Oak Beams to Form Heart of New Rutlands Monument

Civil engineers have applied to Rutland County Council to create an imposing landmark celebrating the East Midlands region using locally sourced oak beams.

The local civil engineering firm Smithers Purslow, which is based in the Rutland village of Glaston, wants to place oak carpentry at the heart of the project which would take place on the A6003/A47 roundabout on the outskirts of Uppingham – the northern approach into the market town.

Rutland is famed for its wood conservation, and its consequent reputation as a good source of oak wood.

Currently a floral display, the planned renovation would see this replaced with a tripod of oak beams topped by a display of iron horseshoes. The whole structure would be an impressive sight, with the oak beams being 23 feet in height and the array of horseshoes coming in at three feet. Oak trees would also comprise the fencing around the display.

Toxic Moth Larvae Came to UK in Imported Oak Beams

The Forestry Commission warned walkers, ramblers and anyone involved in wood conservation in the south-east London area this week that there has been an infestation of toxic moths in Bromley.

The oak processionary moth, which is not native to the UK, can be dangerous to both human and animal health, and infestations have been discovered in woodland and individual oak trees in the West Wickham area of Bromley. These new disoveries are located some nine miles from an established outbreak of oak processionary moths in west London – leading Forestry Commission officials to believe that this is a totally separate case.

The moths’ caterpillars are believed to have come to the UK from continental Europe in imported oak beams used for oak carpentry, and have spiny hairs that are poisonous – capable of causing severe itching to the skin and eyes, plus sore throats in humans and pets. They are also dangerous for the oak trees themselves, eating the leaves and leaving the trees denuded, vulnerable to disease and other threats.

The Forestry Commission’s south-east England regional director Alison Field said: “We are working with Bromley Council and others involved to eradicate the outbreak as quickly as possible.”

She warned anyone with an infested oak tree not to try and remove the caterpillar nests themselves as these can be rife with toxic hairs.

Forestry Commission Highlights Need for Wood Conservation

The Forestry Commission has revealed the pressing need to step up wood conservation in the UK, after official figures published this week again exposed Britain’s over-reliance on imported timber.

The most recent figures showed that in 2010 some £6.8 million worth of wood products were imported into Britain, comprising some 10 million cubic metres of wood – a 19 per cent increase compared to the previous year. The amount of wood imported was equivalent to around 80 per cent of the timber requirements of the UK building, crafts and engineering industries.

Areas where wood production is still a priority, such as Scotland are contributing as much as they can, with Scotland home to over 50 per cent of the domestic supplies of oak beams and other forms of timber – however, high demand is also having a negative effect on wood conservation, with foresters cutting more wood than is being replanted.

A 2009 report on the world’s forests by the Food and Agriculture Organisation said that the world population is growing by 3 per cent each year, and timber use is increasing in its turn, especially in fast-developing countries such as India and China and India. As a result, the UK needs to pay more attention to wood conservation – particularly since it is one of the world’s greatest net importers of timber.

Restoration Project Makes Call for Volunteers

A group of volunteers in Charlwood, Surrey made an appeal for volunteers this week to help them finish a restoration project that has occupied them for 25 years.

The eight villages have dedicated their Sunday mornings over a quarter of a century to their “labour of love” – reconstructing the Lowfield Heath windmill, which last worked in the 1880s.

One key area they need help on is in the field of oak beams and oak carpentry, having had mixed results with their own wood conservation efforts thus far.

Lowfield Heath Windmill Trust member Mike Yates told the Surrey Mirror that “there is always something going wrong, the wood doesn’t always last long. The timbers are never quite as good as you thought.”

The mill used to stand in Lowfield Heath, West Sussex, before the land was bought by Gatwick Airport – which helped fund its move to the new location in Charlwood.

So far, £150,000 has been sunk into the project, much provided by the local charity the John Bristow and Thomas Mason Trust, plus fundraising by the Lowfield Heath Windmill Trust. With help, the group hopes that the project will be completed by the end of 2012.

Damaged Oak Beams Threaten High Wycombe Church

Local campaigners in High Wycombe are concerned that an ancient church in the town is gradually being whittled away in the name of conservation.

An attack of deathwatch beetle has led to the ancient oak beams in All Saint’s Parish Church being badly damaged, placing the bell tower in jeopardy. This has led to calls for the historic bells to be replaced with lighter versions as part of a scheme to strengthen the tower.

Campaigners, however, believe that not enough has been done to examine the option of wood conservation and using the best oak carpentry techniques to preserve both the original structure of the tower and the original bells.

