There is one vital function of the firewood processor that has produced a variety of designs—a function that has sometimes separated the men from the boys.
Every processor, regardless of make, has to incorporate a means to move the long length of firewood forward to be cut. Different schemes have been used—chain feed, overhead grapple, sliding pressure plate—and some of them work quite well. Cost has been a determining factor in the extent of the design sophistication.
Manufacturers are always making improvements, and I recently had the opportunity to view one of the better schemes yet devised for advancing logs under the cut-off saw. It’s known as the “top roll.”
The idea was first applied and patented by Jeff Weeks, a manufacturer of wood splitters and processors in a shop in Belchertown, Mass. Weeks developed the Valley line of firewood processors. I reviewed two of the Valley models in the Dec/Jan. 1998 issue of IS&WM.
The Valley line of processors, however, has recently been bought by Timberwolf Manufacturing and combined into their extensive line of wood splitting equipment. Timberwolf purchased Valley in part to obtain the rights to use the “top roll” system.
Timberwolf has now made the top roll available as an option on new machines, as well as for retrofitting older models. T chose to visit an operator in western New York who had a fairly new Timberwolf PRO-MX with the top roll. I reviewed Timberwolf’s larger PRO-HD model (IS&WM, April/May 1998), so this visit gave me an opportunity to check out the smaller PRO-MX model.
Owner Roland Michalski lives in Lima, N.Y., an agricultural area that supports some logging and firewood operations. Roland, who used to operate heavy construction equipment, now raises a few beef cattle on his farm, and is in the process of slowly building up a dealership of Timberwolf wood splitting equipment. With the equipment in hand, he operates a part-time firewood enterprise.
The Timberwolf PRO-MX is a smaller machine than the PRO-HD model, designed for part-time producers who might want easier portability. Roland’s processor is equipped with a 16-foot trough and with a 3-strand, 7 1/2 foot live deck for the logs. With the deck fully loaded, he operated alone for about 45 minutes before he had to load more logs.
As he began working, the top roll feed system riveted me. The top roll, I noticed, is located directly over the feed trough roll and a short distance behind the chain saw when viewing it from the operator’s position. The log feed trough is still equipped with a feed chain, of course, because the log in the trough must he advanced enough for the roll to grip it and pull it forward.
The roll and the feed trough are powered, and, though operating on the same valve, they have separate drive chains. But it’s the top roll that is the effective member of the pair and that makes the operation work smoothly The top roll normally runs in a float position, meaning that there is no downward pressure exerted other than the weight of the roll, and this is generally sufficient to move the log along the trough. The roll easily moves up and over large knots and other irregularities in the log surface.
If the log is crooked and resists advancing or, if the log surface is icy, the operator only has to increase downward roll pressure. All of Roland’s logs moved through easily, and I noticed that when he came to make the last cut, which is sometimes a more difficult one because of the short length of the remaining log, the increased pressure on the roll held the piece firmly for the chain saw.
Firewood processor users have different preferences when it comes to the style of splitting troughs. Some prefer to have the wood drop straight down into the trough; others prefer the sloped tray under the saw to slide the piece over to an offset splitting tray.
From my observations, I think that the slide tray, used on the Timberwolf as well as other brands, requires the least amount of hand adjustment of pieces by the operator. Almost all of Roland’s cuts dropped properly in place in front of the ram; the slide tray even allowed him to flip them end for end as they slid down. A nice feature of the PRO-MX model was the easy access to the splitting trough; with the controls nearby Roland easily repositioned a large, split section of the log for re-splitting. Working alone, he operated on about a 10- second cycle time. “It’s sort of challenging to try to beat the splitter cycle,” Roland said, shouting. “That’s the fun part of running a processor.”
It appeared that one recent improvement on the Timberwolf was a narrowing of the beam or space in the splitting trough between the sloped plates that guide the wood down to a position before the splitting ram. The blocks usually fell into place easily.
The splitting wedge also has a slightly improved design to keep the split pieces from spreading out too far sideways. The wedge is now longer, has less taper, and is swept forward on the top to discourage the block from riding upward. The wings tend to push the wood inward while splitting, which increases safety and reduces wear on the trough plates.
I also noticed that the Timberwolf is now equipped with a chip separator between the splitter and the conveyor. Roland spoke highly of the addition.
The standard power unit for the PRO-MX model is a 49 HP Turbo John Deere. The engine also has a Murphy switch that holds the relay closed in place until the engine starts, and the alternator takes over. The hydraulic hoses were all firmly held in place by neoprene brackets.
The PRO-MX model is the smaller of the two basic Timberwolf models, about 1 1/2 tons lighter than the PRO-HD model. As such, the PRO-MX might not be the machine of choice for an operator who wants to make firewood production a major activity. I don’t believe the smaller model would stand up as well as its heavier brother.
Firewood processors are a necessity for cutting and splitting large amount of firewood with efficiency and safely. However, these machines are costly, ranging from $10,000 for an introductory model to as much as $50,000 for the bigger and more professional units used by firewood companies.
For around $2500, nonetheless, a homeowner can create his own homemade firewood processor, and enjoy the benefits of splitting firewood.
Draw or purchase plans for how to build the firewood processor. Purchase commercially available plans or design your own firewood processor based on common models sold through countrywide dealers such as Blockbuster or Hud-Son, Inc.
Select the key equipment that will power your firewood processor. Firewood processors comprise of a log cutter (usually a long-blade chain saw welded in place to the frame) and a log splitter. In a common setup, the log is elevated onto the upper frame and pushed against a steel stop that sets the length at 22″, the most common firewood dimension.
The log is sawed to length, and a hydraulic pump pushes the sawn portion against a steel plate with a sharp edge, which cuts the log into two. An operator revolves the split half and resets it for another pass against the splitter, which yields log quarters suitable for firewood.
The more common log splitters are electrical or hydraulic and should be adequate to splitting logs into 4, 6, or 8 segments. A hydraulic lift is important in lifting logs onto a steel deck for processing, while a large tractor or backhoe can also execute this purpose. Commercialized plans include a do-it-yourself splitter that can be created using hydraulic parts.
Create the trailer, using channel iron to build the central chassis and axles. Bind the wheels and check alignment (axle and wheels square to frame). On top of the axle frame, use channel iron to fabricate a box frame with cross pieces on top of the chassis.
Make use of the steel mesh to construct vertical guards around the splitting and cutting areas. Bolt the chain saw onto a welded frame with a pivot attachment that allows to be raised and lowered. Weld steel stops in place to set the 22″ firewood depth. Construct (or purchase) a hydraulic mechanics to push the cut log section against the splitter plate. Weld angle iron or flat steel sections to the frame as bracing to stiffen the construction.
Test the firewood processor by running assorted size logs through the device. Depending upon the size of the frame constructed, home-built firewood processors can generally handle up to 20″ diameter logs, and, with a competent operator, can produce 2 to 3 cords per hour of 22″ long firewood.