Chris Wilk, a Vermont man, expands his part-time firewood business with a new CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco firewood processor.
CENTER RUTLAND, Vermont – When Chris Wilk began looking at ways to generate income for his seasonal contracting business, he didn’t have far to go.
Wilk already had a small firewood business going, serving mainly family and friends. To supplement the earnings of his paving and sealing business, he decided to ramp up his firewood business to volume production and sales.
He invested in a CRD Metalworks Woodbine firewood processor that served him well, and he just recently replaced his first machine with another CRD Metalworks model to take his firewood business even further.
Wilk, 40, is an apple that didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree. He grew up in Rutland, Vermont. His company is based in Center Rutland, and Wilk lives in Chittenden, a mere 11 miles to the north. Both towns are in central Vermont.
Wilk has had a contracting business for 16 years. His father was in the asphalt paving business and his father before him, and Wilk has other relatives who have been in the business.
His primary business is asphalt paving and seal coating and some small excavating jobs. “Our business is primarily residential and small commercial,” he explained. He paves and seals residential driveways and parking lots for small commercial properties. The business keeps him busy from the spring until about Thanksgiving. Wilk plows snow and spreads sand in the winter, but he was looking for another way to supplement his reduced winter earnings.
He grew up in a home that burned firewood, and he and his family and friends used wood for heat. “If you needed firewood, you bought a lot of logs or cut down some trees in the back yard and split them up,” he said.
He began cutting and splitting firewood to generate extra income. Working in the months when his paving business was slow, he did about 15 cords of firewood annually working with only a chainsaw and a small splitter. Wilk would buy a load of logs from a local logger or cut some of his own timber. He used a Stihl chainsaw for bucking and a Timberwolf splitter, which he still has.
“It just kind of grew,” he recalled. He produced and sold firewood on a small scale for about 10-12 years.
About six years ago, though, Wilk noticed his costs were escalating. “And the money kind of dries up quicker than it used to,” he added. Also, snow plowing was becoming more competitive as more people got into the business, and some winters yielded lighter snow falls.
The solution to increase his earnings was a volume firewood business. “We weren’t looking to knock the barn down with firewood,” said Wilk, but he figured it would be a reliable way to generate additional revenue.
Stepping up the firewood business seemed a natural fit. He already had been doing it albeit on a smaller scale. He already had construction equipment – dump trucks, backhoes, excavators – that he could use for moving logs and delivering firewood. He had a business property that would accommodate a higher volume of firewood production, and he already had employees he could use. “I’m just missing one piece of equipment,” he thought, a firewood processor.
First he began looking at larger splitters, but he also noticed that firewood processing machines were gaining in popularity. He began researching the machines on the Internet and also attended a few trade shows, notably the Northeastern Forest Products Expo, which he attended several times.
He bought his firewood processor five years ago come June, an entry level machine from CRD Metalworks, which is based in the town of Williamsburg in western Massachusetts, not far from Interstate 91. He wanted enough of a machine to get his feet wet in the business, but he also wanted a processor that was well made and could produce a decent amount of firewood. He considered some other manufacturers but was put off by the waiting time for financing and machine availability.
He made a trip to CRD Metalworks and met owner Chris Duval. He had an entry level machine on site, ready for sale. Wilk put the machine through its paces. “It was fast, it was available, and it was very, very reasonably priced,” said Wilk.
“I felt very comfortable,” Wilk recalled. “We hit it off the bat.” He had researched CRD Metalworks machines earlier and also talked to Wilk beforehand as well as some customers.
Not many manufacturers were making an entry level machine, said Wilk, and the firewood processor was priced roughly 20 percent cheaper than others.
Wilk bought the machine, a Woodbine Pro Jr., which used a chainsaw for bucking and could process logs up to 16 inches in diameter and 20 feet long. The machine came complete with a 13-foot live deck and 20-foot conveyor; the equipment folded up to make it easily transportable as one package.
Asked how the machine performed, Wilk summed it up in one word: excellent. “It worked exactly like it was designed to,” he said. “We pushed it as hard as you could,” he added.
Wilk just replaced his CRD machine with a new model from the same company. The reason he replaced it was to be able to process larger diameter logs. Handling the occasional oversize log was laborious, slow, and time consuming.
The new machine is a CRD Rapido Loco 20 – the 20 enumerates that the processor can handle logs up to 20 inches in diameter. The machine can process logs up to 24 feet long. The live deck holds about 8-10 logs at a time, said Wilk.
One key difference about the new machine: it uses a circular slasher saw for bucking instead of a bar saw. The processor comes with a Simonds 50″ diameter blade for bucking. “I love it,” said Wilk.
“One thing I didn’t like about the chainsaw… there’s a lot of maintenance… We went through $1,600 in bar oil last year.” Beside the cost of bar oil, some logs invariably have dirt or debris on them, dulling the saw teeth and requiring the chain to be replaced daily. Wilk had about a half-dozen chains to rotate – chains that required regular sharpening.
When Wilk was interviewed for this article, he had been running the new machine about three weeks. He had not needed to sharpen the slasher blade, which has replaceable carbide tipped teeth.
“The saw goes through the wood like warm butter,” he said. “It’s scary how fast it goes through it.”
There are numerous benefits to the circular bucking saw, he noted. It reduces saw blade maintenance and other maintenance costs and down time and increases up time and production. “I think to go to the next level you need to go to the circular saw model,” said Wilk.
