I promised a post on this most wonderful of all places called Exotic Hardwoods UK, so here it is.
I found out about this place quite some time ago, when researching timbers for a variety of commissions and also some of my own work. Must have been 2 years or longer. However, I never really had a good reason to go and visit them. It just always seemed to be to far away for what really was just a nosy around king of visit.
But a few weeks ago, the stars aligned in the correct manner (and the pattern at the bottom of the coffee cup was good, too), so I decided to go and have said nosy. All with the intention to get some nice pieces of wood for a cistern lid for our new bathroom and for a wedding signature board for my niece-in-law.
It’s basically a father-and-son setup, on the grounds of farm (now defunct) in Staffordshire, about 15 miles out of Stoke-on-Trent to the east. Very idyllic countryside scenery.
Even though I had phoned ahead and agreed a time, nobody was to be seen when I arrived on site. So I wandered a little and first walked into what could previously have been a pig sty. All cleaned up now, and filled with shelf after shelf of luthier material: fretboards, some presawn, matched pieces for top and bottom of instruments, and so on. Hundreds, in all sorts of really beautiful wood, mostly exotic.
Eventually somebody appeared (the father) and we got chatting, and he says: well, I guess, this section isn’t really for you. You really want to see the main store. So of we went towards a shed (barn?) of approximately 20m deep and 40m wide (and about 6-8m high in the centre). And here it goes: the whole thing is full of wood. On one side there are shelves with the smaller pieces. Name any exotic species used in turning, instrument making, cabinet making, anywhere, he’s got it. And then some.
On the other side there are just stacks. There’s a stack of purpleheart plank, about 1m high, each plank is about 6-8″ wide, 2″ thick and 8 foot long. Another stack of similar size of birdseye maple (I got myself a piece of that for my cistern lid). Stack after stack after stack. Most of them they can’t even get to with the forklift. In some places the stacks are more than 4m high.
When I started looking around, I eventually stumbled across a piece of wood that seemed to be a little out of place. Dark, heavy, not stacked, with almost white sapwood. When dad noticed my interest, he told me it was cocobolo. This piece was about 5ft long, 4″ thick and easily 16″ wide. Value: around £1000.
I could have spent all day in that shed. As it was, I only had about 90 minutes, and I really had to remind myself that I was here primarily to find those pieces mentioned above (which I did) and leave the rest alone until I had a really good reason to spend my money. The only concession I made was about 1kg of cutoffs of snakewood, at the cost of about £25/kg. But let me tell you: there’s a reason why this stuff is so expensive: Even without any finish on it, it polishes to a marvellous shine, and the figure in the grain is just unbelievable.
So in the end I walked away with 2 large pieces of wood and a collection of cutoffs and about £140 less in my pocket. And if I ever need something really special, or just plain good, let me tell you: this is the place to go. By their own admission, they supply just about everybody else in the UK. You want something you can’t get anywhere else: chances are they have it.