Indiana Logger Adds Firewood Business

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Timberwolf Mfg. Firewood Processor Boosts Production, Keeps Loggers Working in Mud, Snow

SCOTTSBURG, Indiana — Weather can slow a logger down. Exceptionally deep snow or wet, muddy ground conditions may bring operations to a halt.
Loggers want to keep working, though, and they tap a variety of strategies to do so. Kelly Bixler, the owner of Kelly Bixler Logging & Firewood, decided to add firewood operations.
Two years ago, Kelly bought a Timberwolf Mfg. firewood processor and conveyor. When his crew of four cannot work in the woods, they still can produce firewood. The firewood business gives them work to do, provides a source of revenue, and enables the company to utilize low-grade material.
Working on private and public tracts, Kelly’s company tackles one job site at a time, deployed as a single crew performing tree-length or cut-to-length logging. Felling is done manually, and the trees are skidded to a landing.
“We use Husqvarna and Stihl” chain saws, said Kelly. “We’ve used Husqvarna the longest.”
Logging has been part of Kelly’s life from as long as he can recall. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years or longer,” he said, starting out working for his father.
Along with the chain saws, Kelly’s crew relies on a John Deere 640G skidder and a Prentice knuckle-boom loader and a bucking saw. The company also is equipped with two International tractor-trailers for delivering logs. It supplies logs to mills within about a 100-mile radius of its base in Scottsburg, Ind.
Kelly sells firewood by the rick, also called a rack or face cord, which is one-fourth of a cord.
With its Timberwolf firewood processor, Kelly Bixler Logging & Firewood is able to make the most productive use of every work day. Processing firewood does not require solid, dry ground conditions. “We do it mostly when we can’t log,” said Kelly. “We can usually do about four cords per day.”
Usually, two men operate the Tim­berwolf processor. With the conveyor in place, firewood can be processed and collected easily by one person. The conveyor is set up to move the finished firewood directly into a waiting truck.
Until the addition of the Timberwolf machine, Kelly was producing firewood entirely by hand. He laughed when he thought about the difference in the speed and the exertion involved. “We were
cutting about two loads” a day, manually, he recalled.
Most firewood is sold retail to homeowners. Many of them have wood-burning furnaces, as does Kelly’s family. “I have an outside furnace, a Hardy,” he said. For outside furnaces, green wood burns fine. Kelly also supplies seasoned or dry firewood. “I bring it home during the summer and it lays here for a couple of months,” he said.
Scottsburg is about 75 miles southeast of the state capital of Indianapolis. Less than 20 miles to the southeast, the Ohio River divides Indiana from Kentucky. The region is a fertile one, which attracted many early 19th century settlers. The soil supports mixed hardwood species that include oak, ash, hickory and maple.
With the Timberwolf firewood processor, Kelly can sort out low-grade logs and add value by processing them into firewood. The company process mainly low-grade oak and hickory into firewood.
The winter of 2007 is shaping up to produce plenty of snow and cold temperatures. Based on his experience in two previous winters, Kelly expects the Timberwolf to perform well no matter how tough the weather. “It works well” whether the logs are frozen or dry, he said.
Making the decision to buy a Tim­berwolf processor was a deliberate one. “I looked at a couple of other ones,” said Kelly, and he was soon on the path to finding a Timberwolf. He bought both the processor and the conveyor from Brownwood Sales in Sandusky, Ohio. “I saw the (Brownwood) ad in a couple of magazines. I called him up,” he said, referring to Tom Brown, who operates the equipment sales and firewood business with his wife, Judi.
“We like it pretty well,” said Kelly, summing up his experience with the Timberwolf to date. Most of the time, he explained, one employee operates the machine.
Timberwolf Mfg. is located in Rutland, Vt. and has been manufacturing heavy-duty firewood processing machines for 11 years. In October 2006, Timberwolf announced the shipment of the 10,000th log splitter made by the company. At the time, Timberwolf CEO David Therrien emphasized the workmanship that goes into the company’s machinery, which is made to be strong and durable.
Timberwolf manufactures firewood processing and splitting equipment for commercial applications as well as individuals. Several models of splitters are available to accommodate a broad range of requirements. In addition to firewood processors and splitters, Timberwolf manufactures screens and conveyors. In every category of equipment, a buyer has considerable choice.
Timberwolf’s most popular firewood processor is the PRO-MX, which is powered by a John Deere 49 hp engine. The chain saw bucking saw is hydraulically powered. The machine features a top roll clamping system, also hydraulic-powered; the top roll clamping system holds the log still for bucking and advances it for the next bucking cut. The roller mechanism is available as an option on all new processors and can be retrofitted to older machines. The processor also comes with an 8-foot retractable log deck. At optimum speed, the Timberwolf PRO-MX can process about two and one-half cords of firewood per hour.
