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Firewood Key for Nursery Business: Osborne Nursery Adds Splitter from Automated Biomass Systems
Osborne Nursery produces and sells firewood and landscape mulch. The company operates a wood yard and gets wood that is too big for small chippers.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 2/1/2017
PLAINVILLE, Massachusetts – Eric Osborne has been in the firewood business for over 30 years, but when he went looking for a new firewood splitter he turned to a relatively young company – Automated Biomass Systems.
Eric operates Osborne Nursery in Plainville, Massachusetts. The community is located just west of the Intersection of I-95 and 495 and less than 20 miles north of Providence, Rhode Island. The business is about four miles south of Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
Osborne Nursery produces and sells firewood and landscape mulch. It also offers a wide range of landscape materials and supplies, selling them mainly to contractors and referring homeowners who want landscape construction services to its list of contractors.
The company operates a wood yard and gets wood from tree service businesses that use the nursery wood yard to dispose of material that is too big for their small chippers. “This is the wood that nobody wants,” noted Eric, material that will not fit, is too crooked, or otherwise is unsuitable for a firewood processor. Besides having a supply of wood, many of the tree service companies also pay a tipping fee to dispose of material, which is typically unloaded by dump truck onto the ground.
Most logs are bucked in place with a chainsaw and the aid of a peavey. The wood is moved around as little as possible to avoid the logs from becoming contaminated with dirt and mud. The company has front-end loaders with a grapple and another tool that can be utilized to move and handle logs as needed.
The wood yard occupies about two of the company’s 20 acres. Material is segregated according to hardwood and softwood, which is usually sold to campgrounds. Eric sells mainly to homeowners and also to some local businesses, including some pizzerias that fire their ovens with wood.
Almost all firewood is delivered to customers, usually dumped on a homeowner’s property. For customers that want their firewood stacked, Eric will refer them to a landscaping contractor who provides that service.
Eric invested in an Automatic Biomass Systems (ABS) AutoSplit and an ABS AutoConvey conveyor last fall after researching splitters for about a year. He looked particularly at splitters that could handle large diameter, oversize logs. The conveyor gives him the capability of piling about 25 cords of firewood and also to top-load tractor-trailers, although the company sells firewood primarily at retail. Eric commented that he appreciates that the ABS splitter produces firewood that is uniform in size and easy to palletize and shrink wrap for shipment to customers.
ABS referred Eric to a customer in Rhode Island that had an AutoSplit, and Eric paid them a visit to watch the machine in operation and also had the opportunity to run it. “We found that it worked out great,” he said.
“It’s very simple, user-friendly,” said Eric.
The ABS AutoSplit has performed to Eric’s expectations. “Exceeded it,” he added.
Another reason he has been pleased with the AutoSplit: operator safety. “We’re finding it’s extremely safe for the operators,” said Eric. “The controls are positioned away from everything...that was one of our biggest concerns,” safety. The company has some older splitting equipment since it has been in business over 30 years, he noted.
At Osborne Nursery, the AutoSplit normally is operated by one person working with a nearby pile of blocks ready to be split. Production usually is a couple of cords per hour.
Asked if he would recommend the AutoSplit to other firewood businesses, Eric noted that he has been asked about his by some of the tree service businesses that offload wood. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them pick it up in the future for their business.”
Eric also praised the supplier for supporting their product. “Their customer service has been second to none so far.”
Automated Biomass Systems is a young company, but it’s principal and owner, Matt Timmins, has experience in the firewood business. Matt originally worked in logging in Colorado but turned to firewood because the pine beetle infestation damaged so much timber that otherwise would have been marketable to mills. His firewood business, which also produced packaged firewood, was equipped with several splitters and shipped firewood as far away as Texas and Washington. Matt operated the firewood business four years, and his ideas for developing and designing equipment for the firewood industry grew out of that experience. When he launched ABS two years ago, he relocated to upstate New York to be closer to markets.
