Northern Tool marks 40 years with battery-powered log splitter

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What began as a single build-it-yourself product out of a garage in Eagan has grown to a billion-dollar multi-channel retailer with 130 stores.

Northern Tool + Equipment is celebrating more than 40 years in business by updating its flagship product that Minnesotans know all too well: the log splitter.

Don Kotula, founder of Burnsville-based Northern Tool + Equipment uses the company’s original log splitter (undated). The retailer debuted its new battery-powered log splitter in June 2023. (Courtesy of Northern Tool + Equipment)

Don Kotula started his family-owned company, first known as Northern Hydraulics, in 1981 with a log splitter that customers had to build themselves. This month, his sons and now co-owners Ryan and Wade Kotula launched the company’s first battery-powered log splitter.

“We are getting back to our roots and what started the company,” said Ryan Kotula.

Headquartered in Burnsville, Northern Tool sells tools and equipment online, mostly to trades professionals, and in stores, featuring brands like Bosch, Honda, Milwaukee and Stihl. The retailer also manufactures its own line of products in Faribault, Minn., under the brand name NorthStar.

Out of the garage, into the fire

When Don Kotula first debuted his original log splitter, customers would buy the parts kit via an 800 number he had set up in his house, said Northern Tool CEO Suresh Krishna, adding that the kits would be shipped through the Greyhound bus service.

“He developed a how-to manual that he would sell via mail order and directly to people,” Ryan and Wade Kotula said about their father’s early business model. “He injected the ability to sell the parts for making it and broke up the standard distribution model.”

After the success of the log splitter, Don Kotula began adding more products to his line and filled the role of distributor and manufacturer. Eventually, he opened brick-and-mortar stores.

The Minnesota-made company serves over 3 million customers a year, Krishna said, and employs some 3,500 people across retail, manufacturing and warehousing.

“Having a battery-powered log splitter is so important because it is our heritage as a company,” Krishna said. Krishna joined the company in April 2020 after holding executive roles at other retail-based companies in the Twin Cities.

‘Industry’s first’

NorthStar’s battery-powered log splitter is a game changer for Minnesotans, Wade Kotula said. “If need be, you can relocate to your barn, shed or garage because there’s no emissions,” he said.

A photocopy of a black-and-white instruction manual
A manual for Northern Tool + Equipment’s original product, a build-it-yourself log splitter. The company debuted its new battery-powered log splitter June 2023. (Courtesy of Northern Tool + Equipment)

When designing the new log splitter, Wade Kotula said his dad’s concern was keeping the same level of quality and output as the original. The new log splitter has a 13-second cycle time and can chew through 300 logs on a single charge.

Krishna said NorthStar’s is the industry’s first professional-grade, battery-powered log splitter. Compared to its gas-powered predecessors, the $2,999 machine features decreased noise levels and requires little maintenance, Krishna said.

Battery-powered future

Going forward, the company will continue to revamp traditionally gas-powered products to battery-powered ones, the brothers said, including an upcoming battery-powered skid sprayer.

The duo also plan to open more Northern Tool + Equipment stores. According to its website, the company has 120 stores in more than 20 states.

“We are looking to expand into other states,” Ryan Kotula said, “we barely have even half of the country covered.”

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