Some years ago, while travelling in France on holiday, we stopped for fuel and I noticed guys erecting a new workshop. Nothing unusual in that, except the framework was glulam and as I’d recently spent some time working with one of the leading timber engineering experts in the UK, my interest was aroused. In the early 1980s glulam was considered to be exotic in Britain.

A quick chat in pigeon French, mixed with some English, turned into a full demonstration of the ease of use – no fancy welding kit, just a saw, drill and simple fixings. Time seemed to stand still and naturally it would have been impolite to walk away when the lads were so keen to show me all these wonderful benefits; after all, to them it was natural, an everyday job, which they could show to this strange Englishman who had never seen anything like it before.

Oh dear! Another Fryer faux pas! When I’d paid for the fuel, got back to the car and apologised to the queue behind, the mood within had little to do with entente cordiale. It had been so interesting I hadn’t noticed how long I’d been away.

In-car entertainment back then didn’t run to more than a radio and while the French lead in timber engineering was vast, we Brits were still ahead on musical taste, so silence ensued for some time. That gave me time to think about what I’d seen – a French revolution!

Some 20 years on things are changing and timber engineering has moved on – there’s so much more to consider than just glulam; I-beams and LVL are commonplace and, as designers and the public get used to seeing them, they’ll all become everyday products.

At the merchant end of the trade we’re certainly getting far more requests for glulam in particular. What is even more exciting to consider is that with the ever-rising price of steel, these timber products will become directly comparable on price, throwing the environmental benefits on top as an added value reason to use them.