Logie Timber is a business that aims to champion the use of home-grown softwood and hardwood. Helping to make that possible is the recent installation of a new state-of-the-art sawline from Mebor.

TRAVEL up to the beautiful Findhorn Valley in the north of Scotland and, near the historic, picturesque town of Forres you will find Logie Estate, a sprawling 4,500 acres of farmland and forestry, salmon fishing spots and commercial business. You will also find Logie Timber, a full-circle sawmilling business with ambitions to transform the way wood is viewed and used in the UK.

Its mission of sustainability is driven by a commitment to locally-sourced wood, with a strong focus on a circular economy – ensuring every part of the tree is utilised, from construction timber to biomass fuel to agricultural products.

Forestry Journal: The installation of a new Mebor sawing line represents an investment of over £1 million for Logie Timber.The installation of a new Mebor sawing line represents an investment of over £1 million for Logie Timber. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

Its eight-person team operates from a site on Logie Estate, offering a bespoke service to a wide range of customers, with competitive pricing, outstanding quality and the guarantee that it only uses home-grown trees.

Co-founder Mark Councill is a man with a passion for Scottish timber – especially hardwood – and would like to see an established market for high-quality hardwood production in the country. An experienced tree surgeon with his own business, he became frustrated seeing so many beautiful old trees go to waste.

“I was cutting down incredible trees that had been growing for hundreds and hundreds of years and just chopping them up for chunks of firewood,” he said. “It felt really wrong, but there just wasn’t a home for hardwood timber in Scotland.

“I wanted to set up a sawmill, but I didn’t quite know how to go about it. I considered just buying a mill, setting up in a farmer’s field and chopping some stuff up myself. Then I came to Logie Estate to pick up some timber and met Alec Laing.”

A trained engineer and descendent of Sir Alexander Grant (who purchased Logie Estate in 1924 with the fortune he’d amassed from the development of the digestive biscuit), Alec manages his family’s extensive property and associated businesses. He was interested in Mark’s ideas for the mill and his contention that Logie, with its significant amount of woodland, much of it unsuitable for traditional commercial forestry, would be the ideal spot.

He shared Mark’s desire to make more of the timber available in the area and develop more productive yet diverse woodlands in the process. He didn’t sign on immediately, but the pair swapped numbers and, after six months and a lot of pestering from Mark, he finally agreed to support the project with capital and a site.

Entering into a 50/50 partnership, they purchased their first mill, a Trak-met TTP-600, in 2017, with some financial assistance from the Forestry Grant Scheme. In 2018 the partners successfully applied to the LEADER funding programme, enabling them to obtain a frame saw, planer and wide belt sander to increase production and the range of products offered, as well as solar panels to offset electricity usage.

Forestry Journal: Established in 2017, Logie Timber has undergone continual development.Established in 2017, Logie Timber has undergone continual development. (Image: FJ/John McNee)

The sawmill building started construction in 2017, built by local craftsman Henry Fosbrooke. Taking over a year to erect using scribe-fit traditional techniques, the frame is constructed from Scots pine from Logie Estate, with the external frame crafted from local Douglas fir and larch.

The business had its official launch at the inaugural Logie Timber Festival – a celebration of all things wood – in 2019. For Mark, most of the time in between was spent learning how to use the sawmill.

“We’ve still got the Trak-met,” he said. “I would recommend it to anybody. It’s just been amazing. Originally the plan was to focus entirely on hardwoods, but the lure of larch and Douglas fir took over a wee bit.

“The issue with hardwood is it takes a couple of years to dry, then you have to kiln it.

"It’s a very long process. We’re still very much into it and passionate about trying to do better, but the larch keeps the bills paid. There was another sawmill not far away from here which shut down, so we took on some of their softwood business and that soon grew. It’s grown quite a bit since then.”

The business has grown so much, in fact, that it merited the recent investment of over £1.5 million in a new saw line and mill to dramatically up production and meet rising demand.

2023 saw the installation of the new line, which includes a horizontal bandsaw, board edger and multi-rip saw, pack saw, multiple conveyers, a complete waste-removal line with woodchipper and dust-extraction system.

Star of the show is Mebor’s flagship mill, the 16-tonne HTZ 1300 Plus, which, due to its wide blade and precision-built structure, is capable of tackling up to 80 m3 of logs per shift.

It is complemented by the VR 1300, which uses multiple blades for both the edging of boards and multi-ripping of cants. Any waste is turned into biomass chip and sawdust.

Mark explained the reasoning behind the decision to invest in Mebor. He said: “Quality and reliability were the big things for us. We went to see quite a lot of sawmills and Mebor was the weapon of choice for most of the sawmills of our size.

“The quality of the build is very impressive. The VR machine is around eight-and-a-half tonnes on its own. There’s a 137 kW motor on that one machine. It’s just massive. Everything is seriously heavy-duty and it works. We upgraded everything as high as we could go. The motors are as big as they can go, the gearboxes are as strong as they come. Everything’s built like a tank.”

