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Firewood Business Benefits Loggers, Retirees
Chomper Firewood Processor from Rainier Hydraulics Enables Easy Entry into Business
By Thomas G. Dolan
Date Posted: 8/1/2008
You’d think that someone who built a better mousetrap would want to tell the world about it. Rainier Hydraulics Inc. in Rainier, Ore., however, has kept a low profile about its firewood processor, the Chomper, although it has a number of features that set it apart from other processors on the market.
James McCracken, general manager, said the company has not done much traditional advertising or marketing. “We don’t go to any of the logging shows,” James explained. “Our best salesmen are our customers. If someone happens to find out about us, we’ll give them our customer list.”
The Chomper comes in two basic models. One is designed for the weekend operator. The other model is designed for high volume production, such as a wholesale firewood business that supplies supermarkets or other retailers.
David Purinton and Andy Yearous are customers who have bought versions of the small model.
David and his wife, Victoria, run DVP Firewood in Starksboro, Vermont. “I’m 57 years old and had been a dairy farmer most of my life,” David said. “Then I sold my herd and managed a restaurant for five years after that. Then I retired for three years and got extremely bored. So I talked it over with Victoria, and we decided to start a little firewood business.”
He was “too old to do it the old-fashioned way,” he added, “getting a log up on a deck, cutting it with a chainsaw, then picking the chunks off the ground and putting them into a wood splitter. One of the first things that happened was I hurt my back and had to rest for two weeks.”
David then tried to convince some neighbors to go into business together and purchase a firewood processor, but he couldn’t generate enough interest.
He began researching firewood processing equipment and came across Rainier Hydraulics. “We contacted James, who was very helpful,” David said. “He sent us some information and a video, and one thing led to another. We ordered a Chomper, and about a month later, this past April, it arrived. The price was right, about $16,600, and $1,900 to get it from Oregon to Vermont.” He purchased the Simplex 14S model, with a Honda 24 hp v-twin gasoline engine, for $16,600,
What especially attracted David to the Chomper was its ease of use. It was ideal for someone like him who no longer had the strength of a young man and with a bad back besides. He was not looking for a full time job but rather a part time occupation to keep him busy and earn some money, too.
“You don’t need a tractor to lug logs up onto a deck,” noted David. “You just attach a winch to the log, and it pulls the log into place in the machine. But the main thing that first attracted me to it was the shear blade, which never needs sharpening.”
The Chomper cut logs to firewood length with the hydraulic-powered shear blade. There are no bar saws or circular saws to change or maintain.
David had not operated the Chomper long before be realized be could use a conveyor to help handle and move the firewood. He bought a used one that previously moved gravel and coal. “It was overkill,” recalled David, but it was a good buy, only $300.
David runs the Chomper, and Victoria stacks the firewood. When asked why he doesn’t do some of the manual labor, stacking the firewood, David said, “I’d be glad to help her, but she said no…So I didn’t argue with her.”
The wood is stacked in one cord rows with an 8-inch space between rows. “Every customer knows he is buying a full cord lot,” said David. “I never want a reputation for selling a short cord.”
Although they have only been in business a few months and have not advertised their enterprise, the couple already has attracted a lot of customers. They are not in a populated area, either. Most customers are homeowners within a 15-mile radius.
The firewood is stacked on the edge of the driveway on his 50-acre farm, whose crop land is now leased to someone else who grows corn. “I’m the only one in the area that has a Chomper, and it’s attracted a lot of interest,” David said.
David buys 12-14-inch diameter logs from a local logging contractor. A load of logs costs him about $600. It will yield about six cords of firewood, which he sells for $300 per cord. “So it’s a worthwhile proposition,” he said.
“We got the baby model of the Chomper line,” said David. “It fell within our price range, and the 24 horsepower Honda engine runs beautifully.”
He and Victoria work when they want to; they might work one day a week or four. “If it’s a very hot day we work until it gets too hot,” said David, “and then we quit. If it’s raining we don’t work at all. We’re still kind of retired, but it fills out our time in a profitable way.”
Andy and his father, Martin, are partners in running Yearous Farms in Reedsport, Ore. “We purchased our 600-acre spread 17 years ago,” said Andy. “We’ve raised cattle on the bottom and farmed the higher ground for trees and also log for other ranchers in the area. I’ve cut firewood since high school.”
