The electric auto-cycle on the Timberwolf Pro-HD XL firewood processor gets great reviews from Brett Lewis, owner of B&J Wood Corporation and a long-time fan of Timberwolf equipment.
STRAFFORD, Vermont — Trading up is a tried and true method in business. Get the tool you need to start building—then as the business grows, upgrade. The strategy applies to every kind of equipment, including firewood processors.
For Brett Lewis, owner of B&J Wood Corporation, the build and grow strategy was streamlined by the adoption of his first firewood processor. In the early years of his firewood operation, Brett chose a machine from Timberwolf Manufacturing Corporation in Rutland, Vermont. Since then, as business has expanded, he has upgraded the processor twice.
A Timberwolf Pro-HD XL model processor has been at the core of Brett’s firewood operation for three years. “This is my third Timberwolf,” said Brett. “I got it in ’07. I trade up every five years.” With the newest machine, Brett also got a new conveyor to keep up with the new machine and to ease the offloading of processed firewood.
Brett has a lot of good things to say about his many years of working with Timberwolf machines. “They’re reliable,” he said. “And they are dependable.” And, he emphasized, those attributes describe both the company and its products.
As it happens, Timberwolf headquarters is just one hour away from Brett’s base in Strafford, Vermont. Brett has taken advantage of being “neighbors” to get out and take a good look at how Timberwolf makes its equipment. “I’ve been there plenty of times,” he said of the manufacturing facility in Rutland. The fact that the machine is “locally made” adds to the satisfaction Brett takes in it.
Timberwolf aims to build durability into each of its machines. All of the cutting, hand welding, assembly and finishing, as well as the incorporation of U.S.-made cylinders and valves, are carried out in Rutland by highly skilled employees.
Over the years, Brett has come to know the folks at Timberwolf pretty well. And he explained that he enjoys the working relationship he has with Butch Rogers and Peter Hincks, two men who understand his goals and his operation.
Strafford is a town of approximately 1,000 residents. It is part of Orange County and is located in the east-central part of the Green Mountain State. Brett was born in Randolph, VT and settled in Strafford, about 15 miles to the east.
Firewood processing is one facet of B&J Wood, a company that thins wood lots, cuts views for pastures and tackles excavation work. Or, as Brett explained, his company does just about anything related to clearing land.
Tree cutting is subcontracted to a person who uses a John Deere 753 feller-buncher. The newest pieces of equipment on the roster at B&J Wood are a model 28000 Hood loader equipped with a Waratah delimber (60-inch saw) for softwood and a Case 650 bulldozer. The company also runs with a Clark Ranger H67 grapple skidder and a Hood slasher, as well as a second, older grapple skidder.
Brett makes the decisions regarding the destination of wood. “I sit in the Hood, loading and doing all the sorting,” he said.
Using his well-honed expertise, Brett culls the logs to be sure that all grade-level material realizes its full potential by heading to saw mills. The remainder of the wood is fed to the Timberwolf Pro-HD XL processor for firewood. (Contract haulers carry lengths to mills.)
Brett started processing firewood to ensure that his business would be sustainable 12 months each year. If there is an especially heavy snowfall or ground conditions keep him out of the woods, Brett turns to firewood production to stay productive and keep the cash flowing.
B&J Wood Corp. was founded in 1992. Brett brought to the venture experience in both logging and construction. Having grown up helping his grandfather on a dairy farm with 500 cows, he did routine pasture clearing as well as plenty of milking.
To be sure, the speed with which standing trees become firewood has changed dramatically since Brett’s first experience with firewood on the farm. His current Timberwolf firewood processor, the PRO-HD XL uses an electric auto-cycle and has a cycle time of only 4.5 seconds. It comes standard with an eight-way wedge and a hydraulic oil cooler. At B&J Wood, the machine replaced a Timberwolf PRO-HD model with a 7-second cycle time. Brett said he noticed the difference in “speed” as soon as he made the switch to the faster model.
