West Oregon Wood Products

Industry Pioneer, Leader


Operating a long-existing fuel pellet and fire log plant at its headquarters and a newer, 5-year-old pellet plant nearby, major West Coast pellet producer West Oregon Wood Products offers a diverse line of products. In business 27 years, West Oregon Wood Products sells its signature Hot Shots and Blazer line of fuel pellets, plus High Energy fire logs and Noah’s Choice animal bedding. The company recently re-introduced its line of grilling pellets known as Lil’ Devils BBQ Pellets.

West Oregon Wood Products President Chris Sharron believes the long-term success of his company is due to its commitment to quality and service from day one. The company is one of the industry’s “pellet pioneers” that included plenty of hard work and experimentation early on, plus a dedication to efficient operations that produce quality products. An eye for creative and smart product diversification has also served West Oregon Wood Products well.

Sharron has worked in every conceivable segment of the fuel pellet industry, from experimenting with various raw materials to plant design and operations, sales and marketing, association involvement and industry leadership.

“We consider ourselves part of a grassroots, local industry that is now going worldwide,” Sharron says. “It’s neat to know you’ve been a part of that to some degree.”



The company’s roots date to 1985, when Sharron and his brother bought an existing small business in Portland that sold bagged dry hardwood sawdust to commercial meat and fish smokers along the West Coast. “We bought the business and expanded it using more screens to develop different grades and sizes of chips and dust,” Sharron remembers, adding that the company later expanded into dried and screened animal bedding products as well.

By the late 1980s the two brothers could see the meat smoking and bedding markets were for small-volume, niche products, and they were looking for more company growth. They found it in fuel pellets. Starting with a single pellet mill, they began experimenting and working to develop a quality fuel pellet product.

They began by producing up to 5,000 tons annually, selling into hearth shops, feed and seed stores and more rural markets, then expanded as large retailers began to get into the market. As it grew, the company expanded and in 1989 moved to its current location in Columbia City, a 140,000 sq. ft. facility with annual capacity of 50,000 tons.

In the meantime, Sharron and his brother started getting contacted by other companies looking to get into the business—so much that they started up a new company, Natural Resource Recovery, to design and build new pellet plants. “We built turnkey systems, supplied components and did design work across the U.S.,” Sharron says. Sharron’s brother eventually took over and renamed the company SolaGen, Inc., which is now primarily a supplier of biomass burners and boilers, but also still does some design work.

West Oregon Wood Products expanded again in 2007 with the addition of a new mill adjacent Banks Lumber Co., which is a major raw material supplier to the operation that produces 30,000 tons annually and is located 40 miles south of the headquarters facility.

“We wanted to grow our capacity, just not at Columbia City where we’re mostly out of room,” Sharron says, adding that the Banks plant is also closer to more mill residue sources, and that lowers costs.


Raw materials at both plants are bought on a bone-dry ton basis (BDT), with samples taken from every in-bound truck for moisture content analysis. At the Columbia City plant, which has an extensive concrete unloading area, trucks are unloaded via a Columbia tipper, or live-bottom trailers unload onto the concrete pad.

The Columbia City pile manager ensures raw material is mixed consistently for species, moisture content and particle size. “We’re interested in clean wood, but the wetter it is and larger particle size means less value to us because of the additional processing we have to do,” Sharron says. “But we’ve adapted to different species, sizes and moisture contents and have the processes and equipment to handle almost anything. That makes us more attractive as a market.”

The plant features two covered storage sheds for raw materials, with one pile feeding a set of Amadas Industries infeed storage bins while the other pile is being built. Raw materials pass under a magnet system and on to a SolaGen dryer with SolaGen suspension burner that is equipped to burn both natural gas or wood, depending on market price or operating conditions. During a cold and wet winter, for example, the dryer will use more gas. Operators have a formula for dryer inputs and outputs to determine the most efficient fuel use.

Leaving the dryer, raw materials flow through a Precision screen system that removes fines. On-size material flows to the dryer burner or to pellet mill infeed area; over-size material is routed through a Jacobs hammermill.

Processing machinery includes four Andritz roller design pellet mills and two Pawert briquetting machines, all 1980s-vintage equipment.

