RJ Fukes Forestry Services

RJ Fukes  Forestry Services have just delivered a new Doosan DX235LCR/TH75 and a new Logset 6F forwarder to Thompson Brothers Timber Harvesting in South Wales. We went down to Llandovery to find out more.

We called in at the RJ Fukes workshop the day before our site visit and the workshop was a hive of activity, with numerous machines undergoing transformations. Although I have previously visited John and Sue Fukes at the workshop, there have been a lot of changes since my last visit. The yard has further increased in size and there is a wall of large containers at the rear, which are being used for painting and shot blasting. Discarding the accents Llandovery is not much different to Scotland – it is equally as wet, misty and midge infested during the summer months!

Logset 6F

I love the smell and noise that comes from a busy workshop. While growing up my best friend was Jim Gibson and his dad had a garage in Dalmellington. A lot of us used to congregate there on a cold winter’s day next to the coal burner in the middle of the workshop. My love of workshops carried on into my late teens and early twenties when I became interested in fast cars and rallying as the local garage was always the place to spend our free time and catch up on all the latest news and gossip over a cup of coffee and a biscuit. Even today this still happens in many workshops. Breakdowns can be difficult to deal with but spending time in a workshop where there is good banter can be hugely helpful in raising your spirits and showing the way forward.

RJ Fukes’ workshop falls into this category, whenever I have visited there is always a great atmosphere.

John has the amazing ability to make his employees feel very important and valued, and this contributes to them working to very high standards. He allows a realistic timescale for completing jobs which reduces pressure, meaning the work is carried out correctly without anyone having to cut corners.

At the workshop

During our visit a Timbermax T10 traction assist winch was being prepared for fitting to a 30 tonne Hyundai, which will be available for hire in the near future. We covered the Timbermax winch in a previous issue and I was thoroughly impressed by its capabilities and inbuilt safety features, which alleviated my concerns about using this type of equipment. The Timbermax traction assist winch has been very well received and endorsed by forestry contractors, foresters and landowners throughout the UK and Ireland. A number of units have already been sold by RJ Fukes and are working very successfully.

Another machine being overhauled was the Doosan 140 winch excavator, which will also available for hire. This is forward thinking on John’s part as some contractors may only require this type of equipment for completing a section of a harvesting contract. As a result, they can tender for the work and factor in the cost of the hire without having to commit to a highly expensive purchase which could be sat idle a lot of the time.

John has incredible knowledge and expertise on winching equipment and its capabilities; the winches he supplies for skidding, hi-leading and skylining are manufactured in-house at RJ Fukes and are CE certified. The CE mark is a European conformity mark which indicates that a product meets the essential requirements of the relevant EU directives and standards for that product. The CE mark is a mandatory requirement which enables free movement of products within the European market to which the requirements apply.

John has depots and facilities in Llandovery and Carlisle so is able to provide hire machines throughout the whole of the UK and Ireland.

A Doosan 255 was in for repair, and also being serviced and checked prior to being sold was a very tidy Logset 8H harvester with 18,000 hours and an 06 Logset 8F forwarder with 14,000 hours.

12H GTE Hybrid Harvester

It took quite a bit of persuasion to prise me away from an old Timberjack Skidder which was sat in the yard, and I would probably still be drooling all over it if it wasn’t for the torrential rain. Next to the Timberjack was a brand new Logset 8H GTE Hybrid harvester which was undergoing final checks before heading out to the forest. Centre stage in the workshop was a Logset 12H GTE Hybrid harvester. I covered the 12H hybrid in the second issue of the magazine back in 2016 and, although similar to the first in appearance, the one in the workshop has a lot of newer technology installed.

Logset 12h GTE Hybrid

Kent, who has been with Logset for over 30 years was over from Finland to ensure the 12H was set up properly for working in UK conditions and our typically hairy spruce trees. Seeing him set up the Hybrid was great as its first port of call is to FMM’s harvester and product tester, Peter Williamson. Peter will be the first professional UK operator to conduct a thorough trial with the Logset Hybrid Technology in challenging Scottish conditions. We can’t wait for his findings and all will be revealed in the next issue of the magazine.

The 12H is still the most powerful harvester in the world with a 7.4l Stage V 510hp hybrid engine, which runs at the same rpm regardless of the engine load, and a massive 2000nm of torque. Another feature is the updated TOC 2 computer operating system, which is so advanced it can even alter the pitch of the cooling fan on demand. Circuit boards have been used to replace some of the wiring of the earlier hybrids and they are strategically placed in easily accessible areas with fuses and relays clearly marked. It is also fitted with NAF bogies and hydraulically operated front balanced bogies are available as an extra. The last one I saw working certainly didn’t need them as the climbing ability was immense.