CRD Metalworks developed a new hydraulic braking system for the slasher saws on its firewood processor. (See accompanying article.) It comes in handy, observed Wilk. Without the hydraulic brake, which can stop the blade in under 10 seconds, the blade would run free for as long as 30 minutes after shutting down the processor, he said.
The Rapido Loco has an eight-way interchangeable splitting wedge that can be raised or lowered hydraulically. The machine completes the splitting cycle in three to four seconds, reported Wilk. “Every three and a half seconds there’s eight pieces of firewood coming out of the processor.”
Wilk has about four employees who work full-time seasonally, mainly for the paving and sealing business. He also hires a few truck drivers part-time to deliver firewood.
His business property decades ago was a John Deere sales and service yard, and it has a concrete loading dock. He added a bigger concrete pad to the top of the dock and sets up the firewood processor there, and he uses the old dock bay area to stage a dump truck; the conveyor empties the finished firewood into the truck.
Wilk has a small cherrypicker truck with log loader and homemade log rack. The processor is set up 100 feet from the log yard. Wilk can drive the truck back and forth in a straight line from the log yard to the processor to keep the machine supplied with wood.
He built a storage building to keep the finished firewood out of the rain and let it dry. He built a 60×65 c-shaped structure about 8 feet tall with interlocking concrete blocks and bought roof trusses and a fabric covering from ClearSpan Fabric Structures to complete the project. The building is open to the south and north to let air circulate through.
His business office, shop and log yard are located on six acres. The property is adjacent to a main road that goes in and out of Rutland; that road carries a lot of traffic and gives his business excellent visibility.
Wilk Firewood gets most customers by word of mouth. The wood storage shed faces the road, and he has signage in front of it with the business name and phone number. Thousands of cars pass by daily, Wilk estimated. He also lists firewood for sale on the www.craigslist.org website.
Wilk typically begins producing firewood in March and works through late June or early July to build up enough of an inventory. The wood is dry by the time it is sold and delivered to customers in the fall and winter.
Wilk researched other manufacturers before deciding to replace his firewood processor with a new machine from CRD Metalworks. He considered other manufacturers, though, and kept up with other companies’ products via the Internet, which he used for research when he got serious last fall about replacing his machine.
“I had a really good relationship” with the CRD Metalworks representatives, said Wilk, (owner Chris Duval and sales manager Patrick Davis). “I was happy with their machine.”
“They were still…the fastest (cords per hour) and the least expensive of anybody else out there…In this day and age, time is money. The less time you stand there, the more money you’re making.”
The CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco firewood processor is powered by a Deutz 73 hp turbo-charged diesel engine that is oil-cooled. The engine produces “more than enough power,” said Wilk. It has a 20-gallon fuel tank and burns about 1-1.5 gallons of fuel per hour, according to Wilk.
Wilk averages three to four cords of wood per hour working alone. That includes time spent retrieving logs from his wood yard, moving them, and loading them onto the log deck. With another man doing the log handling tasks, Wilk can produce five to six cords per hour.
The engine keeps the conveyor running, powers the live deck to feed logs, and runs the saw and the splitter. “You can all these functions all at the same time,” said Wilk. “And the little machine was the same way. Hydraulically, it’s very well-engineered. That’s what impressed me the most.”
“It works as fast as it can and efficiently as it can,” he added. “He’s got speed and efficiency all wrapped up into one.”
The heating season now ending, Wilk sold 250-275 cords of firewood. With the new machine, he expects to sell 400-plus cords per season.
“When we do more volume, we’ll have to expand out into some different market areas,” said Wilk.
He sells the firewood by the cord, mostly to homeowners who live in the area. The wood is delivered via dump truck and simply dumped on the customer’s property; he does not provide stacking services. Wilk offers free delivery within 8-10 miles.
CRD Metalworks offers a program to broker sales of used equipment for customers, and the company sold his previous machine in one weekend. Wilk did some refurbishing to the old processor, and Patrick made a video showing the machine being operated. He posted the video on the YouTube website and also notified a list of existing and potential customers about the used machine being put up for sale. The machine sold in a little over 48 hours. Interestingly, Wilk said the first call he received about the machine was from someone in Australia.
CRD Metalworks Develops Brake for Slasher Saws
CRD Metalworks, a manufacturer of firewood processing machines, has developed a new hydraulic brake system for circular slasher saws that is being incorporated into the company’s product line.
The company, based in Williamsburg, Mass., has applied for a patent for the new hydraulic brake system.
The innovation was long overdue, said Chris Duval, owner of CRD Metalworks and designer of the company’s line of Woodbine firewood processors.
“In the firewood business the slasher saw is a great advantage,” he said, “but it can also take a long time to ‘spin down’ to a stop in normal operating conditions.”
The company’s new hydraulic brake can slow the blade from 1000 rpm to a halt in less than 10 seconds, he said – a safety and operations benefit for operators and owners of the firewood processors.
CRD Metalworks also has an exclusive emergency stop feature, he said, that is similar to a chain brake on a chainsaw. It can stop the blade immediately in emergency conditions.
The new braking system will be integrated into the company’s Woodbine Rapido Loco line of firewood processors during 2013.
“Here at CRD Metalworks, we want to be the firewood processor of choice – worldwide,” said Chris. This doesn’t happen without price, value, and the kinds of innovative solutions which make the user experience safer and more productive.”
For more information about the CRD Metalworks Woodbine line of firewood processors, visit the website at www.crdmetalworks.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the company at (888) 667-8580.