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Sawyer Construction Finds Success and Efficiency With the Hahn HFP160 Wood Processor
Marv Sawyer of Sawyer Construction Services, Inc. field tested the Hahn HFP160 firewood processor. Marv assisted in the development and fine tuning to make the HFP160 the best it could possibly be.
By Maya L. Brewer
Date Posted: 6/1/2010
Elgin, Minnesota—Marv Sawyer, owner of Sawyer Construction Services, Inc, has been in the forestry business for over 24 years. After owning three different types of firewood processors, he’s finally found one that he’ll use for the rest of his life. But it wasn’t an easy journey for him to discover his machine of choice. He’s had to learn from some major trials along the way.
One of Marv’s worst experiences in the business occurred several years ago when he spent $100,000 on a wood processor manufactured by a leading company. He had purchased the second one in the series of their newest, top-of-the-line firewood processors only to find that the unit was ineffective and troublesome to use. Upon contacting the manufacturer, Marv stated that he felt the problems would never be addressed and that he kept getting the “run around” for several months. None of his machine’s problems were ever addressed. Finally, Marv contacted another customer, who had purchased the third-released machine of the same series, and discovered that customer was also experiencing the same issues both with the machine itself and with customer service.
“We could have filed a class action lawsuit against this company, but I’m not that kind of guy,” remarked Marv. “I felt like they released a model that was untested and that we were the guinea pigs. It’s something to spend that kind of money upfront for something that’s not been proven. If you spend that kind of money, you really ought to be able to lay in bed and push the button and it should push wood all by itself.”
While Marv wishes he hadn’t spent that kind of money, he has learned what works and what doesn’t as far as firewood processors go. He doesn’t desire for anyone else to walk through the kind of experience he had. He ended up selling his machine at a loss just to get rid of it.
Marv repeats this story to many because he doesn’t want them to have the same troubles that he experienced. So far over 50 people have come to visit his production site to check out his Hahn HFP160 firewood processor. According to Marv, he’s had visitors from all over the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. And, after hearing his story and seeing the HFP160 firewood processor in action, they too have purchased from Hahn Machinery, Inc., located in Two Harbors, MN.
According to Gary Olsen of Hahn Machinery, the HFP160 is the first skid-steer mounted processor that attaches to skid-steer loaders with at least 20gpm auxiliary hydraulic flow. It can pick up a log, move it to a pile, conveyor, or a truck, cut it into firewood lengths and then split the blocks into 4, 6, or 8 pieces.
“With the Hahn HFP160 the entire process of converting logs to cut and split firewood is performed by one person from the comfort and safety of the skid steer loader’s cab, stated Gary. “Instead of moving logs to the processor, the HFP160 concept involves moving the processor to the log pile, thereby eliminating the need for a second machine and operator to shuttle logs from the pile to the processor.”
Hahn Machinery, founded nearly 38 years ago as a subsidiary of Ray Hahn Logging, was first introduced to this unique concept when Glenn Halvorsen, owner of Halvorsen Wood Products, heavy equipment mechanic and inventor, from Pine River, MN, built an early version for his own use. Glenn had gone as far as he could with his concept machine and brought it to Hahn for further design, development, and testing and ultimately to market the processor.
Marv, had visions of a machine similar to the one Glenn was working on and, according to Marv, a friend introduced him to Glenn. At the time Glenn was much further along in the process than Marv and the two continued to talk over the next several months. After a while, with both men being busy with other things, Marv heard that Hahn Machinery was going forward with Glenn’s concept machine and contacted Hahn in the summer of 2008 to seek more information regarding the new processor.
“At that time we were working on the prototype and we were getting close to the point where we could put it through a field trial,” stated Gary. “Marv wanted to buy a machine and agreed to test the prototype on his operation and run it until we could get a new one built for him.”
Marv knew that Hahn needed someone to test this new machine. He noticed that many improvements had been made since the initial machine that he and Glenn had discussed, but he was concerned that Hahn would release another untested machine. He didn’t want a repeat of his former bad experience for himself or anyone else.
“When I heard they were experimenting on Birch wood I told the guys at Hahn that it wasn’t a true test at all,” explained Marv. “I don’t think they knew what to do with me, because I called them up and asked, ‘Where’s the real wood?’ I knew that six-inch paper birch wasn’t the same as Gum, Beech, or Oak. If they were testing that machine on Birch alone, they would find that their new machine wouldn’t be able to take all those other woods.”
In fact, Marv laughed remembering the first day when Ken Westin, Hahn’s designer and engineer, brought the HFP160 for its first test trial. Marv blew the splitting wedges off the machine within the first few logs. Marv said that Ken seemed frustrated in the process but by midday, he finally looked at Marv and asked what needed to be done to make the machine work. Ken stayed for three days working with Marv alongside figuring out together how to make the machine what it is today.
“They really could have ended up in a lawsuit if they had put it out there too soon,” replied Marv. “I would have hated seeing that happen. It’s a good product. Between Ken and me, it’s like night and day from what it was in the beginning. It was an honor working with Ken…I’m not a sentimental kind of guy, but I definitely feel like I really benefited from working with him a lot.”
Marv ran the prototype for about six months. During the field trial, Marv would call Ken just about every week with input on the performance of the prototype and with things that needed to be changed. Marv’s new machine was delivered in March 2009. According to Gary, Hahn and Marv have continued to work together on identifying and implementing structural and performance improvements.
Marv owns a Hahn HFP160 with an eight-way wedge and has attached it to his Bobcat Highflo 300. Originally, he had it mounted on a Bobcat S300 with standard flow, which in his opinion, worked well. However, he found that with the Highflo 300 he had nearly twice as much flow available and could lower the engine RPMs and still maintain more flow than the standard 300. He’s now running the new machine at half throttle and producing 15 to 20 percent more wood while reducing noise and cutting fuel consumption. In his opinion, it’s not necessary but the benefits are nice.
