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Michigan Man Mechanizes Firewood Business: Entrepreneur Invests in Popular CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco 20 Firewood Processor
Todd Willick enjoys extra income from part-time firewood processing business with his CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 8/1/2014
GRANT, Michigan — Todd Willick is just venturing into the mechanized firewood business, but he has high hopes for the future.
Todd is no stranger to the firewood business, however. He has been operating a small business in his spare time for several years. He decided to invest in a firewood processing machine and in June began operations with a Rapido Loco 20 model from Massachusetts-based CRD Metalworks.
Todd grew up in the small community of Grant, which is in the western half of the state's lower peninsula and about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. His family relied heavily on firewood for fuel in the winter. They had a wood furnace in the basement that supplemented their gas furnace. Being outdoors and cutting wood for the family's wood furnace was part of growing up for him. "Even though it was a chore, it didn't bother me," he recalled.
Todd, 39, originally went to Central Michigan University to study mechanical engineering but switched to Ferris State to earn a two-year degree in HVAC technology. Before he graduated he began working for TRANE, which provides HVAC systems and building management systems, and he still is employed by the company from its Grand Rapids offices. After going to work for TRANE he finished his degree work at night.
While he was still in college he began a snow plowing business to help pay his expenses. His business grew, and he operated it for 20 years, adding a few trucks and a loader and hiring a few other men to work with him during the winter.
Todd married in 1998, and he and his wife had a daughter born to them four years ago. "Everything changed," he said. "Pretty soon, working all night long," in the snow plowing business, "and then all day," for TRANE, was not conducive to family life.
He noticed that a lot more people in the region were burning firewood since the advent of outdoor wood boilers. "Firewood really started to take off," he said, a trend that coincided with rising prices for natural gas. In fact, Todd had a wood boiler for his home and was cutting firewood for himself.
It was easy to conceive of getting out of the snow plowing business and getting into the firewood business. He thought, "I've already got some trucks. I've already got a loader. Firewood's going to be pretty easy."
"The wheels were spinning. I realized there was a big opportunity." There was plenty of wood available in the region that could be obtained from logging operations, lots being cleared for building and development, timber being cleared to create new farm land, and other sources.
Todd began his business in 2011 and hired a high school youth to help him. His father-in-law, Richard Welch, owned about 30 acres of land, and a root blight was killing red oaks on his property. Todd felled the dead red oaks with a chain saw, and his father-in-law skidded them out of the woods with a farm tractor. Todd hauled the logs to his property; he bucked the logs with a chain saw and his helper split the wood on a hydraulic splitter. They tossed the firewood into a dump trailer to make deliveries. He operated that way the first year.
When people learned he was in the firewood business, "They were calling like crazy," he said. "They came out of the woodwork." He did about 35-40 cords his first year and realized he needed to increase production.
He was able to get more wood from neighbors of Richard who also had red oaks suffering and dying from the root blight. Todd eventually contracted with a logger to haul the logs to Todd's property.
Todd began subscribing to TimberLine several years ago and was drawn to the articles about firewood businesses and the kind of equipment they used. A couple of years ago a friend with an excavating business invested in a firewood processing machine, and he began supplying Todd with cut, split firewood at wholesale to help Todd keep up with demand.
Todd began researching firewood processors more and more and saving money toward eventually purchasing one. He spent some time watching his friend operate his firewood processor and asking questions about it. He also utilized the Internet to learn about machines offered by various manufacturers. Todd watched videos of machines in operation and talked to owners of equipment on blogs. He also called several manufacturers and spoke with their staff. He finally settled on buying a firewood processor from CRD Metalworks.
He was first attracted to CRD Metalworks by the company's pricing. "They seemed to be priced considerably less than others," he said. Todd was of the opinion that CRD Metalworks firewood processors were as good or better than competing machines priced significantly higher. In fact, he was convinced they use better components. CRD Metalworks firewood processors fared well in competitions among machines, he noted, and appeared faster.
"There wasn't anything on a CRD that I didn't like," said Todd.
One of the features of the CRD Metalworks firewood processors that sold Todd was the circular slasher saw for bucking logs. Most firewood processing machines use a bar saw for bucking logs, and CRD Metalworks also offers models with a bar saw. In researching machines that utilize a bar saw, reading about them and talking to owners, Todd noted that they required more maintenance - sharpening the chain and consuming bar oil -- and were slower than a circular saw.
"I thought, when I get equipment, I want to buy the best equipment I can." He only has a limited amount of time to work in the evenings and on weekends, and he wanted a firewood processor that was fast, reliable, and required as little maintenance as possible.
His choice was a CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco 20, which can process logs 20 inches in diameter and up to 24 feet long. That accounts for about 90 percent of the logs that he processes, said Todd.
He drove to Massachusetts to pick up his machine and hauled it home because he wanted to meet the CRD Metalworks staff and be trained on the machine, a process that took only two hours. He picked it up in June and began the trip home; he ran it the first time the next day.
"I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least," said Todd. "They are so easy to run."
“Todd’s the kind of guy we love as a CRD customer”, said Patrick Davis, Director of Operations at CRD Metalworks. “He did his research, saw our value proposition, asked all the right questions, and purchased the right machine. That’s why the Loco 20 is so popular- it’s a great fit for producers in so many different parts of the firewood market.”
The machine is set up in the open at Todd's home, where he has about 10 acres. The CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco 20 has a live log deck that Todd loads with a farm tractor.