The amount of firewood they sold got to be more than they could produce by hand. “So I started looking at processors,” said Andy. “I got on the Internet and looked at different models. The Chomper wasn’t very well advertised, compared to the others, but it looked interesting — a little bit faster with a lot less sweat and less handling. I ordered one and decided to give it a try.” Andy bought the SMPLX14S, powered by a Honda 24 hp engine, for $16,500.
“With the Chomper, I don’t need a loader,” noted Andy, because of the hydraulic winch system that pulls the log into the processor at ground level. “You just stand there and run the levers.” The firewood exiting the machine goes into a homemade conveyor the Yearouses built and dumps into a truck. “You don’t touch the wood as often,” added Andy.
He and his father have bought a number of nearby ranches. “We log them, and whatever is left is scrap wood,” said Andy. “We sell very little pulpwood because of the cost of trucking to the mill.” Instead, they process the pulp logs into firewood.
Most of the adjoining ranches they have bought have homes, and they rent them out and maintain the properties.
They stay busy logging. “We work pretty long hours, about 10 hours a day at least, five or six days a week,” said Andy. At the end of the day he puts in an hour or so of cutting firewood as well as on weekends.
Andy belongs to the Oregon Logging Association. Like other parts of the country, the state’s forest product industry has struggled the last year or so. The Yearouses have survived in part because they are small, said Andy. “My dad and I have a small operation that we do ourselves. We have just two Cats and skidders and a log loader.” The firewood business helps, too.
Andy and his father bought the Chomper two years ago. They produce and sell about 200 cords of firewood annually.
The Chomper was invented by Warren Aikins, who wanted to develop a machine that functioned simply and would last a long time. Cutting and splitting firewood is very labor-intensive, and he sought a better way. The result was his patented machine. Warren, now 80, still owns the business he started in 1976, but he is retired, and the day-to-day operations are in the hands of James.
James discussed other features of the Chomper that set it apart from other firewood processors. For one thing, the Chomper is very portable; it can be hooked up to a pick-up truck in less than five minutes and towed away. There are no fold-up log decks, outriggers or other accessories to contend with.
The hydraulic winch, which is standard on the Chomper, loads the logs into the Chomper. “No infeed conveyors, top roll or grapple feeders are required,” observed James. Firewood processors that have a log deck require the use of some type of equipment – such as a tractor with fork tines or a Bobcat loader – to lift the logs from the ground and place them on the deck. Some may have a hydraulic lift that will raise a log into place.
The Chomper Simplex models are manually operated. Once the log is pulled into the machine with the winch, it butts up against the closed shear blade. A clamp arm is lowered against the log to hold it. The operator then uses a control valve to lift the shear blade to above the log in the open position; another control valve moves the shear blade carriage forward for the desired length of the firewood. Then the operator penetrates 75%-80% of the way through the log. After the proper penetration depth is reached, the operator moves the carriage back toward the splitter head. As the block is being split, the remainder of the log is dragged into position for the next cut. Once the carriage is all the way back to the splitter head, the cut is 100% completed. The cycle is repeated until the entire log is processed into firewood.
There are important benefits to using a shear to cut the logs instead of a bar saw or circular saw, noted James. “By doing away with the need to change or sharpen the chain or blade, you eliminate the major cause of downtime for the conventional firewood processor,” he said. Cutting with a shear also eliminates sawdust.
The shear also puts stress on the wood, which results in another benefit: moisture is forced out of the wood. Less moisture means the firewood dries faster – and can be sold sooner.
The Chomper processes logs at ground level. It can handle crooked logs and logs with mud or gravel. Depending on the model, the machine can process logs up to 14-16 inches in diameter.
“There is no lifting,” said James, “no supporting equipment required. It is totally self-contained.”
Rainier Hydraulics also offers conveyors. A conveyor can be positioned to collect the wood automatically as it exits the machine and moved and dropped in a pile or into a waiting truck. Customers also may be able to obtain a conveyor locally, James noted, and avoid shipping costs.
The Chomper’s splitter head can be adjusted hydraulically for a two-way or four-way split; heads that can split six or eight ways are optional.
“We make the only real automatic firewood processor on the market,” James said. “Only one person is required for full production, and it’s very safe. The operator can stand clear of the machine during the automated production cycle. Only two moving parts produce consistent, reliable production, and the rugged construction means low maintenance and downtime.”
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