Background to project

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Background to project


In 1990 Coed Cymru Director David Jenkins instigated a series of trials on endgrain tiles and cobbles. This was part of the drive to discover ways of converting a plentiful supply of small diameter Welsh hardwood into high value products. The trials involved cutting and drying a variety of small diameter, low grade timber species using different methods and identifying products with the best market appeal. Much of Coed Cymru’s work has grown out of that original period of brainstorming and prototyping, instigated by David Jenkins, at a time before the rise of Chinese timber imports.

David Manuel at Heartwood Timber has been the primary processor from the early stages of the endgrain project. David, a forestry contractor who runs a sawmill in Caersws, was involved in thinning broadleaved woodland. This had been identified by Coed Cymru for management and David’s company then processed the small diameter timber in his sawmill. David’s knowledge of different tree species and the primary processing system have been pivotal in the supply chain. He turns round logs into square cants, which are cross cut, keeping the heartwood in the centre for the tiles, which are then dried.

The next stage was to develop prototype samples. As a result, the first floor of oak endgrain tiles was laid at Scolton Manor, near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire in 1991. Experiments with endgrain tiles made from a range of other tree species continued, and in 1992 Coed Cymru contacted manufacturer Kenton Jones at Woods of Wales, Welshpool, who specialise in solid wood floors.

Kenton took a commercial interest in the drying and production processes perfected by Coed Cymru. He identified a gap in the UK market for endgrain tiles, which were available in the United States but not exported. Kenton found endgrain tiles easy to make in small batches, but they were more problematic in large production quantities.

A pioneering kilning and drying process, to stop the tiles from cracking, took five years to perfect on a trial and error basis, as there was no written data available. The important outcome was the reduction of the wastage factor, which fell from 20% splitting to around 5% on average.

This pioneering work has resulted in many high profile flooring projects being undertaken with endgrain tiles from Woods of Wales. These include the Prince of Wales’ kitchen floor at Highgrove in Gloucestershire made with alder tiles and the Queen of Jordan’s dining room floor with Welsh oak, where every tile had to have the heart of the tree in it. Alder hexagonal tiles were used at Kewbridge Steam Museum in London, while the foyer at BSW in Scotland used spruce. More recently in 2014 at Selfridges’ store in London 50,000 oak tiles were used for flooring.