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Time is money

In woodshops, the same employees tend to work on the same parts of the process every time. This not only trains in-house experts, but it also breaks the construction sequence into a number of logical, self-contained steps.

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Perhaps one employee cuts all the panels while another is making face frames or handles the spray booth. However the work is divided, it gives the shop manager a unique opportunity to evaluate how long each step takes. That helps create a picture of what’s being done efficiently. But it also reveals what isn’t happening as quickly as it should be. After identifying the speed bumps, extra training or new equipment may help. However, it could be more efficient to simply eliminate some steps.

More and more shops are turning to specialized suppliers to deliver their cabinet doors, drawer bodies, drawer fronts, and even moldings and accents. Outsourcing these parts can dramatically increase output and, in most cases, even though the production process gets shorter, the cost goes down.

Savings can add up

Customer service representative Walter Stephenson has been with the Cabinet Door Shop in Hot Springs, Ark., since 1986. The company makes hardwood and glass doors, drawer fronts, dovetailed hardwood drawer boxes and other casework elements for custom furniture and cabinet shops across the U.S.

“We make it very easy for cabinetmakers to save time,” he says. “Simply send us your dimensions, species and style, and we’ll give you a quote that includes shipping. Because we specialize, we’re extremely efficient and that allows us to pass some savings on to woodshops. Frankly, it’s hard to see why every shop doesn’t buy in their drawers and doors.”

The company’s website is laid out in a format that quickly becomes familiar to any shop buyer looking at outsourcing. Almost all of these sites tell the customer how to measure overall sizes, overlays, reveals and other elements, so both the woodworker and supplier are speaking the same language. Most sites offer an online menu of door edge profiles, raised panel profiles, and stile and rail shapes — all with illustrations.

Basket weave island legs, available from Osborne Wood Products.

Most suppliers can do square, bead, ogee and chamfer frames to complement four or five different panel edges. Some companies can even mill and install custom moldings on flat panel doors. And almost every supplier offers milled finger-pull edges, mitered stile and rail construction, reverse panels (where the panel is recessed in front and flush with the frame on the back), and a variety of glass muntin grids and mullions. A muntin separates panes of glass, while a mullion separates window units.

Many of the door and drawer suppliers have been in business for a long time and, because they specialize in components, order errors are rare. WalzCraft, a 300-employee supplier based in La Crosse, Wis., makes custom cabinet doors, drawer boxes, moldings, components and accessories, both finished and unfinished. Its customers are small-to-medium cabinet shops, closet builders and kitchen refacing companies from all over the country. According to sales and marketing rep Bradley Walz, the company will “build you one door, or a thousand.” It offers six categories of products online, including curved doors. There are dozens of finishes and species available, and they also offer a huge selection of corbels, plinths, moldings, crowns, legs and pilasters.

Go to the source

When searching for a component supplier, there is a distinction between manufacturers (wholesale) and distributors (retail). For example, woodworking catalog companies often offer custom components, but they are simply passing along your order to a manufacturer for a fee and not actually making parts in-house. Dealing direct is generally more cost-effective.

Outsourcing sources A Lewis Mfg, 2730C Loch Raven Road, Baltimore, MD 21218. Tel: 800-969-2212. Adams Wood Products Inc., P. O. Box 728, Morristown, TN 37815-0728. Tel: 423-587-2942. CabParts Inc., 716 Arrowest Road, Grand Junction, CO 81505. Tel: 970-241-7682. Cabinet Door Shop, 104 Bratton Dr., Hot Springs, AR 71901. Tel: 501-262-5100. CCF Industries, 4716 Pennsylvania Route 66, Apollo, PA 15613. Tel: 800-581-3683. Classic Designs by Matthew Burak, 84 Central St., St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Tel: 800-748-3480. Castlewood by AMS. Tel: 800-346-4042. Drawer Connection Inc., 1936 N. Higley Road, Mesa, AZ 85205. Tel: 877-917-4887. Eagle Bay Cabinet Doors & Drawers, 203 Cress Run, Oviedo, FL 32765. Tel: 800-229-1769. Elias Woodwork & Mfg. Ltd, 275 Badger Ave., Winkler, Manitoba, R6W. Tel: 800-665-0623. Glacial Wood Products Inc., 410 Railway Ave., Brooten, MN 56316. Tel: 800-804-6885. Josef’s Art Woodturning & Son Inc., 71 Sewell St., Hempstead, NY 11550. Tel: 877-529-7462. Keystone Wood Specialities, P.O. Box 10127, Lancaster, PA 17605-0127. Tel: 800-233-0289. Kitchen & Bath Design News. Tel: 800-308-6397. New England Drawer, 592 Lafayette Road, Hampton, NH 03842. Tel: 603-926-2588. Osborne Wood Products Inc., 4618 Highway 123 North, Toccoa, GA 30577. Tel: 800-849-8876. WalzCraft Industries Inc., P.O. Box 1748, La Crosse, WI 54602-1748. Tel: 800-237-1326. Western Dovetail Inc., P.O. Box 1592, Vallejo, CA 94590. Tel: 707-556-3683.

Some of the larger parts manufacturers include CabParts, Eagle Bay, Elias, CCF Industries, Drawer Connection, Keystone Wood Specialties and Western Dovetail.

A team member feeds hard maple raised panel doors to an orbital Fladder sander at the WalzCraft factory in La Crosse, Wis.