“Our products are a little bit different,” observed Matt. For example, the design of the company’s AutoSplit minimizes the handling and time required to split a block of wood, he said. “That’s the unique selling point, the reason for that machine.”
The AutoSplit features a box wedge with an automatic block return that distinguishes it from other types of firewood splitters and firewood processors. “Once you place the block in the chamber,” said Matt, “that’s the last time you need to touch it.” The block will cycle through the wedge automatically until it is completely split. In addition, more than one block can be loaded into the splitting chamber at one time. The machine comes standard with a hydraulic lift that hoists several blocks of wood into position at one time, ready to place in the splitting chamber.
“It’s safer,” suggested Matt, because an operator will experience less fatigue that could lead to a workplace injury.
“Our splitter thrives on large diameter material,” said Matt, breaking it down to smaller pieces of firewood. A firewood processing machine cutting and splitting logs larger than about 13 inches in diameter will produce wood that has to be split a second time, he said. Large blocks don’t work well and require more handling and re-splitting.
The ABS AutoSplit also provides a much lower point of entry to the firewood business than a firewood processor, noted Matt. The AutoSplit is priced starting at $10,000 compared firewood processors that sell for anywhere from $12,500 to $50,000, he noted.
“If you have a supply of blocks ready, you can produce as fast as a firewood processor,” said Matt. The AutoSplit can produce two cords of split firewood per hour, according to the company.
ABS also is committed to providing strong customer support and service, he said. The company stocks extra parts and will send a technician to service a machine that is under warranty.
Osborne Nursery is equipped with a Bandit Beast 3680 horizontal grinder to process wood material into mulch. It is also equipped with a Color Critter mulch coloring system, which attaches to the grinder and dispenses granulated colorant with the aid of a computerized control module. Eric’s company uses T.H. Glennon mulch colorants. Osborne Nursery offers four colors of mulch as well as natural mulch.
Wood for mulch comes from the company’s same wood yard and firewood operations — material that is not suitable for firewood, under-size kindling material, and bark collected from the splitting process. The company uses all the wood it receives for either firewood or to make mulch. “We use the wood 100 percent,” said Eric.
Mulch sales account for about 50-60 percent of the company’s revenues, and firewood, about 20-25 percent.
The company produces about 400 cords of firewood annually. It also buys a couple of cords in late summer to have on the ground as a way to promote firewood sales in the early fall. Customers coming to the business see the pile of firewood and are reminded they need to get theirs for their upcoming heating season.
The nursery produces about 30,000 cubic yards of mulch annually with about 70 percent sold at retail to homeowners. “We’re in the middle of grinding right now,” said Eric, to prepare for the spring season.
Osborne Nursery sells a diverse range of landscape materials and supply products, but Eric does not provide construction or installation services, although he did in the past. He has developed relationships with landscaping contractors and refers customers to them for work, and he also sells materials for the do-it-yourselfer. The company offers soils, sand and gravel, paving stone, cleaning and sealing products for paving stone, seed and fertilizer, fire pits and fire pit kits, granite mailbox posts and lantern posts, yard and garden tools, and shrubs, trees, and plants.
Eric did landscaping construction work years ago, but in 2005 he shifted gears and began focusing on selling landscape supplies. Other landscape contractors were reluctant to buy materials and supplies from him when he was competing with them on jobs, he recalled. “We had to step out,” if he wanted landscapers to buy their materials from him. That same year he completed infrastructure improvements on his property.
Having worked out of a trailer office for many years, Eric put up a building about four years ago for the nursery business and also came up with an interesting – and successful – marketing twist. At the same time he put an ice cream shop in the building; it’s called Summer Scoops.
Eric explained the reason for the ice cream business. Outside Summer Scoops is one of the largest displays of hardscape materials in New England, according to Eric. The ice cream shop provides steady traffic of people who are exposed to the hardscape and landscape displays, including different types of paver stones, and landscape stone, outdoor kitchens and fire pits, and much more. He also was seeking to differentiate the business from a nearby Lowe’s and another competing business. “It’s been a homerun for us,” said Eric, 49. “It’s been great.”
