Energetic New York Firefighter Grows a Firewood Business on His Days Off

One-Man Operation Relies on Halverson Skid Steer Mounted Firewood Processor
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ROCHESTER, New York — When firefighter Aaron Smith decided to start a small firewood business, he invested in a few pieces of equipment. As the business quickly grew, though, he found he needed to ramp up production. He found the solution for his one-man business with a firewood processor from Halverson Wood Products.

Aaron grew up in the Rochester, N.Y., area, which is located in upstate New York on the shore of Lake Ontario and roughly halfway between Buffalo to the west and Syracuse to the east. He began an apprenticeship to become a pastry chef when he was 16 and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, which is down state on the Hudson River just above Poughkeepsie. He worked in the restaurant industry as a pastry chef and eventually opened a bakery in 1999 with a business partner.

Aaron had no background in firefighting — no family members were firefighters. He had some doubts about the longevity of the bakery business, however. One day a friend told him it was the last day to take the civil service exam to become a firefighter for the city of Rochester.

“It seemed like a natural extension of all the fun things I like to do,” he recalled, like rock climbing and kayaking. “It was an opportunity. Never in my life did I think I was going to do both at the same time.”

In 2005 he became a firefighter and also bought out his partner in the bakery business, which had annual sales of about $700,000 and employed about 20 people After about eight years of doing both, he decided to close the bakery.

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Aaron Smith partnered with his trusty companion Bubba, a 110 lb. mastiff who takes care of firewood loss prevention.

In addition to responding to fires in the city, he and other firefighters also perform specialty operations, such as searches for lost or missing people, responding to hazardous materials spills, extricating accident victims from motor vehicles or machines, and various types of rescues, including on water, ice, in trenches. “We’re like the canary in the coal mine for the fire service,” said Aaron, 46.

“Love it,” said Aaron. “It is absolutely the best job in the world. The schedule is amazing, the people are great, and you’re able to help the community.” And he likes the job security of working for a local government.

Aaron likes the schedule. Although it can be demanding at times, including 10- hour shifts and night shifts, the firefighters get generous time off, including about a half-dozen times during the year when they are off for 14 days.

Aaron started his firewood business four years ago. He heats his home with wood, with two fireplace inserts, and was looking for a way to defray the cost of fuel. He figured he could sell some firewood, pay for his own, and make some extra money with work he could do on his days off as a firefighter.

Wood scraps are also used in Aaron’s Warm Water Solutions swimming pool heater. The heater allows for the pool to be enjoyed from May through early November, which is not common for pools in upstate New York.

Aaron started with a chainsaw and a homeowner’s log splitter he bought from a farm supply store. The homeowner’s log splitter did not last long, and Aaron replaced it with a Timberwolf TW-5 model with a log lift.

He also invested in a small tractor and a dump trailer to be able to load firewood and make deliveries. However, he soon realized his equipment was not going to be a good fit for some of the large trees he was able to get for free from tree service businesses. As he began to get orders for firewood, he quickly realized, “I needed to figure out a better way to do this.”

The solution for Aaron was selling his tractor and investing in a skid steer and a firewood processing attachment for it from Halverson Wood Products in 2017.

Aaron has been a firefighter since 2005. He says, “It is absolutely the best job in the world”.

Aaron considered other firewood processors before deciding on the Halverson attachment for skid steers. He researched firewood processors online and contacted a few people who owned various models. “I wasn’t sure which direction to go,” he recalled.

He wanted equipment that would allow him to produce firewood and operate his business alone. He also needed something beside his little tractor to handle and move large logs, and he had a limited budget and couldn’t spend it all on a firewood processor.

Those considerations led him to Halverson Wood Products and getting a skid steer. The combination was affordable, and the two pieces of equipment would enable him to move and sort logs as well as produce firewood. “I think the Halverson was the best choice for me,” said Aaron. He added a grapple to move logs and a large bucket for loading.

Attached to a skid steer, the Halverson HWP-140B HD firewood processor can pick up logs 8-12 feet long, buck them into lengths up to 22 inches long and split them into four or six pieces. It is designed to process logs up to 16 inches in diameter.

The firewood processor is completely operated via controls inside the cab. One person can produce firewood with a skid steer and the attachment, working from the comfort of the cab in any kind of weather. It can be used by various businesses to produce firewood, including loggers, tree service companies, firewood businesses, campgrounds, resorts, and more.

Logs are picked up with the firewood processor’s forks and rolled onto the in-feed trough. Once in position, a high-speed chainsaw activates and bucks the log. The block falls into a splitting trough. Then the trough moves forward to split the block and advance the log for the next cut.

The attachment requires a skid steer with a minimum hydraulic oil flow of 15.5 gallons per minute and generating a minimum of 2,850 psi.

(For more information or to locate a Halverson Wood Products dealer, visit www.halversonwoodproducts.com, email halversonwoodproducts@halversonwp.com, or call 218-587-2065.)

