Firewood Business A Boon To Oregon Logger When Wet Ground Slows Work

by | Jul 1, 2023 | 2023, DIY, Small Scale, July/August, TimberWest Magazine

VERNONIA, OREGON – Logger Mike Pihl credits his Tajfun RCA firewood processor with helping to keep his company alive during a recent wetter than normal winter. When logging was slow, he could count on the processor to make enough firewood to keep the company afloat.

“It’s an amazing machine,” said Pihl. “I used to cut firewood by hand all the time just because I’m a typical logger and can’t sit still. But as you get older, you start thinking that you can only do this stuff for so long. And that firewood processor has been a game changer.”

The RCA firewood processor, manufactured by Tajfun, has a live deck infeed that takes the log into the machine, cuts it to firewood length, splits the round, and loads the pieces into a trailer via an attached conveyor. A single joystick controls the live deck, bar saw, splitter and conveyor, which makes it easy to use.

Pihl uses the firewood processor – which he purchased about two years ago – to help clean up logging jobs, leaving no trace behind and getting the most out of the land. The low-grade logs are hauled to a company yard where the machine is set up under a roof. It doesn’t matter what species it is; it goes through the processor. He sells the firewood, green or dried, to distributors and direct to homeowners and uses this portion of his business for fill-in work. He sells an average of about 500 cords per year. He recently built a shed to store and dry about 10 percent of the firewood. The rest sits outside, weathered by the elements.

The Tajfun RCA machine is Pihl’s first firewood processing machine. He used to do all the work by hand. He sold so much firewood he finally realized he needed to find another way to keep up with the demand. A fellow logger with a Tajfun RCA machine came to help him one day, and Pihl was sold. He purchased the next bigger size machine and hasn’t looked back. The processor can cut and split two and a half cords in a little less than an hour.

Tajfun manufactures RCA firewood processors in Slovenia. The machines are distributed in America by Tajfun USA, which is represented by a number of dealers in the Northwest U.S. Tajfun RCA firewood processors are powered by tractor PTO; Tajfun also offers a Kohler 35 hp gasoline engine to power the machines.

Pihl Logging

Kubota mini-excavator is used to load logs onto the infeed deck of the RCA firewood processor at Pihl Logging’s firewood yard.

Pihl’s Tajfun RCA firewood processor is powered by a separate engine. He appreciates the speed and the durability of the machine. “It’s extremely dependable, and when we’ve had breakdowns (very few) we have a great rep to work with, and the parts are shipped immediately.”

Pihl Logging is a well-respected fixture in Vernonia in northwest Oregon, not quite 50 miles northwest of Portland. The company employs 15 people, a number that Pihl is comfortable with. He likes the small size so he can have a personal relationship with each employee, some of whom have been with him for over 35 years. His daughter, Lindsay, runs the office and his son, Daniel, is a timber cutter.

Pihl started working in farming and paid cash for his first tractor when he was 15. The son of a circuit court judge and a school nurse, he logged or farmed neighboring properties but dreamed of being a full-time logger. He quit farming and went up to southeast Alaska to work in logging. He saved money while working there, came back to Oregon at age 22, and paid cash for his first yarder. He still loves the work all these years later. “I dream about logs,” he said.

Pihl Logging fells timber by hand and with a Cat 522 feller buncher. The company is equipped with three Denharco stroke boom delimbers (two mounted on Thunderbird carriers and one on a John Deere) and a Doosan 225 with a Log Max attachment for processing logs. There are two skidders (a Cat 545 and a Mountain Logger 250) and seven loaders: three Cat machines, three Doosans, and one Prentice. The company also has a couple of Kubota mini-excavators with grapples and three Kenworth log trucks. The newest machine is a Doosan 225 loader, purchased from Feenaughty in Portland to replace a loader that was burned in a fire in May.

Pihl usually contracts to harvest timber but buys stumpage on occasion. The company operates about five jobs at one time, each crew averaging about eight loads per day. The company contracts for some hauling.

Pihl checks on progress at job sites and helps out with the firewood part of the business. At the time he talked with TimberWest, his company was working on a 40-acre job just outside of North Plains, which is just outside of Portland.

Pihl spends most of his time scouting timber and bidding on jobs. He doesn’t advertise his business, yet he manages to keep about 20 active jobs on the books year-round.

The company works mainly on private land, jobs that may range from 2 to 80 acres. A crew of three or four works on each job. Pihl Logging performs clear-cuts as well as thinning.

Pihl Logging

Pihl Logging has three of these Denharco stroke boom delimbers – two mounted on Thunderbird carriers and one on a John Deere carrier.

Pihl Logging supplies logs to various mills in the region, including Zip-O Log in Eugene, RSG Forest Products in Mist, Hampton Lumber in Banks, and two mills in Washington, Columbia Vista in Vancouver and Gram Lumber in Kalama. Business has remained steady, even during the pandemic, because of the quality of the work they do and Pihl’s strong relationships with the mills.

The dominant species in the region are Douglas Fir, cedar, and alder. Northwest Oregon is known for its world-class Douglas Fir.

The Tajfun RCA firewood processor helps ensure that nothing goes to waste. Any logs that can’t be sold to a mill are processed into firewood. Using the material for firewood eliminates the need to burn residual waste and leaves a clean site, something that Pihl Logging customers appreciate.

After starting his business, Pihl Logging grew to 40-50 employees in about 15 years. Although he always dreamed of having a business that big, Pihl says he felt disconnected from his workers. The company was forced to downsize in 2008, but Pihl is happy with the size of the business now.

Changes in technology and equipment have definitely affected how Pihl Logging operates. “We’re on a job right now that I logged 30 years ago with a Thunderbird yarder,” said Pihl. “Where we yarder logged 30 years ago, we’re shovel logging it now because the machines have improved so much. And we have some amazing operators, too.”

One of the biggest improvements in technology for loggers that he’s seen: the cell phone. “I used to spend a lot of time on the pay phone, often an hour or two. You’d pull up to a pay phone out in the middle of nowhere, and there’d already be some other logger making three or four phone calls. Now we can change sorts or call the crew without sitting at a pay phone, trying to find enough quarters.”

Pihl has little time for hobbies; he prefers to be working. “I bought a boat two years ago, put it in my shop, and it’s never been out. I’m a workaholic who loves his job. I love the smell. I dream about logs.”

He does make time for a few other activities. He serves on the board of the Camp 18 Logging Museum in Seaside on the coast and is a member of Associated Oregon Loggers. Pihl also is a past president of the Pacific Logging Congress.

“I’m very appreciative of every day, and I always try to find something positive in every situation,” said Pihl. “That’s just the way I roll.”

Dawn Killough

Author

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