FDMC Best Pratices in Woodworking Technology and Business

Flood challenges millwork shop, provides opportunity

Karl D. Forth, karl.forth@ccimedia.net

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    Custom shop may be handling six or seven jobs at once.

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    Martin 12-foot sliding table saw was added in the custom shop for long miter cuts.

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    New layout of the caseworks building was done with the help of the people who work there.

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    Surface of a ¼-inch rift white oak door skin was scraped by hand with a tool jig made in house.

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    Hot wax: Moulder tooling is dipped in wax heated in a crock pot when not in use.

The catastrophic flood that inundated Nashville in May 2010 caused many problems, but it also gave Cumberland Architectural Millwork the opportunity to start from scratch and completely redesign its caseworks operation.

“We got all new machines, and a new layout,” president Andrew Martin says. “We knew how to get our guys involved. We had a magnetic board with little cutouts for the machines, then laid out full-scale cardboard cutouts on the floor.”

Output in terms of box count increased almost 50 percent. The new machinery itself resulted in a boost in productivity due to higher feed speeds and cycle times.
“It’s helped morale too,” Martin says. “Our people know they work in a sophisticated, well-equipped shop.”

Cumberland has two buildings near downtown Nashville, each about 22,500 square feet. The original building has custom millwork capability and offices. Across the street, the caseworks building has panel processing and finishing. It was the caseworks building, close to the Cumberland River, that suffered the greatest damage. Water reached 29 inches deep in that building, ruining everything except two Powermatic saws, which survived the riverine onslaught.

New caseworks shop 

The two main machines in the new shop are a Selco EB108 14-foot Active panel saw and a Biesse Rover A3. The Rover is used for a wide variety of boring and machining, replacing a pod-and-rail machine doused in the flood.

“Normally, if you have a panel saw, you would use a pod-and-rail, but then you can’t nest,” Martin Roberts, executive vice president, says. “We decided to keep the ability to nest. If we have a large job, we can’t interrupt the saw to put through a small job or an emergency job. With a table we can nest. We don’t do a lot of the jobs you would normally do on pod-and-rail, like doors.”

“We use it for everything. The contractors love it when we use it for radius walls and paneling. We’ll cut out the floor plates for the drywall subcontractor. We’ll do sets of plates, a top and bottom plate, that we’ll keep, and one we give to the drywall sub. We control the radius. We don’t even have to field measure it. They set it down, shoot it to the floor and plumb up their subs, we know it’s true.”

Cumberland employees created a layout with cardboard cutouts of machine footprints on the floor. They requested assistance from a Biesse engineer, who looked at the layout plan and made only one change.

Also in the caseworks shop are a Brandt edgebander, Gannomat CNC dowel inserter and Hofer case clamp. Pattern Systems software and AutoCAD are used in the caseworks operation.

The finishing shop in the same building has two booths, with top plenums that allow for side downdraft. Air comes in from the top and the overspray is drawn away from the finish piece.
Experience in custom 

In the custom shop, there may be six or seven jobs ongoin, often with one man concentrating on one job. Four people were working on a large hospital project during a recent visit. Cumberland has 56 employees, with an average of nine-and-a-half years in the shop.

“We’re the only company I know of that furnishes, finishes and installs in house,” Roberts says.

New in the custom shop is a Martin 12-foot sliding table saw used for long miter cuts. A five-head Wadkin moulder produces profiles for Cumberland’s jobs, and a vintage Baxter Whitney dual shaper had its spindles modified so the same tooling could be used here and on the moulder.

A Gannomat dowel inserter, Mini Max tilting head shaper, Homag Espana panel saw, Brandt edgebander, and 60-year-old Diehl straight-line rip saw are also used, along with a Timesavers widebelt sander that was modified in house to vary the height of the belt, measured by a small digital instrument.

A Cumberland employee developed a way of protecting moulder tooling while it was not being used. Wax is heated in a crock pot and then moulder tooling is dipped into the wax for protection. The coolness of the steel causes the wax to harden quickly. The next time that profile is needed, the wax is simply removed and tossed back into the crock pot for remelting.

Employees also built a ferris-wheel type configuration in which edgebanding spools are stored sideways on what looks like a vertical lazy susan.

Custom and casework shops are managed separately. “There are separate policies and procedures for each side,” Roberts says. “Instead of subcontracting, we can still get the boxes made in casework and trim them out in custom. If they were done as custom millwork, the company would not be able to compete for the job.”

Music City landmarks 

About 70 percent of Cumberland’s business is commercial, and 30 percent is high-end residential. Roberts says they’ve done more high-profile work than anyone else in the area, including extensive work in the famous Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast around the country on WSM Radio. Other landmarks that Cumberland has worked on include the Opryland Hotel, Wild Horse Saloon, Nashville Symphony, Cheekwood Mansion, as well as corporate headquarters, hotel restaurants, and a bankruptcy courthouse done with Frank Lloyd Wright features.

How’s business? “It’s still brutal,” Roberts says. “Right now, there are more jobs to bid on. But we’ve seen that before. There’s a lot of cash out there. Hospital work and education are strong, but I believe the education side will take a hit as state and local governments run out of money.

“We do really high-end large, residential work that smaller shops can’t handle and that work isn’t affected by the economy. “We have many competitors for casework, but only a few in millwork at this level. Any architect in town would know of us and talk to us before making a choice.”

Recent high-end residential jobs include one $2 million project that included a family room that is 40 x 20 feet with 18-foot ceilings, all in river-recovered cypress solid wood panels.

Another interior project for a private residence included a door core made from oriented-strand pressboard, with a resin-impregnated honeycomb core used to keep the overall weight down. The surface was ¼-inch rift white oak skin, scraped by hand with a tool jig made in house. (A wire-brushing machine in the custom shop is used to produce other distressed finishes.)

Cumberland specializes in jobs that other companies may have been unable to complete.

“When there is a unique, problematic or fast job, we’re probably the go-to company,” says Martin. Why? “Experience in management, facilities, policies and procedures. And the fact we haven’t let anyone down.”

September 2011

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