wood worthy of crafting. We have enormous respect for those that dedicate themselves to the art of woodworking in the way Alan Peters did, and we understand and appreciate the importance of his legacy.”

But what does this really mean and entail? According to Sarah, it involves everything from using renewable energy for power and fuel to run the company’s buildings and machines, learning and adopting lean thinking and continuous improvement into everyday work, as well as growing the expertise of their dedicated team. “It’s about making it easier for customers to buy beautiful wood in person and online but ultimately, above all else, the core of our mission is a focus on the sustainable, responsible, sourcing of wood.”

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Alan Peters and wife Laura in 2005 with some homegrown Devon walnut for a table design

Forestry consciousness
“Fundamentally, our understanding of wood has evolved out of an understanding of trees – we believe that this is where it all begins.” Sustainable timber is a by-product of woodland and forest management practices, which involves trees, soil, water courses, wildlife and the inherent biodiversity of the environment being nurtured and cared for. 

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A wide belt sander and thicknesser dresses the timber, revealing the beauty within

It’s important to note that without woodland management, there’d be no wood – or at least there shouldn’t be. This is a mindset that’s been instilled in EWT since the 1940s, when it was established: “In post World War II Britain, the origins of our business are in forestry and sawmilling. As such, forestry consciousness is therefore built into our timber business. Our mission is to source wood close to home; wood that’s been responsibly sourced, which has travelled fewer miles, been through fewer processes, and therefore had less of a negative impact on the environment.

Sarah continues: “Native British woodlands are the source of some of our most extraordinary timber. One of the greatest joys is finding these trees due to be felled as part of a management plan, or those already thinned and left at roadside in log form, ready to undergo sawmilling and drying, so that in time, they can be used by creative designers and dedicated craftspeople, and transformed into special pieces of furniture.”

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Programming the wide belt sander

Hillgrove Timber Company
As Sarah further explains, “it’s often this source of wood that finds its way to The Reserve – our stock of extraordinary waney-edge boards that are specially selected from the boule production of homegrown logs – which are sawn under the Hillgrove Timber Company flag. “The Reserve looks for timber that falls outside of the range of grade standards, which normally applies to hardwoods for furniture, cabinetmaking or joinery purposes. These special boards have qualities that make them even more unique, which are treasured, celebrated and kept aside to ensure they’ll be saved from general production. These are the sorts of boards that inspire and excite furniture makers, and used in the making of heirloom pieces and award-winning works. 

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Measuring the girth of a locally sourced tree

“Our homegrown logs are sawn through & through during the autumn, winter and spring months. They’re then put into stick before being stacked and stored in the open, in intact boule form for air-drying at a rate of a year per inch of thickness while the individual boards slowly release moisture. The seasoning process reduces moisture content sufficiently – between 10-13% MC – which allows the boules to be kiln-dried, making them fit for interior joinery use as well as furniture making.” The company also offers a bespoke sourcing and sawmilling service to makers wanting to season their own stock boules, or those with a requirement in atypical dimensions. Using state-of-the-art equipment, such as a wide belt sander and thicknesser, part of the service also involves machining and sanding timbers.

“English Woodlands Timber is second prize sponsor of the Alan Peters Furniture Award 2022, and once the winner is announced, we’ll be excited to share what we do. As such, he/she will be invited to visit our woodyard and woodsheds in Cocking, West Sussex, to select something rare, valuable, special and extraordinary for their prize, which can be used in a future project," Sarah comments.

The range of timbers on display is substantial and includes ash, beech, cedar of Lebanon, cherry, Douglas fir, elm, larch, maple, oak, London plane, sweet chestnut and sycamore. “Of course, we’ll be interested to see how the selected boards are used,” Sarah finishes, which is a sentiment shared by myself and the other judges.

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Grown in Britain
As a way of supporting British forestry and encouraging more woodland into management, Grown In Britain created a certification standard for homegrown timber to give assurance for all wood sourced from forests felled under license from the Forestry Commission, or as part of a management plan agreed in accordance with the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS)

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ENGLISH WOODLANDS TIMBER LTD
Address: Cocking Sawmills, Cocking, West Sussex GU29 0HS
Tel: 01730 816 941
Web: www.englishwoodlandstimber.co.uk

COMPANY INFO
English Woodlands Timber Ltd
Cocking Sawmills
Cocking, West Sussex
GU29 0HS
01730 816 941

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