Firewood a Good Addition for Sawmill
Vermont lumber business uses Twister Industries equipment to wrap firewood because it is reliable and inexpensive to run.
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/1/2004
HINESBURG, Vermont — Longevity and quality are the watchwords for Clifford Lumber. Lynn Gardner’s grandfather, Harold Clifford, started Clifford Lumber in 1929. Lynn acquired the business in 1972. Today, Lynne and his wife, Marie, and son, Peter, are partners in the company.
“Our business focus is the sawmill business,” said Lynn. Clifford Lumber specializes in post and beam timbers and tongue and groove pine, but it produces a varied range of lumber products.
Lynn decided to add firewood production and sales to the company’s operations in the spring of 1991. “When I decided to go into the firewood business,” he said, “I looked at all the machines on the market.” After considerable research, he decided to invest in a Cord King firewood processing machine. The Cord King model 54 that Lynn bought more than 12 years ago is still the workhorse in the company’s firewood operations.
Clifford Lumber makes and sells about 1,200 cords of firewood per year on average. In some years it has produced as many as 1,800 cords.
The company began wrapping firewood six years ago. It wraps about 40 to 60 cords annually — firewood that is supplied to campgrounds in summer and ski resorts in winter.
Looking for reliability and durability in a machine that could package firewood, Lynn evaluated several machines before he chose one from Twister Industries in Mora, Minn. The Twister delivered everything it promised. “It’s worked very well,” said Lynn. “It’s very inexpensive to run” because it only requires one person to operate, he said.
“One man can pretty consistently wrap one-half cord per hour” with the Twister machine, said Lynn. The operator fills the rack with wood, leaving room on top for a few pieces of kindling, and then activates the machine to wrap the bundle.
Twister Industries offers different models to produce bundles of firewood in various sizes. The company’s 16-inch machine wraps up to 2.3 cubic feet of wood. Other models of the machine are available, starting with the Twister 10-inch machine, and they are calibrated at 1-inch intervals up to the Twister 18-inch machine. All models can wrap firewood from 12 to 18 inches long. They use 8, 10 or 12 inch rolls of plastic wrap.
Twister offers equipment to package firewood in square bundles of ¾-cubic foot or 1-cubic-foot and high speed wrapping systems that will produce over 200 bundles — the square, ¾-cubic-foot size — per hour with a small crew of workers. The company also offers machines for making lathes, grade stakes, and other specialty items.
Lynn uses clear wrap with colored labels — blue in summer and red in winter. The labels carry the Clifford Lumber name. Bundles are stacked on a pallet and the pallet is unitized with a hand-held shrink wrapper for delivery.
Seventy percent of the wood that is wrapped is hard maple or beech. “I have some customers that request” certain species, said Lynn. For example, one client uses only cherry for barbecuing. Another uses only beech for a pottery kiln. A third wants only hard maple for a wood-fired oven to bake pizza.
It is a “very competitive market” for packaged firewood in Vermont, according to Lynn. Drying and wrapping give Clifford Lumber a competitive edge.
The Twister is a great starter-up machine,” said Lynne. “It’s good for small amounts of wood.”
To keep the processor operating optimally, Lynn does routine maintenance and refurbishing as needed. For example, the splitter has been rebuilt twice. The machine still gets top marks from Lynn for going strong well into its second decade of service.
Lynn likes the performance of the circular slasher saw on the processor. “The slasher works really well in winter,” he said. During winter, the machine runs seven to eight hours daily, six days a week.
A premium product is exactly what Lynn wants. From almost the inception of the firewood business, he has been kiln-drying firewood to add value to it. About 60% of the company’s firewood is sold as kiln-dried.
Lynn designed two kilns for drying firewood at Clifford Lumber. The kiln chambers are overseas shipping containers. The floors were removed and the containers set on sand. Each chamber holds about nine cords of firewood. Waste wood from the sawmill fuels wood burners that are used to heat the kilns. The warm air travels through a duct into the chamber and is circulated by fans.
Lynn designed the kilns to minimize handling of the firewood. A Bobcat and a New Holland skidder are used to move logs to the processor. The processor off-feed conveyor carries the firewood to metal racks, which Lynn also designed. Each rack holds one-half cord. Forklifts move the racks into the kilns and then move the dried firewood to cooling sheds.
After three to five days in the kilns, the moisture content of the firewood has been reduced to about 20%, and it is either packaged or shipped bulk to customers.
The sawmill business employs five workers. During the winter, two employees work in the firewood operations. One operates the processor, and the other moves logs to the machine and moves firewood to the kilns and cooling sheds.
Clifford Lumber did its own logging until 1965, when it disbanded its logging operations and relied solely on buying wood from contractors. Lynn worked with a logging crew in the summer of his last years in high school. “I preferred the sawmill,” he said.
The sawmill has changed considerably over the years. From a Lane sawmill in 1929, the mill moved to two sawmills, one for hardwood and one for softwood, before 1941. A planer mill was added in 1972.
Lynn has been instrumental in choosing the sawmill equipment, from primary breakdown to resawing, that would keep the business thriving by getting the maximum yield from each log. Even firewood logs sometimes are re-routed to the mill if they can yield good lumber.
Besides his responsibilities at Clifford Lumber, Lynn is also the chairman of the Board of Selectman, the governing body of Hinesburg. The town is located in northwest Vermont about 10 miles east of Lake Champlain, which divides Vermont and New York.
When Lynn takes time away from the business, he has many interests in addition to local government. He is a pilot, and he and his wife enjoy traveling to Costa Rica to visit their daughter. Lynn said his son’s full-time presence in the business makes the travel possible. His son recently joined the business after first earning a two-year degree in forestry from Paul Smith College in New York and then a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Vermont.
“The freedom of being able to make decisions,” said Lynn, is one of the things he enjoys most about being a business owner.