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Sharp Matters at Windsor Mill

Remembering Ray Flynn

I first visited the WindsorONE mill in Willits, CA about ten years ago. Don Dunkley, the events coordinator for JLC LIVE, arranged the tour for a group of show presenters. I remember driving up there in a van with Tom Carty, Mike Sloggatt, Don Dunkley, Tom Brewer, and a few other guys. The trip is still vivid, mostly because Tom Carty got carsick in the back of the van.

By that time, I’d worked with WindsorONE trim boards a few times at JLC LIVE; but this trip happened before they started making moldings, so it was before I started working with WindorONE as a Katz Roadshow sponsor. (Full disclosure: WindsorONE is a Katz Roadshow sponsor now, and I want to get that out in the open! In fact, The Katz Roadshow was Craig Flynn’s idea. Craig is President of WindsorONE. So if you’re sensitive about reading an article with a possible “conflict of interest,” stop right here!)

Back then, I’d never been in a big modern mill. I expected monstrous machines, piles of sawdust, trees, bark, and noise—a lot of noise. The only thing I was right about was the noise. Otherwise, the whole plant was like a typical cabinet shop, just way bigger.

Last year, Ray Flynn, the owner of Windsor Mill, passed away, but I was lucky to meet with him several times in his last few years. I’ll never forget the stories he told me about milling old-growth redwood and Douglas Fir—he grew up in the business, first driving trucks, then working his way up to general manager of a mill, and finally borrowing enough money to buy his first mill.

But Ray was much more than a lumberman. He was a sharp businessman. In 1990, the spotted owl was added as a threatened species in connection with the Endangered Species Act. In 1991, a court order ended logging in national forests. Perhaps 100,000 jobs were lost in the Pacific Northwest. President Clinton’s 1994 Northwest Forest Plan did little to calm nerves from Northern California to Oregon and Washington.

To tell the truth, the lumber industry had been spiraling down for decades, and Ray Flynn knew it. He was a visionary, and he kept up with every detail related to his business.

A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that logging jobs had been in decline since 1947. Automation probably had much to do with that decline, but so did the massive, uncontrolled harvesting of old growth timber.

Seeing that his mill would soon run out of raw material, and feeling a family-like responsibility to his employees, Ray looked into the future. He invested in a new source of fast-growth renewable lumber, harvested from plantation-like forests in New Zealand and Chile. Instead of running old-growth logs through a barker and a bandsaw, the team at Windsor Mill now sends a continuous line of lumber through a laser-operated scanner that cuts out knots and defects without any sign of slowing.

In fact, Windsor Mill is now more of a mill shop than a lumber mill. The mill is laid out just like your shop or mine—at least if we had our dream shop. That laser operated scanner is right at the loading door; wood blanks follow a circular path from finger-joint machines to edge-gluing presses, to rip saws, to surface planers and molding machines.

But the heart of the operation is fingerjointing and planing, and both require absolute perfection. The man behind that operation is Charlie Holum. Charlie personally sharpens every blade and knife at Windsor Mill. Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean about “sharp.”

Comments/Discussion

12 Responses to “Sharp Matters at Windsor Mill”

  1. Ken B

    Very inpressive. No wonder I like working with WindsorONE. It is such a great product that it helps me produce a impressive product for my customer . Thanks Gary for showing us thing we would never get to see ourselves but the knowledge of these things makes us better craftsmen.

    Reply
  2. Richard Russell

    I have been a house carpenter for many many years and while I am also a construction forensics expert, a very experienced construction arbitator and mediator, a teacher, etc…my carpentry skills provide me with a grounding in tool using and making. The nomenclature in this short video may have been ununderstandable to many, however the whole video reconnected me to my original love and respect for this work. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Kent Brobeck

    Gary, great article! I love those “American Dream” stories! I’ve never worked with winsor one but would really like to!

    As far as the spotted owl…its up there with global warming….complete BS! Your friend made it happen despite what the Federal Government did to make it so much harder. God bless him and may he rest in peace.

    Reply
  4. Tim Raleigh

    I always wanted to know how they made their s2s, S4S etc. and now I know.
    I think the more interesting story is the innovation that Ray Flynn and the employees of Windsor One leverage to develop this business and market their products.

    Great video. Thanks
    Tim

    Reply
  5. Michael Rigby

    Gary,
    Down here in Fairfield Ct, Windsor One has been rotting & falling apart quite consistently…the flat stocks, ie 5/4 & 3/4 are not considered suitable material for high end custom work. I have stripped many a home of its rotting Windsor One…and by the by…many had primed cuts…I’m frankly quite surprised this company has not been the target of class action lawsuits…
    To end on a positive note, Gary, I always look forward to your next article…your skil level is quite ” honed “!
    Best,
    Mike

