|Sutton Timber was recently enlisted to cut and process a large sycamore tree for a series of pieces for Springfield House. Springfield House, which will be featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs in September, is an innovative net zero carbon eco-home built in Norfolk. Temper Studio partnered with Sutton Timber to source the wood for a dining table, window sills and worktops. They chose a beautiful 70-year-old sycamore from the estate for the purpose.
Sycamore was selected for its natural antiseptic properties, which makes it ideal for the kitchen. However, there were some problems. Planks of the required thickness (43mm or 1.7 inches) would typically be air-dried for a year in ‘stick’, which means that they are stacked horizontally, separated by inch-thick square batons to allow the air to circulate. At the end of this period they are then kiln-dried to reduce the remaining moisture content in a rapid but controlled manner.
There were two issues with this. The first was that the planks were needed within a few months, by the end of the summer. The second is that sycamore is a very pale wood, and is prone to picking up stains from the sticks used to stack it. Consequently another approach was required.
Sutton Timber drew on their extensive experience to suggest a slightly unorthodox method that has nevertheless shown good results in the past. They transported the tree to their sawmill in Suffolk, where they sawed it into thick, high-quality planks – fortunately with no signs of rot or dark knots. A few of the planks split (always a risk with old trees, where the internal forces can be immense), but were broad enough that they could work around them.
Instead of drying the planks in stick for a year, Sutton Timber decided to stand them up to air dry vertically for one month. After this period they will be kiln dried for a further several weeks.
It is impossible to know for sure the results that this process will yield, though others have reported great success. A certain level of warping is inevitable as the planks dry and adjust their shape as a result, but it is hoped that this will be left at a minimum. Importantly, the timber should not stain or discolour, and should be ready in time for use in Springfield House in a few months.