Please see our article From Living Wood Magazine below. Can also be found here on pages 22-24.
In 2010, Recalling his own childhood, our founder Chris Brandler decided to build his young son a garden den, known as The Hideout. Chris was not happy with the standard materials available to him. They were not in keeping with the aesthetics of his garden and his passion for ecology. The aim was to find a sustainable option that had true character. A chance discussion with a colleague led to the opportunity of buying a Barn in Europe that was due to be demolished. On impulse a flight was booked, and on arrival the farmer was quickly persuaded. The barn was lovingly dismantled and the rescued timber transported back to the UK. On the back of this obsession for quality a passion was born… to use barn wood to fabricate furniture and joinery. The outcome was the founding of Brandler London.
After the Barn Wood discovery and its arrival on the UK shores the task of figuring out how best to use the material began. At the time we were refurbishing residential properties in London. The plan was to use the newly sourced Barn Wood to clad walls, stairs, window sills, kitchens and wardrobes to add character to our developments an a bid to help them stand out from the crowd.
A European processing facility was set up to store and commence the clean up operation of our Barn wood. The timbers that were once laboriously hand-cut anywhere up to 100 years ago are strewn with relics of their past. Rusted nails, old agricultural ironmongery and renders are all removed revealing wondrously preserved wood grain and tremendous texture. This must all be done with the same care and dedication that the barn builders would needed to erect these wooden structures. Before being sent to the UK the boards are finally kiln dried to stabilize the moisture content and kill off any infestations.
Cutting down the 100 mm thick boards was the next challenge. With no local sawmill wanting to touch the old boards we had to find another way to reduce the vast chunkiness of these timbers. We fashioned an Alaskan mill which is a chainsaw running on a metal guide. Though it had its drawbacks, this did the trick. Firstly this is a slow and labour intensive process. Secondly it rips a large kerf meaning we lose too much material and produced a lot waste. This was not sustainable. Shortly after this we set up our Hersham workshop and invested in a Centuro R800 Resaw. This is a massive bandsaw designed exactly for this type of job. The blades (5 meters long, 100 mm deep, 3mm thick) are powered by a 20 hp motor and assisted by a pneumatic auto feeder. Combining this with our new 3m panel saw and 600mm planer we now had a process for sawing and planning boards to size quickly and efficiently.
Joining the boards using tongue and groove joints cut on the spindle moulder or with dowels made by Festool Domino jointing system helped us convert these raw cut boards into solid, stable furniture.
Though we had found a process that worked it was a slow due to the difficult nature of Barn Wood as a raw material. Often extensive work must be done to stabilise these flat sawn boards, especially with our kitchen and wardrobe doors where they are hung in hinges and so completely unsupported. When these thick boards are cut down lengthways the tension held inside is released and they naturally start to cup, bow, crook and most difficult of all… twist. We needed to find a way to reduce the time and energy spent on processing the timber and improve the stability of solid Barn wood. Using the Resaw we are now able to cut a 6 to 8 mm veneer of Barn wood allowing us to fabricate our first Barn wood engineered panel. For the same reason engineered flooring was created to solve the problems of solid wood flooring we were able to solve our own stability issues. These engineered boards are lighter, more stable and easier to work with.
With increased efficiency in manufacturing we were able to pass on the cost saving to our customers making our barn wood doors, kitchens and other furniture more affordable. We are now able to offer engineered cabinetry doors with or without lipping (to cover and finish the edge) as well as the solid wood option. The engineered board with a lipped edge produces the ultimate finish to a now superior product.
Now that we have a much improved manufacturing process we are able to focus more of our energies on expanding our range of finishes to give more options and applications to our growing client base. There were three main types of natural Barn wood products… Grey, Honey and Brown.
The grey Barn wood is a naturally weathered finish created by exposure to UV light, mold, mildew and rainwater which all deteriorate the surface. This only occurs on the exterior surface of barn wood. However for the most part the colour of the external Barn Wood takes on a deep rich brown. Incredible textures are present on both the grey and brown Barn Wood due to the long-term exposure to the harsh forces of nature. The interior Barn wood takes on a paler honey colour and because it is better protected from the elements there is less texture and scarring of the timber surface.
We therefore have three quite different naturally occurring Barn Wood finishes with their own properties and applications. However we have expanded on these properties and the timbers applications by using different treatment methods. By applying stains, hardening agents and resin we can create a myriad of finishes for a multitude of applications. Whether you want a timber good for a wet room, a dining table with a easily cleanable surface or the most heavily textured raw timber wall cladding we can supply these all.
We now have a fantastic range of monochrome finishes from full black to white washes and the grey areas in between. If using heavily textured Barn Wood as a worktop there are obvious drawbacks due to the deep cracks and weathering that this material exhibits. In this instance a clear resin screed can be applied to level the surface off whilst still being able to appreciate the rich colour and depth of texture.
These finishes elevate the timber to new levels and offer something for everyone with the variety in colour and texture in our ever expanding range of Barn wood finishes. With Barn wood not readily available in the UK we are flying the flag for this material that is now starting to penetrate the UK market.
People often write about the ‘journey’ of building a business. Brandler’s raw material, the wonderful old European timbers, quite literally journey from the heart of Europe to south London, enabling the company to reuse them for another generation to enjoy.