THE AFI Wood Conference – the next steps of working on timber issues

THE AFI Wood Conference – the next steps of working on timber issues

The AFI Timber in Ground Contact conference welcomed attendees from across the fencing industry to discuss the issues contractors have faced with timber and discuss the options. This is the first time contractors, suppliers and treatment companies have come together in one room to hear about problems first hand. The AFI specifically created this event to give everyone a chance to speak and were glad to see so many in attendance willing to take questions.

Gordon Ewbank from the WPA started the day and immediately faced some tough comments from the audience on failures experienced and took a show of hands on contractors who have had timber problems, which confirmed the need for the conference from the outset when all contractors present were in the vote! Although field trials were recapped and the use of UC4 encouraged, the field trials sites are very low in number in comparison to the number of installations taking place every day which did give reservations for their accuracy.

It was reassuring to hear Gordon acknowledge that there “was clearly a problem” and that contractor problems are not “anecdotal” but that the WPA want to “work with the industry” to resolve this.

With the conference also promoting alternate products, Howard Waghorn from Hahn Plastics was on hand to discuss their products. As a pure polymer with an inability to rot, Hanh Plastic fencing products have a service life of 120 years and are not affected by different conditions and are Highways approved. With a big price difference to timber, this is not a product that will be used in every scenario but with a longer life any replacement costs are removed giving a viable option. Many contractors in the room have worked with plastic, especially from users seeking longevity when they have lost faith in timber. The technology of the plastic fencing products continues to develop with products able to be steel reinforced if necessary.

Scanpole, producing fencing products treated with creosote, are keen to move away from a product that although effective does have handling and installation issues, along with its long-term carcinogenic possibilities. Simon Pears explained that their move to copper oil treatment will give an aim for a desired service life of 40 years with better hydrophobic properties than creosote. However, Scanpole do not have the capacity as yet to supply the fencing industry with copper oil treated timber – with utility poles only scheduled for production from 2023 and fencing unlikely until 2025. Simon was keen to acknowledge problems faced by contractors and volunteered to collect timber for boring tests at their Newport site and the results shared. Watch this space on the findings!

Chris Hambridge of McVeigh Parker gave an honest opening, describing the decision to begin importing Clipex stemmed from their continued dissatisfaction with timber. Although still using timber, Clipex gives them greater longevity and removes what they see as an unfairness on problems coming back on contractors – even allowing for re-siting adding to the sustainability advantage. But with Clipex not a full replacement option for all, but accounting for 25% of their fencing, a solution to premature timber failure is still needed. Chris commented that he was glad to see everyone from fencing coming together to hopefully begin the process of a resolution.

Duralock also offer an alternate to timber with uPVC made up of 91% repurposed material. Made in Britain this is an excellent product to improve sustainability on jobs. Jonathon McGovern took us through the 15 year guarantee on Duralock fencing and that they are looking to expand further in to commercial and domestic fencing as currently this is commonly used on racecourses and sports fencing due to the high safety factor offered.

Albin Baecker gave one of the most interesting and entertaining presentations of the day, with many attendees noting this was their best part of the day! With extensive history in testing timber failures on vineyards who were experiencing 50% failures, Albin explained that in service evidence is to be believed and used for improving treatment, including fully encapsulating a pole to avoid rot.

Mark Naylor from Durapost by Birkdale took us through the development of Durapost in fencing. A much quicker install is possible with Durapost than timber and concrete due to the weight and strength of the galvanised steel. Birkdale continue to develop this product to increase options in the future. Mark led an open discussion in the room with contractors – giving an idea of the numbers currently using Durapost and gathering their feedback and recommendations. Durapost is clearly already a popular product with most in the room already using this regularly, viewing it positively and expressing how much they enjoy working with it on domestic fencing projects.

Arxada, developers of Tanasote an alternative to creosote, had Stephen Uphill give an explanation on the use of this hot oil based copper wood preservative. Stephen also explained the field tests currently taking place, including aggressive sites in Florida mean Arxada quote a 40 year desired life on Tanasote treated products. However, before this is a viable option across fencing, there needs to be a transition period as currently Tanasote treated products are only commercially available in Belgium with UK release not expected until Q1 2023.

The wood conference closed with a dual presentation from M&M Timber and James Jones & Son. This was another opportunity for contractors to listen to the work of treatment companies but also directly pose their concerns and issues.

Fraser Hall noted that M&M Timber adhere to auditing by WPA to ensure they meet treatment standards. However, the monthly testing schedule requires only 16 products out of 150,000 giving a 0.01% test rate. In comparison to the number of posts being installed by contractors on a weekly basis this was not viewed as an accurate reflection on timber in use. M&M Timber do offer a warranty scheme to give contractors greater confidence, as long as the warranty is registered for each product purchased within 3 months of the purchase date.

Graham Blyth from James Jones & Son initially commented on a lack of understanding within fencing of UC4 which was quickly rebuffed by those present. The wealth of knowledge in the room was then recognised with Graham noting that it was an advantage for James Jones & Son to be with so many experienced fencing contractors and gather direct feedback, including being made aware of issues within Highways where requirements are to use specifiers.

With 11m cubic metres of timber in use in the UK annually, with 12% within fencing, it was clear to all that resolving the timber issues is essential for all contractors, manufacturers and suppliers. Everyone attending agreed that all want to work together to solve the problems that have plagued the industry for so long and hope this is the first step.

The AFI will be arranging further meetings with key representatives and make the Timber in Ground Contact Conference and annual event to continue to keep all within the industry connected.

Pete Clark CEO of the AFI said “This was a great initiative and advancement in the continued communication from all sectors of the industry. The AFI will continue to push the discussion for all, to find a resolution to a problem that has been gossiped about for too long without a clear path to contractor protection. The event showed the passion, experience and knowledge that the contracting market have in wood quality & treatment.
If not resolved the confidence that is shifting away from wood usage may not be resolved and this will lead to the alternatives, that we on offer at the conference, becoming the more acceptable solution with dubious and difficult path back to timber usage as the normal material for fencing contractors.
I would like to thank all involved for their time efforts and making the event a success and a positive step forward for all in the industry.”