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Farm Forestry Timbers 

Specialty Timbers Newsletter 10, July 2017

Farm Forestry Timbers are an industry body representing the interests of specialty timber producers and users right around New Zealand. We support locally produced timbers going into local markets, for producing quality products. We represent all facets of industry, membership ranges from growers right through to designers and users of timber.

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In this newsletter:



Determinations, specialty timbers and the building code

What do you know about "Determinations"? Well, Determinations are best described as judgements made by MBIE where disputes arise between the Building Consent Authority (BCA) and those undertaking building work. BCA's must accept compliance where the building work is an "Acceptable Solution", such as when using materials complying with the standards referenced in the building code. However, where building work doesn't "fit" within these constraints (such as using materials that are not specified in the standards) the owner has to apply for an "Alternative Solution".  

Last year an application was made to Marlborough District Council for specifying NZ grown European oak for flooring, floor joists and beams in the owners dwelling. This was an Alternative Solution because oak is not a species listed in NZS 3602 "Timber and Wood-based Products for Use in Building". MDC rejected the application because they contended that they didn't have enough information on the durability of European oak for use in internal applications.

Yep, true...

The owner had to supply a whole lot of information on the natural durability of oak to MDC, for use in a dry internal environment. Now, keep in mind that the natural durability of oak is the stuff of legends and is based on many centuries of use as a structural timber. And yes, this is a true story, MDC declined the consent because they asserted that the applicant didn't supply enough information on durability.

The information supplied included:

  • A paper published in the New Zealand Journal of Forestry: “Durability of New Zealand grown timbers”
  • Information about oak indicating the timber is classified as “Durable”.
  • Email correspondence from a Scion Research scientist saying "results indicate that the heartwood has a durability rating of 2 (durable) in ground contact. The heartwood is generally regarded as durable - very durable in Europe hence there should be no problem with it being used for framing timber or for flooring."

The owner was forced to apply to MBIE for a Determination to sort out this mess. They just wanted to use oak timber in their house! 

What was in question was the durability in a dry internal environment. The Determination is eight pages long and is all very official, but concludes that "New Zealand grown European oak in its proposed use as flooring, floor joists, posts and beams in an internal double-height space in the building will meet the requirements of the Building Code with respect to Clause B2 Durability."

Unfortunately, next time a BCA declines an application to use oak for similar applications, the owner will need to go through this process all over again, because this Determination only applies to that one house - Determinations are conducted on a "case-by-case basis".

Is there a solution to this mess, where "alternative" species are relegated to the realm of "Alternative solutions", allowing BCA's to get away with being completely unreasonable? Did you know that laying a blackwood floor currently requires an Alternative Solution and is open for rejection by your local BCA?

We need to make it easier to use specialty timbers in building work for applications that they are well suited. This is why I'm representing Farm Forestry Timbers on the NZS 3602 committee "Timber and Wood-based Products for Use in Building".

Dean Satchell
Chair, FFT

To comment on this article go to Blogs >>

If any of you have stories for this newsletter, please get in touch with Dean by email.


Harvesting & Milling Indigenous Timber on Private Land

Owners of land with indigenous forests have several options if they wish to harvest and mill indigenous timber. The milling of native timber is regulated by the Forests Act which was amended in 1993 for the purpose of ‘the promotion of sustainable management of indigenous forests’ There are approximately 1.2 million hectares of privately owned indigenous forest in New Zealand, of which of which 25% may be suitable for sustainable management and ongoing production of a relatively small quantity of indigenous timber.

There are four approval types;

  • Sustainable forest management (SFM) plans; Long term (50 year) approval of an annual allowable harvest, set at a rate that the forest could sustain in perpetuity.
  • Sustainable forest management (SFM) permits; Shorter 10 year term approval of a capped volume.
  • Personal use approvals.
  • Milling Statements for trees that fit specified circumstances, e.g. dead standing or wind thrown trees or salvage timber, planted indigenous forests etc.

Currently there are 82 000 ha of privately owned indigenous forests being managed under sustainable management Plans and Permits. Sustainable forest management prescriptions minimise the effects of the harvest by restricting harvest intensity and impacts so the forests natural values will be maintained. If there is insufficient natural regeneration, prescriptions may require exclusion of stock, control of pests and/or planting of seeding at the rate of five per harvested tree. Approximately 23 000 m3 of indigenous logs reach sawmills each year.

The control point of the Forests Act is the sawmill. A sawmill may only cut indigenous timber if it is registered with MPI and there is an approval issued by MPI for the timber consignment. The Forests Act definition of a sawmill is very broad. Anything that produces sawn timber or woodchips is defined as a sawmill, so portable sawmills and Alaskan type chainsaw mills are included. There are 167 sawmills registered to mill indigenous timber in NZ, a third of them have received indigenous timber in the last six months.

