WYOMING, Pennsylvania — When it comes to investing in a firewood processing machine, most people in the firewood business likely start from small beginnings. A lot of firewood businesses probably have gotten their start with a chainsaw and a splitter — even splitting wood by hand with a maul. Gradually, if they build up enough customers, enough business, they may eventually transition to a firewood processor to increase production.
With A.J. Shaver, the chicken came before the egg, so to speak. He took the plunge to invest in a firewood processor made by Halverson Wood Products. Based in Minnesota, Halverson manufactures a firewood processor that attaches to a skid-steer to provide the power and hydraulics. It was after buying the processor that A.J. decided to get into the firewood business.
His story is somewhat unique. He had good reason to want a firewood processor. A.J. grew up in northeast Pennsylvania, but he moved out of the region for about 10 years. When he returned, he and his wife purchased a home with electric baseboard heat and a wood stove in the basement. “I grew up with a wood stove, and I didn’t need a second mortgage with an electric bill,” he recalled, so he relied on the wood stove in the basement to heat the house.
To heat his house required 8-10 cords of firewood each winter. He cut and split it at night after work, doing it under outdoor lights. Using a Stihl chainsaw and a homeowner’s gas powered hydraulic two-way splitter, producing that much wood took about six weeks.
After two years of cutting and splitting his own firewood, and with a wife and family of five children, A.J. figured he had better things to do with his spare time. “I went to the Internet and fired up a Google search for something that would help me process my firewood.”
He looked at commercial hydraulic splitters and even considered the larger and much more expensive firewood processors. “In one of my searches I just kept going to the next search page and then to the next search page, and somewhere around page 20 I found this crazy-looking skid steer attachment called a Halverson.”
He called the company and contacted the owner, Glen Halverson. “I probably drove the poor man crazy with all my questions over multiple calls and emails,” recalled A.J. Finally, Glen told him: just buy one.
A.J. still wasn’t quite convinced. He wanted to see one in operation and try it. Glen was planning to travel from Minnesota to Maine to attend the Northeast Expo in May 2015. A.J. persuaded Glen to stop in Pennsylvania on the return trip so A.J. could see and try the equipment, offering to pay for some fuel and to put Glen up in a hotel for a night.
“Needless to say, seeing really was believing,” said A.J., “and everything that Glen said was true.”
Mounted on a skid-steer, the Halverson firewood processor picks up logs with its forks/front arms, and the log is rolled onto the in-feed table. Once in position and secured with a the grabber arm, a high-speed bar saw is activated. When a block is cut, it drops into the splitting trough. The log table, which is mounted directly on top of the splitting ram, moves the log into the next cutting position while simultaneously splitting the block. The processor can cut wood into lengths up to 22 inches and handles timber up to 16 inches in diameter.
Blocks can be split into 4 or 6 pieces, depending on the choice of splitting heads. Although it is designed for a skid-steer loader, some customers choose to attach the processor to an excavator or tractor. The Halverson attaches via a common skid steer mounting plate.
(For more information on Halverson Wood Products, visit www.halversonwoodproducts.com.)
A.J., 37, and his family live in Wyoming, which is located in northeast Pennsylvania along the Dallas Township line just slightly northwest of Wilkes-Barre. He is the director of operations for his father’s business, Dominic’s Equipment Rental in nearby Monroe Township, which is less than 10 miles north of where A.J. lives.
A.J. already had a skid-steer, a Bobcat S300, before he purchased a Halverson firewood processor. “I was using it around the house,” he said. “The property we have is on five acres, and it needed to be developed when we bought it.” In addition, he rents out the Bobcat through his father’s business.
“That’s what made the Halverson so appealing,” he added. “I already had a skid-steer.”
For someone using a chainsaw and hydraulic splitter to produce firewood, the Halverson attachment with a skid-steer eliminates the manual labor of bucking logs, picking up the rounds and loading them onto a splitter, and picking up more pieces that need to be split again.
His decision to invest in a Halverson firewood processor in the spring of 2015 opened up an opportunity with Halverson and eventually other equipment manufacturers. He formed a business, Shaver Specialty Services & Sales Inc., and became a dealer for Halverson later that year.
“The Halverson firewood processor is such an incredible attachment,” said A.J., “that once you see it, you have to buy it.”
A.J.’s initial goal was to sell one Halverson firewood processor a year; in just over two years he has sold 36. In fact, Halverson recognized him as the company’s top performing dealer for sales volume for 2016.
“I was an average guy looking to sell one a year, and we’ve been blessed and done a whole lot more than that,” said A.J. His success with the Halverson firewood processor has led to opportunities to represent additional equipment manufacturers. “Everything that I sell, I use myself,” he said. “I know the equipment. I give it an honest review, and I can answer people’s questions about it. I think that’s what sets us apart.”
“We want you to know the pros and cons and be comfortable and make the best decision you can when you purchase a product from us.”
About half of his customers are people like him who use firewood for heat and want a more productive, efficient, easier way to cut and split firewood. About half are contractors in logging or construction who are looking for a way to produce firewood to generate additional revenue for their business. The majority of his customers are in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
With the Halverson Wood Products attachment, A.J. can produce all the firewood he needs for the winter in about six hours instead of six weeks.
