Have a seat with...

Alastair Rubie

Alastair Rubie is the Managing Director of Hewins Oak, European oak specialist based in Lopen, Somerset...and one of Sitting Spiritually's trusted timber suppliers. Providing premium-grade oak for a whole range of construction needs in the UK for over 20 years, Hewins have established themselves as a pioneers in the industry.

"Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skilful execution...”  

Let's meet Alastair!

Alastair Rubie

Hello, Alastair! Thanks for speaking with us today. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the work you do at Hewins Oak?

Hello, and thanks for choosing to include us in this series!  I started the company back in 1998 after working for a joinery company in Yeovil, and my brother Jonathan joined me in 2000. Over the years we have dealt with a variety of timber species but made the decision in 2010 to focus largely on European Oak and become known as an indispensable partner in the product. It is our vision to be the supplier of choice for oak in construction throughout the UK, and that vision has taken us on a wonderful journey so far and given us the chance to get involved in some truly awesome projects.

What does a working day look like for you?

I’ve recently taken a step back from managing the day-to-day running of the business, leaving this instead to the great team we have in place. So I now spend time working on the company as a whole, looking at ways we can continue to move forward within the industry, and I also get involved with some specific, high-value projects where large amounts of time need to be dedicated to tender and specification processes. This also involves travelling around the country to visit various customers and sites, and this is one of the favourite parts of my job – where I can meet clients and discuss how they can benefit from our product offering.

As European oak specialists, with over 20 years’ experience in the industry, can you tell me where in Europe exactly your oak is sourced from and the history of the region?

We buy from four regions; Burgundy, Champagne, the Val-du-Loire and Normandy. The French government has always been very passionate about oak preservation stemming right back to the reign of Louis 14th!  They used the oak in shipbuilding for both the Navy and merchant vessels, which meant they could continue to challenge us and the Dutch from gaining complete command of the seas.  Today, it’s different – around 50% of oak in France is owned by the state and the remainder is privately owned, but has to follow state harvesting rules. This system of management is known as futaie régulière, and promotes growth of the healthiest, fastest-growing and straightest trees. The straighter the grain, the better the wood.

You obviously have a hectic working life, but what do you like to do in your downtime? How do you like to relax?

Outside of work, we love to entertain, so will often have family and friends round to share some good food and drink and catch up on life’s adventures!  Our patio is home to one of the largest pieces of timber we have ever imported, and it’s turned into one of the best outdoor tables we’ve ever owned – last summer we managed to seat 36 guests around it one evening!

Hewins timber

"It is our vision to be the supplier of choice for oak in construction throughout the UK, and that vision has taken us on a wonderful journey so far!"

Can you tell me about the environmental credentials of the oak you supply, and how important is that Hewins uses only responsibly-sourced materials?

Oak is a totally sustainable resource – but only when managed correctly – and therefore we strongly promote the importance of environmental management.  The future of Hewins depends on the long-term availability of hardwood timber, and the future of the entire planet depends on everyone to play their part in carefully using this valuable resource. The majority of our stocks hold FSC® or PEFC™ certification, and this has been maintained by an annual audit since 2006 to make sure we are actively contributing to a sustainable future for all.

As a trusted timber supplier for Sitting Spiritually, can you tell me what makes oak such a brilliant material for outdoor furniture?

The main advantage of oak is its durability – it is stronger and harder than most other timbers and lasts for decades. Thanks to a wonderful thing called tyloses, it has a structural ability to repel water, which also helps it resist rot.  Tyloses is a type of cellular growth that fills the pores of the wood, preventing water from being able to penetrate the wood - one reason why oak has been a favourite to build ships and barrels. Oak also has high levels of tannic acid, which acts as is a natural preservative and pesticide. Finally, not only is oak strong and durable, but it also looks beautiful. The classic, golden-brown colour never goes out of style and works in any outdoor environment.

How long does the oak drying process take before it’s ready to be used, and what are the advantages of using air-dried oak—which many of the Sitting Spiritually furniture range is built from?

Traditionally, the rule of thumb was to dry ‘a year per inch, plus a year’. This context can still loosely be applied today although – with modern equipment – it now tends to be governed by regular testing of the moisture content throughout the process.  Air dried timber has been dried naturally in a covered, outdoor environment (e.g. an open barn) and results in a stable product that is very well suited to external applications.  As the Sitting Spiritually furniture range is designed to used/stored outside, air-drying ensures that the timber is at a suitable moisture content and will therefore not react adversely to the environment by either shrinking or expanding.

Hewins timber supplies

"Not only is oak strong and durable, but it also looks beautiful. The classic, golden-brown colour never goes out of style and works in any outdoor environment."

As a thriving business based in Lopen, Somerset, one that supports local employment, initiatives, and charity projects in the area, how important is it to you that Hewins upholds strong ties with the local community?

Lopen has been our home now for 20 years and we love being a part of the community.  The village has a population of just 260, so it’s important for us to always be mindful of our fellow-residents and ensure we give back something to the neighbourhood.  We supported the Lopen Music Weekend last summer and are currently sponsoring the publication of a local magazine; we do our best to be an asset to the community. Surrounded by blossoming orchards and rolling fields, it’s certainly somewhere we want to stay! 

What’s next on the horizon for you and Hewins Oak, Alastair?

The past two years have seen plenty of development at Hewins, with construction of new timber sheds, installation of new sawmills, and continued advancement of our team, systems & processes.  2023 is about putting all of this to good use in view of better serving our customers’ needs and requirements, whilst continuing to be a driving force in the market.  We're looking to bring out a number of new product ranges, as well as explore some new potential markets, so I'm really excited to see what the future will bring!  Also, 2023 marks our 25th year of operating, so it will be celebrate this milestone with our staff at various events throughout the year. 

Thank you, Alastair! It's been a pleasure.

Read more...

hewins oak website

The Sitting Spiritually 'Have a Seat With' series takes a look behind the scenes at how we switch off from the bustling modern-day lifestyle. We speak to people of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles around the country as we seek to explore the different ways of relaxing and just taking a moment.

Posted by Siobhan on April 19th 2023

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