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Adam

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I got invited on a tour of my (not really) local sawmill, WL Wests.

http://www.wlwest.co.uk/home/index.asp



Apoligies for the large size of the pictures, but the additional detail in the pictures justified the slow download time in my opition.

The tour was on a Saturday morning, and this allowed us to see inside the mill itself, something which you could not do due to health and safety reasons if you were to visit during "normal" working hours.

Our tour guide for the day, was Dave West, one of the directors. He explained to the group about the company, and their records dating back 200 years, of buying timber parcels. If anyone saw the program about sourcing some Oak beams for HMS Victory - this was the company that did the tree selection, proccessing and drying.

Here we can see the tour setting off, the rain held off just long enough for the duration of the tour.

WL Wests are one of only 3 remaining hardwood timber merchants with over 20 sawyers. Although smaller wood yards remain, only 3 really large commercial centres remain. To put it into context, their waste - e.g sawdust and bark = 1000 tonnes/year. :shock:

They deal mainly in oak, but all hardwoods and western red cedar (good for me making beehives!) are all available.

He explained that about 60% of oak us sourced in France, with the remainder from the UK. They have a good relationship with the local estate, and much of their local timber is sourced there.

They can provide authenticated FSC (http://www.fsc.org/fsc) timber. The picture below shows a selection of oak with "green" ends. This is done to indicate FSC timber. (easy for the drivers to see). Close up, each log has a barcode, and this is what is used for the auditor, as each log, (and subsequently plank) has a unique code which is traceable on their computer system. He mentioned that due to the cost of becoming FSC certified many smaller landowners due not find it economic to become "FSC certified" even though they are managing their forests in a sustainable way. In generel, you need a licence to remove trees from forests in the UK, and the licence includes a replanting specification. In cases where inappropriately planted trees (e.g. softwoods) are being felled, the replanting specification may be to replant native hardwoods.



Clearly they work on quite a different scale! Each log weighs many tons (especially before drying).



As so much timber is sourced from abroad, the mill only runs here 2-3 times a week. These logs have been loaded onto the conveyor ready for processing.



The bandsaw you can see here has a 36 foot blade, and is changed 5 times a day during a normal cutting session. They have a fully employed saw-doctor onsite! (more later). No blade visible as the blades is removed after the final cut on the previous session. Just visible coming down from the top right is a clearer blade. This clears a trench in the log, through the bark, about 1/2 inch wide, and helps to reduce the rubbish/abrasive on the surface of the bark, being pulled through with the bandsaw blade. He mentioned in france, they often have a pressure washer setup, to do the same thing.



The control is remote, (for safety reasons I guess), but full control over the angle, rotation, speed etc of the log is possible.

This picture shows the carrier for the logs.



They have occasionally found bullets, shrapnel, barbed wire etc, but when they broke this log open, to see what had ruined the blade, they found some very unusual contents!



From the main processing machine, the planks can be transferred to a range of machine for resawing. This shows the main warehouse, weith associated equipment.



Some large pieces!



He explained that France is quite a bit more enlightened than the UK in terms of wood owners, the basic rules of buying trees is that you get "everything" from ground level to the highest point, not including branches. The base of the tree is "1st's", the next section is "2nds", the next section "fencing grade" and the top section "pit timber". Clearly as Britain is no longer a nation which has much in the way of coal mining, having landowners insist they buy the top "pit timber" just adds to their transportation and processing costs. He described it as unwanted extra packaging. In France, they buy, and transport back, only the timber that is economic. They liase closely with the Forestry Commision, and are starting to get their message across about only buying, transporting and selling the useable timber.

Timber sawmills are declining. 300 similar sawmills in the 60's, 60 or so in the '80's and only 3 (of a similar size) remaining. Competition from East European companies is high. Montenegro, Latvia etc, are building sawmills with subsidies, and they can purchase timber for 10% of the price of Wests.

They are pleased that in a declining market, they are holding, or even gaining market share. This is mainly due to diversivication. They now do hardwood floors, unit work surfaces mouldings, customer shop, etc, all to custom design. The era of producing 1000's of meters of moulding is no longer, he said they often produce just a few 10's of meters of mouldings for specific customers.

As a result, their machine requirements have changed. They have recently invested in £200K moulder, into which rough sawn timber is fed, the mahcine has 9 cutting heads, and can square edge,and profile in a single pass. The heads can be changed much quicker - something which is essential with such limited lengths of each moudling. They can also now produce dowels.



