BATHURST–ThermalWood is putting European innovation into decks, guitars, furniture and siding in Canada and beyond in the form of long-lasting thermally treated wood.
The Bathurst company applies a technique developed in Finland to thermally modify virtually any species of wood to make it more durable, eliminate the risk of decay and damage and bring uniformity to the colour of the wood.
ThermalWood partner and international marketing and sales director Bob Lennon says that because this process doesn’t use chemicals, just heat and steam, it’s considered a green alternative.
Lennon was part of the research process for starting the company in 2005 and its official beginning in 2008. He calls the opportunity his excuse for staying in northern New Brunswick after the closures of mines in the area.
“I had opportunities to leave this area and go anywhere in the world,” Lennon said. “But I didn’t want to leave …”
“In 2008 we couldn’t have picked a worse time to start a company. It was the economical meltdown in North America that started in the fall.”
Lennon says ThermalWood started with a solid customer base but quickly lost traction during the recession despite continue interest in their process and product.
“We had to reinvent ourselves and change our story and change which direction we were heading,” Lennon said. “Our market had originally just been the eastern part of Canada and a bit of the Eastern Seaboard and that whole market washed up within months of us starting because of the recession.”
Their solution was to chase the money by reaching out to markets where knowledge of the technology of thermally treated wood already existed and economies were stronger. At the same time, they continued to educate prospective clients in North American about what their technology could do.
It was beneficial for ThermalWood to be located in this part of the world thanks to the species of wood found here. Lennon says it saves on shipping to be able to process more local wood and then ship it.
Lennon outlines the benefits of their thermal treatment as improving uniformity of colour, stabilizing the wood for high humidity areas, removing organic properties of the wood to prevent rot and allowing for certain species of wood to be used for more applications than they have in the past.
“You can take ash, oak, birch, all hardwood products and put them outside,” he said. “You would have never thought of using those species in an outdoor application … We’ve taken a lot of those species and allowed them to go and play in brand new markets. Birch and maple were strictly for flooring and furniture. Now you can use them for siding, for outdoor furniture.”
One of the markets the company has broken into is the music industry by partnering with Dale Smearer, who operates a sawmill in Belledune and supplies high-end wood to furniture manufacturers, artists and makers of musical instruments.
“We offered him an opportunity to get rid of his waste,” Lennon said. “He was selling (instrument manufacturers) components for their guitar necks and bodies but they had to be perfectly clear, no mineral stains and no grain that showed in different colours.”
Lennon says ThermalWood was able to salvage much of Smearer’s waste by treating it to make the colour of the wood uniform.
“The darkness of what he had for dark wood would stay dark and then the lighter stuff in the wood would become darker and everything would blend into a rich brown colour. We reintroduced that back into the music industry … it added a lot more value to the wood.”
“It adds a different tonality to the wood. It amplifies the sound of a guitar without putting an amplifier on it and makes it very clear.”
Lennon says they’re hoping to grow both geographically and in product volume. They’re now looking at a project that would infuse resin into their wood to get into the countertop market and replace marble and granite tops.
“We’re always looking at different products and being innovative,” Lennon said. “We’re looking at how we can partner up with private woodlot owners, how we can partner up with other companies that might want to do the manufacturing.
“We’re trying to create an economical buzz around here so that entrepreneurs can start different businesses. We’re trying to change the story in the North Shore of New Brunswick.”
A previous version of this story stated that ThermalWood is ThermoWood certified. The International ThermoWood Association actually does not have any members in Canada or in the USA.