Some mouldings products can seem so commonplace that they are taken for granted. But, talk to the leading suppliers and you soon find that the sector is more complex, diverse and faster moving than it might appear.

Just take the names as an example: torus, ogee, bolection or architrave, dado and picture rail. It becomes even more complex when an architrave is called a “facing” in Scotland, while a “door lining” in Sussex is a “door casing” in Yorkshire. Wallfix handrail is often called pig’s ear (just look at the sectional shape) while door drip is sometimes referred to as weather mould.

Some names are extremely localised. In many parts of Yorkshire spouting is a vital exterior component, produced from either 75×138 or 100×150 preservative treated softwood. It’s otherwise known as wooden guttering and, as Charles Taylor, director of CR Taylor in Bradford, explained: “We sell masses of it along with all of the other sections our customers require. While some other local competitors are saying things have quietened down recently, we’re not seeing that at present.”

National housebuilders have to take local planning into account for external features, but when it comes to the inside of a building it’s often a designer based in one part of the UK who’s deciding what houses throughout the country will look like. That has inevitably driven moulding patterns into a narrower band of profiles.

Some of these decisions would probably make many of our forebears turn in their graves, as torus (which was always a skirting board pattern) gets used for architraves and ogee becomes a feature on skirting boards.

The result is that suppliers need to be in touch with the whole market to make sure that their products are stocked in the right way for their customers – if a builder wants 70mm wide torus material in 4.2m multiples, then the industry had better make sure he can get it.

Mechanised and automated production has helped ensure that MDF has taken on the mantle as the volume material for mouldings, and it has also been boosted by its uniform finish, a big hit with the DIYer for refurbishment. As Martin Davey, chief buyer at Bellway Homes‘ office in Merstham, Surrey confirmed: “MDF mouldings have been strong since the late 1980s due to their finish and quality; they’re ideal for us.”

MDF market share

Volume MDF mouldings manufacturer Springfield Architectural Mouldings (SAM) in Northern Ireland has a 23% share of the market and has seen the trend develop. “We’ve seen turnover grow by over 450% since 1997 and now, with the environmental benefits of FSC certification, we can add our environmental responsibility to our products,” said sales manager Gerard Wilson.

And Ced Piper, business development manager at MDF mouldings specialist W Howard, agreed that the market is strong. “The absence of defects means the waste factor is minimised and decoration is easier,” he said. “We’re very focused on supplying a core range in short lead times, but as times change we alter our offer. A growing proportion of our business is now found in made-to-order mouldings to the customer’s design.

The contracting sector of the industry is seeing enormous growth, he added.

One of the largest machined softwood suppliers in the south and Wales, Snows Timber has also seen the impact of MDF on the mouldings market. “Sections like dado rail have stood still in sales volume terms as MDF took over,” said Alan Penfold. “Ogee panel moulds are probably the same, but in other sections timber is still extremely popular. We’re certainly finding that our overall sales on machined softwood have grown well this year.”

Despite the rise and rise of MDF there is still big demand for solid timber mouldings and it seems unlikely to decline.

“It’s the warmth and homeliness of softwood, particularly redwood, that is its unique selling point,” said Finnforest sales manager Simon Messam. “Its workability is also a key factor in the popularity of softwood. Scribing joints is just one example of where good joiners can get an excellent finish that’s hard to replicate in composite materials.”

International Timber has seen very buoyant growth in its machined mouldings year on year in both hardwoods and softwoods, according to commercial director Tony Miles. “More companies who traditionally would have done machining in-house are increasingly looking to outsource it to a dedicated specialist,” he said. “Cost pressures are proving onerous on businesses in the form of ongoing investment, maintenance, disposal of waste and labour. It is proving more commercially viable and easier for them to buy the product in.”

Hardwoods still have a huge part of the market, especially in value terms. Nial Keane is managing director of The Natural Wood Flooring Company, which has diversified into hardwood mouldings to complement its floor products. “Our new range comprises over 50 different profiles in a variety of species,” said Mr Keane. “We’ve invested over £220,000 in new machinery, to sand, spray, pre-seal and shrink wrap these products.”

Bill Gunn, project manager at International Timber, also attributes some of the success of hardwood mouldings to the floor market. “Sales of oak mouldings, from PSEs to architraves are absolutely tremendous at the moment, driven by the fact that oak is the biggest seller in timber flooring,” he said. “The lighter colours are still more popular than dark and year on year we’ve probably seen a slowdown in small mouldings.”

This is borne out by Ruth Sperring, product manager for small mouldings at Richard Burbidge. “2004 was such a great year and it doesn’t look as if we’ll see another one like it for a long time. The last six months have been much slower; generally it’s quite bad in the DIY sector with a lack of consumer spending, although this has definitely stabilised in the last couple of months.”