Multitek 1620 SS firewood processor purchased in March will boost 2014 production 50 percent over 2013.
LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota – All firewood is not created equal. Just as the attention to detail and special care behind the finished product are evident with hand-crafted furniture, so it is with firewood produced by Paul’s Fireplace Wood, Inc., a family business that began more than 30 years ago. “The better the product, the better the company,” said Paul Wilczek, Jr., co-owner and foreman of operations at the firm.
“We make the best product we can,” said Paul. “We give good service.” Stihl and Husqvarna chain saws along with one Timberwolf and three older model LaFont wood splitters were the only tools used to produce firewood until March 2014. In 2013, with a nine to twelve man team operation, Paul’s Fireplace Wood produced and delivered 2,000 cords of firewood to their loyal customers.
But with the demand for firewood growing, including the brisk business Paul’s Fireplace Wood does selling via its website (Firewood.com), Paul decided to add a processor that would boost output. In March, he purchased a Multitek 1620 SS firewood processor.
When we spoke with Paul in early October, the Multitek had already produced more than 700 cords. It is on target to produce 1,000 cords this year, increasing the company’s annual production to 3,000 cords.
At its fastest pace, the Multitek yields two to three cords per hour, said Paul. But Paul’s team uses the Multitek at a slower pace because all wood is re-split, which yields one cord per hour of high-quality firewood.
Having grown up using a chain saw – literally following his father in the woods at age five holding a little toy saw with a string on it, Paul weighed many factors before choosing the Multitek 1620 SS with a 40-inch circular saw. “I did some research on it,” he said, deciding the “chain saw version of the Multitek takes more time to maintain and is a little slower than the circle saw.”
The Multitek has performed well. “It can handle dirtier wood – with the carbide tips,” he said. “It’s durable. We added two more advance rails, instead of the three rail system.” The five rail advance system handles the logs with more ease. The Multitek offers splitting flexibility with 4-way, 6-way and 8-way wedges to process logs of different diameters and reduce re-splitting.
Before purchasing the Multitek 1620 SS, Paul flew to the Prentice, Wis. headquarters of Multitek North America, LLC, to see the processor at work. “Marcus [Steigerwaldt] did the demonstration,” he said. “He’s real knowledgeable. There’s nothing like seeing it [in person].”
Eighty percent of the time, the Multitek operator is Bob Crosby, deliveries and operations technician at Paul’s Fireplace Wood. The Multitek 1620 SS gets high marks from Bob. “It’s really easy to learn how to run,” he said. “It’s fast, easy to run. All the controls are in the right spots.”
Marcus was on site to instruct Bob at the startup of the Multitek. Bob, who had done a lot of chain saw work in the woods, was quickly won over by the circular saw. “It’s really easy [to maintain],” he said. Moreover, the carbide tips are tough, maintaining their integrity even when challenged. “We’ve hit a couple of nails, and it still cuts like the day we got it,” he explained.
Bob generally loads and operates the Multitek. He uses a skid steer to load the deck. The hardest and slowest wood split by the Multitek is hickory. Soft maple is split the fastest. All residential fireplace wood is a near uniform size – three-inch, four-inch.
The Multitek is maintained by Bob with routine oil changes and tension adjustments, as well as greasing the bearings. “It’s a really good machine for what we’re using it for,” said Bob. “It works well for us. We re-split. It’s easy to turn around [pieces].”
Paul’s Fireplace Wood occupies a 10-acre site. It has approximately 7,000 square feet under roof. By winter, the Multitek will be operating under roof.
Much of the firewood goes to customers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Paul’s Fireplace Wood is based in Little Falls, Minn. The town of 8,200 residents is part of Morrison County in the central part of the state.
Deliveries are made as far as 200 miles away from Little Falls. “In Minnesota, we deliver the firewood ourselves using four Ford 550 trucks with dump boxes. Each truck hauls three, premeasured cord of firewood,” explained Paul. Any quantity of wood ordered includes delivery and stacking at the customer’s site. “Out of state orders, we palletize – by hand.” Polyurethane, gunnery-type sacks hold the palletized firewood.
There is “a lot of hand-done work,” like cutting and splitting, stacking, boxing, and bagging, at Paul’s Fireplace Wood, said Paul. “We offer a clean, quality product.”
Heat-treatment to thwart the likes of the emerald ash borer is a must for wood going beyond the state line. In December 2013, Paul purchased a kiln in the Quick series (includes the MiniQuick 6 cord and SmallQuick 12 cord) from Kiln-direct in Burgaw, N.C. “I saw the kiln in TimberLine and did some research,” he said.
