MONMOUTH, Oregon – What links the F-15C and kiln-dried firewood? Well, it’s actually who: Brandon Marr, the owner of JB Firewood.
Prior to launching his kiln-dried firewood enterprise, Brandon flew F-15C models as an active-duty member of the 123FS Air National Guard in Portland, Ore. (He trained in Klamath Falls, Ore.) “By training, I’m a pilot,” he explained.
Through experience, though, Brandon had some familiarity with wood products. His grandfather, Harvey Marr, ran and served as president of a logging truck company, H.E. Marr Trucking from 1950 to 1968, and then got into firewood as a hobby. “I started cutting firewood in 1998 with my grandfather,” explained Brandon.
At first, firewood was something of a hobby for Brandon, too. Today, firewood is one component of Brandon’s three-part business, which includes wood waste recycling, mulch and kiln-dried firewood. The first branch of the company, Marr Brothers Barkdust, was started by Brandon’s parents in 1978. His father, Jim Marr is president. Brandon is in the process of buying his parents out as they retire. He founded and holds the title of president at the other two branches, JB Firewood (2013) and JB Wood Recyclers (2007).
Every bit of firewood, even the 10% or so sold bulk, that JB Firewood sells is kiln-dried.
Brandon purchased his first firewood kiln two-and-one-half years ago and his second firewood kiln became operational in November 2017. Both kilns were purchased from SII Dry Kilns in Lexington, N.C.
Both SII firewood kilns are heated with natural gas from the grid. In the future, Brandon might consider a boiler, but the cost of natural gas makes it an economical choice now.
Brandon chose SII for his firewood kilns after doing significant research. “I talked to owners [of SII] all over the United States,” he said.
“Insulation” and “top-notch burners” are among the features of the SII that draw high marks from Brandon. He also appreciates that the kilns are very “well-built,” he said.
The SII firewood kiln burners modulate to allow for tighter control of the heat. The greater control results in more consistent drying and maximizes the amount of drying accomplished with a unit of gas.
When Brandon labels a piece of equipment well-built, the descriptor takes on special meaning. At JB Firewood much of the machinery is fabricated in-house. Kiln baskets, shrink wrappers, stretch wrappers, and a palletizer are among the equipment the team has constructed.
Forty employees work across the three branches (wood waste, mulch, firewood) of Brandon’s business interests. Fourteen work in firewood.
The older SII kiln has a capacity of 25 to 30 cords and the newer kiln has a 50-cord capacity. When we spoke with Brandon in mid-December, JB Firewood was on track to produce 10,000 cords in 2017.
Brandon hired a contractor to do some of the installation work on the SII kilns. “SII came out for the startup,” he said.
Across the last several years of using SII firewood kilns, Brandon has had a great deal of interaction with Brian Turlington, VP at SII, and with Randall Hunt, who works on integration of systems. SII team members are all very responsive, he said.
The SII kilns have a record of performance. “The [older] kiln we’ve run 24/7 for the last two years and we’ve had zero-zero issues,” said Brandon. “The thing has run flawlessly for two years.”
Douglas fir, maple, oak, cherry, madrone and alder are species that fit into bulk firewood. Maple, cherry, apple and alder are the species used to make firewood used for cooking by restaurant owners and hobbyists.
JB Firewood can produce custom orders of firewood. The company’s product reaches buyers as far north as Alaska and all along the West Coast to southern California. A distributor sold some JB Firewood in Japan.
The home of JB Firewood is Monmouth, Ore., a town of 11,000 residents in Polk County. Monmouth lies approximately 17 miles west, southwest of Salem, Ore.
In addition to selling firewood under its own label, JB Firewood private labels for other companies. Brandon takes pride in the quality of his company’s firewood. “Once our wood is dried, it never hits the ground again,” he explained. Producing the cleanest possible firewood has been one of Brandon’s objectives since starting JB Firewood.
Two and one-half years ago, Brandon purchased a Multitek 2040 electric processor with a 100 horsepower engine. He also purchased a Multitek tumbler to complement it – and to help meet the goal of clean firewood.
Brandon has 3-phase power at his industrial facility, so buying the electric Multitek 2040 made good sense. The Multitek captured his interest the first time he saw it. “I saw it at a logging conference,” he explained. The ease of use for the operator and the safety features impressed him.