The purchase of all this heavy-duty machinery naturally demanded the construction of a shelter in which to house it. With the involvement of architect-led design company Makar and housebuilder Gaspard Meric of Eco-Frame, a timber shed was developed and constructed to meet the unique specifications of the saw line.

Watch our teaser video on the Logie Timber story 

“It was two-and-a-bit years in the making,” said Mark. “We went to visit loads of other sawmills and could see that when you put a sawmill into a building that’s not made for it, you end up with a lot of inefficiencies. So we were really mindful of starting completely from scratch and designing it in the best way possible. Now that it’s up and running, I think there are a few things we would change, but not much.”

Going from a Trak-met TTP-600 to a Mebor HTZ 1300 Plus is obviously a significant leap and has taken some considerable getting used to for Mark and the team.

“It’s a lot to learn,” he said. “A big, big jump in technology. The scale and speed is incredible. We had a lot of teething issues as it went in which we were totally prepared for – stupid little things breaking and us being idiots and not knowing how to use it properly. Staff training was really important, giving the guys a lot of time to learn without any pressure.

“The biggest mistake with our original set-up was the amount of manual handling it required. Every single log and board had to be handled. And every time you pick up a board you lose money on it. Here, everything moves through the line automatically.

Forestry Journal:  Mark Councill, co-founder of Logie Timber. Mark Councill, co-founder of Logie Timber. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

It’s much more streamlined and efficient. Good material is taken off and put into the trolleys while any waste goes straight into the chip line. It cuts down massively on manual handling, which is a huge time saver as well as a back saver for our staff.

“It will increase our output by four or five times. With the old Trak-met mill and our slow process, we were producing round about two or three cube a day. With this, once we really get going we should be up around 15. It depends what size and style we’re cutting, but that’s our goal.”

When it’s operating at full capacity, Mark’s ambition is to turn his sawmill into the destination spot for anyone looking to buy untreated Scottish timber, as well as a shining example of how to successfully and sustainably run a small-scale mill.

“We only buy Scottish timber,” he said. “One of the things that pains me is that the UK is one of the biggest importers of timber in the world. That’s crazy when we’re such a small country. I hate it so much. It’s the one of the most disgusting statistics. And something like 90 per-cent of our hardwoods come from abroad, while over 40 per cent of forestry in the UK is unmanaged. So we know we need to do better. We’re just failing miserably.

“So we’ve set our goal on getting as much Scottish timber into the construction world as we possibly can. We’ve got three guys here that are trained to strength grade timber. We’re working super hard with a lot of bigger companies to find out what they need, what we can help them with to get them away from all of the imported stuff. We want to really make a dent in it. Scottish timber is all we ever want to deal with. We’re quite happy to export stuff, but we’re never going to be the ones bringing it in.”

Forestry Journal: The PZ 1200 cross-cut saw.The PZ 1200 cross-cut saw. (Image: FJ/John McNee)

Logie Timber also differentiates itself by steering clear of chemical treatments as well as making a commitment to attaining carbon neutrality. 

“We’re putting a lot of work into that, with things like the fuel we put in the forklift and the energy we use in the mill,” said Mark. “Haulage to and from the yard is a really tricky one to control, because we don’t really have a say on that, but it still counts towards our overall carbon output. So the next big step for us is a solar power system on the new shed. We’ve got the 22 kW system on our current shed. We’re going to put a much bigger one on the second shed and look at battery storage and wind turbines and things like that.”

Working symbiotically with Mark’s other business, CleanCut Forestry, Logie Timber is able to source high-quality local timber, fell and extract the trees, carry out all milling and processing and undertake replacement planting – a full-circle service that is hugely appealing to its ever-growing roster of clients.

It has a showroom at nearby Logie Steading, which acts as a shop front for the range of local wood produced at the sawmill and helps tell the story of the company and its mission.

Logie Timber also advises on wood uses and can connect customers to craftsmen to take on projects or provide guidance on how they can be progressed.
This open, welcoming approach to customer service is one of the key qualities that sets it apart from other sawmill businesses.

“I always think what would it be like if my mum wanted to buy timber, because she wouldn’t have a clue,” said Mark. “But if she came up here, I hope it would feel warm and welcoming and give her the information she needed to go away with exactly what they wanted. You know, when you phone a builder’s merchant sometimes if you don’t speak in the code of the builder merchants you’ve got no chance. I wouldn’t want us to be like that.

Forestry Journal: The VR 1300 uses multiple blades for both the edging of boards and multi-ripping of cants.The VR 1300 uses multiple blades for both the edging of boards and multi-ripping of cants. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“We are able to deal with really unusual bespoke orders. We also have a huge commitment to making sure people get what they require. I never want to get to the point where we impose a minimum order price. It just feels completely wrong considering where we started from. If someone comes in and says they need just two boards, that’s no problem.”