Yet speed on Timberwolf machines has always been good, explained Brett. And he takes it for granted.
“The electric auto-cycle,” said Brett, is what really deserves notices. “It makes it [the processor] consistent day in, day out, in cold [and heat].” Given the abundant cold in the region where Brett anchors his business, and because the Timberwolf works outdoors and is exposed to the elements most of the time, the tolerance to cold weather is especially important.
If space permits, Brett takes the Timberwolf PRO-HD XL to job sites. He tows it behind a dump truck. If that is not possible, all lengths are moved to the yard from which the company operates. It is a timesaver to be able to take the processor to tracts when possible.
The Timberwolf PRO-HD XL easily handles logs that have as much as a 22-inch diameter, said Brett. It weighs 9,000 lbs. Its deck is eight feet deep and 12 feet wide. Lights meeting U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) requirements for towing are standard. The machine also comes standard with an 80 horsepower John Deere engine. It’s interesting here to note that the industrialist John Deere (1804-1886) was born in Rutland, the home of Timberwolf Mfg.
The species processed for firewood by B&J Wood include maple, beech, ash, oak, yellow birch and hickory. As for “proportion,” said Brett, there is no norm. “It just depends on the year.” On rare occasions, special orders of single species are sorted for customers.
Some of the firewood is seasoned by air drying; some is sold green. All of it is sold by the full cord. Brett makes most of the deliveries. Approximately 900 cords per year are processed and sold. A full cord in the region where Brett sells firewood is four feet wide by four feet tall by eight feet long. So he is processing a considerable amount of firewood. (In neighboring New York State, firewood is often sold by the face cord, which is just one-third that amount.)
A firm believer in the warming power of wood fiber, Brett heats his home with a wood burning furnace manufactured by Sam Daniels, Montpelier, Vermont. He lives in a wood home, which is framed in hemlock and has oak floors. The house was completed in 1992 by Brett, who began the project by personally identifying and securing each bit of standing timber to be used. He selected each tree, did the initial processing, and then had the logs sawn by the owner of a portable sawmill.
Assessing all opportunities for cutting and garnering raw material for firewood keeps Brett busy. He both manages the company and works as part of the team. Making certain the company stays strong irrespective of economic climate requires being open to all possibilities. “We’re trying to be a little more diversified,” he said. “Clearing a house lot” is as important as working on a large tract.
“I go into eastern New York a little,” Brett said. But most job sites are closer to home, or within a 100-mile radius of Strafford.
“Word-of-mouth [brings] quite a bit” of work to B&J Wood, explained Brett. The company also gets referrals from foresters that Brett works with on a regular basis.
Brett bought his first Timberwolf firewood processor in 1997. Even though things have changed at the manufacturer during the intervening years, the things that are important to Brett have not. “The Timberwolf company has grown a lot since 2000,” said Brett. He points out that the manufacturer is doing a great amount of business everywhere. “But they’re still providing quality and prompt service,” he explained.
Brett also said that he admires Timberwolf’s commitment to safety.The processor operator has control over all operations — live deck, feed trough, cut-off saw, wedge and splitter — from one position, which enhances safety.
And the Timberwolf processor is a strong machine. Durability begins with a hydraulic system that incorporates regeneration (return) valves, auto-cycle valves and electric cycle valves. The Timberwolf also has a patented top roll clamping system that holds the log securely while it is cut.
B&J Wood takes maintenance on the Timberwolf Pro-HD XL and all equipment seriously. In addition to daily greasing, the machine gets its oil and filter and hydraulic fluid changes according to Timberwolf’s recommended schedule.
Brett is a member of the Vermont Loggers Association. And he is certified by LEAP, the Logger Education to Advance Professionalism program, administered by the Northeast Stewardship Project. LEAP certification satisfies requirements of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
As for his own business, Brett is happy about the turn he took almost 20 years ago. “I like the outdoors,” he said, and operating B&J Wood gives him the opportunity to experience the beauty of the setting every day. “But a heated cab doesn’t hurt” he says with a chuckle.