LANDAFF, New Hampshire —
What started out as a firewood business just to keep his logging company busy in the spring during mud season has turned into a booming, burgeoning full-time enterprise for Scott Santy and his wife, Crystal.
Thanks to Kiln-Direct firewood kilns, he also has successfully demonstrated that there is a market for kiln-dried firewood among homeowners in the Northeast who heat with wood.
Scott, 37, worked in the family logging business for about 10 years before getting into firewood full-time. In 2015, when he was still logging, the business did about 200 cords of firewood with the purchase of a 2006 Multitek 2040XP2 firewood processor. The second year he left the logging business, and he and Crystal started their firewood company under the name of Country Comfort Firewood and doubled the amount of firewood sold. The firewood business grew so fast, “it sort of took over,” said Scott.
Their business has continued to flourish. It is based in Landaff in north-central New Hampshire, about 92 miles north of the capital, Concord. The company has 12-15 full-time employees, depending on the season, and sells between 10-12,000 cords of firewood annually — sold green, seasoned, and kiln-dried.
The company has about 12 acres of land, with the log yard taking up about 6 acres. All firewood production operations are outdoors, but Scott plans to put up a building to put his two firewood processors under roof as well as operations to package firewood. Packaging operations currently are contained in a 60×70 building.
Country Comfort Firewood currently has four Kiln-Direct firewood kilns — three different types. Scott has been steadily adding kiln capacity and will be continuing upgrades to two existing kilns in 2020.
The company has two Multitek firewood processing machines. One is the 2006 Multitek 2040XP2 with a bar saw for bucking; the other is a 2018 Multitek 2040XP2 with a circular slasher saw and a 16-way wedge to produce square-edged pieces of wood that are more suitable for packaging. In addition to the two firewood processors, the company is equipped with a Multitek 12-foot tumbler and 35-foot radial stacking conveyor, a Built-Rite 20-foot conveyor, and a Cord King 12-foot tumbler with conveyor. Packaged firewood is bundled with a Wood Paker system, which uses shrink wrap to produce neat packages of firewood. Other equipment includes a couple of John Deere 244J compact wheel loaders and an assortment of trucks and trailers for deliveries, including a couple of trucks with log loaders, and indoor and outdoor forklifts.
Most finished firewood is stored in one of four ClearSpan structures, which have a low cinder block wall, metal trusses and a fabric roof. The firewood is stored in metal Kiln-Direct baskets in each structure or on the building’s concrete pad.
Scott buys firewood logs in 16-foot lengths from logging contractors. He specs logs 8 inches at the top and 18-20 inches on the butt end. “The sweet spot is 12-16 inches,” noted Scott. “That makes for the perfect size wood to go through the bundling wedge.” He buys oak, beech, rock maple, soft maple, cherry, ash, white birch, yellow birch. “Any good quality hardwood,” added Scott. Oak is the most common species.
About 60 percent of the company’s firewood product is sold kiln-dried, including bulk and packaged. About 20 percent is sold seasoned, and the other 20 percent, green. “We’re real busy with green wood orders in the spring and real busy with seasoned wood in the fall,” explained Scott.
Scott charges about $60-70 more per cord for seasoned firewood compared to green, and kiln-dried firewood is about $130 more than green.
When he began thinking about adding firewood operations, he spent considerable time gathering information about the firewood industry. He researched the industry and markets for about three years, “reading everything I possibly could,” he recalled. He contacted firewood businesses to ask questions.
He struck on the idea of offering kiln-dried firewood as a way to establish his business from the very beginning. “We were looking to separate ourselves from the many firewood providers that were offering green wood and seasoned wood,” said Scott, “and to be able to offer good quality firewood year-round.”
“My biggest concern was that around here it would be hard to sell a product for more money,” said Scott. To insulate himself against that risk, he was able to obtain a contract to supply kiln-dried firewood wholesale, selling 12-15 cords at a time and delivering it bulk in live-bottom trailers. “That made a huge difference,” recalled Scott. “Anything extra we made during the week, we began selling it to homeowners.”