Marv, who does all his firewood processing on a concrete slab, operates his single machine within a few yards of each pile of wood. On one side is a pile of 10 to 20 cords of logs that he’s obtained from clearing jobs or logs that have been purchased from mills. With his skid steer and attached HFP160, he picks up a single log at a time and cuts, splits, and dumps the firewood onto a conveyor that leads to 30-foot high cones/pyramids of wood. The largest tree diameter he cuts is 18 inches and the largest tree length depends on the balance of the machine. He’s done 20-foot tree lengths but suggested that’s only for an experienced operator. Usually between 12-foot and 8-foot tree lengths work best in his opinion. His firewood sits for a minimum of a year to dry. Marv cuts up to three cords per hour. He tries not to touch his wood at all because every time you touch firewood it costs you money! Once his customers need wood he loads it onto a truck for delivery. Marv delivers wood to local customers and also bundles wood for area convenience stores.
Marv is a self proclaimed “efficiency nut” and this new equipment fits well for him. He enjoys the flexibility of using his skid loader and attachments. He can also load his unit onto a trailer for transporting to different job sites.
“I can literally take this Hahn off and stick it in the corner of my shop…then take my skid loader and use it for something else. And when I need it again I can hook it (HFP160) on in one to two minutes,” explained Marv. “I then can go out and cut wood for six straight hours.”
Marv, who’s been cutting firewood since he was 16 years old, likes “physical work rather than sitting behind a desk.” As a child he was raised on a dairy farm where his family had 100 dairy cows and about 75 beef cattle. His grandpa had the first chainsaw in the area and he and Larry, Marv’s dad, would also cut firewood to sell. The family owned 600 acres of land where timber would be cut. According to Marv, his older sister paid her way through college by selling firewood.
“When I first started my mother, Joanne, took all the calls from customers,” stated Marv. “She’d be in the barn and have to hide in the feed room where it was quieter to take the orders for me.”
At age 16, he cut 100 cords of wood per year from hand work with his chainsaw, a splitter, and a pick-up truck. At 19, Marv attended vocational school where he earned a boiler license and then worked at an oil refinery for 6 ½ years. According to Marv, he never abandoned logging throughout those years, and at 26, he began his family-based business, Sawyer Construction Services, Inc. Sawyer Construction provides a number of services including excavating for housing developments and some commercial businesses, snow plowing for commercial companies, firewood, and a few other types of construction business.
Because of the economy, Marv’s excavating operations have slowed down, but he has found that his firewood business has remained fairly constant bringing in 15 percent of his gross income. Depending on the season of year, he has one, two or up to ten employees, including his father, Larry, and his wife, Shelly, who does the paperwork and keeps the books. He has two different shops where he stores his equipment and also operates a steel shop.
“We’ve had to be flexible in terms of our construction business during this economy,” stated Marv. “We’ve even mowed for big commercial lawns and cleared out abandoned land fills. We go anywhere our equipment can be used. With the economy the way it is you got to take anything you can get.”
The strangest request that has happened in all his years occurred recently when a big company, and long-time Sawyer customer, requested Marv to cut his rates in half in order to keep doing the work that they’ve been doing for years with them. According to Marv, he was pretty shocked by the thought and stated to them ‘Do you think I’m making that much profit out of this?’
“We try to do a good job on everything we do and I don’t cut corners,” remarked Marv. “I hate to do stuff that’s not well done when my name’s involved. It’s difficult nowadays because the standards are falling. For instance, it used to be that large shopping malls would clear snow completely away, so that the parking lots were completely black, so that no customers would slip. But now things are different. They’ll hire the little guys with the trucks with a simple plow to clear most of the snow away rather than the professionals. Boy, they’re willing to risk lawsuits. It’s a sign of the times.”
Sawyer Construction owns lots of equipment including three Bobcat S300s, a Bobcat Tool Cat with all the attachments, a Halla pay loader, a John Deere pay loader, a Case excavator, several Mack dump trucks, a John Deere farm tractor, and a Mack log truck with a Serco loader. His smaller trucks are Chevy and Ford brands. Marv has owned lots of Bobcats and he said they’re the “best skid loaders on the market.”
Marv owns a steel shop and enjoys building “lots of big things,” including a “super sized” outdoor boiler. The boiler holds 3,400 gallons of water and the firebox is eight feet round and ten feet deep. The unit is loaded with stumps and ugly wood by skid loaders. Marv uses the boiler to heat his home and his two shops. He refills the boiler every two to three weeks. Because he keeps his shops heated, the floor as well, he has no need to plug any of his machines in and he doesn’t have to wait for the hydraulics to warm up.
“I can hook up my attachments and go right to town to work all day,” stated Marv. “I don’t want to spend a half hour to wait to cut wood when I can simply use my skid loader and my Hahn. It’s so much easier and faster.”
Marv’s not the only one enjoying the new HFP160. According to Gary of Hahn Machinery, 40 machines were shipped out the first year and nine others are either being shipped or on order. The HFP160 is now in 15 states in the United States, five provinces in Canada, and units going into Slovakia, the UK, the Netherlands, and France. A complete HFP160 Firewood Processor with hydraulically adjustable 4-way splitter head and all controls, tested, and ready for work lists for $32,500.
“I got the benefit of how I would have wanted the machine to be for my use,” stated Marv. “I got to pick and chose what was important to me. However, the price of the machine also got higher. But I felt we needed to make it as good as we could.”
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