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    The small cabinet shop

    With about 75% completion of the cabinets for my new house, my builder asked for a bid to do furniture grade cabinets for a 4,000 sq ft home with construction starting in April. I gave him an estimate, from both me and a professional long standing cabinet shop. Not sure if I want to do this out of my shop though.

    My experience doing this for my own home:

    The carcasses are the easy part until they are assembled. Then the rest for the "one man" shop becomes a challenge. Moving them around, retrieving them for finish construction and finish spraying is not that easy when working alone. It's really a two man job.

    How many of you run small shops and how do you do it?

    I have no onverhead, no debt, but if I get into this venture I will need a partner and do it on a profit sharing basis as I do not want to be an employer and rather enjoy the freedom of retirement without fixed income.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Merry Christmas will pm you

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Willem,

    I don't have a production shop, but I've built plenty of cabinets and a couple kitchens, so I believe I can make relative comments from that perspective.

    As you've already noted, the issues for me were material handling, workflow, storage, & finishing. Production efficiency is related to those 3 things + experience. The bottom line is to make a profit and meet a deadline. I know a couple guys with one man shops & both have quit doing kitchens. One had to rent a mini storage to store boxes. Climate controlled unit cost him $125/month. The other got inundated with jobs from a builder. He is in his 70's and couldn't do it anymore. Had a lot of trouble finding help. Hard to compete with high efficiency commercial cabinet shops.

    Design is another area. If you can get a kitchen designer to do that job, I think its worth it.

    If you have a deadline for the build, that can keep you in the shop 16 hours a day, and keep you up at night, too. Not a great way to spend a retirement.

    IMO finishing is THE biggest factor in cabinet making. It is what people see first and what they judge your work on. A production shop needs a dedicated paint room. As painted cabs seem to be the style nowadays that's going to be a major factor. Much higher level of fit and finish than natural wood - very time consuming. I would consider sending them to a commercial paint shop, which cuts into your profit considerably.

    Installation is another factor, again relates to your own physical ability and availability of help.

    So I guess I'm sounding discouraging, but it is doable if you can address the issues, get some knowledgeable help, meet a deadline, and do a clean install.

    Other factors to consider are liability insurance (needed if installing cabs), licensing, and establishing yourself as a business with local suppliers. There is also the initial outlay for materials. And hardware can cost as much as the cabs. So what I'm saying here is you have to be very organized and to a lot of initial work to build an estimate.

    The unknown is labor time, which will work out as time goes you know how long it takes.

    Sorry for the long post, I'll sum up by saying a kitchen may not be the best project to start with, but if you have the skills and mind and body for it, go for it!
    Last edited by Rwe2156; 12-27-2018 at 12:41 PM.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    There are some really cool cabinet jacks available for one-man installations. I had many cabinet installers on my jobs over 25 years, but the best one used air tools powered by co2 tanks. He had a portable table saw, a jigsaw, a couple of sanders and drill motors plus a vacuum. All other tools were air tools. Everything fit in a few plastic bins he wheeled in with a hand truck. My take is that you could do better in an area where dependable installers are few than in a metro area where they are more numerous.
    When I installed the cabinets in our retirement home, the manufacturer's rep came to look at two doors that were problematic. He offered me a job within 5 minutes, but knowing about what they would pay, I had no interest in gearing up for that.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Quote Originally Posted by Rwe2156 View Post
    Willem,

    I don't have a production shop, but I've built plenty of cabinets and a couple kitchens, so I believe I can make relative comments from that perspective.

    As you've already noted, the issues for me were material handling, workflow, storage, & finishing. Production efficiency is related to those 3 things + experience. The bottom line is to make a profit and meet a deadline. I know a couple guys with one man shops & both have quit doing kitchens. One had to rent a mini storage to store boxes. Climate controlled unit cost him $125/month. The other got inundated with jobs from a builder. He is in his 70's and couldn't do it anymore. Had a lot of trouble finding help. Hard to compete with high efficiency commercial cabinet shops.

    Design is another area. If you can get a kitchen designer to do that job, I think its worth it.

    If you have a deadline for the build, that can keep you in the shop 16 hours a day, and keep you up at night, too. Not a great way to spend a retirement.

    IMO finishing is THE biggest factor in cabinet making. It is what people see first and what they judge your work on. A production shop needs a dedicated paint room. As painted cabs seem to be the style nowadays that's going to be a major factor. Much higher level of fit and finish than natural wood - very time consuming. I would consider sending them to a commercial paint shop, which cuts into your profit considerably.

    Installation is another factor, again relates to your own physical ability and availability of help.

    So I guess I'm sounding discouraging, but it is doable if you can address the issues, get some knowledgeable help, meet a deadline, and do a clean install.

    Other factors to consider are liability insurance (needed if installing cabs), licensing, and establishing yourself as a business with local suppliers. There is also the initial outlay for materials. And hardware can cost as much as the cabs. So what I'm saying here is you have to be very organized and to a lot of initial work to build an estimate.

    The unknown is labor time, which will work out as time goes you know how long it takes.