Some of its more high-profile clients include the likes of Moxon Architects, which approached Logie Timber for assistance in the selection, sourcing and cutting of 200 mm x 200 mm timber used in the design of the company’s new Scottish headquarters. It has also worked with Coast2Coast Architects and Brown and Brown Architects, two companies dedicated to innovation in housebuilding, making superb and attention-grabbing use of timber.

 “Getting architects and engineers to think about timber instead of steel is such an uphill battle sometimes,” said Mark. “Planning officers and the like don’t even want to consider using timber. For so long I think they’ve just been used to picking the same kind of standard things.

“But steel is a ridiculously expensive. The carbon implications of using steel over timber are obviously huge as well. So hopefully attitudes will start shifting by necessity more than anything else. But it would be nice if they just actually made that conscious decision to say ‘yeah, come on, let’s do better’. You know we can. There are nicer, more aesthetically pleasing things out there.”

Forestry Journal:  Every machine in the line has been upgraded to the highest specification. Every machine in the line has been upgraded to the highest specification. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

By choosing Scotland’s home-grown timber, the construction industry can lower its carbon footprint, help operate a smoother supply chain and keep costs balanced without compromising on quality. That’s a simple enough message but one that has so far failed to take root in the sector. Key to its plan to transform attitudes and get more wood into use has been Logie Timber’s development of a knowledge-based website sharing various articles and information on the subject, as well as the use of the showroom to help educate customers about its products and their capabilities.

Mark said: “We want architects to bring their clients to the sawmill, see everything being manufactured and see the samples. Because it’s impossibly hard to go for a tour around a sawmill most places. You’ve got to know someone. But we want to help people understand the process a lot more, explain the terminology and the reasons behind what we do and help them develop their own connection to Scottish timber.”

That ambition goes double for hardwood, though making significant progress there is certain to take much longer.

“We never want to give up on the dream of trying to make a real industry out of hardwoods. It’s just that right now very few places in the UK are able to process hardwood on a decent scale.

“There are a few places, like Scottish Wood in Dunfermline and Lanarkshire Hardwoods, doing really fantastic things for hardwoods. We’re desperately trying to follow and build on their example. 

Forestry Journal: This dust-extraction system from Indusvent has been an important part of the new investment.This dust-extraction system from Indusvent has been an important part of the new investment. (Image: FJ/John McNee)

“I think the perception of hardwood in Scotland is of it always being very characterful and awkward to work with, knotty and twisted. And of course, some of it is. But a lot of the time it’s a matter of how it has been dried, kilned and processed that is causing the distaste.

“If you’re a big company doing thousands and thousands of metres of a certain product in hardwood then uniformity is absolutely crucial. Otherwise your production just falls off a cliff. I think we need to get to the stage where we can produce that uniformity. We’re still a way away from that yet and the growing standard is not there. Actually having estates and landowners planting and managing it in a way so that it can be used commercially would make all the difference.”

Forestry Journal: This Liebherr 902 material handler is utilised to transport logs around the site.This Liebherr 902 material handler is utilised to transport logs around the site. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

Mark has held on to his Trak-met, which still sits in the old shed, surrounded by a variety of machines which can be utilised to produce more finished products like flooring. This means he can effectively and efficiently run two lines at the same time, with the Mebor focused on high-volume softwood and the Trak-met on more niche hardwood orders. Roles that can be reversed should the market demand it.

“It’d be great to see hardwood used more in everyday items,” he said. “But it’s so easy to get uniform hardwood from America. That makes it very attractive to a lot of companies.

“Maybe the carbon implications of bringing all that from far away will be added into the equation and prompt some big changes. But I think we have to be leading that, waving our chequebook to say ‘if you’ve got the timber we will pay you for it’, and encouraging people that way round. A landowner, to go into an open rotation on their ground, it’s like 100 years minimum, really. It’s a really hard sell. 

Forestry Journal:  The new shed is a bespoke design made specifically to house the new line. Concrete is due to be poured across the ground between the two units. The new shed is a bespoke design made specifically to house the new line. Concrete is due to be poured across the ground between the two units. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“So there’s a lot more work to do, but I think the tide has definitely changed and people are more aware of buying local than ever before. So hopefully that trend continues. It would be nice to see a lot more people planting commercial hardwood.”

The team behind Logie Timber certainly don’t lack for either passion or ambition. Its clear stated aim is to create a legacy where wood tells a story and builds on sustainable Scottish woodland by harnessing high-quality local timber and managing its source wisely. With its latest investment it has taken a considerable leap forward towards achieving that goal.

Asked what’s next, Mark said: “We’re putting in a new staff room and concreting the floor between the two sheds. We’ll also be adding a new hardwood shed and a new display showroom. And maybe a third kiln. There’s always something on the horizon.”