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Maryland-based MacDonald Firewood Makes Gains with Multitek Firewood Processor
Multitek firewood processor combines toughness with speed at MacDonald Firewood and Timber Harvest.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/1/2013
CORDOVA, Maryland — Matching tool and task is both art and science. Specifications and demonstrations inform equipment decisions. Ultimately, though, the unique goal determines fit between a machine and a company.
When, in 2011, Phil MacDonald, the owner of MacDonald Firewood and Timber Harvest, Inc., purchased his second processor from Multitek North America, LLC, he had come full circle based on careful evaluation of objectives. “We actually started [firewood processing] back in 1996,” said Phil.
“Back in ’96, I had a Multitek,” explained Phil. He had chosen the processor based on extensive research. “Just as I was looking at them, it seemed the top-of-the-line machine.
The first Multitek was a great performer, said Phil, but there simply was not enough time for firewood. “It got to be too much with [our] tree Harvest.”
So Phil sold his first Multitek and took a break from firewood. The break ended in 2007, when Phil’s son, Philip MacDonald, Jr., joined the company after graduating from high school.
The younger MacDonald persuaded his father to re-engage in the firewood market. At the time, Phil did not know how much firewood he would sell, so he chose a small machine manufactured in Iowa, which he quickly outgrew. He upgraded to a Canadian made wood processor, which he had quickly found wasn’t reliable enough to suit his needs.
Within four years, Phil had returned to Multitek. He explained that he worked closely with Marcus Steigerwaldt at Multitek, which is headquartered in Prentice, Wis., to get the optimal configuration for his company.
“We only operate the firewood business as a part-time business,” said Phil. “We sell about 1,000 cords per year.”
Given the reputation of Multitek in the industry and the full functional range of processors that Multitek offers – from the model 1610 EZ with a 25 horsepower engine to the Model 3040xp2 with a 125 horsepower engine and a 72” circular saw - Phil was confident of getting a good fit for MacDonald Firewood. His machine combines features of two models from the professional end of the Multitek spectrum.
Phil explained that his Multitek has “2025 framing with everything upgraded to a 2040.” That “everything” includes the John Deere 80 horsepower engine that is standard in the Multitek 2040. (The Multitek 2025 has a John Deere/Turbo 66 horsepower engine standard.)
A joystick simplifies operator control of the Multitek firewood processor. It takes just one person to run the machine.
Because Multitek got its start as a hydraulic machinery company (in the 1970s), it has deep roots in hydraulic technology. In fact, the founder of Multitek (Leo Heikkinen) was the inventor of the Prentice log loader back in the 1945. Multitek has since built its hydraulic expertise into its firewood processors. As such, a triple hydraulic pump on the processor allows the machine to saw, split, and operate many functions at same instant.
Options are important. And Multitek takes them seriously. On the Multitek 2025 model processor, for instance, an owner can choose a 48-inch carbide tipped insert tooth circular cut-off saw or a 36-inch harvester bar (with the either ¾-inch pitch or .404-inch saw chain). On the Multitek 2025, a 4-strand log deck, 10’ log deck extensions, roof mounted air conditioning, and interchangeable 4,6,8,10-way wedges are the most popular optional equipment. Marcus Steigerwaldt with Multitek notes that the overhead shuttle grapple that feeds the log and clamps the log is what really sets the machine apart from the competition. The overhead shuttle grapple system, which is unique to Multitek and originally introduced in the early 1980’s has the ability to advance the most crooked low grade materials towards the saw. It works like the extension of your hand and brings the logs to you. The operator never needs to leave his post in the cab to move logs around on the machine; the shuttle grapple sorts the logs on the deck and feeds them through perfect every time.
Phil said that his Multitek 2025 machine processes at about three cords per hour, handling logs as long as 40 feet and as big as 24-inches in diameter. “We try to keep an 80 to 90 percent red to white oak [mix] – a little maple or hickory.” Any type of gum tree is scrupulously avoided because the gum has a way of making the cords messy. And homeowners, in particular, want the cleanest possible wood – no debris, no chips of bark.
“A lot of our customers don’t know the type of wood,” said Phil. He takes to heart the responsibility to explain differences in wood and to make certain customers know what they are buying. “We’re honest about how long it’s been out [in the elements – seasoned].”
“We handle pretty much nothing by hand,” said Phil. A Cat 926 loader is used to move lengths, which are stacked on a concrete pad.
