Trade focus: This machinery man ‘sees the wood from the trees’ in Co. Cork

With the evenings drawing in and autumn on its way, thoughts turn to heating for the winter. For many working on the land, that means it’s time to oil the chainsaw and rig up the log (wood) splitter.

Most farmers will have a chainsaw, and many a log splitter, but their trusted tools may well be outclassed by the latest equipment on the market.

Hartnett Products of Donoughmore, Co. Cork, is one firm that is looking to not only make the job of preparing firewood more efficient, but is also determined to do so at an affordable price.

Hartnett Products views the fallen timber strewn around the countryside as a resource rather than a nuisance; it is keen to see a greater amount of it used as a fuel – rather than burnt in the field.

The company was founded around 10 years ago by John Hartnett. With the help of his brother Mick and neighbour Padraig Murphy, they started building log splitters and wood saws to their own design on the family farm.

John had been running his own contracting business up until that point, but saw an opportunity to diversify – and took it.

“Machinery was just getting too expensive. I spent €100,000 on three new tractors and began to question the sense of doing so.”

Shortly afterwards, he set out to make and supply firewood preparation equipment.

As time went by and the business expanded, it gradually became clear that the brothers could not do everything themselves.

In a classic example of what Adam Smith famously labelled ‘the division of labour’, they started to put work out to other suppliers who would furnish them with certain components and sub-assemblies.

This was done under the watchful eye of John, who would ensure that standards were maintained and designs adjusted or modified to suit the market.

It is still part of the company’s ethos to use as much local – or Irish – content as possible, despite the fact that “Ireland just doesn’t make components such as wheels and engines”.

Today they now offer a wide range of log splitters and saws at prices they consider affordable.

“There are only two prices worth knowing about,” he explained. “The price you would like and the price you are going to get; so you might as well be realistic in your expectations.”

The humble log splitter is now offered in 15 variations of the theme. These range from tractor-mounted machines (running from the PTO), to single-phase electrical models that can be plugged into any three-pin socket.

Although PTO-driven machines still sell, it is the electrical models that are becoming more popular.

“The ESB tells us that these motors cost just 45c an hour to run; whereas, a tractor will be costing many times more than that just to tick over.”

He further notes that having a diesel engine running without a load does them no good at all.

Right from the start, John has relied on the internet to market the machines.

It’s not just a matter of listing them on classified sites either; he has set out to take full advantage of social media.

John has even taken to producing videos that explain, not just what the machines do, but how they work and the best way to operate them.

The printed magazines have still not woken up to the threat of digital media; they have got to start offering a lot more for the money they want to charge.

To run a small ad in a paper, he says, would cost him €2,500 annually if he continued with that outlet.

In addition to the wood preparation equipment, Hartnett Products also sells a range of light trailers suitable for cars, pick-ups and quads.

The quad trailer, in particular, is of interest to stock farmers.

“We can’t keep enough in stock during the calving season; but, at this time of year, they just hang around the yard waiting for the cows to start dropping.”

Other products include trailer cranes and feed bins, with the former proving to be a big hit for loading heavier items onto trailers.

“It’s better to buy one before you break your back, rather than afterwards,” he reasoned.

Having the right product is just part of the success.

Behind the scenes, his wife Clare does a good part of the admin while his son, JP, helps out during the holidays.

However, he believes that one of the greatest factors in securing goods at a decent price is by “paying the suppliers on time and helping them with their cash flow“.

This attitude has not done this family business any harm over the years; nor has the constant drive to introduce new machines or improvements to the old, which extends to a completely new range being planned for the near future.