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.”