Surrounded by crumbling brickworks timber recycler Thor Diesendorf has set a fire of innovation under decades of uncertainty, to create a flourishing business. Source: The Canberra Times
At the old Yarralumla brickworks, which once turned out Canberra’s classic red brick, he is manufacturing another red-hot product with waste sawdust.
He has imported a four-tonne German machine to compress waste sawdust into briquettes, which hold less moisture and generate more heat than firewood.
Under intense pressure, natural glue in timber called lignins hold the briquette together.
Mr Diesendorf has diversified a demolition business into furniture making and timber recycling, turning over thousands of tonnes of salvaged timber annually and creating a mountain of sawdust.
He imported the $100,000 compressing machine, fitted it into a modified shipping container and reconfigured dust extraction to re-direct clean sawdust into the briquette maker.
Mr Diesendorf established Thor’s Hammer in 1994, defying uncertainty over the brickworks future by growing his business into one of Australia’s biggest timber recyclers.
He employs 24 people, including cabinetmakers and apprentices.
He had often thought about recycling sawdust, and began to investigate briquettes after one of his staff bought some firewood, which was hard to burn. Using a moisture metre he discovered the wood’s high moisture content was the culprit.
“Our timber is so dry because it is recycled. We get a dry briquette with a low moisture content, it might have half to a third of the moisture content than a normal block of firewood,” Mr Diesendorf said.
“That means you are not paying for water, which doesn’t help heat your house.
The lower the moisture content, the hotter and more cleanly the timber burns.”
At $350 a tonne, briquettes are more expensive than firewood, but each brick generates more heat and eliminates the need for an axe to split wood.
Mr Diesendorf plans to supply a niche market.
The ACT Government wants development proposals to reactivate the brickworks site, which may change Thor’s Hammer’s business, but in more than two decades of uncertainty, nothing has stopped the timber craftsman from overcoming obstacles.
“If we were going to be part of something in the future of the brickworks it would have to reduce the size of our operation there and move the bulk timber storage off site,” Mr Diesendorf said.
He has previously raised idea of artisan and designer hub at the brickworks, which may have suited previous, larger proposals.
“A team of us put work into that proposal, it is potentially useful if a developer is interested in it, or we have to move to another site, we would do something similar,” he said.
The brickworks has provided ample space for huge salvage jobs such as old wharves, big industrial buildings and an empty paper mill.
In its day the brickworks provided the distinctive Canberra red brick. These days polished blackbutt, a favourite of Mr Diesendorf’s, and other Australian hardwood, is prolific in bars, restaurants, barber shops and galleries and numerous Canberra homes.
“The kind of work we are doing is pretty rare,” Mr Diesendorf said. “There would not be anywhere else in Canberra you could learn the kind of skills that our apprentices are learning.”