Getting the firewood processor turned out to be a bittersweet experience. His father-in-law was diagnosed with esophageal cancer two years ago and eventually grew progressively ill. By the time Todd left to pick up his firewood processor, Richard's life was coming to an end, and Todd even debated whether to make the trip at that time. He wanted his father-in-law to have the opportunity to see the machine in operation because of his interest in Todd's business. It was not to be, however. Richard passed away the morning that Todd returned home.
His father-in-law's death at age 69 has been a struggle for him, acknowledged Todd. "The last couple of weeks have been really hard," he said.
Todd stays pretty close to home, his furthest customers about 30 miles away. "And that's really rare," he added. Most deliveries are within 15-20 miles. All his marketing has been word of mouth.
"It's a good business," said Todd. "It's good money, but I want to be extremely flexible." If he has nothing planned one evening, for example, he can process a few cords of firewood. He normally runs the Rapido Loco at night for a few hours when he gets home from work. He has lights mounted outside on a barn so he can work after dark. Todd averages 10-15 hours per week in his business.
Todd produced about 170 cords of wood last year and expects to do about 200 this year. Over half his customers use firewood for fuel in outdoor wood boilers. His current price is $150 per cord.
Todd has a "couple of hundred cords" of logs in inventory. "I keep my inventory in logs...I try not to have an inventory in firewood." He processes them mainly in spring and summer, from about April to October. At the end of July he will be done processing green wood; if he went beyond, the wood would not be adequately dried for the winter heating season. After July he will switch to processing the dry logs he has in inventory.
The CRD Metalworks Rapido Loco firewood processor has a built-in conveyor that unfolds hydraulically. With the conveyor, the firewood comes off the machine, falls directly into the conveyor, and is top-loaded into a CornPro dump trailer. He dumps the wood at a customer's home. "I don't stack any wood," said Todd.
He is considering in the future using the machine on a portable basis to process firewood at remote locations. It takes 15 minutes to set the machine up and begin running, he said.
Todd has used the extra income from his businesses over the years to enjoy travel with his wife and to pay for other leisure pursuits they enjoy together, including snowmobile racing, Jeeps for driving off-road, all terrain vehicles, camping, and other activities. "Anything that has to do with toys...I never wanted to borrow money," said Todd.
Todd is an active member of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in nearby Newaygo, a Catholic church with a firewood ministry in which he participates. He and about 15-20 other men in the church cut and split firewood that is provided free to people in need. The firewood is hauled to the church where people can pick it up, and the ministry also provides delivery. Some of the firewood is distributed through another charitable organization. Todd also donates a percentage of his firewood to the ministry.
“We are really excited to see our machine help serve this growing ministry”, said Davis. “We’ve seen this trend in other parts of the country, unfortunately, and the need keeps growing.”
Todd had some doubts about buying a firewood processor, but they have been erased. "I was hesitant," he said, "nervous if it would do big, twisted stuff." His concerns were unfounded, he said. "I run some pretty gnarly red oak through it."
"The machine has far exceeded my expectations," he added.
The slasher blade bucks logs "as fast as you can blink an eye," and the splitting process is fast. He can process four to five cords in an hour, he said.
Another key feature was an emergency brake for the slasher saw, which Todd said was "very key for me" for safety reasons. The slasher saw runs a 50-inch blade. The emergency stop button brings it to a halt instantly, said Todd. "No other machine has that," he noted.
The built-in conveyor also was an important feature in Todd's decision. Some other companies offer a conveyor as a separate piece of equipment, he noted, which would require two trips to a job site.
"I am extremely happy with CRD Metalworks and their machine," said Todd. "I picked the right guys to work with."
Todd is hopeful his business could grow into an even more prosperous enterprise. "I really think I could go as far as I want to with it," he said. He hopes his business will grow "bigger and bigger."
His father-in-law grew his business into a company with 70 employees and was able to leave a legacy for his children. He was an honest, no-nonsense businessman, according to Todd. "Everybody likes working with and for someone like that," said Todd, who follows the same approach in his business.
Todd hopes he can grow the business to the point that one day it will be something of value to share with his daughter. "That's what drives you," he said. "You want to work hard for your family...to provide for them and also to leave them something."
"Who knows what it will turn into? We'll see where we end up."
CRD Metalworks Firewood Processors Fast, Productive
CRD Metworks is a family-owned and operated business started by Chris Duval, a former logger and sawmiller, who designed and developed the Woodbine line of firewood processors. The company has nearly 400 active customers throughout the U.S. and abroad.
CRD Metalworks offers several models of firewood processors, including models that perform bucking with a circular slasher saw and others that use a bar saw. Its slasher saw equipped models are among the fastest, most productive firewood processors available, according to CRD Metalworks. It also manufactures and sells a screen that tumbles firewood and removes dirt, loose bark, and other debris in order to provide clean wood to customers.
The company uses high quality components. Its focus is manufacturing firewood processors that perform strongly and efficiently, are easy to maintain and are exceptionally durable, and providing attentive, personal service to its customers.
The Rapdio Loco 20 is the most popular machine offered by CRD Metalworks. It runs a 50-inch Simonds circular saw blade – with push button emergency stop – for bucking logs up to 20 inches in diameter and 24 feet long. It is powered by a Deutz 73 hp diesel engine. Splitting is accomplished with an 8-way wedge and patent-pending, push button system. The firewood processor, mounted on a DOT-certified trailer, also comes with a 13-foot powered live deck and a 28-foot hydraulic folding conveyor.
For more information about the company and its products, call (888) 667-8580 or visit the website at www.crdmetalworks.com.