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Timberwolf PRO HD - Processor Review

By Dave Boyt | Reprinted from Sawmill & Woodlot

TW PRO-HD Firewood Processor

Matt Mackey of Guynan, Ohio, was faced with a dilemma and an opportunity. The dilemma was how to save for retirement during the recession of the 1990s. The opportunity lay in the huge amount of wood left on the ground by local loggers.

I got my first log splitter while I was working at an auto dealership, and my 401K was losing money all the time,” recalled Matt. “I don’t like losing money without being able to control it, so I took my entire retirement savings and bought a log splitter.” Matt’s first investment was a Timberwolf TW-6 firewood splitter. A year later, he bought a conveyer, and later added an Anderson self-loading trailer to build up his part-time business. He started out going in behind loggers and buying up any firewood-size logs and treetops left behind. “I saw how much was left behind after a logging crew came through, so I developed a business around the concept of capitalizing on the waste.” Timbertop Firewood was born.

Decision to Purchase the PRO HD

After 10 years cutting firewood part-time, Matt had built up his business to the point where he felt ready to leave his regular job and go into the firewood business full-time. With his experience with the Timberwolf splitter and the good relationship he had with the dealer, Matt did not hesitate to buy a Timberwolf PRO MP firewood processor from Brownwood Sales of Columbus, Ohio. He refers to this machine as an entry-level firewood processor. “It would do a 14-foot log length and was great for tree tops,” he said, “but when I got into land clearing, I sold it and purchased a PRO HD, which will handle up to 26-foot logs.” In addition to its higher capacity, Matt says it has some nice features, such as the electronic auto cycle, which allows him to split and cut wood at the same time. Matt’s Timberwolf PRO HD has an 80-hp John Deere engine, which has plenty of power to push the logs through the 4-, 6- and 8-way wedges. He says that one pass through the 8-way wedge splits 18- inch logs to a size that is good for most of his customers, though he does resplit some for his customers with smaller woodstoves. The log infeed system has an hourglass-shaped top roller that both advances the wood and clamps it for cutting. According to Matt, it does a great job handling crooked logs.

While low temperatures and rising fuel costs make most people cringe, Matt says this winter has been good for firewood sales. “I think just about anyone could have made it in the firewood business this year,” he said, laughing. Market strategy and planning ahead have made this a great year for Timbertop Firewood. Matt says he had a lot of good wood pre-stored and ready to go, and maintained a higher price than most sellers.

“When everybody else ran out, we still had wood and maintained our profit,” he explained. His strategy is simple: Have a good product, stand behind it, and maintain your price. “We’re in it for the long haul, and we have a good customer base. They come to us because the quality is good, and we deliver when we need to. Your word is very important in this business.” As word got out, his customer base grew. This 200 cords of wood. He has a fulltime employee and hires extra help during the busy winter season.

Quality Firewood

TW PRO-HD Firewood Processor Specs

What exactly is “quality firewood”? Matt explained that consistent size is important. “People have stoves a certain length, and if it won’t fit in their stoves, it isn’t any good for them.” Anything that doesn’t look good or is buggy goes on a separate pile to be sold at a discount. “Our product looks great to the customer. I get compliments all the time that people can’t believe how well our wood stacks and how nice the stacks look,” he said. Matt keeps his firewood clean by storing it on concrete pads so that he can scoop it up with his loader without getting dirt on it. His standard size is 16 inches long, with chunks sorted by size for woodstoves, fireplaces, and outdoor wood boilers. He keeps logs set aside for custom orders. His premium wood is cured at least three months, but to encourage customers to buy wood in the spring and summer, Matt offers a discount on green firewood bought at that time.

The portability of the machine has also been beneficial. Although it normally operates in the wood yard, he does take it out into the woods when the weather is good and the ground is hard. He noted that operating the machine in the woods saves handling materials. “Each time you don’t have to handle it, there is more money in your pocket, but you also have to have a backup plan for when things are messy so you can still work without fighting the mud and snow.“

An Honor System

The most surprising thing about Timbertop Firewood is that it sells firewood on the “honor” system. The wood is divided into stacks of 1/3 cord and 1/6 cord. People pick up what they want and put money in the drop box. Matt estimates that 65% to 70% of his business is through the honor system. While Matt concedes that there is some thievery, it is less than one might think. “The thing is, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to load up the wood, and I do have cameras.” The biggest problem was people breaking into the cash box. He ultimately set up a welded vault that is bolted to concrete. “Designing the box was the biggest challenge to selling wood on the honor system,” he said. “For the customer end of it, I have been very impressed with the loyalty and honesty.”

According to Matt, the processor is intuitive and easy to learn. “After a couple of truckloads, you don’t even have to think about it,” he said. “If you are in synch, you can drop a log just as the ram comes back.” The live deck holds roughly a cord of firewood logs at a time, which keeps the machine in production for about half an hour. With his experience, Matt can fill a tri-axle semi with 13 ricks of firewood in about 2.5 hours. The controls are pretty standard. The only problem Matt mentioned during our interview was that his hired help enjoyed running it so much that he usually winds up operating the loader, putting the logs on the deck. He recalled, “When we went to the bigger processor, I noticed my helper had a bigger smile on his face.”

A Self-loading Trailer

Matt has several sources for logs. In addition to cleaning up behind loggers and land clearing, he salvages dead trees for firewood. He noted that with the emerald ash borer, there is a large supply of ash firewood. To move logs out of the woods with minimal impact, he uses an Anderson log trailer, which he also purchased from Brownwood Sales. “Most of the time we can back that into the woods, and winch out tree tops and load them onto the trailer,” he explained. The self-loading trailer has a 5-hp motor to drive the hydraulics, and Matt finds it to be a good size to pull behind his John Deere 1070. In spite of the small size of the tractor and loader, he says he can pull a cord per trip, without getting mud on the logs. The loader has also proven to be a reliable machine. Matt says he figures that he has moved over 100,000 tons of firewood, over the years.

Advice?

When asked what advice he would give someone thinking about getting into the firewood business, Matt said that offering a consistent high-quality product and being a reliable source of wood have set his business apart from many other firewood producers. He added that patience is a big key. “It’s not going to be profitable from the get-go. It is not easy, and you have to work hard.” The business may not be for everyone. “I enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t like working out in the elements, stay away from it.” He noted that planning ahead is critical in the firewood business. “You’ve got to be working a year to two years ahead at all times. You have to figure out where you’re going to get the next supply of wood, and be ready to jump a good deal when it comes up.” The business suits Matt perfectly. “There is a lot of responsibility, but there is also a lot of freedom,” he concluded. “We don’t have to run 365 days a year, so I can spend a little time with friends and family.”

Matt says the Timberwolf PRO HD is a key element in his plan to expand the business. “I’ve had this one for a year, and I think it will take the business to the next level,” he told me. He likes the fact that they’re made in the USA, and is pleased with the quality of the machine. “I haven’t had a failure with any of their products. I’ve always had Timberwolf, and done business with Tom Brown in Columbus. It is very convenient to be that close to the dealer; in case I need parts or service, it is there the next day.” Would he consider a different processor? “Maybe a few more bells and whistles, but that’s it. If I were to get another processor, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I would get a Timberwolf from the same supplier.”

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