Chris Woodman of the High Wycombe Society told the Bucks Free Press that “some of the bells are of historic significance, carrying inscriptions with the names of important personalities in the town’s history – the Marquis of Lansdown and the Earl of Wycombe.”

“We shall be sorry if all these bells are lost and would like to see at least one of them preserved in an appropriate location.”



Oak Beams ‘Renaissance’ Combines the Best of the Old and the New

The Daily Telegraph highlighted this week the growing phenomenon of using old oak beams in new build properties.

The paper took as an example Marycombe, in Devon. This building is made with the convenience of modern buildings in mind, but also owing a large debt to the skilled crafts of the past, especially oak carpentry and wood conservation. The farmhouse-style building is made from stone hewn from the land it is sited on and framed with centuries old oak beams.

Marycombe, which overlooks the Kingsbridge estuary in the South Hams, was designed and built by Roger Robinson, who told the Telegraph that “the green, unseasoned oak frame has been reinvented. People love the idea of a new house with authentic character.”

Roger hailed what he sees as a renaissance in traditional building skills in the UK, which are marrying the best of the old and the new. He first became fascinated with old buildings in the 1980s, doing work with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings campaigning to save old farmhouses from ugly, ill-thought out conversions.

An Oak-Framed Building Constructed in Just Five Minutes!

It may be made to look easy, but putting together an oak-framed building is – unsurprisingly – a highly-skilled business, involving architecture, design, oak carpentry and accounting. Everything from selecting the right kind of oak – while respecting the principles of wood conservation – to placing the final fixtures and fittings has to be meticulously planned. The oak beams to be used in the building have to be cut to exactly the right specifications to ensure that everything fits into place when the time comes. Before a single one of the oak beams is in place, an incredible amount of work will have occurred, out of sight of the eventual house-owner.

Nevertheless, watching this entire structure build from the ground up in just five minutes is a tribute to the skill of the builders and the patience of the cameraman! Sit back and enjoy the ride, and perhaps be a little grateful that you’re not one of the skilled craftsmen bustling around !

Oak Beams Play a Major Role in Finchingfield Guildhall Restoration

Pupils at Finchingfield Primary School paid a visit to their historic medieval guildhall this week, which is in the process of undergoing a thorough restoration – and using the best in oak carpentry techniques as it does so.

The guildhall in the picture postcard Essex village was established in 1470, and has been in use ever since. At the moment, the guildhall has had its more modern exterior stripped away, with the roof tiles and wall coverings all gone, so the pupils were able to see the original oak beams that make up its frame.

Fairhurst Ward Abbotts site foreman Tony Loades was on hand to take questions from the children, and he also showed them the new oak beams that will be used to restore the rooms to a more authentic medieval state and reaffirm the project’s commitment to wood conservation.

This accompanying video gives us a fascinating computer rendition, providing an overview of the restoration process, with particular attention paid to the hall’s transformation into an open-plan environment – oak beam supports replace dividing walls in many cases – and its re-purposing, with a new entrance hall and gift shop, an historical museum, an indoor glass-panelled walkway, a community library and an enlarged multi-purpose guildroom.

Reclaiming Old Oak Beams

Reclaiming old oak beams

One of the first principles of wood conservation is to make sure that you reuse good quality wood as often as possible. When it comes to antique or old oak beams, this is an easy task, since the wood is usually very hardy and well preserved.

Oak carpentry experts are well versed in reclaiming oak beams from barns or condemned properties and re-sawing them for use in other buildings, such as private homes. In the short video linked to above, we see a American carpenter walking the viewer through the process of preparing and reshaping reclaimed oak beams – in this case white oak beams from a barn – ready for installation in a house’s ceiling.

The Oak Beams of Oxford’s New College

The tale of the Oak Beams of Oxford’s New College is a heart-warming anecdote in its own right, but is also a great example of how the art of oak carpentry and wood conservation resounds through the ages.

The idea of an institution’s cultural continuity being so strong that oak beams fitted over 500 years ago can still be sourced and replaced in the present day is an exciting and intriguing one, yet one that continues to have great resonance for today’s generation of craftsmen working with oak beams.. by feeling that they are also part of a longstanding tradition, they can draw upon the experience of the ages to put their own skills into perspective and combine the best of the old and the new – the most innovative practices with the finest skills and practices of the past.

A similar tale involving oak beams can be found surrounding the House of Commons in Westminster. Former MP Tony Benn, a keen amateur Parliamentary historian, recounts the time that the oak beams in Parliament required replacing, and how officials were able to match the exact same kind of wood – because the Parliamentary records had noted from which Lord’s estate the oak beams had been sourced, and because that particular lord’s descendant still sat in the House and owned his ancestor’s ancient oak woodlands.