NEW BERLIN, Wisconsin – Entrepreneurial twin brothers Tyler and Brady Mainka have delved from the realm of the esoteric to the mundane. Now with a growing firewood business, they rely on a Multitek firewood processor as the company’s workhorse along with a couple of firewood kilns from Kiln-Direct.
They launched their firewood business, Best Burn Firewood, at the end of 2016. It is located in New Berlin, Wisconsin, a small city located less than 15 miles west of Milwaukee.
The company now does a little over $1 million in annual sales or about 2,000 cords of firewood. Best Burn Firewood employs 11 people. The company leases an acre of land from another business. They are “maxed out every square inch,” said Tyler.
The site includes sections that are paved or covered with a concrete pad. The company has two hoop-style buildings and two aluminum structures; the buildings are on the concrete pad, which also covers the staging area for finished firewood. Finished firewood is stored either under roof or staged briefly on the pad.
Each brother does “a little bit of everything,” said Tyler. “Brady does a lot of hands-on stuff,” he added, and generally oversees firewood production, packaging, and some equipment maintenance. Tyler keeps the company website up-to-date and its social media platforms and is more involved with sales and new accounts. “It’s a pretty healthy mix between both of us. We’re kind of running around doing everything on any given day.”
Tyler and Brady grew up in nearby Waukesha, and the family had a wood stove for heat.
The quality of the firewood, however, left something to be desired. Their father, who has worked around heavy equipment in his career, actually gave them the idea of starting a firewood business. No one in the region offered high quality firewood and services, he told them.
Their father had operated a heavy equipment dealership in the past and also a business using tub grinders to process wood debris into mulch.
The brothers had developed an online Internet game, Crandor. “We were both pretty good with computers,” said Tyler. They had a certain tech savviness since childhood that “came naturally to us.” They sold the game and used the proceeds to buy their first firewood processor.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff,” said Tyler. The brothers even created a cryptocurrency token with a team they hired from Europe and successfully exited the venture in 2021. “But we pretty much dumped all the money in the firewood business to keep it growing and growing.”
“The first three or four years, we pretty much did everything ourselves,” said Tyler.
They buy logs from logging contractors, relying mainly on four to keep them supplied. Logs are 8-16 feet and no more than 18 inches in diameter. The contractors have self-loading semi-trailers, so they can unload the logs in the company’s wood yard. The logs are segregated by species and stacked on asphalt millings.
The logs are bucked and split into firewood on a Multitek 2040XP2 firewood processor with a 16-way wedge. It is the third Multitek machine the brothers have purchased.
When firewood comes out of the processor, it is fed via conveyor into a Multitek tumbler to remove loose debris and then via another conveyor into baskets to be loaded into a kiln.
Firewood that is dried and ready for delivery to homeowners goes through a pair of Blockbuster tumblers a second time before being loaded into trucks.
“As soon as it comes out (of the kiln) it is packaged or sold to homeowners,” said Tyler.
The brothers have invested in two firewood kilns from Kiln-Direct and a firewood bundling system from XPAK, a New Jersey company that specializes in equipment for packaging and automation. The business also has a couple of skid steers, two forklifts, delivery trucks with custom beds, and a ramp for loading tractor-trailers with pallets of bundled firewood.
When they decided to start a firewood business, it didn’t take long to settle on Multitek as the choice for purchasing a firewood processor. Their first machine was a Multitek 1620.
“They’re just basically the best when it comes to firewood processors,” said Tyler. “They’re a little more expensive, but in this day and age, you get what you pay for.” The Multitek staff has put a lot of thought into what a processor goes through and endures as it operates day after day for years, he suggested. “They built it the right way from the start.”
Multitek is based in Wisconsin, Tyler noted, only two hours away, and provides good service.
“There just was really no other option for processors, in my opinion,” he added.
The brothers did some research into other brands of firewood processors but never went so far as to demo one. “Multitek just grabbed our attention right away,” said Tyler.
They opted for a circular saw on each firewood processor they purchased. Multitek offers both bar saws and circular saws for the bucking process.
The Multitek 2040XP2 can process logs up to 40 feet long and 23 inches in diameter. Powered by a John Deere 125 hp diesel engine, it can produce four and a half to seven cords of firewood per hour, according to Multitek.
Multitek offers seven models of firewood processors and also distributes Beaver brand firewood processors. In addition, it offers two types of machines for removing debris from firewood, conveyors, and equipment for bagging firewood and bundling firewood in plastic.
Multitek was founded by Leo Heikkinen. He first founded the Prentice brand of logging equipment and developed the company’s knuckleboom loaders. He launched Multitek later, in the 1970s.
(For more information on Multitek products, visit www.multitekinc.com.)
“Tyler and Brady have been excellent guys to work with,” said Jason Hartmann, sales and marketing manager for Multitek North America. “These two brothers are hard-working and determined.”
