MiniQuick firewood kiln speeds production of top-of-line firewood. Treelanders purchased the first MiniQuick firewood kiln in 2009 and now uses four kilns.
SYRACUSE, New York — Each reader of these pages is guided by a unique philosophy of doing business. But we expect that all readers will resonate with the philosophy held by Dan Fabrizio, the vice president of Treelanders.
“Hard work and common sense” are fundamentals of business, said Fabrizio. “[The combination] will take a man quite a ways in this world.”
Fabrizio and his partner, Frederick Albiker, the president of Treelanders, have been in business over 20 years. Albiker founded the company; and Fabrizio joined him about six months later. Both men had worked the same municipality prior to taking the entrepreneurial path. Albiker is a certified arborist with a degree from Paul Smith College (the College of the Adirondacks) in Paul Smith, N.Y. – an institution renowned for its forestry and wildlife programs.
Hard work has seen Treelanders grow from a residential and commercial tree care service into a multi-faceted wood products business with components in logging and land clearing, landscape mulch, local snow removal and firewood. The firewood product line started in 1994.
For many years, Treelanders sold only full face cords (four feet high by eight feet long by 16 inches wide). In the year 2000, the company began to make bundles of firewood containing16-inch pieces.
Firewood is a growing market niche nationwide. And consumers have grown more savvy and particular in their wants regarding the wood. Many homeowners buying bundled firewood especially like pieces that are easy to handle and that burn hot.
One way to ensure that firewood pieces are hot-burning is to dry them in a kiln prior to bundling. Seasoning wood in open air is a time-honored method. The natural outdoors drying works well, but it takes many months and up to a year or more.
Not surprisingly, then, the idea of heating firewood gained traction in the last decade. One factor nudging the concept along was spread of the emerald ash borer – and the determined effort to stop that movement. Sufficient, prolonged heat is an effective way to rid wood of eggs, larvae and adults it may carry. To move beyond certain regions, firewood bundles must be certified ash borer free by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In New York State (as elsewhere), there are requirements for certification of wood before wood can be shipped. To meet those regulations – and with an eye toward adding value to firewood, Dan decided it was time to add kilns to the firewood operation at Treelanders.
“Originally, I tried [building] my own kilns,” said Fabrizio. “It worked but it was way too slow.” He explained that he used an old shipping container as the structural frame for his kiln.
When Fabrizio had the opportunity to consider a commercially-built kiln, he did. Today, four MiniQuick firewood kilns from Kiln-Direct.com are running at Treelanders. The first was purchased in 2009. Indeed, it was the first unit that Kiln-Direct put on the market. And it has a 4 ½ -cord capacity. Each of the new MiniQuick kilns has a 6-cord capacity.
Deploying the MiniQuick kilns has proven a good business decision. Customers like the dried firewood product, one that can also command a higher price in a competitive market.
A Multitek 2040 XP90 firewood processor is used to make the pieces that head to the MiniQuick firewood kilns. “We’ve always had Multitek,” said Fabrizio. “This current one is one year and a half old. It has a circle saw and a 16-way wedge on it.”
The choice of the first Multitek to serve at Treelanders is one that Fabrizio recalls. He liked the “sturdy” build, he said.
“Because the processor goes pretty quick, we pile wood up [and] then load into baskets,” said Fabrizio. A front-end wheel loader is used to convey pieces from a processed wood pile to the baskets that go into the MiniQuick kilns. Each basket holds 100 cubic feet of loosely dumped firewood, which is approximately half a full cord, said Fabrizio.
In as short an interval as 36 hours, a firewood kiln charge can be ready to remove. “It all depends on what time of year it is; frozen wood takes longer,” said Fabrizio. Optimal drying time is in summer, he explained.
The MiniQuick firewood kiln from Kiln-Direct.com is designed to meet the 160°F temperature requirement for sterilizing wood. And it can dry firewood at a chamber temperature of 260°F. That’s a temperature that got Fabrizio’s attention early on. “In this scenario, we want to get the wood as hot as possible,” he said.
