10 Years of Buckland Timber; A Locally Grown Story



Buckland Timber is the largest glulam manufacturer in the UK.

We’re not quite the only manufacturer, because some smaller outfits are making some glulam but we’re by far and away the largest in the country.  It’s now been ten years since the business began, and we’ve been reflecting on how locally-grown timber started the journey, and how the business has evolved up to the present day.

The idea for Buckland started back in 2012. Ralph Nicholson and William Blight had woodlands next to each other in Devon. Bill wanted to join forces and do something with the local timber, and for it to be part of a supply chain.

The idea for the business was it would make better use of local timber, as at the time the supply chain was pretty limited, to the point where quite a lot of saw logs were going for biomass rather than being used for structural purposes.

They considered selling logs in the round or starting a small sawmill, but a chance sighting of a Ferguson tractor being suspended by four arches of larch glulam timber sparked the idea of making glue-laminated timber from locally grown wood.

At the time there was only one other laminator business in the country, so this presented an exciting opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history!

Local forest used for glulam production.

The early years…

The business began in earnest in 2013, however, it became clear quite quickly the demand for locally grown timber just wasn’t there. Customers weren’t willing to pay more to use locally grown timber and with the low commodity type price, and simply the amount of time it took to source from mainland Europe, we couldn’t make it for less either. 

The idea to only use locally grown timber to manufacture our glulam was fading fast. The locally grown market, apart from a few major enthusiasts who were keen on using UK timber, was not profitable and we were also fighting against the perception that British grown wood was of a lower quality than that of our European friends. Buckland had to change tack quite rapidly and focus on other areas of the market.

Finding our niche

buckland timber factory

This is a picture of the factory as it is now. As we looked for ways to stand out from the crowd, the focus of our manufacturing became all the things the big volume glulam manufacturers in mainly Germany and Austria didn’t want to do.  They were set up to generate huge volumes of straight spruce glulam, so we focused on pretty much anything else!

We began looking at the more bespoke side of the industry, creating tight or elaborate curves, long-span beams, and working with other species to spruce to differentiate. We still made some glulam from locally grown timber, but from 2013 to 2019, only around 5% of our production was from British grown timber.

As we continued focusing on the glulam we could make competitively, a major part of the business development became around the design, manufacture and installation. Robin Nicholson, the third founder, had an engineering background, so he encouraged the development of a strong design side of the business. This meant as we became experts in increasingly complex projects, we could offer a complete service around the elements of glulam manufacture. Today we’re currently run with an in-house design team of about 7 out of 20 staff.

Will Pryce house in Hertfordshire
 horse menege
 dalewood private home

The photos here are from just some of the more complex projects we’ve worked on. The business became less about large volumes of simpler projects and more about the intricate, complicated, design-heavy type of projects. 

Buckland was doing well, but at this point, our focus had shifted away from trying to work with British grown timber. Unless someone requested it specifically, we were not pursuing it, as the lack of supply chain support presented challenges we were struggling to overcome whilst staying competitive.

A catalyst for change

Having pretty much given up on our local grown timber beginnings, in 2019 a few game changers came along…

The first one was a local company called UK Hardwoods run by Tom Bedford. He was only 20 miles away and dropped in one day to say he wanted to make a storage shed out of his own timber. While at this stage we would have probably encouraged him to use German spruce as it would be cheaper, Tom was insistent – surely it must be better to make it out of the timber in his back yard?

He was right in this case from both a cost and environmental perspective – plus it made a great feature and statement about their timber and what it could achieve. Pushing to use locally grown timber in effect acted as a catalyst for change at Buckland Timber.

The relationship with UK Hardwoods grew and this solved one of our major problems – we now had a decent supplier of locally grown timber who could dry the timber down to 12%, which is what we need for glulam.

The UK Hardwoods building was a bit of a turning point for us. The combination of our relationship with them and the rise of other sawmills stepping up and beginning to offer the spec we needed made us realise again it was possible. This prompted us to refocus on the bigger reason of why we started the business and explore new possibilities.

uk hardwoods building built with locally grown timber

Buckland today

In terms of locally grown timber we now use three main species for our glulam: larch, Douglas fir, and ash, which are grown in the UK and commonly used for high-quality timber products. Larch is an interesting species because it was previously affected by disease, but is still readily available. Douglas fir, similar to larch, is abundant in the UK, ensuring a stable supply for high-end timber products and Ash, also disease affected, is an increasingly popular choice due to its appealing aesthetics and lower cost compared to oak.

The availability, pricing, and quality of locally grown timbers have grown, and with it, our glulam manufacture. We’re now up to approximately 50% of our in-house manufacture being created with locally grown timber, and this looks set to continue.

We continue to import both timber and glulam where appropriate, this remains an important part of the supply chain that allows mass timber to compete against other building materials.

Looking to the future

As Buckland celebrate our tenth year in business we’ve almost, if not quite, come full circle!

While there are still areas which need further development (Ash for example is extensively tested, but not yet certified) we are seeing more and more opportunities to use locally grown timber and increase the offering of timber varieties we work with too.

In the future we’d like to work with companies such as Vastern Timber, to assess what the strength implications might be from making glulam out of Brimstone and we’d also be interested in investigating other UK grown species such as Hemlock as a potential alternative to spruce.

While we might not be fully driven by locally grown, and may never be entirely, we’re delighted to have developed a more sustainable supply that supports our forestry industry and generates stable demand for local glulam. Not only are we going back to our roots (no pun intended) we’re investing in the long-term benefits too, both financially and environmentally.

We’re excited about what the next ten years will bring!

Read more about Our Story here…