Sawmills Behind-the-Scenes

As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, we source all of our sustainable oak from specially grown forests in France.

Sussex Oak works with more than a dozen French sawmills to ensure we’ve got a consistent supply coming into our yard in Newhaven, East Sussex. Moreover, it’s important any French oak we deal with is processed with a strong focus on sustainability.

We’ve given you a brief tour of some of the weird and wonderful things we’ve got in our yard, and for this blog we thought we would give a similar ‘behind-the-scenes’ look into the inner workings of the French sawmills!

The sawmill we’ll use for this blog is RBD (Raison Bois et Débits).

Based in the heart of the forests of Orne in Normandy, they export oak to the UK, all over Europe, and further afield.

They’re part of a collective of sawmills and foresters called Normandie Bois Entreprises – a group of five that together process more than 50,000 cubic metres of logs per year.

From French Sawmills to Sussex

Sustainable forestry in France ensures there’s a consistent supply of wood available.

To start with, oak seedlings are planted and are grown in greenhouses until they take root and are well on their way to becoming a fully fledged tree.

At five years they’re dug up and replanted in the sustainable forests, where they’re left until they’re ready for felling. The approximate time from seed to felling is between 25 and 30 years.

In the meantime the greenhouses are replanted using more seedlings.

Felled oak trees at RBD sawmill before processing

Once the felled oak trees are in the sawmill they can be processed. The first part is to chop the incredibly long trunks into more manageable pieces.

Due to the sheer amount of wood these places have to deal with, they’ve got some extremely clever machines to help automate some of the work.

This not only saves on costs but ensures a consistent quality of output – important if, for example, you’re buying a pack of floorboards and you want them all the same size!

RBD worker overseeing machine working

Their setup incorporates 3D cameras, laser cutting, and CAD design to bring together a sophisticated process, and they’re able to select from a number of different measurements to create a range of different sized floorboards and beams.

The machine pictured below uses laser precision to cut the tree trunks into uniform planks. The whole trunk can be fed through in one continual manoeuvre, ensuring the beams and floorboards created come out straight and that no material is wasted.

Cutting the oak

What you’re left with is a tree that’s been chopped down and divided into uniform sizes, almost ready to be packed up and sold.

However, first they must be dried to make sure the moisture content of the wood is lowered. This is to reduce the risk of the processed planks or beams warping over time.

The sawmill has very large warehouses to store the oak and give it time to dry out. Alternatively, the oak can be kiln-dried to speed up this process.


Naturally, these floorboard will still have on them some remnants of the tree bark on their thin edges…but they’ve got a machine for that too!

If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see pieces of oak with the bark at the top, a line of small sanding wheels, and then clean pieces of oak at the bottom:

Removing the bark from the oak

Once they’re fully prepped, the oak is then ready for packaging and selling.

The finished oak, ready to be purchased

Oak Framed Buildings

As well as producing a mammoth amount of oak beams, RBD also uses their machines that can make all the component parts of some fantastic oak framed buildings – that you can order from Sussex Oak!

From triple bay garages to pagodas and gazebos, these structures are sturdy, look great, and will make a wonderful addition to a home.

They can help raise the value of a property and can even be converted for domestic living (with correct planning permission in place).

You can read about the oak framed buildings in more detail in a previous blog post.

These buildings show the full extent of the capability of the machines at the RBD sawmill – once programmed, the oak can be fed in and each and every beam in the building is made in turn, ensuring the whole set is there and no bits are missed.

You can see it in action in the following video:

The final part of all this is transporting the oak to our yard.

Unfortunately there’s no quick way to do this, and it involves our dedicated team driving back and forth to France to pick it up and ensure we’ve got a steady supply.

Luckily, being based in Newhaven means we’re perfectly placed for the cross-Channel ferry. The Newhaven to Dieppe route is right on our doorstep!

oak sleepers
Oak sleepers – from France, now in the Sussex Oak yard in Newhaven

If you’re interested in purchasing packs of oak beams visit our product page for information on pricing and grading of wood we have available.

We can facilitate delivery of the beams to your location using our crane vehicles.

Get in touch today by calling 01273 517013 or filling in our online enquiry form.