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W. Virginia Company Finds Success in Firewood
Multitek firewood processor provides reliable production, quality wood for Loudoun Height Fuel Co.
By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 1/7/2003
BAKER, West Virginia — With imagination and a willingness to adapt to markets, even inauspicious business beginnings can become the foundation for success. Just ask Ralph Fitzwater Sr., a partner in Loudoun Height Fuel Company, a business that supplies firewood.
Located in northeast West Virginia, Loudoun Height Fuel Co. was founded 22 years ago as a coal bagging company. The business did not prosper, so the company changed direction.
The next venture met with some success but was seasonal in nature. In order to provide steady, year-round work for employees, Ralph and his partners decided to expand into the firewood business. Now, Loudoun Height Fuel Co. has gained a regional reputation as a quality and reliable supplier of firewood, and it has developed customers that have come to count on it.
Loudoun Height Fuel Co. relies on a Multitek firewood processing machine that it uses to produce finished firewood at the rate of two and one-half to three full cords (128 cubic feet volume per cord) per hour.
The company’s firewood season begins about mid-year. Once it turns its efforts to producing firewood, production operations continue until about early January. "In the spring we begin to stockpile logs," said Ralph. The logs, mostly hardwood, are stockpiled to dry, and the company begins processing them into firewood in early July. The finished firewood then has until the beginning of the heating season to season and dry further.
Loudoun Height Fuel Co. packages firewood in bundles using a shrink wrap process, and it packages the wood as it is cut and split. It makes about a month’s supply of packaged firewood in advance.
Loudoun Height Fuel Co. markets firewood mainly in the commercial marketplace to companies that buy firewood wholesale for eventual retail sale to consumers. The company’s customers want clean, quality firewood and consistency in bundles and packaging, and that is the focus of Loudoun Height Fuel Co.’s production efforts.
Loudoun Height Fuel Co. recently added a new Multitek Model 2040XP-90 firewood processor coupled with a Multitek built conveyor. Unlike most systems sold by Multitek, the machine is a stationary unit powered by electricity. (Multitek also manufactures mobile firewood processors powered by diesel engines.)
"We’ve designed our wood yard for efficient processing on a stationary machine," said Ralph. "That gives us a number of advantages, not the least of which is we can power the equipment with electricity. Because of that, our equipment is much quieter than most, which is a real benefit to our employees and is less obtrusive to the surrounding area."
Although designed and built for stationery use and electric power, the Multitek machine nevertheless is engineered like the other 2040XP-90 models for high-volume firewood production.
"When we are running the machine, we usually process at about three cords of firewood per hour," said Ralph. "Because we are not operating year-round, we need reliability. When the season starts, our customers rely on us for an adequate supply of properly processed firewood. So far we’ve been very pleased with the results we’ve gotten from our Multitek."
Loudoun Height’s Multitek replaced an older model CTR firewood processor; it is still functional and can be used as a back-up unit.
A fairly extensive search led Ralph to believe that the Multitek machine would best serve the company’s needs. The Multitek 2040XP-90 is very good at processing crooked or misshapen wood, he noted. And the vertically adjustable multiple splitting blades ensure high-volume production as well as consistent quality — even from the low-grade logs that typically are processed into firewood.
Those attributes — the ability to process crooked logs and to maintain quality and high production — were engineered into the machine especially for companies like Loudoun Height Fuel Co., said Dale Heikkinen, president of Multitek Inc. The manufacturer’s goal was to develop a durable, industrial-level machine that could produce high quality firewood with a minimum of labor and downtime.
The Multitek 2040XP-90 features a cut-up saw with an 11-h heavy-duty chain saw and is equipped with a chip blower. It has a hydraulic safety seat: the hydraulics are activated when the operator sits down and are de-activated when he gets off the seat. Options include pilot-operated, electric-hydraulic controls (instead of joysticks with mechanical linkage) and an infrared length measurement device.
The Multitek 2040XP-90 is able to handle logs with stubs where limbs have not been trimmed all the way to the stem, Dale noted. The company’s unusual, patented log handling system is the reason. The overhead shuttle, grapple log in-feed is "almost as though the log is being grabbed by a hand," Dale said, and moved to the saw. The Multitek infeed helps to prevent a crooked log or limbs or stubs from getting hung in the log handling system — and the lost production time that results when a machine operator has to manually free an obstruction.
The vertically adjustable, multiple splitting blades of the Multitek 2040XP-90 improve production while producing quality split firewood, according to Dale. Rather than merchandising wood or making other concessions to ensure a proper split every time, the operator simply selects the proper splitting configuration by raising or lowering blades as the log arrives. The system helps to produce uniform split firewood — an important aspect for a company that supplies firewood to other businesses for eventual retail sale to consumers.
Durability was an important factor in choosing a firewood processor, Ralph added, especially since the company uses hardwood almost exclusively. Firewood processing equipment takes a beating, he noted, "so we wanted a machine that could stand up to the duress. We know that many Multitek 2040XP-90 owners have had their machines in operation for years, and they’re still working well. That was an important factor in our decision to go with Multitek."
Firewood businesses once were considered by many to be at the low rung of the forest products. That has changed in recent years. Suppliers such as Loudoun Height Fuel Company, using equipment like the Multitek 2040XP-90 firewood processor, operate on a more professional level.
Depending on the region, there may be good wholesale and retail markets for firewood, and both kind of customers may require steady, reliable supplies of quality firewood. In demonstrating how they can provide that kind of product and service, companies like Loudoun Height are elevating the firewood business.
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