The company employs about six people normally but ramps up to as many as 20-25 – not counting the ice cream shop – during the busy seasons of the year.
Eric’s oldest daughter, Coralee, 23, works in the nursery business, and his youngest, Ashley, 18, works part-time in Summer Scoops.
The company markets through its website and Facebook page as well as local and regional trade show or home show events in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “We’ve had great success with the Internet,” said Eric. The company also spreads its name as a sponsor and supporter of Boy Scouts and youth sports organizations, such as little league and softball.
ABS Engineers Splitters for Durability, Reliability
Automated Biomass Systems (ABS) currently offers three equipment products for the firewood industry and is developing additional products the company expects to bring to market in 2017.
The company, based in Marathon, N.Y., about 45 miles south of Syracuse, manufactures machines that are engineered and built for durability and reliability, said principal and owner Matt Timmins.
For example, the ABS splitter, called the AutoSplit, features ½-inch plate steel construction. “You could drop a tree on it, and it would be all right,” said Matt.
The ABS AutoSplit is available with three different size wedges. The 3-½-inch wedge, for example, is better suited for producing firewood for the packaged or bundled firewood market, noted Matt. “It produces a uniform product. Every piece is marketable. It dries a lot faster in a kiln, and it’s easy to handle in bulk...It lights better for the customer, and you only touch that block one time.”
ABS offers an AutoSplit with a 24-inch stroke and a model with a 36-inch stroke. The strokes are adjustable with capability to split blocks from 12 inches to 36 inches, depending on the model.
The AutoSplit is powered by a Honda GX-630 20 hp motor that provides 18 tons of splitting force. It comes standard with a hydraulic lift that picks multiple blocks up at one time and holds them in position to be placed into the splitting chamber. Production is two cords per hour, according to the company.
The ABS AutoSplit is better suited for producing high quality firewood, suggested Matt.
Automated Biomass Systems also offers a conveyor and a machine that removes loose bark, dirt and debris from finished firewood.
The company’s conveyor, the AutoConvey, features a set of skids that allows it to be placed and pushed under the splitter or a firewood processor. Other conveyors that lack the skids must be set in place first and a processor moved and set up afterward to feed into it, noted Matt. It also features excellent guarding and protection for the engine while at the same being easily accessible for maintenance.
The ABS AutoFine uses a series of rotating disks to convey the firewood forward, and the fines — loose pieces of wood, bark and other debri — fall through them below the machine. It can be configured with a conveyor to handle wood coming off a firewood processor, and it can be filled with any type of machine with a bucket, such as a skid steer, tractor, or front-end loader.
Having a device that can effectively remove fines “was always one of the struggles” in his firewood business, said Matt, who operated a firewood business for four years and previously worked in logging. “It’s always a choke point of the operation.” A related issue was gathering and collecting fines from firewood that had been stockpiled on the ground.
“A lot of trial and error” went into the development of the company’s AutoFine machine to remove debris from finished firewood, he said.
Automated Biomass Systems is in the process of developing two new machines for firewood businesses. The AutoBlock, which Matt hopes to begin marketing in the spring, is a log handling system with a bucking saw; it will feature a modular design and construction to enable it to be hooked up directly to the AutoSplit — making the combination in effect a firewood processor. The company is also working on a skid steer attachment that can pick up and handle logs and buck them to length; that device is expected to be brought to the market in the fall.
Automated Biomass Systems has begun establishing relations with equipment dealers and has dealer representatives in six states so far — California, New York, New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Matt wants to grow the network to 30 dealerships nationwide.
Automated Biomass Systems is represented in Canada by Hakmet, and Matt in turn distributes Hakmet equipment and manufactures log-loading trailers for the company.
The company will exhibit at upcoming 2017 forest products industry trade shows in Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Michigan.
For more information, visit the company’s website at www.absbiomass.com, its Facebook page (Automated Biomass Systems), or call (607) 849-7800.