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More Than a Firewood Business: JN Firewood, Relying on Multitek Processors, Also Supplies Specialty Wood Products
The company sells specialty fuel wood for cooking as well as wood for cooking with outdoor barbecues and wood chips for adding a smoky flavor to grilled foods.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 6/1/2015
FORT RIPLEY, Minnesota — The first thing you should know about JN Firewood is that it is more than a firewood business. Firewood is its primary business, however, and it’s a big business. The company has about a dozen full-time employees in its Minnesota operations, and has added two more Multitek firewood processors at that location, for a total of three. In addition, it is in the process of expanding to Utah and already has purchased another Multitek firewood processor for those operations.
Besides firewood, though, the company sells specialty fuel wood for cooking as well as wood for cooking with outdoor barbecues and wood chips for adding a smoky flavor to grilled foods.
JN Firewood, located in Fort Ripley, Minnesota, about 115 miles northwest of Minneapolis, was started by the husband-and-wife team of Joe and Angie Nelson in 1995. Currently under new ownership, the company is co-managed by Mike Jessop and Angie.
The company’s operations are contained on 11 acres with three shops and a warehouse for packaging and storing wood products. Of the more than a dozen full-time employees, three stay busy running the company’s three Multitek firewood processors, and two are on the road, making deliveries. The rest are kept busy primarily stacking, bundling and packaging firewood and other wood products as well as making specialty products and loading and unloading the company’s two kilns.
JN Firewood is the largest firewood business in Minnesota, according to Mike and Angie. The company sells between 5,000-7,000 full cords of firewood and other wood products annually. About 60 percent of the company’s production is firewood that is sold in racks or on pallets to residential customers or restaurants. Roughly 40 percent is bundled or packaged firewood as well as wood and chips used for cooking.
Restaurants that purchase wood for cooking are a significant part of the company’s business. It serves restaurant customers in five states. Most restaurants buy various types of wood for cooking, including fuel wood for grills and pizza ovens, while some buy firewood simply to burn in fireplaces for the ambiance of their dining room. Unlike a homeowner who buys firewood in the heating season, restaurants purchase wood for cooking year-round. Red oak, birch and maple are the most common woods used for fireplaces.
Since the company is well established, it gets a lot of business by word of mouth. However, it also markets through its website – which is also set up to take orders – and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. It ships various wood products into every state.
At its Minnesota operations, JN Firewood buys firewood logs from about six logging contractors. Although most of the wood is harvested in Minnesota, the company also buys certain species - such as hickory, for example – from suppliers in other states.
The company is equipped with three Multitek firewood processors. A Multitek 2040XP is an older model that uses a bar saw for bucking. The other two machines are a model 2025 and the smaller model 1620, which both run circular saws for bucking. The company added the model 1620 and 2025 in order to add production capacity. The firewood processors are all equipped with live log decks and steadily fed with a skidsteer loader or other smaller loader. Two of the machines have extended log decks.
JN Firewood, which is a member of the National Firewood Association, dries all firewood. The cut, split firewood is normally air-dried and seasoned. However, some firewood and other wood products must be heat-treated, depending on where they are being shipped, in order to eliminate any potential insect infestation. The company has two kilns to dry or heat-treat firewood and other wood products, including one unit supplied by Kiln-direct and one by BOLDesigns.
Waste wood is sold to a company that processes it with a tub grinder to produce biomass material.
Mike, 27, has worked in agriculture and logging and also a small sawmill. He became interested in working with and helping expand JN Firewood when he was exploring outlets for waste wood coming off a ranch in Utah. “I saw an opportunity to take it and grow it,” he said. The owner of the ranch purchased JN Firewood, and a new chapter in the company’s history began.
JN Firewood is committed to continuing the established relationship with Multitek. Besides adding two Multitek firewood processors in Minnesota to increase production capacity, the company is making plans to expand the business to Panguitch, Utah, Mike’s home state. “We will have it going in August,” Mike said. The Utah operations, which are expected to employ about six to eight workers, will be focused on serving residential and commercial customers primarily in California although specialty wood products will be supplied to customers on the East Coast.
In Utah, JN Firewood already has invested in a new Multitek model 2040XP2 firewood processor with a circular saw and 16-way wedge. It also invested in a new Kiln-direct unit — the first firewood kiln in Utah, according to Mike — that already has been installed and ready to go to work; Mike is just waiting for the company’s heat-treating operations to be certified.
JN Firewood did not consider other manufacturers of firewood processing machines because of the company’s experience with Multitek. “They stand behind” their machines, Mike said.
Multitek manufactures a line of firewood processers with varying capacities, and it offers a wide range of optional equipment and accessories, including power plants ranging from gasoline and diesel engines to three-phase electric power systems.The model 1610EZ, for example, which is the smallest, is designed for logs that are a maximum of 18 inches in diameter and 12 feet long. It utilizes a bar saw for bucking and has a production capacity of one to two cords of firewood per hour, according to Multitek, which is based in Wisconsin.