It has a 500l diesel tank and 400l hydraulic tank which, together with the hydraulic frame lock, keeps the harvester rock solid on the ground even when harvesting at full reach at a 90° angle to the machine.

Two 210cc hydraulic work pumps are employed and this double circuit hydraulic system guarantees sufficient flow when harvesting heavy and difficult timber.

Despite the huge appearance with its 780mm wide tyres, the machine is easily transported on a standard low loader trailer as it weighs just over 24 tonnes and is 3080mm wide and therefore doesn’t require a police escort for transporting on the highway.

In 2018 it was approved by the BaySF (Bayerische Stattforsten) in Bavaria, Germany as an environmentally friendly machine for efficiently harvesting timber. I was really looking forward to getting this Logset out into its natural environment of steep terrain and bloody big trees.

The following morning I met up with John at his premises to travel an hour away towards Neath, where the Thompson brothers would be working with their new acquisitions.

Thompson Brothers Timber Harvesting

I had met two of three the brothers involved in the contracting business, Brendan and Aaron, on a trip to Logset in Finland two years previously but had never met Adam before. I remembered them saying that they would never use new harvesting equipment, so it was going to be interesting to find out what had changed their minds. Aaron was operating the harvester when we arrived and it wasn’t far from the forest road. He was harvesting very large storm damaged trees, with the sawlogs going to BSW at Newbridge Sawmill and the chip and pallet going north to Kronospan at Chirk.

Band of Brothers; Aaron, Brendon and Adam

The forest was owned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and being managed and marketed by

Kronospan. Kronospan is an Austrian Company established in 1897 who manufacture a comprehensive range of wood based panels for flooring, furniture and timber framed houses. They employ over 14,500 people in 29 countries.

The UK plant in Chirk, North Wales, was opened in 1972 and is one of the top ten manufacturing companies in Wales. It employs 600 people, 90% of whom live within a ten mile radius of the plant. The mill has its own railway station and carriages for transporting timber, which helps to reduce CO² emissions and decrease the number of trucks having to haul timber over long distances. Kronospan own 11,000ha of forests in Scotland and harvest and replant around 300ha on an annual basis.

Aaron had a few days left in this block and there were some quality sawlogs coming out of the damaged trees. There was evidently quite a bit of chainsaw work needed to cut down some of the stumps as some were quite gritty at the base and others were far too flared for the harvester to grip. We were soon joined by Brendon, who had been harvesting further along the road with an older excavator harvester conversion.

First, I wanted to know why they had changed their minds and gone for the new equipment. Brendon explained that as a forestry contracting business working in Wales they had qualified for the forestry grant scheme, which helps with the cost of purchasing new equipment. It’s great to see the grant system working properly and going to the people who deserve a bit of a leg up.

Doosan DX 235 LCR-5/Logset TH75

Next, out of John’s earshot, I wanted to find out why they had chosen Logset and RJ Fukes for supplying their new equipment.

Brendon has been over the moon with the service he has received from RJ Fukes since beginning contract work. Being a shrewd businessman he did get some quotes from other manufacturers to see if there was much difference in prices, but in all honesty it would have taken one hell of a deal to even think about choosing anyone else:

“With John it is not just a quality product you are purchasing but an incredible after sales service. His engineering knowledge is incredible and he is able to give a lot of advice over the phone.”

John’s workshop is not far from where Brendon lives and they have a great system in place for collecting parts outside of office hours. Moreover, if they need any assistance out on site John has a fleet of well-equipped vans with skilled engineers for dealing with any servicing or breakdown issues.

Aaron and Brendon first started harvesting timber for themselves around five years ago. Aaron had been felling with a chainsaw and Brendon was working for the Water Board as a fencing contractor. Adam worked for NRW and joined them three years ago.

The early days saw a selection of older harvesting equipment, including a Lokomo 910, an Excavator base with a Keto head, a John Deere 1270C with a Logset head, and eventually a Logset 8H harvester and 8F forwarder (which were part exchanged for the new equipment).

The Thompson brothers carry out timber harvesting for NRW, Euroforest and Kronospan and during the few years they have been contracting they have established themselves as a very hard working team with  exceptionally high standards who are well respected throughout the industry.

Doosan DX 235 LCR-5/Logset TH75

I spoke to both John and Brendon about the Doosan as this was the first brand new DX 235 LCR-5/Logset TH75 harvester conversion he had built. Brendon admitted there were a number of factors in making the decision to purchase the excavator conversion over a purpose built harvester. An important one being the difference in cost compared to a purpose built harvester.

