Kiwi-made eco-timber could replace unsustainable imported cedar

Abodo’s showcase Cardrona cabin has been carefully crafted to demonstrate a local alternative to imported old-growth cedar.

Eco-timber company Abodo Wood is demonstrating how local alternatives can be used to replace unsustainable imported timber from old-growth forests.

The company has imported Finish thermal treatment technology and applied its own patented finishing process to come up with a timber cladding that endures harsh conditions and mimics exotic wood grain patterns.

Abodo director Daniel Gudsell said New Zealand imported an estimated $100 million worth of cedar from old-growth forests a year.​

Abodo treated pine with a combination of high temperatures and steam to make it more durable, before cutting and gluing it back together in a different orientation, giving it added stability and a grain that looked more like cedar than pine, he said.

The process is chemical free.

Abodo Wood director Daniel Gudsell says the company plans to build another nine chalets in Central Otago.

“The way it’s oriented affects the way it weathers. Vertical grain faces the weather, which means it cracks less and is more stable outside. Then the coating lasts longer and it needs less maintenance,” Gudsell said.

While still a premium product, it cost slightly less than imported cedar, he said.

In an effort to prove the product to locals in Central Otago, known for its harsh alpine weather, Abodo spent over $1.5m building a cabin to showcase the timber, near the Cardrona Hotel.

Abodo had plans to spend millions more to build nine other chalets of various sizes and finishes. The chalets would be used for tourist accommodation.

Once thermally treated the timber is a chocolate colour, but can be tinted in a variety of colours. The treatment is completely chemical free.

“People from Central Otago are notoriously suspicious of building materials that they don’t know. There’s a reason for that. They have got a different environment from the rest of New Zealand. They are a big users of imported cedar. They like it, they trust it,” he said.

“We wanted to show that you don’t have to use timbre from 200- or 300-year-old trees, you can use New Zealand pine and get a really nice architectural finish.”

Reflecting the historic nature of Cardrona township, the cabin’s simple gable form is a contemporary interpretation of rural huts and sheds found scattered across the region.

The 102-square-metre show cabin, designed by Arrowtown’s award-winning Assembly Architects and built by Dunlop Builders of Wanaka, took about eight months to complete.

The majority of pine comes from the Kaingaroa Forest in the central North Island, the largest pine plantation in the country. Abodo processed the timber at a factory in nearby Reporoa.

Abodo had partnered with a local sawmill, which funded the majority of factory construction because of the work it would generate.

Abodo imported the two kilns for the thermal treatment at a cost of roughly $2.5m each and would import another one in the next few years, Gudsell said.

Gudsell said the company had a turn over of about $55m a year and said the kilns were operating at about 75 per cent capacity.

The company would increase production in line with its export growth, which was currently 70 per cent of the business, he said.

Abodo Wood says the local market is about 30 per cent of the business.

However, the treated wood represented only about 35 per cent of sales and Abodo produced around 10,000 cubic meters a year. 

Focussing on Australia, the United States, Britain and Europe, Gudsell said Abodo’s growth would come from the thermally heated timber. 

“What we’ve found is that there is a trend towards timber cladding,” Gudsell said.