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Wisconsin Man Launches Firewood Business
Rainier Hydraulics Chomper Is His Choice for Firewood Processor; Shear Cutter Has Benefits
By Peter Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 1/1/2008
COLEMAN, Wisconsin — Ken Stodola has found the key to success for his firewood business lies with the Rainier Hydraulics Chomper Super-14 firewood processor.
When Ken decided to invest in a firewood processor, he chose a Chomper, which features a shear cutting action. “I wanted to get away from chainsaws as well as all the sharpening and replacements that came with them,” he said.
The Chomper Super-14 will cut and split wood up to 14 inches in diameter. It is the fastest model from Rainier Hydraulics that will process 14-inch diameter logs into firewood. The machine is powered by a John Deere 60 hp turbo-diesel engine. Ken also has a Rainier Hydraulics PC-20 conveyor.
Ken, 59, was in the automobile business for nearly 30 years when he sold it in 2002. He intended to keep working, but the death of his older brother in an automobile accident caused him to change his priorities.
“My brother, a dairy farmer, was someone who had worked very hard all his life,” said Ken. “In fact, that is what defined his life. When we lost him, I started to wonder about just what the point of it all was. As a result, my wife and I took some extra money we had at the time and did some traveling for about a year and a half, doing everything we always wanted to do.”
When they completed their travels, Ken knew he would need to begin working again. “My dad had always spent a lot of time in the woods,” he said. “His favorite thing was to take a chainsaw and spend an hour in the woods. So that’s how I got started with my firewood business.” He named his company Northland Firewood.
Researching machinery on the Internet, he came across Rainier Hydraulics and its Chomper line of firewood processors and eventually decided to buy one.
It took a week or two to get fully acclimated to the machine and running at full production. The staff at Rainier Hydraulics was helpful. “They are very knowledgeable and are more than willing to help you out with anything,” said Ken.
Ken works for an insulation company that applies cellulose-based, spray-on insulation in new homes; Ken and the owner of the company served in the military together in Viet Nam. He is in his first year in the firewood business, which he does in his free time, but already he believes he can grow the company to support himself full-time.
Ken lives about 50 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Most low-grade logs cut in the region for pulp wood are cut to 8-foot length. He has a skidsteer to move and stack logs in his yard.
Initially Ken began processing logs that were somewhat dry. “What I find with this machine is the greener the better,” he said. “In other words, if you can cut it with leaves still on the branches today and run it through the machine, it works better.”
The Rainier Hydraulics Chomper machines differ from other firewood processors in that they use a hydraulic shear to buck the logs. The blade does not need to be replaced or sharpened regularly, like a bar saw, and the cutting method produces no sawdust.
“The shearing system is unbelievable,” said Ken. “I don’t have to worry about stones, dirt, barbed wire, nails or whatever. It doesn’t even phase it. Everything just goes right through it just fine with no problem.”
There is another benefit to cutting with a shear, he noted. “The wood dries much faster because of the shearing process. It leaves the ‘veins’ of the wood open. Air can get through better, and it dries quicker. Green oak cut with this machinery can be used for firewood within 90 days.”
Three hardwoods commonly used for firewood in the region are oak, hard maple and elm. Elm may burn the longest time, according to Ken, but oak is very popular for firewood. A disease that has spread through some oak forests has resulted in large quantities of inexpensive dead oak.
Many people calling him to buy firewood this season are asking for oak. “Nothing beats dry oak for heating,” said Ken. “Energy costs are driving up the demand for firewood as fuel for heating homes. It remains extremely popular.”
“I’m a guy who enjoys working,” said Ken. “I plan on doing it for as long as I’m able. I hope to make a little money doing this, put my grandchildren through college and have something to look forward to.”
Ken’s oldest son, Troy, is an independent trucker and hauls wood for logging contractors. “He knows when the price is right and will be a great help with my business,” said Ken, who has two other children and six grandchildren.
“I’m encouraging the grandchildren to join the armed services when they’re old enough,” he said. “This country’s free for one reason: the good young men and women who’ve stepped up and done their job. I’m hoping my grandchildren do the same. Then when they get out, they can take over my wood business or buy a car business like I did the first time around.”
Ken exercises pretty regularly and does some deer hunting. “I go running when I have the time, and I feel good when I do. On days when he does not make firewood, he runs or walks about four miles. “I just feel great,” he said. “Maybe I’ll only live another day or another year, but while I’m here I’ll feel good. I’m hoping this part-time firewood business turns into a full-time job I can do until I’m 104. Now, 105, that’s a bit too old for this.”
Nearby Peshtigo experienced one of the worst forest fires in U.S. history, Ken noted, one that probably would have been more known had it not happened on nearly the same date as the famous Chicago fire of 1871.
“Peshtigo was not a large town then and it is not nowadays, either,” said Ken. Hundreds of people were killed, “a huge percentage for a town of this size. It was a terrible time. Forestry management techniques have come a long way since then.”
The Chomper also is different from other firewood processors because it operates at ground level, noted James McCracken, general manager of Rainier Hydraulics. Logs are pulled into the machine at ground level with a winch system. There is no need to lift the logs and place them onto a table or live deck to be loaded individually into the machine. “The processing action of the machine itself keeps the log feeding through the machine,” James added.
The Chomper Super-14 was added to the Rainier Hydraulics’ lineup in 2005. When John Deere redesigned the engines, which added 10 hp, Rainier Hydraulics changed the hydraulic pump in order to gain a faster cycle time with the increased horsepower.
Another benefit of the shear cutting system is that it requires no high-speed rotating parts, noted James.
“The processing functions keep the logs feeding through the machines,” said James. “The shear blade rides in the carriage, and the carriage moves back and forth inside the main frame. Mr. Stodola’s particular model has the auto-cycle package on it as standard equipment, so the processing is done through limit switches and relays. Once a log is loaded in, the equipment can be flipped over to auto, the winch line can be taken out and hooked up to the next log…while the other log is being processed. The processing cycle is the same on all of our machines. It’s just how those motions are controlled.”
The Rainier Hydraulics Simplex line of firewood processors is more economical. These models are manually operated with joystick controls.
With the Chomper model in auto mode, the shear blade is raised, and the carriage moves back to the desired cut length, which is adjustable from 12-24 inches on the Super-14. The shear automatically penetrates 80% of the distance through the log, and it acts as the backing plate to force the firewood block through the adjustable 2, 4, or 6-way splitter head. At the same time, the log is dragged forward to position it for the next cut. Then the cut is completed, and the cycle repeats.
The high-tensile strength steel shear blade never needs to be sharpened. The processing function creates a constant honing action on the blade to keep it sharp.
“We also like to point out that the wood, once it’s cut, cures in half the time as conventionally sawn and split wood — simply due to the fact that as the shear blade penetrates the wood, it forces or squishes water out of the log,” said James. “You can actually observe the water running out of the log.” In green wood, the shear causes displacement, disrupting the cell fibers and opening them up on the end of the wood for 2-3 inches.
“Our blade has an inverted ‘V’ cut out of it,” added James. “This helps to act as a centering device. The design has been customer-driven. It’s through their input that this set-up came about.”
Rainier Hydraulics recommends processing green, unfrozen logs with its machines for optimum performance.
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