Professional Builder visits Ollie Allen, a young builder with a passion for OSB.
After we put out the call that we were looking for builders to supply some Norbord products to, young builder Ollie Allen got in touch with us and said if we were looking for a builder who could be creative with OSB (oriented strand board), then he was our man.
We drove up to Sheffield with a special gift for the young builder, his favourite thing in fact – Norbord SterlingOSB Zero. It turns out he can’t get enough of the stuff. After unloading the sheets, however, it becomes apparent that his workshop is already full of it!
“I’ve gone a bit Norbord mad recently, it has to be said. The truth is it’s not just me. Everyone I speak to has either just installed it or is about to install it. It’s the rage at the moment, it seems,” says Ollie.
He’s not wrong. OSB has surpassed plywood as the best-selling structural board, and builders have long come to terms with how useful it can be. Long gone are the days when it was relegated to the status of site hoarding. Were a builder from the 80s to walk into a bar or café nowadays, they might well wonder when the contractor was coming back to finish the job. With exposed brickwork, no ceiling installed and pipework proudly on display, it’s clear that an ‘unfinished’ look and feel is no longer the mark of poor craftsmanship, but rather an aesthetic to aim for.
Modern design is emphasising our industrial heritage, and as Ollie well knows, if you think the emphasis on the raw material ends with the trendy bars, you’d be mistaken. “I see more and more homeowners looking to create a ‘factory’ feel in their homes, leaving concrete floors exposed, using long lengths of hanging lighting cable and, what might seem unbelievable to a builder of a certain vintage, constructing things out of OSB and leaving it exposed. It might sound a little mad when you consider that it was never designed to look good, but when you see it installed you realise the bare board actually looks really neat.”
Strength and beauty
The ‘strands’ of wood that are laid at angles to each other and then compressed to form the board are what give the boards their unique strength, but as many artists have noticed, and a quick google search will turn up hundreds who have utilised the structural boards, the ‘open’ design of the board is also, dare we say it, almost beautiful.
But it’s not just its aesthetic properties that have put the boards in Ollie’s good books, as he explains: “I was a little apprehensive at first about using this type of product as a structural board. I’d always used plywood and was accustomed to that. I must admit that the old image of waterlogged OSB did put me off somewhat, but I haven’t had a problem since I started using Norbord’s range. It’s structurally solid, it repels water, doesn’t warp and it’s actually cheaper than plywood.
“Anytime I get a job now to work on someone’s home or do an extension, I use this type of board. It’s very easy to work with, cutting it to size here in the workshop and fitting it on site. It’s a little heavier than ply, but actually that works to my advantage sometimes when customers are unsure. Sometimes they see it and think it can’t possibly be as strong as ply, but once they touch it and get a feel for how rigid and strong it is they’re usually pretty impressed!”
As we left, big ideas were left floating around about some of the potential uses Ollie was going to put our little gift to – including some projects that may well find their way into the pages of Professional Builder.