The biggest machine in the Tim­berwolf firewood processor lineup is the PRO-HD, which has a 6-second cycle time and can produce three cords per hour. The Timberwolf PRO-HD is towable and is equipped with a hitch, highway safety lights and electric brakes.
Four-way and six-way splitting wedges are standard with the Timberwolf PRO-MX. It also can use an optional eight-way wedge. A nice feature of the Tim­berwolf wedge is that it is designed to be moved out of the way when not needed; if the machine is processing a small diameter log, the wedge can be raised. The wedges can also be centered. The PRO-MX also has a winch with 3/8-inch cable that can pull logs up to 8,000 pounds into the feed mechanism.
The standard Timberwolf conveyors come in lengths of 20, 24 or 26 feet. The conveyors can be ordered with optional T-cleats so that firewood resists sliding when there is ice and snow. The conveyors have a heavy steel frame and are equipped with an 18-inch wide, two-ply Rough TopTM belt. With an optional hydraulic top drum drive, the belt can be reversed, which helps to quickly retrieve wood that may require splitting again.
Besides the Timberwolf PRO-MX and the Timberwolf PRO-HD, the Timberwolf firewood processor roster includes the PRO-CMX. The Timberwolf PRO-CMX firewood processor uses a conventional chain saw, which is pinned to the frame, for the cut-off operation. It can handle a 22-inch diameter log at the butt end.
Kelly Bixler Logging & Firewood gives customers a choice of firewood lengths. It also does some orders for a single species. “We have some people who prefer hickory,” said Kelly’s wife, Christy. She is a hairstylist who works at a salon, but she also helps out in the firewood business. “I take all the phone calls for firewood,” she said.
Most firewood is produced in 16-inch length. “It fits most fireplaces and wood stoves,” explained Christy. “The great thing about the Timberwolf is it can cut 18 inches up to 24 inches.” Being able to give customers a choice is a great sales tool, she added.
Christy’s family was not involved in the forest products industry. “When I met Kelly 22 years ago, he was logging with his father.” She has learned a lot about her husband’s business and logging by “just helping out.”
Christy gets a first-hand look at Kelly’s commitment to his business and customers. “Bless their hearts, last year they were delivering firewood on Christmas Eve,” she said. Her husband and his employees are “very dedicated,” she said.
With the Timberwolf machine, the company can supply more customers with firewood, and demand is increasing.
The buck saw that the team at Kelly Bixler Logging & Firewood counts on as part of its logging equipment has a strong tie to Indiana. E.C. Atkins Company of Indianapolis was an early competitor in the patented efforts to make a better bucksaw. Writing in the June 2006 issue of the Chronicle of the Early American Industries, Inc., Graham Stubbs, an EAIA member, recounted the history of the unspoken competition; his article is titled “American Bucksaws.”
The push by manufacturers to develop a better — the best — bucksaw may have come from the advent of the woodstove, according to Stubbs. With the number of homes with woodstoves growing in the second half of the nineteenth century, a way to trim firewood to a size that fitted stoves was needed. So much so that manufacturers saw a real market niche for a factory-made bucksaw.
As Stubbs points out, the bucksaw played a significant role in the building of the nation. So finding ways to set and maintain the tension of the saw blade received a great deal of attention from manufacturers from the mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.
The Indiana Division of Forestry promotes the use of firewood. In a freely available publication titled ‘Heating with Firewood,’ the department summarizes the essentials. For instance, if hickory — a very high-density wood — is used as a standard with a heat value of 100, ash has a heat value of 83-84, while aspen has a heat value of only 53. (Dogwood and hop-hornbeam have heat values that exceed 100 on this scale.)
There are some good reasons for including some low-density wood in a fire, according to the IDF publication. The low-density material makes for a quick start while the high-density wood will burn for a long time. Adding fruit tree species to the firewood mix provides a nice aroma. Some species, such as elm, provide just the opposite — an unpleasant odor.
The agency encourages landowners to look to their own wood lots as sources of firewood. In doing so, they can selectively manage their forests for optimal value, removing low-grade timber that can be processed for firewood, such as dead trees or diseased or crooked tree. Indiana also issues permits to cut firewood in state forests.
Getting into logging was an easy decision, said Kelly. “My dad used to do it. I helped him.” As for what he likes best about his work, that is easy to explain, too. What’s very good about it, he said, is “working for yourself, being your own boss.”
When he has free time, Kelly has a focused interest. “My son races dirt bikes,” he explained, and they frequently are involved in weekend races.