• Vt. entrepreneur fires up a new business
     | December 24,2012
    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    A fresh, unopened box of Vermont Sweet Maple Kindling, a new product hitting the market this winter.

    A new business is just starting to heat up for Paul Ralston, founder of the Vermont Coffee Company in Middlebury.

    But it has nothing to do with coffee — unless you want to heat your coffee over a wood fire.

    Ralston, who has a passion for wood heat, has launched his latest venture, Vermont Sweet Maple Kindling.

    Like many Vermonters, Ralston has been burning wood for a long time.

    “Vermont was really the place where the modern wood stove was designed, Vermont Castings, but firewood has not really come into the modern age, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Ralston said.

    For Ralston, there’s run-of-the-mill kindling and then there’s premium kindling that cleanly and quickly can start a fire in a wood stove or fireplace.

    Ralston spent some time experimenting to come up with the best kindling, made from maple hardwood.

    “The difference between hardwood and softwood kindling is our maple kindling has about 65 percent more ‘btu’ in the volume that pine would have,” he said. “You’d have to have a lot more pine kindling to get the same heat value.”

    Ralston’s kindling is precision manufactured so it’s uniform in size and shape, and he said it’s “extremely dry, down to 6 percent moisture content, so it’s drier than even the furniture in your house.”

    To produce the right kind of kindling, Ralston imported equipment from Europe, which has far more experience with wood heat than the United States.

    “If you’ve got good kindling that produces hot, long-lasting coals, then when you start to put on your firewood chunks, they will ignite more quickly, they will burn cleaner,” he said. “So you’re putting less emissions into the air and... you don’t deposit as much creosote in your chimney.”

    Made from firewood logs and not scrap wood, Ralston’s kindling is 8 to 10 inches in length and the size of a nickel or quarter in diameter.

    He said the kindling is made according to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, so it’s heat treated to eliminate any mold and insects.

    Ralston is leasing additional space in the J.P. Carrara building in Middlebury for his new venture, next door to where the Vermont Coffee Company is located.

    Six new employees have been hired, and several coffee company workers also pitch in to help.

    A box of kindling retails for between $10 and $11 and will start between 15 and 20 fires.

    Vermont Sweet Maple Kindling is sold at major grocery chains and at natural food and convenience stores throughout Vermont.

    It’s also sold through The Vermont Country Store.

    Ralston estimates he’ll produce 20,000 boxes this season.

    But kindling is just the start of what he envisions as a year-round business. Ralston has plans to produce “Fire in A Box” — a self-contained wood fire for summer picnics, and Vermont Sweet Maple Charcoal for barbecues and grilling.

    Ralston is donating the fuel wood by-products from his kindling business to the Vermont Food Bank for their “Fuel Shelf.”

    bruce.edwards@ rutlandherald.com

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