Each of the red doors, is a cutter head (not all visible)



They have branched out into more profitiable areas such as hardwood floors. You can see boards clamped up and glued.



Do you think I could fit this into my workshop? :cry:



Rather than butt joints, they prefer to use "F" joints to increase gluing area. They use a foaming glue - which reacts to moisture. He didn't say which. They used to use Cascamite (Extramite?) but found getting consistency perfect difficult. They lightly mist the panels to trigger the glue.



I'm guessing, but reckon the width of the panel has been chosen so it will fit through the sanding machine. Just look at the extractor pipe!



Various other machines were on show, P/T, spindle moulders, etc, including a very natty cross cut saw (no picture I'm afraid). Basically, the outfeed from the big moulder is fed onto an automated cross cut saw, which has about 5m+ right hand table extension, with feed rollers. The saw can be programmed to cut the incoming lengths into many smaller sections, or, if you draw a chalk mark onto the knots, will trim either side of the knots. Obviously for flooring, they tend to use odd lengths to make the joins in the floor random. The croos cut saw has a imaging system, and it can recognise the difference in surface between the chalk, and normal wood. Very clever!.

Next stop was the sharpening shop!

A few blades on the way in. I didn't see any circular saws at all, but this is the proof they must be using them somewhere. Bandsaws are king in this sawmill!



Blade racks! Hey Ian, you thought you had trouble folding a blade - imagine these!!! :shock:



Jaws!



Numerous disc sharpening machines



close up...



The blades start at 9 inches wide, and are used, and resharpened until they reach about 5 inches wide. After this, they are switched to other machines (and shortened presumably). The sharpening shop contains loads of equipement, welders etc. (4 fingers wide is 7cm, or just over 2.5 inches to give this picture some perspective.)



Next stop is the extractor...



The oak logs are air-dried, before final kilning. About 1 year/inch thickness. The difficulty for them, is judging what the market will want in 3-5 years time, and the large amount of money tied up in the product, for years. This makes cash-flow something that it's important to manage.



and more...



and more... (you can see the FSC auditor bar-codes here)



The next stage is the kilns, they have two types, heated circulated air, and heated vacuum. Because both were in operation, we couldn't go in. The photo belows shows the heated kiln. The truck takes the logs in, and the doors to the kiln are the big aluminium doors you can see. This is a BIG kiln!



The other kilns are a bit smaller, you can see from the doorway on the left, these are still quite significantly sized. These require more physical effort, as they are manually loaded. They prefer the other kiln as the the logs can be loaded by the fork lift.



Plenty of storage sheds out back, this is their "oak" drying shed :shock: , they have many other buildings/sheds for the other timbers they stock. We didn't visit these, as we could see just how full they were. I reckon you could purchase just about any size/type/length you wanted, just from these sheds alone.



They are very proud of the fact they have never turned a customer away. From local people coming to get a boot full of firewood, to customers wanting a single piece, to large trade customers, everybody can make a purchase. "Someone in buying a single piece or two may want a hardwood floor tomorrow" is their philosophy. They have a dedicated department for the "enthusiast" and have a wide selection of turning blanks. For those unable to P/T their timber, some square edge wood is available to purchase.



Plenty of turning blanks



The shop has a range of magazines, tools, and even Chestnut finishes!

They are planning a "wood-show" for next spring when they hope to have a range of suppliers, customers, demonstrations etc.

More stuff in the shop



I was certainly very impressed, and with the imminent arrival of my P/T (delayed for the back to improve), I can see that they will be able to offer me timber at the price, and in the format that I want. Although I mentioned Oaka lot, they obviously stock all the normal woods, sycamore, ash, walnut etc etc. Check the website for details.

I thought it was a really nice touch to be shown round by a family member, and it was clear the combined knowledge from amongst their staff, in tree selection, felling, storing, processing and drying is immense.
delivery trucks were in plentiful view, so I guess delivery must be available.

Other than a hangover, it was a nice morning. :roll: :wink:

Adam
 

thomaskennedy

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wow, im glad i have broadband :wink: :p thanks for the post, 'tis nice to see how wood "is made" :wink: :wink:

Tom

edit:forgot to mention the bandsaw blades :shock: they are HUGE!!
 

kityuser

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fantastic post 8)

don`t really see what all the fuss is about, the piccies downloaded faster than I could read the tread and look at the piccies....... and I got a dial-up modem!


I was a little suprised that the air drying timber was`nt under cover, normally places like this keep air drying boards under cover to keep the weather off of them ie wet and direct sun shine.


