Friday, July 10, 2015
Five years ago, Silvan Floors was enjoying a stable
situation as a flooring installer. Profits were good, and their contract for
flooring materials from a foreign mill was working well. However, to have full
flexibility and control over their product and meeting clients specific needs,
they came up with a business plan that included setting up a manufacturing
facility in their hometown of Leicestershire, UK that would be able to produce
flooring boards entirely from the round log.
“When we did this, it surprised a lot of
people,” recalls Richard Brewster, technical director at Silvan Floors, who
oversees all daily activities on the shop floor. “With our in-depth
knowledge of the timber industry, we felt that this was something we could
The product offering
Silvan specializes in very long, very wide handcrafted engineered wood floors
that have few equals in the industry.
“The length of the boards gives designers, personal clients and architects
a design aesthetic aspect that is second to none,” explains Richard.
“We do what is called ‘full length boards’, so we have the
capability of going up to 16 metres, which means we can go skirting board to
skirting board. In respect to width, we can go as wide as 600mm. This flexibility
plus the design aspect is what our clients really like.”
A recent project required 15.5 metre wall-to-wall lengths – their longest
boards to date. Their clients are typically architects and designers, and
although the majority of their business comes from the London area, they are
regularly installing floors throughout Europe, in the Middle East and the
Engineered wood floors are considered to be a more environmentally friendly and
structural improvement on the traditional solid wood floors that have been around
for centuries. A top solid wood layer, called a lamella, is bonded to a sturdy 5
-layer blockboard that forms the base. Less premium timber is then needed to
produce the floor, and the blockboard underlayment provides greater structural
integrity. This combination makes engineered flooring longer lasting, but also in
many cases less expensive than solid wood floors. Silvan uses British and French
oak predominantly for the top layer, as well as maple, walnut, and some other
Setting up a flooring manufacturing facility
“At the time, we had felt that we were unable to grow further, and had
limited control over our product development,” Richard explains. “We
wanted to keep control of every aspect of what we do.” They crafted a new
five year business plan that detailed their strategy for investment, growth, and
profits that included all-new manufacturing equipment and additional employees.
Financing the venture during a recession made it very difficult. Eventually,
their determination paid off.
Key to the success of financial backing was the right blend of production
machinery to make the idea profitable on paper. Selection for the various
moulders, sanders, board edgers, and trimming saws progressed well, but the
biggest question in their initial research was selecting the best possible method
for the very first initial log breakdown and kilning.
“We looked at many varieties of bandsaws,” says Richard. “On
the video website YouTube, we found a lot of videos of Wood-Mizer sawmills and we
learned a lot about the machines.”
Founded in the United States more than 30 years ago, Wood-Mizer manufactures a
range of portable, stationary, and industrial sawmills that run on thin-kerf
bandsaw blades that delivers benefits that have won worldwide acclaim. For the
last 20 years, all Wood-Mizer sawmills sold in Europe are also built in Europe,
and the company has representatives throughout the continent to provide local
sales and support. According to their head office, the sawmills are quite
popular, in spite of the recession, for businesses ranging from farms producing
lumber for their daily projects to mills producing construction-grade timber on
an industrial scale.
Attracted to Wood-Mizer’s offering of narrow bandblade sawmills that would
give them maximum log yield, the directors of Silvan Floors initially remained
hesitant, concerned that the narrow blade would not be able to stand up to the
rigors of sawing oak logs in one metre widths for 8-10 hours a day.
“We went up to an agricultural show, where we actually saw the mill cutting
a log,” Richard recalls. “The Wood-Mizer guys cut a millimetre thick
piece of wood for us and it was absolutely perfect. That really sold it to us
that this was the correct piece of equipment for our initial processing. We felt
that the traditional, big bandsaws were going to be too bulky, we needed
something with a little finer touch for cutting the oak that we
Silvan placed their order for a static LT40 model, additionally a resaw for
resizing cants and a kiln from Wood-Mizer. With the equipment installed at
Silvan’s rural facility, an experienced crew of 14 runs the equipment and
each one shares the same dedication and attention to quality. Signs posted
everywhere in their facility keep two words at the forefront of the mind,
The manufacturing process
The first step is the initial breakdown of the logs on the LT40 sawmill - 10mm
boards that can be up to 15 metres long and 600mm wide. The sapwood and heartwood
areas of the log are avoided, and the results are beautiful boards where the wood
grain is showcased at its best.
The decision to go with the narrow blade Wood-Mizer has paid off, according to
Richard. “It’s probably one of the most key, fundamental pieces
of equipment that’s in the line of Silvan Floors,” he shares.
“You never truly know, until you open that log up, what it is going to look
like inside, and 9 times out of 10, it’s beautiful. The excitement starts
as soon as that blade hits the log and continues through to the final
The boards are stacked and dry in the open air for 2-3 weeks in the timber yard.
Then the stacks are moved into the kiln – a typical heat/vent style unit
– for approximately ten days with the lumber exiting at between four and
six per cent moisture content.
Any rough areas are touched up by hand before they are pressed and bonded to the
blockboard backing in Silvan’s large press. They are then moved to the belt
sander, edger, and moulder to take their final form – tongue and groove
For textured floor surfaces, the boards are subjected to
sometimes several rigorous passes through the six-headed wire brushing machine,
each of which are adjustable to apply varying degrees of pressure to produce
exactly the right amount of texture to the board.
The finishing line is really the most creative part of the process. With a
virtual laboratory of oils, colours, and finishes at their disposal, any look the
client has called for is possible. Silvan offers a standard range of 32 colours
and customised finishes.
“Waste chips and sawdust are sold for animal bedding, briquetting,
pelleting – so basically none of the log gets wasted at all – a small
carbon footprint,” Richard shares.
A typical floor is in production 10 weeks or so from when the trees are felled to
the final installation. All their products are FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council)
and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified.
The principal form of marketing they believe very strongly in is attendance at
trade shows, where they get an opportunity to talk directly with future clients,
bring real samples to demonstrate, and impart their passion in person.
Maintaining a first class website is also a top priority to Silvan, and they have
just recently finished work on a brand new redesign of their site to display
their final product and business philosophy.
Currently at the two-year mark in their business plan, Richard is pleased to
share that they are ahead of their predictions.
Although they are planning for additional equipment expansions, they do not want
to get too big. An additional sander has been installed, and they are eager to
add additional kilns to reduce their material bottleneck. Considering that their
sawmill is already running 10 hours a day, further growth will also mean
“We’ve got the LT40 model. We will eventually add another one or two
into the line... At the moment the LT40 we feel is absolutely perfect. It can
cope with some real good-sized logs. We have had logs on there with a metre
girth, and it copes with it no problem at all.”
“It’s definitely been worth the investment and the heartache and
tears that have been along the way to get this thing off the ground,”
Richard says. “We’re all very pleased as a company that it’s
For more information:
Watch the LT40 sawmill in this video:
Welcome to the stories and articles section of our website.
Here you will discover how Wood-Mizer sawmill owners worldwide are actively growing local economies by processing wood more sustainably and profitably.
I invite you to contact me for any questions about these articles.
Jacob Mooney - PR Coordinator