Aaron has a ¾-acre lot at his home that he uses for a wood lot and has room for about 400 ‘face’ cords of firewood stacked on it. Besides his Bobcat S250 skid steer and Halverson Wood Products attachment, he still has the Timberwolf if he needs it, an American CLS conveyor he keeps at the Timberwolf, and a Ford F-350 truck for making deliveries with a Big Tex dump trailer.

At first he used the Halverson firewood processor to produce firewood, positioning the Bobcat and firewood processor so the finished wood would drop into the conveyor to be fed into the dump trailer. He used logs that had already dried, but the process was somewhat slow.

On the recommendation of a landclearing contractor who supplies him with logs (and also has a firewood business), Aaron bought some cinder blocks and built an L-shaped wall on the asphalt pad at his home. Now he processes logs on the pad. When he uses the skid steer for loading, he can push the wood into the wall to fill the bucket. He found it was more efficient because he eliminated pushing the wood around the yard.

Aaron still cuts over-size logs by hand, and those rounds are split with the Timberwolf and loaded with the conveyor. Has three Stihl chainsaws, an older saw plus two of the 362C models.

He sold about 60 face cords his first year, 80 the second, and 100 the third. Last year, with the Halverson firewood processor, he was able to produce and sell 450- 500, working his business year-round. “As long as the snow isn’t deep,’ he said.

A face cord is the first row of wood in a regular cord, which measures 4 feet tall by 4 feet deep and 8 feet long; the ‘face’ is the same height and length but only 16 inches deep.

Previously, bucking logs by hand with a chainsaw and operating the Timberwolf splitter, he could produce about six face cords of firewood per day.

With the Halverson, Aaron said he can produce four face cords — the equivalent of 11/3 cords — in one hour, and up to two full cords an hour with an ample supply of straight logs.

“You get into the machine, you’re good to go,” said Aaron. “At the end of the day, you don’t hurt.”

“I can sit in the machine,” he added, “and it can be raining, snowing…You can process wood as long as you want to sit in the machine.”

The longest amount of time Aaron stays behind the controls is about 4 hours. “After four hours,” he said, “it becomes like work. I have to find something else to do.”

“I’d say the Halverson has worked out very well,” said Aaron. He has had “zero problems” with the firewood processor — the hydraulics, electronics, or overall workmanship. “It’s great,” he added.

Like any chainsaw, the bar saw for the Halverson requires a steady supply of oil — it features an automatic oiler — for the bar, and the saw chain must be periodically swapped out for a sharp one. There is another plus to the Halverson, though, as Aaron pointed out. If he comes to a tough spot on a log, the Halverson processor can move the log to a better spot for bucking, avoiding a crook or knot. The feature enables the operator always to make the cut in a good part of the log.

Aaron pays an average of $600-800 for a tri-axle dump truck load of logs. That amount of logs will yield about 22 face cords of firewood. He buys most of his wood from logging contractors and landclearing contractors.

He buys mainly hardwood. While oak is the dominant species, he also buys walnut, ash, cherry, and maple. He also buys some softwood logs for firewood he sells to people who like to burn it outdoors in a fire pit. All his firewood production is sold seasoned.

Aaron’s customers are predominantly homeowners. A few are stores that sell wood stoves and accessories for fireplaces, and a few are businesses that heat with wood. Aaron also does all his own deliveries. His market area is within 20 miles, and he would like to trim a few miles off that.

He has a website to market his business, but he gets a lot of business via word of mouth. Customer satisfaction has been important to Aaron in order to be referred to other customers.

“I can’t stress enough, people giving positive reviews and word of mouth” have helped him grow his business. By reviews he referred to the review comments that people post via his company’s Google search page. Aaron makes a point of replying to those reviews and thanking his customers. He also has a Facebook page although he acknowledged he doesn’t spend much time to maintain it.

One thing that differentiates him from other firewood dealers in the local area, he said, is that he is willing to sell and supply small quantities. Other firewood dealers, operating with big processing machines, only want to sell larger volumes of wood to customers. Aaron described his business as more of a niche market. He sells single face cords to customers in the city limits compared to customers in rural areas who may want to order 10-12 face cords at a time.

Aaron, who lives with his girlfriend and their blended family, his two sons and her two children, has two dogs, one that he is training for urban search and rescue operations. One is a mastiff mix and the other is a German shepherd puppy. He also enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, and working on his home.

He purchased the Halverson firewood processor from A.J. Shaver, who operates Shaver Specialty Services & Sales Inc. in Wyoming, Penn. “He was fantastic,” said Aaron.

After he learned of the Halverson firewood processor on the company’s website, he contacted A.J. and drove to his dealership to check it out. That sealed his decision.

Aaron wants to grow the business organically and also is interested in developing some type of wood crafts using logs.