Aaron clearing up an area of Windblown Sitka Spruce

This model has zero tail swing and, as they have quite a lot of thinning work to carry out, this is an important feature in avoiding any accidental crop damage. They have decided to fit 700mm tracks, which provide more versatility and are able to harvest softer sites; even with the wider tracks, it is still just over 3000mm wide. The boom has good reach at over 9m so there is no need for an extension on the dipper and the slew power is superb for dealing with large, windblown trees. Some of the trees they were harvesting during our visit were over 4m³.

There is plenty of power as the Doosan has a 173hp six-cylinder stage IV engine, with four power modes for efficient fuel management and low working revs. There are two hydraulic pumps delivering 222l/min each and, since the TH75 requires 300l/min for maximum efficiency, there is ample hydraulic oil flow.

Brendon finds it comfortable to operate with great vision and is delighted with being able to achieve high production with very low fuel consumption.

The Logset TH75 is ideal for track-based harvesters due to the inclusion of a minimum stem-to-frame contact, which reduces friction and increases the lifespan of the components. It also has the clearance to fit a 90cm guide bar and utilises the TOC-MD2 operating system.

I asked John how long it takes to convert from an excavator to a forestry harvester:

“5-600 hours is a fair estimate – there is a lot more work than you would think. We add protection to all vulnerable areas and completely guard all the panels, cabin, roof and undercarriage. All the protective side panels have to open to gain access to all areas of the machine and we manufacture all of these in house. We add a lot of deflector bars to areas which could be prone to damage; trees and hung up debris have a habit of finding weak spots on machines so we try to protect them as well as we can.”

“We angle the roof bars in a peak over the sunroof as this helps to improve vision when looking through it. Our customers have commented positively on this as they find it makes it easier to identify any hazardous hung up debris which could cause damage/injury and makes it much easier for directional felling when thinning.”

The hydraulic hose layout along the main boom and dipper was exceptionally tidy; importantly, without the extending dipper they aren’t all dangling underneath. John spends time re-routing and clamping them down securely on the main boom and then adds guarding underneath the dipper boom to keep them tucked out of harm’s way.

The more I looked the more I could see just how proficient John was – his attention to even the smallest detail was unbelievable. He uses the best quality components available and will take the time to ensure that his or his employees work is completed to the highest standards possible. For the customer this is reassuring as they know that their equipment is tried and tested and will stand up to harsh forestry conditions.

Aaron summed it up when John asked him if there was anything that he thought he should change to improve it, and he replied instantly with a solid “No”.

Asked why he had chosen Doosan as the base machine for many of his harvesters and winches, John stated:

“The local Doosan dealer is great to work along with.”

Logset 6F Forwarder

At this point Adam appeared with the new Logset 6F forwarder, which he had been using to finish a block of thinning along the road. I was in my comfort zone now and jumped in beside him to lift a load of 4.9 sawlogs. Adam offered to let me get them but, as it had been a few months since I had piloted a forwarder, I decided to sit it out to begin with. I was pleased to be in the forwarder as it had persistently pouring with rain since my arrival and the dry cabin with a good heater was very welcoming indeed.

Adam on the Logset 6F Forwarder Loading 4.9m Sawlogs

The 6F is a 14 tonne capacity forwarder and this particular unit was fitted with a Mesera 10m reach crane. It has a large, spacious cabin with plenty of storage and the vision is outstanding; the side windows are low down in the cabin, giving excellent visibility over the wheels. This is useful for working on windblown and harvesting site obstacles as you can manoeuvre around rather than trying to drive over them.

Everything was right on the forwarder with its well laid out, easy to use controls, comfortable seat, and quiet and comfortable interior. I tried the loader for unloading and it was incredibly smooth yet powerful as the bunk had been narrowed on this forwarder for thinnings. This makes a difference, especially if it is quite tight, because if the forwarder is leaning on the back the greedy pins are less likely to ring-bark any standing trees. I think that Logset forwarders are extremely underestimated and I am looking forward to conducting a comprehensive trial myself with one of them later this year.

I would like to wish Brendon, Aaron and Adam the very best of luck with their new equipment venture – I have no doubt we will be hearing a lot more about this family of hardworking, professional loggers in the not so distant future.

RJ Fukes

Forest Machine Magazine is written and edited by a forest professional with over 40 years hands on experience. We are dedicated to keeping you informed with all the latest news, views and reviews from our industry.

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