    Sorry for the long post, I'll sum up by saying a kitchen may not be the best project to start with, but if you have the skills and mind and body for it, go for it!
    Excellent input, thanks.
    I think my biggest challenges are that I am a period style furniture builder and I don’t know how to build inexpensive pieces.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Questions as per b4 call b4 jumping into the pond

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Willem, We cut cabinets for other shops. All custom with design software to provide floor plans, elevations and perspectives. Can provide RTA or assembled and finishing. All work CNC cut to 1/32nds. Finishing and material handleing will be your bottlenecks. Whole house cabinet shop not for the weak of heart or back. Welcome to reach out with questions. Website in signature.
    Robb Parker Heritage Woodwright llc www.heritagewoodwright.com

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Quote Originally Posted by Robb Parker View Post
    Willem, We cut cabinets for other shops. All custom with design software to provide floor plans, elevations and perspectives. Can provide RTA or assembled and finishing. All work CNC cut to 1/32nds. Finishing and material handleing will be your bottlenecks. Whole house cabinet shop not for the weak of heart or back. Welcome to reach out with questions. Website in signature.
    Thanks Rob!
    If I had to do this commercially, there are a lot of short cuts to save time compared to this build. Absolutely agree, not for the weak of heart!!
    A very different experience compared to building one piece of furniture at a time.
    I found the case goods the easy fast part. My bottlenecks were milling all the pieces from rough lumber and cutting to exact size. Those being face frames, door rails and stiles, raised panels for the doors and gluing up. The drawers milling all the pieces to exact size and dovetails probably took the most time.

    I don’t use a wide belt, door panels were raised (proud of rails and stiles) and done on a drum sander before assembling doors.

    Hand machine sanding, de-dusting, spraying the wash coat, sanding again, de-dusting again and final second coat for a four drawer cabinet with raised panel drawer fronts takes me 1/2 a day, including fitting all the hardware and assembly. That is using pre-finished ply for case internals and drawer bottoms. It means taping some of the pre finished materials. Spraying is fast, I use a high solids conversion varnish needing only two coats. It is the preparation and moving things around that takes a lot of time.
    Last edited by Willemjm; 01-01-2019 at 07:10 AM.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Quote Originally Posted by Willemjm View Post
    Excellent input, thanks.
    I think my biggest challenges are that I am a period style furniture builder and I don’t know how to build inexpensive pieces.
    Well, we'er a lot alike, and as I approach retirement, I'm also thinking of a way to make a little money with what I know and what I can do.

    But, your talking about THE toughest ww'ing business model. Issue #1 you have to have a market, which for period furniture reproductions, means for me means wealthy people, connections, cosmopolitan area, and lots of patience.

    I think antique furniture repair is one way to get your foot in the door with the target market.

    Near me is a city with 1,000,000 people. There is one big historic area where there is a farmers/arts market twice a month. As a way to get started, I've thought about loading up a few pieces of furniture and put them on display.

    So I guess what I'm saying is having a portfolio, a website and a Facebook page are given priorities.

    But there are guys out there doing it successfully.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Quote Originally Posted by Rwe2156 View Post
    Well, we'er a lot alike, and as I approach retirement, I'm also thinking of a way to make a little money with what I know and what I can do.

    But, your talking about THE toughest ww'ing business model. Issue #1 you have to have a market, which for period furniture reproductions, means for me means wealthy people, connections, cosmopolitan area, and lots of patience.

    I think antique furniture repair is one way to get your foot in the door with the target market.

    Near me is a city with 1,000,000 people. There is one big historic area where there is a farmers/arts market twice a month. As a way to get started, I've thought about loading up a few pieces of furniture and put them on display.

    So I guess what I'm saying is having a portfolio, a website and a Facebook page are given priorities.

    But there are guys out there doing it successfully.
    Unfortunately, building high end custom furniture is someting one has to do for the love of it. The time and materials are just not competitive with mass production coming mostly from Asia. There are probably numerous artisans in Asia, very skilled making less than $1 per hour and then there is the economy of scale when a prototype enters mass production.

    Building cabinets are not very rewarding, however the last time I looked it was a $7 billion industry, still with a large portion made locally. The 2-3 man small shop still has potential, as long as one does not expect six figure salaries.

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    Re: The small cabinet shop

    Yes it does. There are people out there (think Millennials ;-) who are a philosophically "anti-corporate" and prefer to do business in the mom & pop area. Hence the proliferation of boutique coffee shops and breweries all over the nation. When (if) they every buy a house, many of them are more likely to look for a small cabinet shop than go to Home Depot.

    in I know a couple guys, one man shops, who do OK with cabinet work. Lots of built ins, very little kitchens, vanities, etc.

    One guy also does a few tables, mostly conference tables. No chairs.

    I asked my one friend how he got started. He was a carpenter for years and got proficient at building cabinets back in the days when they were built on site by the real "pro" carpenters. He maintained his connections with a few builders and started building them in his home shop. He's never advertised, all work of mouth. He's been doing it for 30 years & now well into his 70's and always has work lined up.

    There are guys out there building the high end custom furniture, but you have to figure out the market and be young, vigorous and too naive to think you can fail. LOL.

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