Like many woodworkers, Richard’s love for the craft was borne as an offshoot for his innate artistic ability, which he embraced from an early age. “I was always using an X-ACTO knife to make carvings in spare pieces of oak, and believe it or not, I still have some of those pieces inthe shop today,” he remembered fondly.
However, Richard will tell you his woodworking career officially began when he inherited his grandmother's carving tools. It was this set of tools that provided the spark to combine his creative passion with his infatuation for woodcraft. Over the years, Richard began to add to his tool collection and hone his craft to a point where he had paying customers.
In 1972, with help from his family, Richard opened "Woods & Works" in downtown Santa Barbara, California. “I remember taking all of the money we made from selling the house we owned with my parents' help, about $6,000, to buy hand tools for the shop,” said Richard. “I also had great support and encouragement from my family, as they understood my passion for the craft.”
From this outpost as a one-man shop, Richard did a majority of his workfor local restaurants, creating signage and custom interior work that quickly established him as a favorite for locals in the area.
But even with these initial signs of long-term success, “Woods & Works” closed its doors after just four years, leaving Richard to make choicesthat would go on to impact the rest of his life.
When Richard’s first endeavor into a sustainable, paying woodworking career ended in 1976, he faced a tough decision: join the family businessor continue with his passion for woodworking.
Richard weighed the idea of joining the rank and file and reaping the benefits that would come with it. On one hand, he would have the security of joining his grandfather and four siblings in the family’s metal machinery business by serving as the company’s freight manager. This meant regular paychecks, health benefits and more time with his family. On the other hand, it would mean giving up on a career that had barely started, but already meant so much to him. In the end, Richard decided to stay true to his passion and continue with his woodworking career.
“While it wasn’t an easy decision by any means, it was the decision for me,” said Richard. “I was single, didn’t have any kids, so I decided to continue to pursue my craft.”
It was at this point that Richard decided a change of scenery was needed. He moved nearly 1,000 miles northeast to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he spent the next 10 years building a successful cabinet and furniture- making business. He once even remodeled a bathroom for a billionaire real estate and business magnate.
Business was good, and his personal life was going equally as well. In fact, by the end of 1982, just six short years after landing in Sun Valley,Richard had a thriving business and was married with two young kids—his son Ryan and daughter Meagan. But after 10 years in Sun Valley, Richard decided it was time to move the family and business back to California.
By the time Richard opened Pacific Millworks in 1986, Ryan was a curious 7-year-old tinkering around his father’s shop. Before long he was sweeping up around the shop to earn his weekly allowance.
“Hanging around the shop just really felt natural to me,” said Ryan. “My dad never made me feel as if it was something I had to do. I enjoyed it.”
Ryan chuckled before he recounted a time where a little meddling around the shop turned slightly mischievous. “I think my dad was out surfing, and I found his hacksaw laying around the shop. Let’s just say I had a lot of fun that afternoon.” Turns out, Ryan spent the entire afternoon sawing the steering wheel to the family’s car into small pieces.
Ryan quickly moved on from pilfering his father’s hand tools and purchased his own set of power tools, starting with his very own sander.
From there, he created his first project—a set of drawers. And, by the time he was in high school, Ryan was officially working part-time in the shop.
Before long, the fun-filled days of high school had passed and Ryan was headed to college at nearby Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He went on to graduate with a degree in industrial technology but found that he still craved the woodshop. So in 2002, Ryan began working full-time at Pacific Millworks.
“I really learned a lot through those years working so closely with my dad,” said Ryan.“There was a definite learning curve, but we always had a good time in the shop.”
Richard remembers those years with the same fondness as Ryan, recollecting how he used to facetiously wish for a clone so that he could getto all the things that needed to be done.
“I didn't get a clone, but I got a son who shares my DNA and my passion for the craft. It couldn’t get any better,” Richard said proudly.
For the next four years, Ryan worked at Pacific Millworks helping his dad fabricate and install custom doors, signs and millwork. Then in 2006, with support from his dad, Ryan left for a two-year stint in Australia where he worked as foreman of a cabinet door factory.
“Coming from a background where we made custom products, it was an interesting lesson to see some of the efficiencies that came with production building. It was quite the experience.”
