ThermalWood Canada’s Products to Reach More Customers Through Distribution Deal
By Tina Costanza
The kiln isn’t the only thing generating heat at ThermalWood Canada in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Businesses has been heating up, too. The maker of thermally modified wood products used in various indoor and outdoor applications will widen its footprint in Ontario, now that it has signed a deal with Weston Forest Products to distribute its products.
The deal, signed in early July 2020, marks ThermalWood Canada’s first North American distribution agreement. Weston Forest Products is a distributor and remanufacturer of softwood and hardwood lumber, based in Mississauga, Ontario. Its network in Ontario includes 300 home improvement stores and 14 sales representatives.
ThermalWood Canada, which specializes in hardwood, uses a specially designed kiln to heat lumber at high temperatures, resulting in an environmentally friendly product that doesn’t absorb humidity, is stable (reduces shrinkage and swelling substantially), and resists rot and decay because the heating process removes the sugars and organics in the wood. The process also darkens and pulls out the grain in the wood, which makes it more aesthetically pleasing to many customers, the darker it is the more stable it will be.
The wood can then be used in a multitude of ways: to build decks, siding, gardening accessories (such as rain-water barrels and compost bins), indoor and outdoor furniture, panelling, flooring, custom projects, and in musical instrument components, such as blanks for guitar necks, fingerboards and body.
The musical components represent about 25 per cent of ThermalWood Canada’s business, says Bob Lennon, International Marketing and Sales Director, and one of the company’s principal owners.
The early days
Lennon and his brother-in-law launched ThermalWood Canada in 2008. Lennon had been working at the Brunswick Mine, which had been planning to shut down after running out of ore. (It eventually closed in 2013).
Lennon had experience developing business plans, while his brother-in-law, who was working as a wood harvester, had forestry experience and recognized the value of a new technology that thermally modifies wood.
They started working on the project in 2005.
ThermalWood Canada’s biggest challenge in the beginning was overcoming people’s skepticism about thermally modified wood.
“It was an unknown process,” Lennon says. “It’s very well known in Europe, where it’s been in operation since the late ’80s, early ’90s. And in North America it probably appeared around 2005, 2006.”
Lennon has made it a point to raise consumers’ awareness about ThermalWood Canada and the thermal modification process.
“It’s all about education, letting people know what this really does. Now I’ve got backing — I’ve got testimonials I can call upon, people I can refer to and projects we worked on a lot when we first started.”
Today, the company employs seven people as it continues to attract customers that range from individuals working on home-improvement projects to businesses.
The thermal modification process can be applied to all wood species, following the parameters governed by the Thermowood Association.
Variations in treating wood
Each type of wood has its own recipe.
“The recipes are based on the species of wood, the moisture content in the wood, and the applications,” Lennon explains. “If it’s an exterior application, it’s different than an interior application. Our ultimate temperatures that we reach are different for an exterior than they are for an interior application. The higher you go in temperature, the more durable the wood is.”
ThermalWood Canada has more than 200 recipes. White oak, which requires 140 hours in the kiln, involves the most complicated recipe. White ash “cooks” for 80-90 hours and red oak requires about the same amount of time to modify thermally.
The time the wood spends in the kiln also depends on the type of wood and its moisture content.
“We remove 100 per cent of the moisture in the wood in the first phase of our process,” Lennon says. “If there’s a higher moisture content in the wood, it equates to more time in the oven.”
However, he adds, “You can’t go too high in temperature because after that the wood becomes way too brittle.”
ThermalWood Canada’s kiln can fire up to 225 degrees Celsius and can accommodate 12,000-14,00 boards. Propane is its main heat source.
Sourcing the wood
The wood that ThermalWood Canada treats comes from its sister company, DJ Smearer Inc., a sawmill and lumber yard that provides specialty lumber. Located in Belledune, New Brunswick, it specializes in birdseye and curly maple logs and lumber in different grades. Dale Smearer runs the company.
“He’ll saw all the wood, he dries all the wood at his location and brings it down to us, we thermally modify it, then ship it back to him, then he cuts it all up in components and then we take care of marketing and selling it,” says Lennon.
The actual source of the wood ThermalWood Canada works with is local.
“A lot of the wood that we have for the music industry is all local. Our weather wood products, which is a product that looks like old barn wood — all that wood is local,” says Lennon.
“We purchase all our decking and siding — because we’ve got bigger volumes — some of that will come from Ontario, Quebec, New York and Pennsylvania. We use a lot of ash, and we don’t have any in New Brunswick. There’s some in Nova Scotia, but in Nova Scotia they cut it all up in 8-foot lengths. Our clients always want longer ones so we need to go outside to be able to purchase those.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused ThermalWood Canada to close up shop for a few weeks in the spring, but it remained open virtually and offered customers curbside service. Now the company is fully back at work.
“The phones started ringing again the third week of April and they haven’t stopped,” says Lennon. “We’ve surpassed our sales of last year for the months of June and July.”
This momentum has Lennon planning for the months further ahead.
“We’re always doing product development and research on what we can do with our process,” he says, adding that creating new environmentally friendly products is also in the works.
ThermalWood Canada is also leveraging social media. In September 2020, Lennon plans to launch 15-minute educational videos on Facebook and YouTube, in which he talks about the technical aspects of thermally modified wood, showcases different products, talks to contractors who are installing it, and speaks to researchers who are conducting additional studies into thermal modification.
Lennon also hopes to create a virtual customer experience online, where visitors to ThermalWood Canada’s website can not only learn about products and the thermal modification process, but be able to check out the 46,000-square-foot facility itself.
There’s one aspect that can only be fully appreciated in person, though.
“The smell of the wood is one of the things everybody notices. ‘My God, the smell of the wood!’ I can’t smell anything,” Lennon says and laughs.