A lot of people in the region who burn firewood are not familiar with kiln-dried firewood, according to Scott. People typically buy seasoned wood, which has been allowed to air-dry for a period of time. However, Scott has found that kiln-dried firewood sells itself. “Once they try the kiln-dried wood…they’re hooked and never go back…It has a guaranteed moisture content, puts out more heat, and starts easier. Once they try it, they never go back to anything else.”
When he began offering kiln-dried firewood to homeowners, the business “blew up…They’d try it once or twice, and they were hooked.”
Scott researched a number of firewood kiln suppliers before settling on North Carolina-based Kiln-Direct. He was able to purchase a used unit that was only a year old and a couple of hours away. He has continued to rely on Kiln-Direct as he has added kiln capacity.
“Working with (Kiln-Direct president) Niels Jorgensen and the whole company…they’re great to work with,” said Scott.
“Niels has been fantastic,” he added.
One thing that particularly impressed him was the production numbers he received from Kiln-Direct. “They’re telling you what you can actually produce,” said Scott, and if anything, Kiln-Direct’s numbers tend to be on the conservative side.
An advantage of dealing with Kiln-Direct is that the company sizes its firewood kilns to hold 6-12 cords of firewood, depending on the model. Scott talked with another Kiln-Direct customer who has six of the company’s MiniQuick firewood kilns. “I asked him why he didn’t go with one big kiln to begin with,” said Scott. The customer explained: if you only have one large kiln and it is damaged or destroyed by fire, you have lost all your production capacity; if you have a series of smaller units, you are still able to to produce a certain volume of firewood even if one kiln is incapacitated. In addition, the smaller kilns can be loaded and unloaded faster, and they heat up faster.
“Learning these things, I decided Kiln-Direct was the way to get started,” said Scott. After he began doing business with the supplier, he got to know Niels more and was impressed with his strong service and customer support. “His customer service — you can’t get any better,” said Scott. “I decided to stay with them and grow with that particular brand.”
When he invested in his first Kiln-Direct firewood kiln, he figured it would take five years to pay it off. The next year he already was ordering another unit, and he has been steadily adding more kiln capacity. Scott bought a Kiln-Direct MiniQuick BASIC 6-cord firewood kiln in 2016 with gas for his fuel source. He added a second the next year and a third in 2018.
Last year Scott wanted to invest in a fourth kiln, a SmallQuick unit that can dry 12 cords of firewood at a time and featuring Kiln-Direct’s system for using wood biomass for fuel. Because of Kiln-Direct’s busy production schedule, in the meantime he decided to upgrade one of his existing units with a Kiln-Direct Performance package of enhancements, which were completed in the summer. “They had been working on a plan for a Performance upgrade,” recalled Scott.
The Performance upgrades included lifting the kiln off the ground, building a low concrete block wall to set the unit on, adding height to the bottom firewood baskets, putting in an air scoop to direct hot air under the baskets, upgrading the burner by doubling the heat output to a 1.2 million BTU unit, and upgrading to a much larger fan with twice the air flow. The result: a load dries the firewood in almost half the time as before, according to Scott.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Scott. “You use more propane or natural gas, but you’re moving a larger volume of wood, a lot more.” With the Performance upgrades, the kiln reaches heat-treating temperature — 160 degrees — in about 2-½ hours compared to 5 hours in a normal kiln. Scott plans to upgrade the other two kilns with the Performance enhancements in the spring of this year.
The fourth kiln, which uses wood biomass for fuel, arrived a few months ago. It was six years in development by Kiln-Direct, which installed its first prototype in 2013. Scott also agreed to test Kiln-Direct’s new flue gas recovery system, which has been shown to increase heat input to the kiln by 20-40 percent for faster drying times. “It’s really helping increase the speed of drying the wood,” noted Scott. The kiln also features a new augur system to remove ash from the firebox and automatically empty it into a container or trailer.
Scott has been experimenting with burning different types of residual material, green and dry, with the new kiln. “It’s doing well,” he reported. The kiln includes a bin in the back that can hold 30 cubic yards of wood biomass. Scott also is thinking of investing in a grinder.