Western Dovetail was founded in 1993 by Max Hunter and has grown steadily through the years, in large part because of innovative marketing. At industry shows, the staff man their booth dressed in period costumes, playing on the Western theme. One of their recent product innovations is the addition of angled dovetails, which means that drawers can now be dovetailed at almost any angle and even on curved fronts, making for some ingenious solutions to corner cabinets, odd shapes and other special needs. They have just introduced an expanded line of recycling pullouts, again designed to fit almost any shape or space.

There are also a number of very specific component suppliers who make parts other than doors and drawers. These include Adams Wood Products, a supplier of bed posts and finials, pedestal, chair and table legs, table pedestals and bun feet; Classic Designs by Matthew Burak, a supplier of furniture legs; Glacial Wood Products, a stair parts supplier; Josef’s Art Woodturning & Son, which makes carved and turned architectural millwork, and Osborne Wood Products, a producer of table and kitchen island legs, corbels and brackets, and cabinet feet.

There is a comprehensive, searchable listing of cabinet component manufacturers on Kitchen & Bath Design News’s website. And many of the factory cabinet manufacturers who supply big-box retail stores also offer drawer and door programs to custom shops.

What’s new?

Component suppliers are constantly bringing new product to market. For example, Keystone has introduced its new KAM-7049 applied molding door, which has a flat panel constructed from a Canadian white aspen core with two outer crossbands of high-quality MDF, and completed with domestic face and back veneers. “Lighter in weight than MDF alone, the panel offers void-free engineering and a calibrated core, superior moisture resistance and enhanced screw holding. The edges are trimmed with a matching applied molding,” says the company.

Osborne Wood Products has recently expanded its line of half-round moldings, now available in 10 wood species and two sizes (2” and 3-1/2”), and products to enhance their look. “We have spools and splices that allow [shops] to easily and beautifully join lengths of half round molding without having to get involved in difficult and time-consuming wood membering work,” says the company. “We also offer plinths with spools that can provide an attractive termination point for half-round molding. And we offer selections of appropriately sized capitals, ends and finials with which to finish the tops of the half rounds when called for.”

Castlewood by AMS has introduced birch plywood drawer sides, made from 1/2” thick, C-2 grade white birch plywood and a factory-applied protective clear UV finish. The drawer sides feature a tight birch core that is free from voids, core overlaps and is CARB compliant, according to the company. The drawer side blanks come in 96” lengths with the top edgebanded and heights from 2” to 12”. The drawer blanks are grooved to accept up to a 5mm drawer bottom.

Classic Designs by Matthew Burak now offers milling services for table legs, columns and bun feet. “Notching conceals face-frame edges and products case corners on furniture-style cabinetry, or we’ll split a column to use as an onlay for mantels or cabinet faces. Customers can save hours of labor and their risk of costly cutting mistakes disappears. Accuracy is guaranteed to be error-free,” says the company.

A. Lewis Manufacturing Co. has added 1/4” turned rope molding, available in full and half round. Several sizes are also produced in quarter round, which can be cut for outside corner trim. “We have been offering a beautiful beaded rope for quite some time,” says owner Lewis Goldman. “Our ropes are generally kept on hand and can be shipped quickly. As with all of our products, embossed wood, cut dentil moldings and rosettes, rope is available in all Appalachian hardwoods, alder, mahogany and New England pine.”

Quick turnaround

The key to outsourcing is not simply the amount of money that can be saved by ordering cabinet parts (instead of paying for the shop time and labor to make them in house). By reducing the number of steps in the construction process, outsourcing also creates more time in the shop. That extra time can be used to do more of what the shop already does efficiently, so the bottom line is not just saving money, but often an increase in the shop’s net income per hour.

There are some concerns about outsourcing that a shop manager might want to consider. These include having someone on staff who can cope with and hopefully avoid rudimentary mistakes such as sizing doors incorrectly; finding a supplier who will work with color and grain matching within a species; and asking the manufacturer for a list of current clients/references who can be contacted.

But perhaps the major concern for custom shops is turnaround time. There’s not much point in saving shop time if an otherwise complete job has to wait for outsourced components to arrive. Fortunately, turnaround time on most orders is remarkably short. A shop can often have a set of doors in hand as quickly as two or three weeks after the order is placed.

Some companies, such as New England Drawer, stress this aspect of customer service. While its standard delivery is two weeks, and rush orders are delivered in a week (10 percent upcharge), it also offers “extreme” delivery, which is just a three-day turnaround (25 percent upcharge). By the way, it also says “if you can name a hardwood, we can build a drawer from it.”

A WalzCraft team member sizes and profiles a five-piece hard maple raised panel door for a cabinet shop that outsources drawers and doors.

For almost all jobs requiring multiple components (from a complete kitchen to a simple two-drawer dresser), having somebody else do the slow work is a viable option. As with all business relationships, it takes a few orders to learn how the supplier works. This includes how they deal with shipping damage or color-match problems, what their standard species/materials are for various components such as drawer sides or bottoms, and even how thick they make drawer bottoms or door panels. Be sure to ask about topcoats, too, as the outsourced parts need to match the cabinet boxes.

The bottom line on outsourcing is that an informed and well-organized buyer can use it to improve the shop’s quality, add options to the product line, cut costs and speed up production.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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