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Sustainability – Timber


    At George Smith, sustainability is at the heart of what we do. We use natural materials to manufacture upholstered furniture at our factory in Northumberland, furniture that is built to last. Should a piece show some wear and tear, lose a castor or slip a spring, we will take it back and restore it, replenishing materials where needed and returning it looking as good as new. Today, we would like to tell you about the materials we use, starting with the various types of timber, what we use them for and why we use them.
Image: Hana Snow
Image: Hana Snow

George Smith Timber

    Timber is at the heart of our furniture and all our frames carry a 25 year guarantee. It is the inner strength and structure of the furniture, and, for some designs, the beautiful finishing details that help set us apart. At George Smith we only use hardwoods in our furniture; sustainably sourced timbers that we procure from accredited suppliers.

    Let’s begin with American tulipwood, also known as yellow poplar. We use this timber for the internal make-up of pieces, typically in places that can’t be seen, as its light cream colour with streaks of grey or green makes it hard to colour match when it comes to staining. Our tulipwood comes from the Appalachian mountains in North America, where forests are growing at a rate of 2.45 for every 1 tree that is harvested or dies combined. Tulipwood grows at twice the rate of an oak tree, and grows straight up with minimal low branches, resulting in less waste and enabling us to make more furniture per board. All our timber is kiln-dried, and the benefit is that a 4.5” tulipwood board will take about 4 to 5 days to dry, as opposed to 3 to 4 weeks for a red oak board of the same size.

    For the external wood of our furniture we use either ash or utile, depending on the desired finish. Due to its similarity to oak in strength and grain we use a mixture of European and American ash for our oak finishes. A hardwood tree in the olive tree family, ash dries three times faster than oak. Whilst we have been known to use oak in our furniture, and can do so on request, we recommend against it as it can be prone to splitting.

    Utile is our choice for mahogany and walnut finishes. The key difference between classic mahogany and walnut woods is the colour – mahogany has a reddish-brown hue whereas walnut is a deeper brown with a purplish hue or undertone. Both of these can be replicated with various finishes on utile wood as it has a similar grain.
Image: Hana Snow
Image: Hana Snow

Our Supplier

    We use the UK’s leading independent hardwood specialist importer, with over 200 years of experience in the industry. Every single piece of wood that passes through their hands can be fully traced back to its source and has to pass strict due-diligence to be compliant with the United Kingdom Timber Regulations (UKTR) – where it grew, when it was felled and which mill it came from. Our supplier is committed to controlling the supplies of their North American & European hardwoods to exclude wood harvested from forest areas where traditional or civil rights are violated, from uncertified forest areas with high conservation values, from genetically modified trees, from forest areas which have been illegally harvested, and from natural forests cleared for plantation or other use.


    In recent years our product development team has been instrumental in the evolution of the way we produce our furniture, leading us to modernise our manufacturing process and invest in new technology to create better products. Where applicable, we are re-developing the internal structure of catalogue and bespoke styles to strengthen the frames and enable us to manufacture complex designs. As a happy coincidence, using hardwood plywood boards improves not only the quality of our furniture but also the sustainability. Plywood (not to be mistaken for medium-density fibreboard (MDF) or chipboard) is a material manufactured from thin layers or ‘plies’ of birch and eucalyptus wood that are pressed and glued together, with their grain rotated up to 90˚ to one another. This alternation of the grain is called ‘cross-graining’ and has several important benefits: it reduces the tendency of wood to split when nailed at the edges; reduces expansion and shrinkage; provides improved dimensional stability and makes the strength of the panel consistent across all directions. For outdoor furniture we use marine plywood, which performs longer in both humid and wet conditions and resists delaminating and fungal attack. Its construction is such that it can be used in environments where it is exposed to moisture for long periods.

    At George Smith we buy in the highest grade of plywood, which means it has no voids and also ensures that it is TSCA (Toxic Substance Control Act) Title VI Certified, which is the formaldehyde emissions standard from the US Environmental Protection Agency. To cut the pieces quickly and efficiently we programme our CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machine to cut the pieces in a ‘nesting’ technique, as seen in the image below. This technique maximises the boards to their full extent and minimises our wastage.
CNC plywood nesting technique
George Smith plywood section


    Our outdoor pieces are made with iroko; it is an inherently oily timber and suited to exposure to moisture, as well as durable and resistant to both rot and insect attack. Whilst teak is a popular choice for outdoor furniture, we believe Iroko is a superior sustainable species due the extremely large size of the Iroko tree, which produces wide and long boards that are easier to use for millwork applications and produce less waste.

Want to know more?

If you would like any further information about the timber we use, please get in touch.

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