He subsequently decided to start a small firewood business. “The Halverson Wood Processor allowed us to start selling firewood because I could process it so fast and with such little effort,” he said. He produces and sells about 40-60 cords a year but has no plans to grow the business further. He markets firewood sales on craigslist and also promotes it on a Facebook page he has for his business.
A.J. operates his firewood business two ways. He keeps an eye out for free wood on logging or construction jobs, and goes to those sites to pick it up and haul it back to his home for processing. (He also represents AM Machinery and has one of the company’s small-scale trailers with a grapple for loading and transporting logs.) Most firewood is sold at his home; customers can buy it bulk by the bobcat scoop in half-cord or full cord quantities, and A.J. uses an SUV and a dump trailer to make deliveries; he also can provide stacking.
Customers also can buy firewood already stacked on pallets that hold a half-cord. The other way he operates his business is to take his skid-steer and firewood processor on-site to a customer’s home or wood lot to process their logs for an hourly rate.
A.J. supplies some bundles of firewood to a nearby state park where it is sold on a self-serve basis; he has a Hudson firewood wrapper, which is operated with a manual wrap, to package the firewood into bundles. He also makes his Bobcat and Halverson firewood processor available for rent for people who want to produce their own firewood.
A Halverson firewood processor is particularly attractive to businesses that already have a skid-steer or excavator to attach it to, noted A.J. “It adds an extra utilization, an extra business opportunity.”
A Halverson firewood processor offers a number of benefits, he pointed out. A firewood processing machine requires another piece of equipment, such as a skid-steer or other machine with fork tines, to load logs onto the deck. In addition, the Halverson equipment is priced more affordably than a firewood processing machine, according to A.J.
There are other benefits, A.J. noted. “The Halverson and the skid-steer can be moved together on the same trailer, right to a job site, and you can process logs on-site and haul away finished firewood.” It eliminates the need for trucking logs and handling logs. No more dragging logs, trucking logs, cutting rounds, lifting rounds, splitting and re-splitting rounds, picking up pieces, throwing them into a truck or trailer, and then taking them home or to a customer.
With a skid-steer and the Halverson, cutting and splitting firewood can be done with one machine in the comfort of the operator’s cab. “It’s one trailer, one machine” noted A.J. “No multiple trips back and forth to a landing.”
A.J. can sit in the comfort of the Bobcat cab, which has heat and air conditioning, and listen to the radio while he makes firewood. He has done as much as three cords in an hour, although he averages about 1.5 cords per hour while processing logs that are 8-16 inches in diameter. For logs over 20 feet long, he typically picks it up with the skid-steer and Halverson attachment, cuts it in half, and processes one stick at a time.
Initially, A.J. had prospective customers who would drive 6-8 hours in order to see the Halverson wood processor demonstrated and to try it. “I was looking for a way to showcase it before people make an investment in time like that.” He was familiar with various equipment videos on the Internet having done his own Website searches.
He set up a YouTube channel to post videos about the equipment. He now has about 55 videos on his channel, Shaver Specialty Services & Sales Inc., demonstrating various equipment, including the Halverson firewood processor. The videos range from less than one minute long to the longest at 12 minutes. A.J. makes the videos himself, capturing the video with his iPhone or a GoPro camera. Some of the videos depict the firewood processor and other equipment working, and others are used to illustrate maintenance tasks. In fact, his videos are so good that Halverson has used some of them on its website.
One video has almost 3,000 views, and other have topped 1,000. Additionally, he has published some of the videos on the YouTube channel of his father’s company, and one of those videos featuring the Halverson equipment has topped 20,000 views.
The YouTube channel and videos help A.J. market the firewood processor. He has had customers in West Virginia, New Jersey, New York — even Alaska.
A.J.’s territory to represent Halverson is northeast Pennsylvania, but he still can represent Halverson to people who contact him from other states after seeing the videos and sell them equipment. “Today I was talking to somebody from Wisconsin, and the other day someone from Michigan,” he said. “They find the videos and give me a call…I’m good to sell to them.”
A.J. works out of his home and a 3,000-square-foot garage. He keeps a Halverson firewood processor in stock at his garage to make it available for demonstrations. When he makes a sale and orders a unit, it arrives in about two days. Since he now represents other companies, too, he also has demonstrator units of their equipment.
Besides Halverson Wood Products and AM Machinery, Shaver Specialty Services & Sales also is an authorized dealer for:
• Black Splitter hydraulic cone splitter attachments and grapples
• Rapco Industries carbide saw chain
• Blacks Creek Innovations firewood processing equipment and conveyors
• Prime Attachments skid steer attachments
A.J. is in the process of developing a website; when completed, it will be accessible at www.shaversalesinc.com.
In his free time A.J. enjoys deer hunting, particularly with a compound bow or flintlock rifle. He volunteers at Northmoreland Baptist Church in the Sportsman Ministry. The ministry’s main program is CenterShot, which provides training in archery for children starting in grade two and is offered to the whole family. It provides a good time of fellowship, competition and a Bible study.