I used to work in a smallish timber yard and had to use a band-saw (forester) with similar scale bands, makes my startrite seem like a tinker toy :D

its hard to imagine just how much sawdust a saw that runs a band of that size makes, we used to have a 7HP extractor just on the one saw :shock:

again, great post


steve
 

johnjin

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Hi Adam
Thanks a lot for that
And yes as Tom pointed out, I'm glad I have got Broadband.
That was a totaly fascinating read and thanks for taking the time to photograph and write all that.
I really enjoyed my tour through a real wood yard.

All the Best

John
 

frank

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thanks adam that was a very enjoyable tour .ps did they give you some free samples .

frank
 

Adam

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kityuser":1cnscc76 said:
fantastic post 8)
Thankyou! :D

kityuser":1cnscc76 said:
I was a little suprised that the air drying timber was`nt under cover, normally places like this keep air drying boards under cover to keep the weather off of them ie wet and direct sun shine.
At the top of each stack, is a sacrifical board, which soaks up the UV and rain. I know another yard where they keep them outside, the idea being you get improved drying due to better windflow through the stack when it's outside.

frank":1cnscc76 said:
thanks adam that was a very enjoyable tour .ps did they give you some free samples .

frank
Not a chance!

Adam
 

kityuser

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At the top of each stack, is a sacrifical board, which soaks up the UV and rain. I know another yard where they keep them outside, the idea being you get improved drying due to better windflow through the stack when it's outside.
ah I see , suppose thats ok if you don`t mind the sacrifice :cry:

again, great thread, cheers

steve
 

Aragorn

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Thanks Adam. Great post! I see what you mean about the bandsaw being taller than my workshop! What a monster! And those blades. Ouch!

Presumably everyone else selling oak around our parts gets it from them? May be best to go straight to Wests in future?
 
A

Anonymous

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Adam

Thanks for taking us for a great virtual tour from the comfort of our chairs.

Regards

Roy
 

Chris Knight

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Adam,
Thanks for the great tour. I made a similar visit to Wests a few years ago with Bruce Luckhurst but had no camera with me at the time, it is nice to be reminded of the things I saw. One thing I recall was that they were very proud of their vacuum kilns - they were able to dry sycamore perfectly white with them - it is apparently difficult to do this with a regular kiln for some reason.
 

Adam

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waterhead37":16xewcd3 said:
they were able to dry sycamore perfectly white with them - it is apparently difficult to do this with a regular kiln for some reason.
I think he said that as a wood, it's really really wet. After cutting, it literally oozes water. Also, the cell structure starts to decompose immediately after felling, and if not cut and dried quick enough, goes "grey" (although fine if being painted), most people want it as "white" as possible. The vacuum is particularly good for removing water fast, and hence optimal for this type of wood. (Going from memory, which was still slightly fogged by the previous nights alcohol, urm medicine :oops: .)

BTW, I tried PM'ing you, but it's stuck in my outbox - is your inbox full?

Adam
 
A

Anonymous

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Very nice Adam. I really enjoyed that little tour although possibly not as much as you did on the day :wink:
An interesting, well writtten review

Do they ship Oak around the UK at a reasonable price do you know?

Cheers

Tony
 

Martin

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Excellent post Adam. Thanks for taking the time to put all that together - that cross cut saw sounds particularly impressive. It's nice to get an insight into how a serious saw mill operates (especially for those like me who "fly" a desk for a living).

I will certainly give West's a lookin the next time I need some hardwood (currently maxed out on White Oak for my current project...).

Cheers,
Martin.
 

Adam

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waterhead37":3uhrldmx said:
I made a similar visit to Wests a few years ago with Bruce Luckhurst
VVVVrrrrroooooommmmmm. Didn't go unnoticed I can assure you.

Adam
 

Newbie_Neil

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Hi Adam

An excellent post. I bet you really enjoyed the day.

Horse riding is excellent as a hangover cure. The liver is constantly moving and it doesn't take that long to clear up the exceeses of the night before. Not that I would know, of course.

Cheers
Neil


Hi Chris

I spotted that as well.

Cheers
Neil
 

Adam

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Aragorn":2gzpuwmj said:
Presumably everyone else selling oak around our parts gets it from them? May be best to go straight to Wests in future?
I reckon so, as far as I know, they are the the only people with a big selection in this area, I reckon Wenban must be sourcing there stuff up there - it's make sense anyway.

Adam
 
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