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      Mike,
      Thanks for your response. And don’t take mine the wrong way! I’ve read a few negative online posts about Windsor and every time I follow up, no one can supply pictures, or when they do, it’s a photo of some fascia running right down on top of a shingled roof and the end is rotted; or it’s a picture of casing on an exterior jamb butted against a concrete or asphalt driveway; or a photo of window apron rotting on the ends–where it’s butted against the casing legs and was never primed; or it’s a photo of a basement window trimmed out beautifully–about two inches from the dirt. All of which are violations of either the IRC code or common sense and long-time better building practices. Honestly, and no apologies for Windsor because most of the photos I’ve seen haven’t even been Windsor boards, but ALL wood trim will rot, especially face grain fresh growth wood, IF you provide the right environment, which is a wet condition that never dries. That’s all it takes. But remove the wet–allow the wood to dry, and it’ll last a long long time. And I’m not just saying this. Ask Kirk Grodske. he knows I used Windsor all over my shop exterior. I ran it right down to the concrete driveway–but I primed it with three coats first; I ran it right down to the dirt, but I installed it on top of a rainscreen. I wrapped the whole exterior of my shop with it, siding, trim, fascia, everything. It looks just as good today as it did when I installed it about ten years ago, and it’s only been painted once. And the material I used wasn’t their new protected product. So please excuse my skepticism. Show me some photographs, of the backs of the boards, too, and the primed end cuts, and ….I’m not kidding. I’d like to see what you’re seeing.

      Reply
  6. Ray Menard

    Here in mid-coast Maine there are “pre-primed” lumber products that sell as Windsor One “comparable” and they just AIN’T. If it doesn’t say that you can call Kurt for a T shirt on the back of the board, it is plain & simple not Windsor One & not at all an equal product. We have used W1 very happily in all sorts of situations & when cut ends are primed or epoxied & the W 1 recommended finish paint schedule is followed there have been no issues. I have been very happy using the W1 flat stock & trim for some painted indoor cabinetry too. Only complaint – the finger joint/change of gain direction is wicked hard on my edge tools.

    Haven’t watch the video yet – my wife is working on her drawing table next to me listening to Diana Krall. Wouldn’t want to disturb…

    Reply
  7. Craig A. Flynn

    Mike—

    My name is Craig Flynn, I am President & CEO at Windsor Mill. Raymond Flynn was my father, and our Windsor Mill team operates to the best of our ability to uphold and build upon the culture of quality that he created.

    I apologize that you’ve experienced problems in the field with our products; please do not hesitate to contact me directly, as we’d be more than willing to help ascertain the reasons for the rot, and assist in repair.

    CT is one of our bigger markets in the country, with dozens of dealers that support our products. We have a strong following of quality builders in the state of CT, and will always support their high-end work. Certainly we’d appreciate the opportunity to win back your business, and rebuild your confidence in WindsorONE.

    Also, please note that our WindsorONE+ Protected Trim Boards are impregnated with 5 organics that protect and give a warranty against rot, decay and insect infestation for 30 years.

    I can be contacted any time at [email protected]

    Gary, thank you again for the article. Great stuff. We’re honored.

    Ray, glad to read that you enjoy using WindsorONE. I’m curious as to this comment: “Only complaint – the finger joint/change of gain direction is wicked hard on my edge tools.” Could you perhaps drop me an e-mail, and help me better understand this challenge?

    Respectfully,
    Craig

    Reply
  8. Ray Menard

    Hi Craig,

    Yes I do like working with Windsor One – just yesterday, finished building 7 window frames with casings all of W1 for an island house.

    As for my comment that the finger joints are hard on my edge tools, that was not so much a complaint as a comparison to working with “natural” lumber. Invariably when lumber is finger jointed the grain ends up being reversed from one segment
    to the other so when hand planing or mortising for hinges in manufactured lumber one runs into that reversed grain. It is difficult to pair in the direction of the grain for a smooth effort as within the work area the grain flow is interrupted – not unlike working with gnarly oak or jatoba. Even a very sharp hand tool objects. This is just a fact of life when working finger jointed lumber. Can’t imagine that you could do anything about it. I just sharpen my edges more frequently & work a little slower.

    Regards, Ray

    Reply
  9. Spike!

    Well done Windsor One. Very nice tool room and Charlie knows his business. I’m in tooling and I believe an ex colleague of mine has or had your acct.

    Keep up the wonderful quality work.

    Reply
  10. david wahl

    This is a short message but from the heart. I want to say I was a machine operator in Windsor,Ca in the mid 80s, began shift supervisor in late 80s in willits. Ray Flynn was a man that deserved respect in so many ways. I am the man I am today in the mill industry due to Ray Flynn. I would have not taken the career path that I have taken had I not met Ray. He is a man that made you feel important and every day I came to work, I worked to please. Ray Flynn-it was a honor and pleasure to not only work for the man but to know him. Also to Craig… “I am pretty sure it was your low rider silver Toyota pick up with the tuneau cover that your dad sold me for 1 easy payment of 20.00 that I picked up in marine county while you were at college. That was the kind of man your dad was-he cared about people … your dad after all these years has also left an impression and has made an impact on my life that will last forever.

    sincerely David Wahl ,Brightwood Corp Madras Oregon 5413251932

    Reply

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