Behind the business: Thor's Hammer

Luke Keioskie
Mon 21 May

Not every business starts the day with a quick game of handball – but if they did, they would share in the success of Canberra joinery Thor's Hammer.

“It’s not compulsory but most join in, both men and women,” said owner Thor Diesendorf. “It’s in our culture to be mindful that the work we do is very physical, especially when it comes to dense and heavy Australian hardwoods. Taking care of ourselves is important.”

Thor’s Hammer is a joinery, sawmill and recycled timber yard based at the Old Brickworks in Yarralumla. The team has been recycling timber for 20 years, making furniture, seating, benchtops, flooring, decking, cladding, doors and more—all carefully designed and built to last by expert craftspeople. The business employs 25 staff, with most working full-time.

Thor consulted an exercise physiologist on the morning ritual who advised that warming up is just as important as stretching, so these days the team does 10 minutes of each.

Thor leads the way, perking up the sessions with socialising, a few laughs and perhaps even a bit of business news.

“It definitely serves as a mini team building exercise and lets me suss out how the team is feeling, so we get off on the right foot each day,” said Thor. “I want staff to get that taking care of their bodies is important and that they play a role with work health and safety. This isn’t solely an employer’s responsibility. We also tend to attract people who have other physical interests like martial arts, dance, bushwalking and skiing. It’s who we are.”

Recruiting with culture in mind is paramount at Thor’s Hammer.

“You can teach skills, but you can’t teach cultural fit or force people to be like-minded,” he said. “We recruit those who have a connection with recycling and the environment and who love timber and beautifully crafted work designed to last for generations. We have a solid base in common, which means working here isn’t just a job.”

Induction is key with Thor taking newbies around the entire operation to introduce them to the team and to the many stages required to produce an end-product. Safety training is critical and supervisors are in charge of in-depth training. New staff working in the office spend a few days first pulling out nails and then learning some of the basic tasks involved in the joinery so they have a feel for the whole process.

Dealing with the level of repetitive work that is an inevitable part of recycling timber—like de-nailing every piece of wood--is another cultural challenge.

“Some staff love to do get stuck into one type of task while others get bored,” said Thor. “We encourage staff to swap between tasks during the day because it’s good for their minds and good for them physically.”

Thor’s Hammer can trace the history of timber, which gives each product its own back story.

“We’ve recently received a big truck load of wide floor joists from a 100-year-old building in Ultimo and have quirky and colourful wood flooring from an Adelaide School gym,” said Thor.

“We’ve recently removed old nails and bolts from timber salvaged from the Petrie Paper Mill north of Brisbane and have a great load of salvaged flooring from an old factory complex in Sydney. The stories are important to us, and to our customers.”

Thor first started learning about timber as a kid, watching his grandfather in his shed and passing him tools, sweeping up sawdust and holding boards steady for him.

“He bought me my first-hand plane when I was 12, and my first project with it was shaping a couple of pairs of stilts for my brother and I,” he said.

His love of timber and working with his hands remains ingrained in Thor—and his team.