The Multitek 2040 was purchased with an extended log deck. “It’s basically turn key,” said Brandon.
Logs are procured from loggers who deliver to Brandon’s facility. “On average, we receive two to three log loads per day,” he explained. JB Firewood has state-certified log scales on site.
Mid-year 2017, Brandon purchased a Peterson 2710D track grinder. The machine is used to grind wood waste for boiler and co-generation fuel and also to grind bark for mulch.
“It’s an excellent engineered and designed machine,” said Brandon of the Peterson 2710D. And it’s been a strong performer. “It’s produced more volume and has been extremely dependable.”
Getting the firewood branch of his business going meant securing enough wood to process. “When I started, I became an over the phone buyer,” said Brandon. “I built relationships.” Those relationships bring in the log loads that arrive each day. They also illustrate in part his philosophy of business.
It’s not enough to just get things going well. There’s always the opportunity to do things better.
“With firewood, we try to produce the best product we can,” said Brandon. He notes that although he has attained one goal of producing exceptionally clean firewood, there are always improvements that can be made. And he strives for excellence.
There are “a lot more efficiencies” that can be realized in the production of firewood, explained Brandon. And he is committed to keep making a better and better product while capturing those efficiencies through reconfiguring layout and tools and automating as appropriate.
The quest for efficiency is an approach that also motivates the team at SII Dry Kilns. SII works to size a kiln system to match the needs of a customer.
SII also offers customers options for heat source. Gas, steam and hot water are all options.
JB Firewood dries approximately 75 cords every two days. The older SII kiln has a capacity of 25 to 30 cords and the newer SII kiln has a capacity of 50 cords.
The kiln-dried firewood at JB Firewood has a moisture content of eight to 12%. The low moisture content makes the wood easy to light and provides a good burn. Consisting of 100% mixed hardwoods, the kiln-dried firewood gives up as much as 35% more heat than firewood that has simply been seasoned.
Because kiln-dried firewood has less creosote in it, the firewood is also gentler on chimneys. Less buildup of residue means less maintenance (and more safety).
Customers of JB Firewood wondering which species is the best for their needs can consult a primer Brandon has put at the company website (JBFirewood.com). For example, cords of oak and madrone are difficult to start burning, but they have an excellent rate of burn once started.
JB Firewood works with foresters to ensure that firewood quality is sustained and documented. All bundled firewood and kindling produced by the company is certified pest- and disease-free. The core temperature measurement of the SII firewood kiln meets the USDA requirement for heat treating. (Although the USDA had been satisfied with 60 minutes at 140 F, many states have imposed more stringent requirements. Building a solution to fit heat-treating requirements for certification in a particular state or region is something with which SII can help a customer.)
Flying fighters was a passion for Brandon. Perfecting and growing his business is his passion now. Although he loved flying, he discounted the possibility of working as a commercial pilot because he did not want to work for someone else.
It’s very gratifying to be on the road and to see his products being used, he said. “I love producing something we can see.” And on the road in the Pacific Northwest, besides sighting firewood that originated at his company, he might see his mulch being delivered to nurseries or potting soil producers.
Brandon emphasizes that his parents were very instrumental in his decision to join the mill byproduct industry. Yes, he started the two ‘JB’ companies on his own. But Brandon said in doing so he was emulating and putting to good use all he had learned from his father. “My father, Jim Marr, has an excellent work ethic and forward thinking. He has been by my side with advice from the beginning.”
Results are gratifying. “We’re really growing,” said Brandon. “And expanding our facility.” Along with the growth is a commitment to state-of-the-art logistics for movement of all products – boiler fuel, co-generation fuel, mulch, and firewood. The effort to plan well minimizes time spent at loading docks and ensures orders are delivered when they are promised.
“I went from flying to firewood,” said Brandon. For some acquaintances and friends that proves to be a perplexing transition.
Except that it’s not a reason to puzzle at all. When flying, Brandon was doing what he loved. In his current niche, he is still doing what he loves. Brandon also continues his military service as a reservist.
“There’s really no such thing as free time,” said Brandon. But if he can carve out a few hours away from business, he does have a favored activity. “I like to fly around – I have a little plane, and go camping,” he said.