Question & Answer Session

Get to know us better

This is an introduction to Alec - his favourite type of wood, his reason for starting Logie Timber and his thoughts about the current wood market and what the future holds!

Alec Laing

What attracted you to working with timber, and Logie in particular?

Well, I grew up at Logie – my family have been here for almost a hundred years – so, I didn’t choose to be at Logie particularly.

But the timber side of it is something we’ve done historically on the estate for generations, not with a focus on milling but with a focus on growing. We’re quite a big pin, larch, and Douglas fir grower here, so that’s why there are other big sawmills in the area, because it’s a very forested area. The connection with Mark was a fortunate one, because he came with a furniture maker we know.

He came here to cut up some trees we sold to the furniture maker, we started talking about mills and the rest is history. The guy I’m talking about is a guy called Aaron Sterritt. He’s a green woodworker, so he does a lot with cleft wood – he splits the wood with an axe along the natural lines and uses that shape to make his furniture – and he was the hub of the whole project.

He brought me and Mark together. The guy who made the original sawmill shed was the guy who made his parents’ house. Later on, Ross came and knocked on our door and asked if we had any work, so, it’s a very fortuitous relationship.

Do you have a favourite type of wood?

Elm is a favourite of mine.

I’m a DIY woodworker, but I really enjoy working with it. It’s a tree that is no longer growing in our area because of the Dutch elm disease. It stays standing dead for a while because of the disease, but there have been some great trees we’ve taken from around here.

My love of elm has probably come from cutting down this very particular tree in the local area, and we made a huge amount of things from that one tree.

I made my grandmother’s coffin, we made a dining room table, my brother’s got some wood he’s making something out of, and my workshop is full of bits of that one tree that’s got this really special connection. It’s a lovely wood to work with and it’s got a really great character.

What role do you think timber can best play in the current market, and what do you think it might be involved in in the future?

We’re seeing a big growth in locally sourced timber in the building industry. The big area for opportunity for timber is in the building area.

The norm in England is to build with block and brick, and the norm in Scotland is to build timber-frame. That doesn’t mean all buildings are timber-frame, but there’s certainly scope to increase that across Scotland and across the UK, and there’s a sustainable angle to look at with energy and carbon versatility versus stone. It’s a renewable product, really, because it grows again. I think with a combination of these traditional methods and traditional species of timber and advances in manufacturing, we’ll start to see what’s already happening in Canada and Japan – where they’re big in building bigger structures in timber – in the UK.

Numerous technologies like cross-laminated glue line will help us expand on what kinds of logs, beams, and structures we can make with the pre-existing material. That technological advancement will be really key for using timber on bigger projects. With the existing roundwood shed, we built that with trees with the bark cut off, which is difficult to do because there’s no edge to put a tape measure against, so it all has to be calculated in very difficult ways. There’s a program, however, where you can scan each log – the log went into the machine, an un-uniform log into the machine, and then they cut the joint at the end of it, it was shipped to site, and the whole thing popped together.

The possibilities are almost endless when you think of it like that. Getting architects and engineers to think of it like that is a real challenge, they tend to view steel as the obvious choice for most construction projects.

Do you have any other central hobbies and interests, and if so what are they?

 I’ve always been a tinkerer.

I like to get my hands dirty with all things mechanical. I’m an engineer by training, and I grew up taking everything apart from a strimmer to tractors and classic cars.

I have a Triumph GT6 and a kit car, an AC Cobra, that I’ve been building for about six years now. I’ve got three kids who are getting to the age where they might be able to start  helping me.

I’m not very good at finding time to do it, but that’s what I would choose to do.

Logie as an estate has a profound link to your family. What do you think sets the wood and environment there apart, and makes the resulting timber unique?

The difference that I see between what we’re doing and what other people are doing is the real personal connection in what we’re doing.

It’s a small operation, so people ring up and they speak to the guys that have created the project. The team are there to do everything they can for their customer. I know all businesses look after their customers, but that bespoke nature is really there for us.

We’re not really good at saying no, which trips us up now and again. With the family angle, we’re in it for the long run. My family have been here for a hundred years or so, and I hope my children will develop it for their children going forwards. It makes you think slightly differently, especially when you think about what’s going towards the ‘plant pot’ – hardwood management and planting.

If you’re not really sure who’s coming up after you, why plant an oak tree that will take hundreds of years to grow? We’ve been doing it for generations, and we do it for our family, for our children who will hopefully be doing it at some point.