The MiniQuick kiln can be heated with gas or wood waste. Treelanders uses wood waste.
All trees felled or trimmed by Treelanders are merchandized. There is plenty of waste wood, even after middling quality lengths are sorted for veneer and scragg mills. Pine, box alder and poplar are “undesirable species” for firewood and scrap wood from such species is burned to heat the kilns in a structure that is “like a fire stove,” said Fabrizio.
The process of installing the MiniQuick kilns was not difficult, said Fabrizio. “All through, Niels [Jorgensen] helped.” Jorgensen is the owner of Kiln-Direct.com, headquartered in Burgaw, N.C.
Observation and careful analysis contribute to common sense. As such, it’s perfect symmetry that Fabrizio found a good match in the firewood kilns from Kiln-Direct.
Jorgensen is committed to understanding the wood drying process as thoroughly as possible, and then, applying that knowledge to kiln design. He has been amongst those working along the leading edge of combining theory and practice to kiln dry firewood economically and profitably.
Jorgensen anticipated several years ago that kiln-dried firewood would become the standard for bundles, generally the 3/4-cubic feet packs sold at retail outlets. He also believed that the USDA would ultimately require heat-treating (at 160°F for 75 minutes) to kill insects and pathogens. Like Fabrizio and Albiker, Jorgensen is grounded in the present, but wholly attuned to the future.
Fabrizio noted that hotter burning kiln-dried firewood can fetch a higher price. That is the basic cost and benefit analysis for kiln drying. But there is another: weight reduction.
As fuel costs have increased in the last four years, the cost of moving any commodity has increased correspondingly. Kiln-dried firewood weighs less than green wood. Kiln-dried firewood is good for the buyer; its lower weight is good for the seller paying transport costs.
Kiln drying firewood removes 20 percent (or more) of the water from wood fibers. Combustible entities – the fibers – become compacted and account for more of the weight of each piece. A fresh-split cord yields only about 70 percent of the Btu output that a kiln-dried cord does (with actual Btu value varying by species). Working its way through the supply chain — as more companies kiln-dry firewood — is a large benefit regarding shipping costs, which drop per Btu delivered.
Among the standard features in a MiniQuick kiln are wireless communication to operator, computerized controls and aluminum sheeting inside. Optional upgrades include stainless steel sheeting inside and a longer wood-waste conveyor (to simplify overnight operation).
Treelanders is based in Syracuse, N.Y., a city with approximately 160,000 residents in Onondaga County. The company owns a 50-acre site of which 10 acres are used for the shop and processing area. On-staff mechanics keep equipment humming.
In spring and summer – peak seasons, Treelanders runs with 28 to 30 employees. Training and on-site professionalism of employees are integral to the strength of the company.
“We do a lot of logging for the state,” said Fabrizio. Treelanders also cuts for a lumber company. “We do have a full-time logging crew that’s mechanized [with a] Timbco, dozer, two skidders, loader with slashers.” A Morbark grinder is used in the mulch operation.
Much of the work Treelanders does is tied to residential and commercial tree care. The company’s crews are accustomed to working in tight quarters around buildings.
Although some of the long-time customers of Treelanders prefer bigger pieces of firewood, the 16-inch piece is becoming the standard product. Treelanders will also provide a customized response to certain requests.
Looking for “ambience for the holidays,” some customers request cherry wood, said Fabrizio, citing one example. In general, the firewood is a mix of hardwood species. It is sold year around – with campers buying in warmer months.
Bundling of pieces is done with equipment from B&B Manufacturing. Treelanders sells bundles under its own label, Sure Fire Firewood; it also private labels for other sellers.
Treelanders belongs to the Empire State Forest Products Association. The company relies on Timber Products Inspection, Inc. to certify the wood exiting the firewood kilns meet requirements for transport.
Fabrizio does not hesitate when we ask him what he enjoys most about his profession. “I love the outdoors,” he said. “You name it, I like to do it – hunting, fishing, hiking.”