Portrait of…Thermo Lignum

Thermo Lignum, derived from the words heat (Greek) and wood (Latin), has now become an English verb in it’s own right (‘to thermo lignum something’) but for those less interested in etymology, it is also the name of a Chiswick based company who use chemical free methods to eradicate woodworm and other insects from organic materials.

We have all seen and experienced the devastating effects of woodworm and insects on furniture and old houses. I once spent a week in a French farmhouse riddled with Death Watch Beetle – waking up in the early hours to the sinister sounds of tweets and taps! So whether you are undertaking preventive measures or the signs are more obvious, it is never too late to put your beloved work of art or piece of furniture in the hands of Karen and her team. In just 24 hours she can entirely eradicate their presence.

In 1994 Karen Roux, who trained as a linguist, was looking for a business idea. Through a common friend, she met a German inventor who had developed a technique that would change her life. His passion and her belief persuaded her to buy the licence, export the concept to the UK and develop it into the company it is today.

It was at the time, and still is a revolutionary idea: the use heat and controlled humidity for the treatment of wood. Put more simply they very carefully raise the core temperature of an item to kill off any infestation while balancing relative humidity, and then slowly restore ambient room temperatures.

Museums and conservators were initially skeptical, questioning the logic of entrusting their works of art to a process that could easily destroy a priceless piece and their career in one go. It took her many years to overcome these challenges but she now works closely with museums, art collectors, conservators and restorers worldwide.

There are only two other non-chemical techniques known – freezing and low oxygen treatments – and both have their limitations. This technique of controlled humidity and warm air is, on the other hand, continually evolving and now able to act on various other organic materials that attract the unwanted attention of insects.

What constantly drives Karen is the variety of items she is in daily contact with and the fact that she is able, most of the time, to resolve a problem with a quick, easy and non-obtrusive solution.
Who would have thought that insect damage could excite so much passion!