Pellets exiting the mills pass over a screening system to remove any fines (which are recirculated back to pellet mill infeed), then to a CPM vertical cooling tower. From the cooler, pellets go to a three-ton surge bin. Sharron views keeping dry fuel storage volumes small as a big safety issue. “We don’t have any large storage area for our dry fuels, and we keep volumes minimized in any one location.”

Pellets pass through a final screening system leaving the surge storage, then flow to a Hamer bagging line. At the bagging line, each bag is printed with an ID number that can be traced back through the production process, tying in to the plant’s quality control program. A Columbia/Okura robot that’s been in place three-plus years palletizes bags that are fed to a Lantec stretch wrap machine.

The briquetting machines produce 12 in. logs that are 90 mm diameter and about 5 lbs. apiece. The machines utilize an extrusion process that uses natural lignins to help form and set the logs. Continuous logs produced from the machines flow down a 130 ft. cooling line and are clipped to size at the end. Logs fall onto a turntable and are sold in two forms: bulk pallets with no packaging, or in three- or six-pack packages produced with a Bessler shrink wrap system.


West Oregon Wood Products’ markets are focused on the three West Coast states, plus Nevada and Idaho. “We sell to a variety of retailers, from one-store independent hardware and feed companies, all the way up to national retailers like Home Depot, Lowes and Costco,” Sharron says of company’s more than 200 commercial accounts.

“We’ve been at it a long time and we make high quality products,” Sharron says, noting that his company tries to develop customers who see the value of quality and service instead of those who just look at price.

The company also pursues institutional pellet supply projects and is working with an Oregon Dept. of Forestry ranger office that recently switched to biomass heat, and also the town of Vernonia, where a school was destroyed by flooding in 2007. The rebuilt school complex is switching to a biomass hating system with pellets supplied by West Oregon Wood Products.

Sharron notes that though the past winter was somewhat mild, the selling season went relatively well: The company sold out of product, though not at healthy prices, he adds. “As far as I know, we were the only residential West Coast manufacturer to run at capacity, consistently on a 24/7 schedule, and at two plants.”

In the near future, Sharron says, “I foresee things remaining pretty flat.” He’s happy not to hear rumors of any new domestic pellet mill startups. “That’s a good thing, because this industry doesn’t need any more capacity at this time.”

Pellet stove sales aren’t projecting a big increase, so Sharron doesn’t expect any significant increases in demand. “There continues to be growth in commercial/institutional applications, but relative to fuel supply side and idled capacity, it’s slow in coming.”


As a longtime pellet producer and charter member of the Pellet Fuels Institute, Sharron has served on PFI’s board and was quick to sign on and support PFI’s new pellet quality certification program. “We’d like to see more support for the association; there are a lot of coattail riders out there,” Sharron says. “We’re a small industry and we need everybody to participate. It’s frustrating when you see fuel on the market that’s not up to spec.”

Until the PFI certification program was developed, the industry was on the honor system as far as pellet quality goes, Sharron says. “Everyone wants to advertise the best pellet they ever made, but I think a formal program is great because it’s harder to misrepresent yourself, whether it’s intentional or not.”

Sharron says the program is important because fuel is the first factor that gets blamed when a consumer has a stove problem. Though there are plenty of low-quality or poorly operated stoves in use, “Blaming the fuel is the easiest thing to do,” he adds. “We’ve done troubleshooting, been to consumer’s houses, looked at their storage systems—there are a lot of retail and consumer variables out there.”

West Oregon Wood Products General Manager Mike Knobel reports the company averages less than 20 customer complaints a year on production of more than 70,000 tons. “Most of the time it’s a stove-related issue, and it hasn’t been installed or maintained properly.”

Ash content is the biggest issue in the eyes of the consumer, Sharron believes, a quality that’s best addressed through procurement of quality raw material.

“If you’re a well-constructed and well-managed plant with quality raw material, there’s no reason not to meet those specifications (in the PFI program),” Sharron says, adding that while the program is a cost to his company, many of the quality control functions required were already being performed.

“The specs are the same for what we’ve been doing, and the program is just a new protocol and procedure for testing, with tighter controls and working with third-party certification labs,” Sharron says.

“We’re not the largest or smallest player, and it will cost us,” Sharron continues. “But that’s the price you pay for helping the industry and helping yourself.”