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Felling, presentation and grading of hardwood timber

Correct felling of hardwood timber and good presentation of woodlots are essential in order to optimise prices for woodland owners.

Grading of hardwood timber will determine the product (and general price categories) into which logs will be placed.


An examination of the planted area and the condition of standing trees may indicate possible defects such as shake in oak or chestnut. Sites containing river gravel, sand or vegetation such as nettles and bracken may carry a higher risk of shake. Star shake can radiate to the tree surface in winter and split the bark of oak. Shake in oak may be associated with the presence of large early wood vessels in oak. These shake-prone trees may flush later than normal in the season.

Prepare the site for sale

Trees for sale should be identified, measured by a competent person and well marked.  Give prospective buyers as much help as possible. Access should be made easy by removing obstructions such as scrub and brambles and providing crossing areas for ditches and drains. A map of the forest showing boundaries, environmentally sensitive zones, extraction routes, loading areas, lorry access routes, weight limits, and location of transmission cables is essential. Owners of woodlots will demonstrate their genuine intention to sell by having a felling licence in place at this stage.

Potential buyers should be informed in good time with details of woodlots for sale. The current avenues are through local or national newspapers and magazines, mailing lists or the internet.

Fell or sell standing?

Owners may opt to sell hardwood timber standing. If so, the buyers carry the risk of rot or shake being present in trees.  Such defects may not be apparent until trees are felled.

Selling of trees at the stump or following extraction to roadside can yield a higher price (but can also reveal otherwise hidden defects following felling). Selling at stump avoids potential damage from extraction. If sold at roadside, logs should be kept as clean as possible, out of the mud and laid out individually. Logs should also be kept off the ground to facilitate measurement.

When to fell?

The felling operation is time-critical for broadleaf species. Felling should only be carried out if and when a market has been secured. In most situations, winter felling is recommended. Otherwise pale timbers such as sycamore can be subject to colour taint if felled when sap levels are high. Ash will often split if felled during the summer months.

It is important for owners not to put in the wrong cuts in the logs. Cuts may be inserted at obvious bends and deformities in the log. In general, prices may be maximised by allowing buyers to make the cross-cutting decisions themselves.

Grading of hardwoods

The First Grade lengths of species such as oak, ash, sycamore, cherry and sweet chestnut are classed as veneer or planking butts. These should be in excess of 2.7 m in length, 45 cm at the mid-diameter and be clean, with even grain, free of defects such as knots or shake. Typical prices quoted for first grade oak are €180-€280/m³ (or roughly per tonne).

Oak is further graded into Beam Logs which include poorer formed trees and second lengths. Such lengths should be in excess of 2.5 m upwards and at least 30 cm mid-diameter. Some defects can be tolerated as only 3 sides of the beams will be visible. Typical prices for oak beam logs would be €145/m³.

Oak is further graded into Fencing Quality attracting prices in the region of €100/m³.

Second lengths or poorer grades of ash, sycamore, beech or Norway maple are classed as Second Quality Planking. These are used in the frames for upholstered furniture such as chair backs and bed frames and therefore not visible. This category tends to be priced in the region of €60/m³.

Learning for the future

Felling, presentation and grading of hardwood timber require both skill and experience. The required expertise is available in Ireland by a limited number within the industry.

With levels of hardwood planting increasing, there is a necessity for forest owners and managers to cultivate the knowledge required to produce high quality forests for specific end uses.