During the warm months of the year, the drying cycle for the Performance kiln takes about 24 hours; during the colder months, the cycle takes about 30-32 hours. The kiln using wood biomass for fuel has a drying cycle of about 48 hours during the cold months.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Kiln-Direct,” said Scott, who is a member of the National Firewood Association. “They’ve been fantastic to work with.”
Although a kiln burning wood biomass does not dry wood as fast as a gas-fired unit, it is an opportunity for Scott to dispose of some of his residual materials — bark, scrap wood, and sawdust. The drier the residual material, the better it burns and the shorter the drying cycle.
Residuals have been a challenge, admitted Scott. “That’s been our biggest issue…Sometimes we have to pay to get rid of it.” He was “drastically losing ground” as far as disposing of scrap material, which was one of the reasons he invested in a kiln that burns the material for fuel. Scott is even giving some consideration to producing mulch and using his residual materials for feed stock.
The company can always use more logs, according to Scott. “We’re always behind. We never turn a load down.” He may get 10-15 truckloads one day but only 1-2 on another day. At the time he was interviewed for this article, he estimated he had 1,800 cords of logs on the yard. The ground in New Hampshire is not frozen yet, observed Scott. In a few more weeks, after the freeze sets in, logging conditions will improve, and “the wood will start rolling in.”
The kiln-drying process takes the wood down to an average of 12-15 percent moisture content, well beyond the U.S. Department of Agriculture requirement for heat-treating firewood for 75 minutes at 162 degrees in order to kill wood-eating insects. The wood has to be very dry for the packaged firewood market, noted Scott, in order to prevent mold and other moisture-related issues.
Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for kiln-drying firewood, noted Scott. “When you say kiln-dried, what does that entail?”
The second year he began offering packaged firewood and bought a Mr. Twister wrapper that bundles firewood with stretch wrap. A few months later he added a second as he began supplying local campgrounds and retail stores with bundled firewood. “We stayed busy all summer and fall,” recalled Scott.
The next year he was approached to supply more firewood to wood brokers who sold to accounts throughout the U.S. “We updated our equipment with the Wood Paker unit and hired more workers. The Wood Paker bundles firewood with shrink wrap, which is ‘a little bit stronger’ than stretch wrap,” noted Scott. “It’s what these companies require once you start supplying them with wood to sell to chain stores,” he added. His packaging process also includes labeling and attaching a handle to each bundle so it can be picked up and easily carried by consumers.
Smaller logs — 10 inches in diameter or less — are processed on the older Multitek processor, and larger logs are bucked and split on the new model with the 16-way wedge. His first Multitek has “just has been a workhorse,” said Scott. “The machine has been fantastic…They go every day, and they need to go every day.”
He added a Multitek 2012 model, buying it used from a Vermont man who was selling off his firewood business, and ran it for about a year. He decided to trade up for a 2018 model to take advantage of the 16-way wedge. “I love it,” he said of the new Multitek. “They’ve gone to a different hydraulic pump, and it’s much better on fuel…The creature comforts and the operator cabs are fantastic.” An option he particularly likes is the secondary tip pan to collect scrap pieces like short butt ends.
The company used to provide stacking services, but Scott discontinued it last year. Bulk deliveries to homeowners are made with a dump truck. He offers free delivery within 10 miles and charges a fee beyond that. It serves customers up to 100 miles away.
Scott and Crystal have a website for their business although no recent pictures have been added; updates to the website are pending. Nevertheless, a lot of customers find the website when they use Google to search for firewood. The business does Google advertisements and also has a Facebook page.
Crystal handles the bookkeeping, payroll, and office-related tasks for the business. They also employ a full-time secretary to answer the telephone. In their spare time Scott and Crystal enjoy being with their two children, Rachel, 8, and Emmett, 6.
They plan to continue growing both segments of their business, wholesale and retail. “Every year we’re in business, we get more calls from homeowners who want kiln-dried wood,” said Scott.
(Kiln-Direct offers lumber kilns ranging from 9,000 to 40,000 board feet capacity and also pallet kilns, firewood kilns, and kiln control systems. For more information about Kiln-Direct and its product line, visit www.kiln-direct.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (910) 259-9794.)