The Multitek model 2040XP2, which JN Firewood purchased for its operations in Utah, can process logs up to 24 inches in diameter and 40 feet long. It can produce between four and one-half to seven cords of processed firewood per hour, according to Multitek. The model 2040XP2 is equipped with either a bar saw or a 60-inch circular slasher saw for bucking. The available carbide-tipped circular saw can cut 1,500 cords of firewood before carbide teeth need changing, according to Multitek. Splitting is accomplished with a powerful hydraulic system using a floating, vertically-adjustable, interchangeable 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12-way multiple splitter head.
The Multitek model 2040XP2 also features Multitek’s overhead shuttle grapple system, which advances the log to the bucking station and secures it, and a four-chain log deck. Other features include electric operator joystick controls, high volume hydraulic reservoir capacity with oil cooling, ergonomic operator seat with safety controls and V-style log infeed trough, laser-guided measuring system, variable displacement hydraulic pump for improved fuel and hydraulic economy, and improved operator ergonomics inside the cab. It comes standard with a John Deere 99 hp Tier III diesel engine and three-phase electric power is optional.
Popular options for this model, according to include a heated or air-conditioned comfort cab enclosure, live deck extension, wood debris tumbler and a rear discharge conveyor with hydraulic lift.
Multitek also manufactures a splitter for breaking down over-size logs, a tumbler for removing debris from processed firewood, and grapple attachments for skidsteers for processing logs into firewood, moving and loading firewood, and other purposes. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.multitekinc.com.
Mike prefers the Multitek firewood processors with the circular slasher saw because they are faster and require less maintenance. There is no need to buy bar oil or regularly sharpen saw chains, he noted. “You get a lot more production out of it,” he said.
Mike spends time both in Minnesota and Utah. “I’ve been back and forth,” trying to get the Utah operations up and running, although he spends most of his time working at the company’s wood yard in Minnesota.
Heat-treating is not required in Utah “but I see it coming,” said Mike. However, he expects it will be required in the future to ship products into other states, and it already is required for shipping products to some states in the East. “I think it is only a matter of time before Utah requires it to be treated,” he said, “so we’re going to be ahead of the game.”
JN Firewood is one of the few firewood companies certified by the state of Minnesota to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s specifications according to the company. Wood products are kiln-dried or heat-treated as necessary to kill invasive insects. Some states are under quarantine, prohibiting the shipment of certain wood or wood products across state lines in order to prevent infestation by the emerald ash borer. Since JN Firewood heat-treats its products to eliminate insects, it is allowed to ship into quarantined states.
Angie invested in the Kiln-direct system eight years ago. Asked how it has worked out for the company, she said, “Perfect.”
North Carolina-based Kiln-direct supplies kilns for drying lumber as well as kilns for drying or heat-treating pallets and firewood. It offers several models designed for drying or heat-treating firewood ranging in capacity from six to 24 cords, both end-loading models and side-loading models. The fully computerized kilns can be heated either with gas or wood waste and the company offers an optional wood waste conveyor feed system. Kiln-direct.com also supplies metal baskets for loading its kilns with firewood, and plans are available to those companies that want to fabricate them. The company also supplies kiln control systems and kiln components and parts. For more information on the company and its kilns, visit www.kiln-direct.com, email email@example.com or call (910) 259-9794.
The cycle time for the heat-treatment process varies, noted Angie. The length of time depends on whether the wood is green or air-dried, the species, etc. Although it can range from 12 to 36 hours, the average time is 24 hours, she said. The Kiln-direct unit has a capacity of nine cords and uses propane for fuel.
Firewood is pre-stacked in a rack, delivered or sent in bags on a semi-truck in bulk. It is kept neat and clean. All firewood is dried unless a customer specifies otherwise. Some bundled firewood is sold wholesale to distributors who supply chain stores, gas stations and convenience stores.
JN Firewood also sells wood chips - the kind used to add flavor on barbecue grills. Wood chunks are marketed for use in outdoor barbecue grills and smokers. The company offers specialty woods for cooking, including species like apricot, hickory, pecan and pear. It offers 19 species of wood, even pinion pine from Mexico, which repels mosquitoes.The company also distributes charcoal.
Their delivery drivers haul to customers in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa, but the company has an amazing reach, shipping wood products into every state. That reach in marketing has been possible through the company’s website. Products shipped to other states usually are a specialty, such as fuel wood for wood-fired pizza ovens. Pizzerias that use wood-fired ovens are supplied with hardwood firewood cut and split to size, such as oak or maple.
The website, www.jnfirewood.com, offers information and articles about cooking with wood, including recommendations for using certain species for beef, poultry, pork, fish, etc.
The company’s firewood once was featured in the Wall Street Journal in a review of the best Christmas gifts. The publicity prompted an outpouring of interest from other news media. Jay Leno even mentioned the company on a broadcast of his program, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Angie started the business with her husband in 1995, doing about 300-500 cords of firewood annually. “Everything was done by hand,” she recalled. It was strictly a retail firewood business in the beginning, selling to homeowners. The business grew as they developed commercial customers, began offering bundled firewood, and added various products.
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