Even with the pad, the wood does begin to shed bark as it seasons. To clean the wood, and especially remove the bark chips, Phil bought a tumbler from Multitek. “Marcus says the [tumbler] will clean about 90 percent of the trash behind the processor,” he said.
When we spoke with Phil in early December, he was still experimenting with the best position for the tumbler. By querying customers and getting feedback on the cords they purchased, he wants to figure out the best juncture at which to deploy the tumbler. “We put it behind the processor itself [for now],” said Phil.
Much of the wood processed is seasoned. “We let tree lengths lay in a pile on the yard for six to eight months,” said Phil. “Customers seem to prefer this wood after it has been split for two to three weeks. It is cleaner and burns good. We also split green wood, which is typically sold in the off-season to customers who prefer to season their own stockpile. ”He likes to “start with seasoned wood,” although both green wood and seasoned wood are processed. “
The Multitek firewood processor sees more service in some months than others. “During this time of year is when we run it the most – 20 hours per week, 30 hours maybe,” said Phil.
With firewood opportunities increasing, the Multitek is likely to see more service. “My son’s doing a good job of selling [firewood] in the off season,” said Phil.
In addition to Phil Jr., Phil’s team includes Jeremy Smith, who is running the Multitek firewood processor now, B.J. Edwards, who works mostly in the woods, and Donald MacDonald, who drives a truck. Donald is Phil’s father.
Phil got his first introduction to Harvest timber from his father. Before starting his own company 26 years ago, Phil worked with his dad. “My father has been in the industry all his life,” he said.
MacDonald Firewood and Timber Harvest is located in Cordova, Md. Cordova has 600 residents. It is part of Talbot County. Talbot Co. is situated between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware.
Most firewood heads to customers within approximately a 50-mile radius of Cordova. Approximately half the cords go as wholesale to nurseries and landscapers. Retail sales account for the other half. Phil does no packaging and no pellets, but he sells to companies who have footprints in those niches.
The capability of the Multitek firewood processor gives MacDonald Firewood the option of increasing production. With fewer hands and hours required by the timber Harvest team, that may become possible in the future.
Phil’s company cuts within a 50- to 60-mile radius of its home base in Cordova, occasionally traveling further if necessary.
The timber Harvest core of Phil’s operation is currently operating with a rubber tire Tigercat 726 with a hot saw and a track Tigercat 845 with a hot saw, as well as skidders and loaders. “We are probably 95 percent conventional mechanized,” said Phil. “We basically do 100 percent hardwood, so it’s hard to be [chain saw] free.”
When a chain saw is needed, Phil’s team uses Stihl. He noted that he really likes Husqvarna, as well, but Stihl has more service in his area.
“We cut five to six million feet per year,” said Phil. Cut-to-length has not seen wide adoption in the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware area where he works, said Phil. “They tried it here in pine thinning.” But it did not take off.
Phil is planning a move to CTL, however. He is trying out a used Log Max 7000 head on his Tigercat track cutter. Jim Stout with AMI Equipment is the person Phil is working with as he pairs head and carrier.
“We just try to keep our labor to a minimum,” said Phil. A move to CTL will help with that. It will also allow Phil to reduce the number of pieces of equipment on his roster.
“We do clear-cutting hardwood, clear-cutting pine, pine thinning” – just about everything, said Phil. “I contract to some sawmills. I purchase approximately 50 percent [of the standing timber] that I cut.” Phil handles both procurement and merchandizing.
Recalling the path he took to find his way back to Multitek, Phil said he could not be happier to have travelled full circle. “They’re very good people to deal with,” said Phil of Multitek. “Any problems or questions and they are right there. They work with you to see it through.” If a part is needed, Phil expects — and gets —expedited service.
“[Multitek] is just a good machine,” said Phil. It allows MacDonald Firewood to achieve the goal of increasing production each year. “We are kind of improving on [the firewood component] every year.”
Phil’s commitment to the wood products industry is a strong one. “I’m on the Talbot County Forestry Board,” he explained. And as a member of that group, he helps to review critical area plans, promote Arbor Day (through tree giveaways) and more. He is also a member of the Maryland Forest Association and the Delaware Forestry Association.
Wood products are not the only contribution that Phil makes to the economy. “I till about 100 acres of land – wheat, barley, soybeans,” he said.
With a commitment to two industries, Phil does not have much free time. “My wife and I, we usually don’t vacation,” he said.
Yet the MacDonalds do relish their location, which situates them relatively close to the ocean and surrounds them with gorgeous woodland and farmland. Phil enjoys working on classic cars. Right now, a 1972 Chevelle has his attention.
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