The research included visiting another firm to his north that had a kiln heated with waste wood, a configuration Paul decided was not for him. When the Kiln-direct Quick kiln was first installed, it was heated with propane. The fuel for heat was switched to natural gas after Paul had a line run to his property. Natural gas became a much better choice because it cuts the cost of fuel in half and is more efficient.
The Quick kiln from Kiln-direct is loaded with two 100 horsepower John Deere tractors. The tractors drive right up to the front door of the kiln. Paul has worked closely with Patrick Dean at Kiln-direct on the installation and optimal use of his kiln. He said that he appreciates that he can call Patrick whenever he has a question.
Since the year 2000, Paul’s Fireplace Wood has been doing significant sales via the internet. The website and web sales, as well as other administrative functions are the domain of Sharon Wilczek, the owner of the company. Sharon is Paul’s mother. Lorraine Lloyd assists Sharon.
“The specialty wood is about 42 percent of website sales,” said Sharon. “Forty-nine percent is firewood.” Specialty products include decorative birch logs, pinion pine, kindling and barbecue wood (mesquite). The company sells to some big commercial clients, as well as individuals who have a unique need for firewood, such as a component in a photo layout or wedding decorations.
“This is the overlapping time – in fall,” said Sharon. Some customers are still barbecuing, others have begun to use their fireplaces.
One well known commercial customer is Famous Dave’s. In 1994, Paul’s Fireplace Wood provided hickory wood to the very first Famous Dave’s, in Hayward, Wisconsin. They now provide many types of cooking wood to approximately 200 Famous Dave’s. On a recent visit to their location, Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave’s, stated “If you want the cleanest, burning wood, go to Paul’s Fireplace Wood.” He also stated that, “Famous Dave’s has used Paul’s Fireplace Wood for the best tasting barbecue and we have won 800 awards, because our food is fantastic and it has a lot to do with the quality of the wood we burn.”
“We like to deliver a quality product, on time,” said Sharon. “We’re willing to do custom service,” tailoring orders to specific requests. “We have a great product and a great delivery system.”
Last winter, customers in Minnesota experienced more than 40 days with temperature below zero, said Paul. “Last year, I sold a lot of wood.”
Oak, birch and maple are mixed in the deliveries to residential customers. But some people do request birch-only. Paul likes the mix with birch providing the fragrance and oak providing the sustained burn and maple a hot fire.
“We buy wood in eight-foot lengths,” said Paul. “I work with 10 different loggers.” The loggers deliver to Paul’s yard after they have already merchandized their wood, taking out grade lumber and bolts.
The incoming raw material gets a TLC treatment at Paul’s Fireplace Wood, a company that got its start with a hands-on effort. “We were cutting by hand with chain saws” before the Multitek 1620 SS was added this year, said Paul.
Paul and in-house team members use the 460 Stihl. Reynaldo Guzman, yard operations technician who works for Paul, uses the 372XT Husqvarna.
Paul Wilczek, Sr., who is still working at Paul’s Fireplace Wood, started the company, which he sold about seven years ago to Sharon and Paul (Jr.). “He worked out in the woods behind loggers,” said Paul, explaining that his father took what the loggers were not going to sell and split it for firewood. Before getting into the wood products industry, Paul senior worked as a behind the counter parts representive for the local John Deere dealer.
Sharon’s father cut firewood to heat the family home, so she knows a great deal about the industry in which she is now immersed. She emphasizes that Paul’s Fireplace Wood is deeply engaged in producing firewood for cooking and fireplaces.
“We do this all the time,” said Sharon. “It’s not a pickup truck” with a load of extra firewood loaded in the back. Paul’s Fireplace Wood is a company with a roster of special products that are made with care for a quality burn. The word spreads: Much of their business these days comes from referrals both through electronic media and person-to-person contact.
There’s a great deal to like about operating the business, said Paul. “I enjoy the variety of work. I get to do deliveries to residential customers.” And that provides opportunity to chat a bit. “I enjoy the team of guys I work with here. It’s outside work, and while the rainy days aren’t fun, the sunny days are amazing. We get the job done rain or shine.”
Outside his responsibilities to the company, Paul is taking an on-line course to become an arborist. In his free time, he enjoys being with his young son, Tucker Wilczek, taking camping trips, four wheeling, doing landscaping and maintaining his yard at home.