The Story of the Devon Oak Bed

The Story of the Devon Oak Bed

The story of the Devon Oak Bed begins with the planting of a humble acorn over a century ago.

The Devon Oak Bed perfectly encompasses our motto of 'Made by hand in Devon'. From the planting of the acorn over one hundred years ago to the final coat of oil, the wood used for the Devon Oak Bed has not once left our home county of Devon. Until we deliver it to you, that is.

Step One: Planting the Seed

Our timber is sourced from the sustainably-managed oak woodland of the Coryton family's Pentillie Estate, located along the banks of Devon's River Tamar.

Under the command of John Tillie Coryton, these woodlands were established by renowned landscape architect Humphry Repton in 1809 as part of a grand remodelling of Pentillie.

Repton's impressive masterplan included the transformation of the modest family home into an imposing castle, the creation of fashionable American Gardens, and - most crucial to this story - the planting of vast swathes of oak woodland.

Over 200 years later, the Pentillie Estate has evolved to survive wars, requisitions and immense cultural shifts - remaining firmly in the hands of the Coryton family. Likewise, the oak woodlands established by Repton have grown to form a commanding woodland spanning some 500 acres.

As part of an ongoing woodland management plan implemented by descendants of John Tillie Coryton, felling and replanting of parts of the woodland at Pentillie encourages new growth and biodiversity.

Find out more about sustainable forest management.


Step Two: Sourcing & Seasoning

 In the uplands of North Devon sits a small, family-run sawmill - UK Hardwoods. Their team have been sourcing and producing artisan joinery timber for over forty years, only ever using wood grown in the UK.

Second-generation owners Tom and Polly are devoted to preserving the traceability of all timber produced, only using hardwood grown in the family’s own managed woodland and from certified British woodland and estates such as Pentillie.

When an area of Pentillie's woodland is felled, the trees are brought to the roadside and Tom is invited to inspect them. After a process of grading, specific trees are chosen for their individual merits and are brought by road to the mill in North Devon. We spoke to Tom and Polly about the milling process during a recent visit.

"When sourcing the timber for a Devon Oak Bed, we'd be looking for bigger, better and cleaner trees" Tom says. We learned that there is a definite seasonality to the milling process: "The trees are sawn around September. We don't want to saw them earlier as they would dry out too quickly."

"The trees are sawn into two, three and four inch planks, which are stacked in this area to be air-dried until they reach a moisture content level of 20% - this typically takes around four years." The area Tom is referring to is a large drying shed at the bottom of the yard, which houses towering stacks of wood with varying moisture content levels.

 "The wood is then brought up to our heated climate-chamber sheds at the top of the yard, where Polly takes the helm." The 'top shed' is a climate-controlled storage shed, constructed entirely from glued and laminated (Glulam) larch wood with sheep's wool insulation. The entire project took place within a 27-mile radius, and resulted in the world's largest UK grown Glulam structure.

"When the wood arrives here, it goes straight to the back of the shed where it is allowed to further dry until it reaches a moisture content of around 10%." The wood has to be brought inside for this process, Polly says, as the climate outside is simply too unpredictable. When the wood reaches the final moisture content of 10% it is ready to be hand-chosen by Bob, our Master Joiner.

"The mill is open two days a week for customers to come in and personally sort through the oak boards, choosing specific pieces for their grain or shape to suit the job they'll be used for." Polly continues - "You can really then pick the boards you want for the furniture you're making. Each piece on the Devon Oak Bed has been chosen by someone here in our climate shed."

 Step Three: The Joinery Process

Once the lumber has been hand-picked by Bob, it travels with him to a small workshop at the foot of Devon's Blackdown Hills. Here, specialist machinery tough enough to cut through hardwood is employed to carefully plane each board to the correct thickness before cutting it to shape.

Armed with the finished wood components, Bob returns to his own shop just outside Exeter, where we joined him as he assembled a Devon Oak Bed. "I chose this piece for the side rail here because you can see all this lovely detail running along the side," notes Bob. "Oak has such a beautiful grain because of the way it grows - these knots are so treasured and are a fun challenge to work with."

Bob joins the legs to the side rails, utilising hidden metalwork to create a strong joint that elegantly marries the two pieces along a curved seam. He drills various holes and inserts threads to receive bolts, ensuring that the bed can be taken apart and put back together smoothly.

Finally, Bob disassembles the woodwork in order to apply a finishing coat of oil - sealing the cuts to make the wood watertight and revealing a beautiful natural pattern within the grain.

As the parts of the finished bed come together, Bob remarks on the provenance of the wood. "The amazing thing is that each and every piece of wood in this bed can be traced to the tree it was hewn from, which is amazing to me. You just don't see that very often."
That local provenance is the main driving force behind the conception of the Devon Oak Bed - to be the essence of Made by Hand in Devon. As it passes through the hands of local arborists, sawyers, machinists and joiners, the bed stays firmly put in its home county. And we think that's just the way it should be.

You can learn more about the Devon Oak Bed here. The bed is also on display at our flagship showroom in Chiswick, West London. If you're unable to make it to the showroom, we also offer online showroom consultations with a member of our team - we look forward to hearing from you.