The brothers replaced their first machine with a used Multitek 2040XP2 in 2018 and upgraded with a new model in 2021.
“It’s definitely what we expected,” said Tyler. Eventually they may replace it with an electric model.
Tyler and Brady decided from the start that they would only offer kiln-dried firewood. At the time, there was another firewood business in the region that had a kiln. “But they weren’t really using it that much,” said Tyler, or advertising or promoting kiln-dried firewood.
“We didn’t want to sit on inventory, waiting for it to dry,” said Tyler, and getting contaminated with dirt and debris in the process. Plus, kiln-dried firewood burns better. “The only way to do it is with a kiln,” said Tyler.
They researched how kilns work and bought a heating system and built a kiln. “And it worked, but not like it needed to,” said Tyler. The kiln wasn’t hot enough, allowing mold to grow on the wood. They had to remove the mold with wire brushes.
After a few months they pivoted and began discussions with Kiln-Direct about investing in a firewood kiln. Niels Jorgenson, the president and owner of Kiln-Direct, had given them some technical advice when the brothers were constructing their own kiln.
“They pretty much set the standard with their kilns,” said Tyler, “and their support has always been amazing. They treat you like you’re part of a family. They’ve helped us out in a lot of situations.” He always recommends Kiln-Direct to other businesses that are considering investing in a kiln, he added.
They purchased a six cord kiln from Kiln-Direct in 2017. In 2020 they added a second kiln with a capacity for 12 cords, and earlier this year they added a second 12-cord kiln and sold the smaller one. The kilns are fueled with propane.
The firewood is loaded into the kilns in metal baskets, and they have two sets of baskets for each kiln so one set can be filled with firewood, staged and ready to go in when the drying cycle is complete and the kiln is unloaded and ready for another load.
“The kilns run every day year-round,” said Tyler.
The XPAK system uses shrink wrap to bundle the firewood. It has 75 trays to load sheets of shrink wrap and firewood. The trays automatically move into an oven, and the heat shrinks the plastic to form a bundle around the firewood. As it exits the oven each bundle is automatically stamped with a label. Employees also staple a plastic handle on each bundle to make them easy to pick up and carry.
“We just started high-volume bundling operations this past year,” said Tyler.
Best Burn Firewood delivers to homeowners and commercial customers within a radius of 50 miles. About 70 percent of the company’s firewood is sold to homeowners and commercial customers, mainly restaurants and convenience stores; individual homeowners account for about half that volume. The convenience store businesses purchase bundled firewood. The brothers have one account that operates a chain of convenience stores in southeast Wisconsin.
The company normally dumps a load of firewood on the ground at a customer’s home, but it provides stacking services for homeowners who want it stacked for them.
The restaurants include steak houses, barbecue restaurants, and pizzerias that buy firewood for cooking. The restaurants have sheds or some other structure on their property to store the firewood, and employees from Best Burn stack it when they make a delivery.
The remaining 30 percent is sold wholesale and bundled. The brothers have shipped pallets of bundled firewood by the tractor-trailer load to markets in Chicago and as far away as Texas.
Best Burn Firewood offers five species of wood: red oak, white oak, black locust, cherry, and hickory. Oak is the most popular with homeowners for heating in the fall and winter. In the summer mixed hardwoods are popular for fires at campgrounds. Red oak is the most popular species the restaurants buy for cooking.
Firewood is sold and priced by the cord, half-cord, face cord, and half-face cord. Prices vary by species, with hickory being the most expensive.
One employee runs the processor, and one is operating a skid steer or forklift to keep the processor supplied with logs and also to unload and load the kilns as needed. One person works in the office. Another six people are involved in the firewood packaging operations.
Finally, two employees are devoted to driving trucks and making deliveries.
Debris from the firewood processing operations is collected, and suitable material is packaged and sold for kindling; the rest is supplied to the business that leases the site to Tyler and Brady, and that company grinds it to produce mulch.
The company has a sophisticated website. It even has a ‘chat’ feature to ‘talk’ with a representative. The website had detailed information about products, which include racks for storing firewood, pricing, wood species, the benefits of kiln-drying, and prices for stacking.
In addition to marketing through the website and social media platforms, Tyler makes phone calls to generate wholesale sales, calling buyers for retail stores. They also sell through a broker. He even solicits sales to other firewood businesses that need more firewood. “Anyone we can find who needs firewood,” said Tyler.
Tyler and Brady, who usually work six days a week and average 60-70 hours, plan to continue sales to residential customers, but they want to grow the business by expanding into more wholesale markets in other states. “We can produce over one million bundles a year,” said Tyler. “That’s our main goal and why we bought some of the equipment we did. We want to push large-scale bundle sales and reach a large volume with bundles.”
The brothers are planning to buy some land and build their own facilities for the business. They hope to have their own site and move into it in 2024. When they have their property and facilities, they also plan to invest in a machine to grind their residual material to produce mulch.
“It’s a long process,” noted Tyler.