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David Gillen, the Western Hemlock Wizard

Have you ever wondered where our Western Hemlock boards come from? For the past five years, we have developed a great partnership with Mr David Gillen who fells, mills and processes trees from his 33 acre agroforestry, before delivering them straight to our shop. Based in Shropshire, David has been nurturing the land for 21 years. We caught up with David last time he was here to find out a bit more about the Western Hemlock Wizard. Here’s what he had to say:

“Curney Bank Wood is a 33 acre agroforestry project. I bought the woodland in Feb 2000 for my pigs. Then I moved in with my two small children and an enormous dog, all in a thirty foot mobile home.

The pig, as I'm sure you know, evolved to live in woodland and I wanted to give my pigs somewhere to live where they could express their natural behaviour. Half of my 33 acres had been clear felled by the previous owner, a timber extraction company, and the clear felled land was very quickly colonised

by a wide variety of species; Rosebay willow herb, Wild raspberry, Grasses, Brambles, Bracken, and suchlike, or as I call them: pig food. I supplemented their diet with wheat from a nearby farm. I also used to germinate and make pig beer, forty gallons at a time, they did seem rather partial to it.

I no longer keep pigs, but moved on from bacon-making to growing oyster and Shiitake mushrooms, which I used to sell at Ludlow farmers market.

Most of the clearfell land is now under "natural regeneration" consisting of lots

of Rowan, Willow, Birch, Oak and Holly, with a bit of interplanting such as Western Red Cedar and a variety of fruit and nut producing trees.

When the forestry commision bought the land 80 years ago, they planted a variety of tree species including Western Hemlock and I am now slowly, very slowly, felling it and making waney edge planks, which I sell to BWRP. In fact, in the last five years of selling to BWRP, I now have more Western Hemlock than I started with, making it an arduous labour of love.”

Where does Western Hemlock come from?

Native to North-West America, Western Hemlock was introduced to Britain in the 19th century by botanist David Douglas, and is now one of the most common conifers found in the UK. Did you know that Queen Victoria loved Western Hemlock so much that she asked for its name to be changed to Tsuga albertiana, in honour of her husband, Albert. It stuck for a while but Tsuga heterophylla is now used.

Habitat and characteristics

Western Hemlock is classed as a softwood. Best suited to moister climates, Western Hemlock has rapid growth and regenerates freely in a wide range of upland forests. Broadly conical in habit with a narrow crown, mature trees can grow to 45m however can grow taller in their native habitat. They have characteristic long, drooping branch tips and the bark is dark brown with rugged ridges.

Common Uses

It is mainly grown for timber and wood pulp in the UK, although it is also planted as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens. Western hemlock wood is commonly used for roofing and boxes as it holds nails well without splitting. Our waney-edged boards, also called live edge, are most commonly used for shelving by our customers due to their beautiful characteristics and durability. Customers have also hand-selected boards for our workshop to create bespoke table tops and worktops. It's great for indoor and outdoor use. It works well for a variety of projects, the sky's the limit!

Western Hemlock sanded for shelving

The boards generally range from 6 inches to 21 inches wide, making them suitable for a variety of projects. Left natural, they are a beautiful golden colour which weathers to grey outdoors. When sanded, this wood appears pale in colour and contrasts brilliantly with the red hue of the bark, accentuating all the ripples and grains within the wood.


Prices range from £21 to £76 for a single width board (1 inch) And £42 to £152 for a double width board. Lengths vary but are generally 2.3-2.4 metres. Come into the shop to select your board and either take it straight home to begin your project or use our cutting and sanding services to make your bespoke product. We usually replenish our stock every 4-6 weeks so if you can’t find the perfect board, it won’t be long til we’ve restocked!

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