From forest to merchant: the journey of timber

Timber plays a very important role in the construction industry and has done for many years. Have you ever wondered about the process of getting the timber from the forest to the builder’s merchant? Here we will explore the journey of timber – how it travels from the forest and arrives in your builders merchant, ready for you to start working on your next project.

Felling is the first stage of preparing the timber for commercial use and is the process of cutting down individual trees. The people who carry out this work can be referred to as ‘fellers’ or ‘lumberjacks’. The harvesting machine is referred to as a ‘feller buncher’.

A forestry worker will determine when and which trees should be cut down, depending on when they reach economic maturity. Different trees can range from 40 to 150 years old before they stop growing so much and are ready to be cut down. The differences in age at felling can depend on what type of tree species is being felled. For example, conifers grow at a much quicker rate than broad-leaved species. Soil nutrition and environmental factors can also affect their growth.

The process of felling is normally carried out in winter, because it is easier when the trees have less moisture content in them. In summer months, trees can have more than fifty percent water content. Finally, felled trees should be replaced with saplings so that the forest has a chance to grow once again, providing a sustainable resource for future generations.

From forest to merchant

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The next stage in the process is storing the logs until they can be transported to the sawmill. Some of the trapped moisture in the trees will evaporate during this time which lessens the weight of the timber and results in lowering the cost and effort of handling and transportation. The trees are cut into smaller lengths, collected by a timber lorry and moved to a processing site such as a sawmill, paper mill, fencing or construction manufacturer. For a timber frame construction company, visit

When the logs have reached their destination, they are cut into the required lengths for their purpose and cut into boards with the use of circular and bandsaws. This process is known as conversion. Sawing or rough sawing is the first stage of conversion which involves breaking down the timber and then the second stage involves ‘resawing’ which is the more precise cutting and finishing, such as planing and further machining. Each log has its ends trimmed to make them straight and then cut into boards. Curved edges are removed by using large circular saws and each piece now resembles a board.

The next stage involves having to remove any excess moisture trapped inside the wood and this process is called seasoning. The water content of a felled tree can still be in the region of 40-50%. Free water is held in vessels and cells which carry nutrients around the tree and cell water is bound inside the tree’s cell walls. During the seasoning process, a tree loses its free water and a high proportion of its cell water which means it is less likely to warp or deform.

The next step involves the wood being made into a more refined product, such as a door or piece of furniture. This is the second processing stage when the timber is converted into a recognisable product with specific size and dimension requirements. Some timber is treated at this point to fire and rot resistant products. Treated timber in sawn form is used either directly in construction or to prepare construction components, such as timber frame panels. Planed joinery components, on the other hand, are usually treated after assembly. Finally, it’s ready to be shipped to wherever it’s being sold.

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