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Making mouldings with amore.

Inspired by Italian design and production techniques, The Williamson Co. renders its own works of art -- manufacturing wood mouldings for picture frames.

"When it comes to picture frames, the Italians are really the true masters," said John Goodson, vice president of operations for the Wayne City, Ill.-based Williamson Co. "Picture frames are a product of the Renaissance, and by historical default, the Italians are today on the cutting edge of designing and manufacturing picture frame mouldings."

Located 120 miles east of St. Louis, Mo., the 35-year-old company is more than 3,000 miles from Italy, but Italian machinery and influence in design are very evident in the company's product line. Besides looking toward the Italians for guidance, the company is using American know-how, marketing and labor to help it succeed in a market that is fraught with strong foreign competition.

Finding the right tools

Producing more than 10 million linear feet of moulding a year, the Williamson Co. offers 750 different types of mouldings; 350 of them are produced at the Wayne City factory. The remainder is imported from overseas producers. "We use mostly Appalachian ash and yellow poplar. We use ash because the grain structure resembles oak but doesn't split like oak," said Goodson. Planks are gang ripped on a Stetson/Ross gang ripsaw and moulded on either a Weinig Unimat 17A five-head, a Weinig 22A seven-head or Stetson/Ross five-head moulders. The company uses high-speed steel knives that are profiled on a Weinig 931 grinder.

"Wood picture frames are not a big woodworking industry in the U.S.," said Goodson. "There are probably a half dozen or fewer major players in the U.S. picture frame manufacturing market. This is a problem when trying to purchase machinery. Machinery manufacturers don't view our industry as big business, so why should they build the machines?"

In his search for new production machinery, Goodson went to Italy last year. "I told them (the Italians) to come to the U.S. to see if their machinery was applicable, and now their machinery has been specialized for our plant."

Some of this Italian machinery is evident in the company's sanding operation. The company has three profile sanders that operate with orbiting heads and perform lineal sanding of mouldings as well as buffing them. Two are Italian-made five-head Makor and seven-head Delle Vedove profile sanders. The company also has a Taiwanese made seven-head Shang Yih Heh profile sander. For abrasives, the company uses 3M Scotchbrite and occasionally Norton Bear-Tex nylon wheels during sanding. "We like them because they can sand thermoplastic nitrocellulose without melting it," said Goodson. "The wheels require a minimum of shaping and offer a diversity of profiles." The company also manufacturers its own distressing wheels.

Mouldings are raw wood sanded on the Delle Vedove seven-head sander to eliminate shine marks left by the moulder's chip breaker, fence and hold-down. "The seven-head sander works well on intricate mouldings because it can give two sandings in one spot on a single pass," said Goodson.

Raw wood mouldings are then sprayed in Makor spray booths with alcohol-based stains because of their quick flash-off times. Nitrocellulose sanding sealers are then applied. If a moulding design requires a special treatment, it is sent to a specific area. An antique look may require a hand patina finish, while good leafing may require a gesso underlayment. The Makor gesso machine (distributed by Derda Inc.) operates on the squeegee principle by feeding the moulding lengthwise through a gesso bath and then through a template that matches the moulding's profile. Excess coating is then squeezed from the moulding. Mouldings are finally topcoated by extrusion or sprayer with high solids lacquer.

American know-how

The company has used marketing, customer service and hard work to gain an edge of foreign competition. In the process, Williamson has doubled its workforce since 1986. Carving a lucrative niche market, the company's annual sales are approximately $20 million, according to Goodson. Williamson's expansion has occurred in spite of the recession.

"We haven't had to lay anyone off because our business is not as economically sensitive as the furniture business," said Goodson. "It's easier for people to afford $35 for a picture frame than it is to spend $3,500 for a bedroom set."

Goodson cited three other reasons why Williamson has been able to stay competitive. "First, our company has rapid turnaround where foreign competition requires long lead times," he said. "Second, we don't require a letter of credit from our customer. And finally, we have the recognition of our product being made in the U.S.A."

A hard working group of 150 employees are what Goodson credits as the final ingredient to the company's success. "We chose to do business in this community because the quality of employees and their productivity helps keep costs lower. The single greatest factor is these people don't understand the word lazy."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Williamson Co. manufactures wood mouldings for picture frames
Author:Derning, Sean
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Architectural woodworkers toeing the line on costs.
Next Article:Drawers you can bank on.

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