After returning to the states in 2008, Ryan became an official partner in the family business. From that point, the father and son team has worked together designing, building and overseeing all of Pacific Millworks’ custom projects.
“Dad still does a lot of the work on the design side,but it’s definitely a collaborative effort between us both when we’re in the shop or on-site for an installation,” said Ryan.
As father and son, the synergy between the pair has unquestionably been nurtured by more than just time in the shop—family and spending time outdoors also play a large role in their lives.
If they’re not in the shop, Ryan and Richard are likely surfing, mountain biking or spending time with their families around California’s Central Coast.
In fact, it’s these experiences that the duo drawsupon for inspiration for their work. “A lot of ourpieces are influenced by our natural surroundingshere in California,” said Richard.“Living in thispart of the country, it’s hard not to be inspiredby nautical elements, like the shorelines, wavesand boats.”
In the early 2000s, Pacific Millworks expanded to its current larger, more modern, woodworking facility in Atascadero, California. This location features a variety of state-of-the-art milling equipment, including a 5'x10' CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router.
For someone who entered woodworking witha modest set of hand-me-down carving tools,it may be hard to believe that Richard would embrace today’s technology.
“The CNC router has really expanded our capabilities and has allowed us to meet nearly any design need a client may have. It’s the new age of woodworking,” said Richard.
But even as unapologetic devotees of digital fabrication, Richard and Ryan recognize the importance of high-quality power tools.
“I’ve seen tools really progress over the last 40 years, some better than others,” says the eldest Blackburn. The two rank Festool power tools right at the top of their list.
“We’ve used the Festool track saw to cut the bottom and top of every door for over 16 years,” said Richard. “The only thing we had to replace is the cord.”
Ryan goes on to echo that sentiment. “We, of course, use other tools, but the quality and precision of Festool products really stand out. They truly help us build high-grade pieces.”
These days, Pacific Millworks’ exquisite, custom-made doors grace the entryways, foyers, kitchens and dens of some of the nicest homes in the country. The company also specializes in architectural accent pieces that are true works of art, as well as custom signs and millwork that are on display at several local bars and eateries.
However, one of the pair’s favorite jobs was adoor design and installation project for therenovation of Tooth & Nail Winery. The 20,000-square-foot winery, which replicates a medieval European castle, is sprawled along scenic Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, California.
To keep with the winery’s old-world European look and feel, Richard and Ryan created a pair of 14-foot-tall wooden castle doors made from rough wire-brushed cedar that serve as a welcome sign for all visitors.
The doors also helped the owners of Tooth &Nail solve a functional problem they encounteredwith the previous entryway: while the doors were massive and impressive, they were so big that they needed to be propped open to avoid patrons getting pinched by them. In doing so, cool air from the air conditioning unit escaped through the front doors, resulting in massive electricity bills.
As a solution, the team took inspiration from old church doors often seen in Europe that feature large fixed-wood doors with smaller operable doors set within.
“It was a large-scale project with a huge entry system that took a lot of hard work,” said Ryan. “But, it’s one that we are so proud of, and it certainly ranks as one of our career highlights.”
Today, Pacific Millworks crosses two generations of the Blackburn family and spans decades of experience. Founded as an outlet for one man’s
creative passion but bonded by the lovebetween a father and son, Pacific Millworks has progressed from a small, one-man shop to one of the top custom woodworking outfits in San Luis Obispo County.
Asked what the future might hold for Pacific Millworks, Ryan optimistically replied, “I look forward to the possibility of one day working with my young daughter here in the shop, maybepass along a few of the things that I have learnedthroughout the years.”
After all, that’s the real story of Pacific Millworks—a shop founded on fatherhood, craftsmanship and doing things the right way.
Products used in this video
DOMINO joinersThe game-changer for joinery, the DOMINO lets craftsmen make strong, durable, complex joints in record time. It's hard to understate the impact that the DOMINO has had on woodworkers. Learn more
KAPEX sliding compound miter sawThe KAPEX is the most advanced sliding compound miter saw in the market today. In the hands of a carpenter, this saw will make cuts that rival the finest trim work being done today. Learn more
Cordless Hybrid SandersThe ETSC 125, RTSC 400, and DTSC 400 function both as cordless and corded sanders — providing craftsmen the freedom to work in whatever way is best for each project. Learn more