Planted indigenous forests certificates can be issued by MPI to owners of indigenous plantations. The certificates provide evidence the indigenous forest is a plantation for the purposes of obtaining a milling statement at a later date. Planted indigenous forests are not subject to sustainable forest management prescriptions.

MPI does not charge any fee for processing and issuing Forests Act approvals. There is a sawmill registration fee for sawmills however - $115 a year. Milling indigenous timber without an approval and/or a registered sawmill is an offence under the Forests Act with a penalty of up to $200 000.

Landowners or sawmillers with questions or wanting more information can contact MPI on 0800 008333 or email

Stephen Rolls. Senior Forestry Analyst, MPI


In the Spotlight: John Fairweather

Canterbury branch NZFFA members have kept an attentive eye on John’s operations at his and Robyn’s home base near Sefton for some years. Surrounded by their maturing stands of trees – mostly eucalypts and acacias, and a range of conifers – on their 20 ha block, about six years ago John applied himself on a full-time basis to the challenges, and hoped-for rewards, of realising value from the trees. After all, some form of harvest was imminent and no-one had yet sorted out viable milling and marketing regimes for eucalypts. John dubs his first four years as his establishment phase, concentrating on getting a functional timber mill operating and other basic plant and buildings in place.

Then came a two-year phase of consolidation – improving the infrastructure such as the mill and solar drying facility, and in a modest way, engaging helpers. Until now, his focus was wide – seeking value where it lay – from sawdust to firewood, hardwood stakes to sawn timber and more, as well as beginning to look at more sophisticated products such as flooring. He would tend to tackle pretty much any task a client requested that lay broadly within his capability.

Recognising this was an untenable situation for the future of a small operation, John has, since our last visit, entered a third phase of refinement, now seeking to find where the true value lies, and recognising the business must soon make good sense economically. Today, John ran us 30-plus members through his current situation. He broadly defines his business as handling ca. 60 cu m/yr of processed timber products, and seeking a price target of $2000 per cu metre processed product equivalent.

A greater dedication to marketing is emerging – it no longer makes sense to switch off the mill while John answers the phone for an enquiry about a load of firewood. To further free himself to develop the market end of the business, John sees may also need to scale-up his labour force, for example entrusting the mill operations to a second operator.

Marketing has been challenging – print media has proven to be a largely unproductive money sink, and specialist clients such as architects, who at first seem within reach as a group, can be resistant to access for a small, immature operation not yet having gained formal accreditation and connections. Even where a connection to a customer seems obvious, there are likely to be one-off barriers such as client expectations of formal certification, non-feasible timber dimension requirements and volumes, and timing. Trademe Services linked to a website ( is proving a low cost and effective bright spot in the marketing mix.

John has built a ‘display office’ (as opposed to a ‘building’) constructed more or less wholly of eucalypt timber in a range of home-grown profiles – framing, flooring, lining and even cladding (the latter to demonstrate the stability of the timber, not to advocate for its use for this exterior application).

Focus is increasingly narrowing down to eucalypts  (though he admits to still handling other species for clients – and showing us some fine cedar logs and sawn timber!)  Nitens and regnans (both home sourced and brought-in) are the bread and butter. He has begun to market these as ‘Plantation Oak’, reflecting the (sustainable) local plantation origins and its similarity as timber to Tasmanian Oak (an established collective marketing name in Australia for E. delegatensis, obliqua, and regnans).

John recently bought a large consignment of ironbark wharf piles (E. paniculata?) ex-Cashin Quay deconstruction at Lyttelton Port, and has learned to mill this very hard timber economically. There is a robust market for this timber which has already endured 60 years in sea water.  John showed us in the yard a consignment of large-dimension sawn iron bark beams awaiting delivery to a building project in Queenstown.

John demonstrated to us the versatility of his combination of plant, a Wood-Mizer LT70 mill, Woodmizer twin-blade edger and a Logosol four-sided planer. With these he can turn out dressed timber down to 8mm. After milling, timber is air dried to 25% moisture content and then put into a solar kiln to bring it down to 12%, at which point it is ready for value-added use or market. Air drying is slowed by wrapping planks in film to reduce cracking and distortion and promoting timber stability.

John's LT 70 Woodmizer sawmill that feeds a Woodmizer twin-blade edger and firewood docking machine.

Emerging priority products include ready-to-lay timber flooring, including a two layer cross-laminate and a laminate on (non eucalypt) ply backing, both of which John machines to T&G planks and parquet.

Stepping back from John’s operations, I found it both refreshing and remarkable to discover this intensive and specialised innovation taking place behind the distinctive and well-formed, but otherwise superficially unremarkable-looking stands of trees occupying what started in the 1980s as just another one of hundreds of lifestyle blocks subdivided across the Canterbury Plains.  Go John Fairweather Specialty Timber Solutions!

Grant Hunter



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Disclaimer: While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided on this site, Farm Forestry Timbers Society do not accept liability for any consequences arising from reliance on the information published. If readers have any doubts about acting on any articles they should seek confirming, professional advice.

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