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Friday, May 24, 2024

From Demolition to Design: The Versatility of Recycled Timber by Thor’s Hammer

There’s both an art and a particular type of science to timber recycling in 2024. Thor’s Hammer, founded by Thor Diesendorf almost 30 years ago, has cracked the code.

The business salvages unwanted timber from demolition sites across the country’s east coast – more than 1500 tonnes of timber every year, in fact.

But their approach to capturing a market for recycled timber is what sets them apart.

“Over the years, we’ve worked hard to develop both arms of our business concurrently: our recycling and timber dressing workshop, as well as our design and furniture making studio,” said Thor.

Collaboration and flexibility are key: their team of designers and timber salespeople often work together with both trades contractors and homeowners in a renovation or new build.

“An architect or builder might specify flooring, cladding or decking from us, while we work with the customer on designing a custom fit-out or piece of furniture, more often than not from the same load of salvaged timber. This creates a synergy across the project stylistically, which would be hard to achieve if we didn’t have this ‘dual’ business model.”

Leafy Suburban Deck
Recycled re-milled decking and large posts and beams in blackbutt / dense browns. Photographer: Rohan Thomson

Winner of the ‘Waste Minimisation’ category in the ACT Government’s 2023 Climate Choices Business Awards, Thor’s Hammer is leading the way when it comes to diverting timber waste in the construction industry.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Celebrating 30 years in business later this year, it’s been an arduous journey of innovation and iteration to get where they are today.

“Over the years, we have invested heavily in our machinery, workflows and team knowledge,” said Thor.

“We’re at a point now where we can bring in a load of timber, no matter the size and dimensions, and most of the time we can use about 96% of the load – there is very little wastage.”

Thor credits this to a few things.

“It’s been important for us to work closely with demolition companies to let them know the type of timber that’s worth saving, transporting and recycling. Over the years we have developed close relationships that made this process much more efficient,” he said.

“We also designed our building material products around some of the most common demolition stock we receive from around Canberra; 100 x 50mm timber pieces—what used to be called the ‘four-by-two’. By sawing this size timber in half length-ways, we can profile a range of products; re-milled flooring, cladding with a variety of edges, lining boards, and decking… all out of this one stock.”

“Understanding the demolition space and adapting to changes within it has been a key part of our success.”

Captain Cook Crescent House
Re-milled flooring in Canberra home providing warmth and a honey glow. Photographer: Rohan Thomson

In this way, one load of high-quality timber from a local Canberra house demolition – once recycled by the Thor’s Hammer team – can end up in a variety of renovations and new builds (and even some repair jobs) all across the country, and the amount of waste is greatly reduced.

Like, for instance, a backyard art studio in Canberra’s north that featured striking exterior cladding re-milled from blackbutt / dense browns timber salvaged from a house demolition in Sydney. Inside, the studio creatively applied timber floorboards lifted from a Sydney primary school gymnasium, creating a unique ceiling mosaic from the original tape and paint markings. The customers also had the talented Thor’s Hammer team design and make a custom workbench for the studio from Oregon (Douglas Fir), a fine-grained softwood with very few knots.

Or, an iconic house in Weston designed by Canberra lawyer and founder of Wild South Seafood, Amy Elleway, that features re-milled flooring, cladding and decking, all in blackbutt / dense browns. The flooring and cladding show off a striking sawtooth finish, achieved by partially dressing the timbers so some of the original rough sawn markings and dark surface are retained, creating a rustic warmth throughout the space.

Popular amongst Canberrans, Thor’s Hammer’s Canberra local ash mix is seen in homes and businesses throughout the city, most as re-milled ash flooring, with matching joinery features. Mawson House by Michael Mckeon Architecture features ash re-milled flooring throughout, paired with an interior divider made from custom-profiled batten cladding in recycled ash. This honey-coloured species is useful for softening hard edges and intense lighting, imbuing spaces with warmth and character.

Canberra Art Studio
Backyard art studio with exterior blackbutt / dense browns cladding, and inside, floorboards salvaged from a Sydney primary school gymnasium used as a feature ceiling. Photographer: Rohan Thomson

Along with their re-milled options, Thor’s Hammer salvages timber flooring from historical buildings. They work with skilled floor layers who use specifically designed levers to lift the old boards without damaging the tongue and groove, and back at their workshop they clean up the boards using their custom-designed brushing machine.

Just recently, Thor’s Hammer salvaged a huge load of ash flooring from a historic building in one of Canberra’s educational institutions.

“This load of ash flooring is special,” Thor said. “It was made from old-growth mountain ash—probably originally from the Victorian ranges—way back in the fifties. In my 30 years in the business, this is probably the highest-quality timber I’ve seen, with a super fine grain and really close growth rings making it great to look at, but also making it a very durable floorboard.”

“Thankfully, we’re no longer logging old growth sites, but this fact also makes this type of salvaged timber both extremely desirable and also very precious. That’s why we love salvaging timber!”

“We salvaged close to 2000 square metres of this ash flooring, which is a huge amount. It’s really rare that we get large quantities like this from one demolition, all matching in profile, colour and grain, so I’m excited to see what projects it goes into. We have plenty left so get in touch if you’re interested!”

Thor’s Hammer stocks a wide range of other building timbers, including posts and beams that are ideal for creating outdoor structures like pergolas, and landscaping infrastructure and sculptures.

Mawson House
Mawson House by Michael Mckeon Architecture features ash re-milled flooring paired with an interior divider made from custom-profiled batten cladding in recycled ash. Photographer: Thurston Empson

“We’ve seen so many creative uses of our posts and beams. The A-class, structurally sound timbers get used to build huge outdoor pavilions, or deck pergolas, while some of the gnarlier timbers have turned into children’s playgrounds, retaining walls and garden seats, and even garden sculptures. Just recently, we used a load of old shearing shed poles we salvaged from a farm near Yass to create a sculptural garden on the side street by our workshop.”

Amidst the whirlwind of running a business like Thor’s Hammer, Thor finds time for fun and innovation.

“While the bigger game here is saving timber from landfill, it’s important to me that my team and I are always pushing the envelope, and having fun while doing it,” said Thor.

Thor recently collaborated with a handful of talented local designers and makers to launch a new collection – Thinking Small – a range of everyday items that were designed for and made from the short lengths of salvaged timber that weren’t finding uses elsewhere.

Also on the cards for this ambitious business is finding new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

“It’s a big process but over the last 10 years, we’ve made good progress in electrifying the business. We’ve already got a full rooftop solar setup, we use all-electric forklifts, we have an electric company car and we’ll move to electric delivery vehicles as soon as they become viable for our heavy loads. These types of innovations are an important part of the vision I have for the business and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Here’s to the next 30 years!”

Visit Thor’s Hammer’s workshop, showroom and gallery at 10 Mildura St, Griffith (ACT) or head to thors.com.au to find out more.

  • Written by Ellie Keft

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