TOWACO, New Jersey — Garry Pascale has been in business for himself since he was age 19. In the 28 years since he opened a greenhouse business, he has seen all the ups and downs experienced by an entrepreneur.Garry’s company has evolved quite a bit from the original purpose of growing plants, although it still operates a greenhouse business. His company, operating in north-central New Jersey, also thrives by producing firewood and mulch. A business that supplies firewood and mulch benefits the environment, Garry believes, and also has the potential for considerable growth in the future.
Garry recently invested in a new specialized splitter manufactured by Timberwolf Corporation of Rutland, Vermont. The new splitter, capable of quartering over-size logs that are more than 4 feet in diameter, allows Garry to recycle wood that might otherwise require excessive, expensive manpower to process.
Garry came to the firewood and mulch business via a circuitous route. As a young man in the early to mid-1970s, he was interested in growing things. "I did some schooling in plant culture and went into the greenhouse business," he said. He began by renting some land and later bought some property, growing his company as revenues and profits allowed.
He encountered difficulties in 1979. A gas crisis and subsequent inflation began to erode profits. At about that same time, a friend needed a place to dump some trees. Garry allowed the friend to temporarily store the stems on some unused land near his greenhouses. The "temporary" wood pile began to grow almost as quickly as the price of heating oil.
"Oil went from 37 cents to $1.35 a gallon," Garry recalled. "At the same time I had this big stack of wood on the property. Things were tough and I had an idea, so I asked my friend what he planned to do with that wood." His friend didn’t want it. "It started to look really good to me."
Garry began converting the wood into firewood — cutting it with a chain saw, splitting it, and tossing it into a flatbed truck to deliver to customers who were being impacted by the soaring heating oil prices.
Garry’s new venture was an immediate success. He bought a small log splitter, and the business increased. With a place to dispose of their firewood-sized waste wood, tree services and land clearing companies began to bring increasing quantities of wood to Garry. He found he could sell it readily as firewood. He began to invest in increasingly efficient equipment to handle the wood and its associated waste.
In the intervening years, Garry’s business, Hardwood Hill Firewood and Mulch, has grown into a substantial enterprise. The business occupies 14 acres in Towaco in north-central New Jersey. Garry serves customers in New Jersey and as far away as Long Island, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.
Garry does not keep a precise track of the volume of firewood he produces, but this heating season he already has delivered an inventory of more than 800 cords and is busy using his Timberwolf whole log splitter to process more. His business also sells large quantities of high-grade hardwood mulch, some colored mulch, playground surface covering, cedar mulch, and some top soil. Virtually all the wood that Garry sells as firewood or mulch otherwise would have wound up in a landfill had he not processed the fiber into saleable products.
The greenhouse business has continued to prosper, too. In recent years the company has sold more than 100,000 mums annually, for example, as well as other flowers and plants. The business employs seven people.
Garry is once again adjusting his business in order to continue to prosper in the future. Heating oil prices will continue to remain high, he believes. There is also a shortfall of electrical power and corresponding price uncertainty, he noted. So the prospects for growth in the firewood business are excellent, according to Garry. He is continuing to expand the wood products portion of the business while scaling back the greenhouse segment.
"I believe the firewood business will continue to expand if you are serious about it and serve people’s needs," he said. "We live in an increasingly suburbanized area where people have money. The wood stove dealers are seeing very high sales as people want to heat with wood for both pleasure and as a back-up to other heating sources. With heating oil going up to $1.60 a gallon this year and the availability of environmentally efficient wood stoves, people appreciate the idea that they can enjoy a nice fire and save a considerable amount of money at the same time."
Being serious about the firewood business, Garry said, means servicing customers closely. In the past, he said, operating a firewood business meant simply processing the wood and delivering it. Today, though, a firewood supplier has to do more.
He often deals with affluent customers who can choose among several firewood businesses, so Garry has developed products and services that are responsive to what they want. For example, Hardwood Hill debarks most of its wood before cutting it to size and splitting it. Customers like it, he said, because it is clean, and they don’t have to put up with pieces of bark dirtying their home.
Hardwood Hill also sells a wider variety of firewood products than other firewood suppliers traditionally have offered. Firewood is available in three lengths: 14 inches, 18 inches, and 22 inches. Customers can order a cord, partial cord, or quantities that come in shrink-wrapped bundles. Hardwood Hill also sells the shrink-wrapped bundles wholesale to grocery and hardware stores and other retail outlets, a market that has proven very profitable, according to Garry.
The Hardwood Hill wood lot has changed over the years. It is set up and organized with the same purpose in mind, however: to store, process and efficiently handle large quantities of wood and the associated secondary products. Logs come from a variety of sources, including tree services, contractors clearing land for development projects, and others. The first stop for the logs is a debarking machine. Debarking produces a clean firewood product and provides the raw material for mulch.
Hardwood Hill has a firewood processing machine in its own building. The company that supplied the machine went out of business. In addition, Garry has revamped the machine a number of times so that, today, it is essentially a shop-built machine.
After processing, the firewood is moved on a radius conveyor system that was designed by Garry. The conveyor system helps to get the firewood stacked quickly and easily without excessive handling. The radius conveyor is 110 feet long and 15 feet high. It can be moved in a circle around the processing machine so that a large amount of firewood can be moved and stored. The conveyor, purchased from a coal mine operation, has wheels that can be straightened or turned, allowing the unit to be lengthened or shortened and moved around the processor. The conveyor system can efficiently move firewood to fill a 1 1/2-acre area 15 feet deep before a back-up of firewood can begin to cause a problem.
Garry has bought a number of different splitters through the years. The most recent acquisition, and the centerpiece of the cut-to-length firewood service, is a Timberwolf TW2 HD splitter equipped with auto cycle and a log lift. The Timberwolf TW2 splitter is a heavy duty unit powered by a Honda 9 hp engine. It exerts a hydraulic force of 20 tons utilizing a Barnes 16 gpm hydraulic pump. It can split a 26-inch section of a log in 11 seconds.
One problem for firewood producers is that when they get trees from various sources, some large diameter logs — that are difficult to process — inevitably are in the mix. These stems are a burden for tree care businesses and firewood suppliers because they are difficult to handle. They require expensive, time-consuming hand work to cut them to size with chain saws and split them into firewood.
Hardwood Hill has a very big stack of this large material set aside. Garry went to Timberwolf for a solution to process it. Timberwolf’s answer was the TW-10 log splitter. The machine is designed to split large diameter logs into quarters. It can quarter logs up to 48 inches in diameter and up to 10 feet long. Once quartered, the wood can then be processed further by other equipment.
The Timberwolf TW-10 is available in two standard configurations. The machine can be ordered as a self-powered unit with a 47 hp Perkins diesel engine or as a power take-off version. An 8-inch diameter hydraulic cylinder generates 56 tons of splitting force. Features include heavy duty beam, log cradles, twin axles with electric brakes, and a fixed, four way wedge.
Garry believes the Timberwolf TW-10 will have an immediate impact on profitability for Hardwood Hill. Spurred by the spike in heating oil prices, firewood sales have been extraordinary in recent months. Most of the company’s dry firewood, processed and stored earlier, already has been sold. The company has plenty of dry raw material, however, in the form of its stockpile of over-size logs. It has begun using the new Timberwolf TW-10 to split the over-size logs into quarters and process them into finished firewood for sale this heating season. The stockpile of large wood is expected to yield several hundred cords of firewood — firewood the company would not have been able to produce earlier or only at considerable added cost.
Garry chose Timberwolf to supply the machine for processing large logs because of his experience with Timberwolf’s other splitting equipment. "They make a heavy duty product that stands up under the beating it takes in a firewood processing plant," he said. "I’ve found that I can count on them for a machine that is well made, and that they are very willing to stand behind the equipment they make. They’ve been a fine firm to work with."
Garry pays equally close attention to the mulch products his company makes. "We put a good deal of effort into producing a very fine quality hardwood mulch from our material," he said. Hardwood Hill uses wood from the debarker, debris from firewood processing operations, and other wood material that arrives at its wood yard. The material is processed in a tub grinder to the appropriate size and then ‘dressed’ and stored for later sale.
Garry has developed a successful business that processes waste wood material into firewood and mulch products. The business has become profitable and also benefits the environment in several ways. Firewood customers use a renewable source of fuel to help heat their homes; their use of firewood reduces to some degree the demand for nonrenewable fuel oil or electrical output from power plants that may burn nonrenewable fuel. It is an efficient use of renewable forest resources and also conserves valuable space in landfills for other solid waste.
Without the Timberwolf TW-10, the over-size logs would take up valuable space in a landfill and simply rot or else would have to be burned. "We’re taking what others might consider to be waste and making a needed product out of it," said Garry. "That’s one of the big reasons I enjoy what we do here."
"I think this is an industry that may have considerable growth ahead of it," Garry added. "But this is not an industry that is easy to start and build a business in. The industry has seen its share of less than reputable operators. What is needed are business owners who want to do this in a professional manner. That means investing in machinery like our Timberwolf splitters so that you bring a top quality product to the market. This is becoming a market for professionals. If you operate like a professional, I think this is an excellent industry with a bright future."