Keeping standards high and costs low have helped Phoenix, AZ-based Able Architectural Woodworks stay busy and profitable.

Able Architectural Woodworks’ owner Steve Littleton programs one of the company’s latest purchases, the BIMA 200 CNC processing center.

For Able Architectural Woodworks’ owner Steve Littleton, finding work, even in a down economy, is not problematic.

“I make more money accidentally than most people do purposely,” says Littleton. “That’s one of my sayings. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t have a sales force. Treating people right and making good deals are what I call good advertising. As a result, I have a strong customer base and their word of mouth has been beneficial.” 

Littleton started Able in 1998 after getting out of the microchip industry. The Phoenix-based company manufactures cabinets and countertops in its 10,000-square-foot facility for mostly regional clientele, including offices of Bank of America, Planned Parenthood, Lasix and the State of Arizona.

“We do plastic laminate cabinetry and solid surface countertops for commercial and residential applications,” Littleton says. “We don’t do face-frame cabinets. All of our cabinets are European 32mm dowel construction.”

Littleton cites Able’s commitment to excellence as a key ingredient in the company’s success. Everything from building cabinets, to buying new equipment and materials, to hiring new employees, is done with this in mind.

“I’m a little fanatical,” says Littleton. “I believe in quality. People have cost way out of perspective. How can you afford not to have the best? That’s my philosophy. We’re all human, but if you have the best people, the best materials and the best tooling, it minimizes the errors and mistakes. We build a premium product, with premium materials, using premium labor and premium tools.”

Littleton’s philosophy is evident in the construction of Able’s cabinets. He says that even though it might cost a little more to build them, he will not cut corners anywhere.

“Our cabinetry is built to AWI (Architectural Woodwork Institute) Premium specifications,” says Littleton. “Most people have 1/4-inch backs on their cabinets. Ours is a full 3/4 inch. No matter what cabinet it is, every cabinet that leaves here has a 3/4-inch back that is dadoed, glued and pocket screwed. The job is important to me. If we don’t do something right, we discard it and build it again.”

Some machines in Able’s shop are networked to accept information sent directly from the Cabinet Vision Solid software by Planit Solutions.

Mean Machines

Having quality equipment can become costly, but Littleton practices patience in regards to the company’s equipment purchases. “I don’t like financing, I prefer cash purchases,” he says. “I’ll do without and just work harder until I can afford it. Discipline, dedication and doing without are my three D’s.”

The company recently purchased a BIMA 200 CNC processing center from IMA. Littleton says that the experience has been positive.

“Peter Tuenker at IMA is as impressive a person as the equipment he represents,” says Littleton. “I not only purchased the BIMA 200 machining center, but also the Advantage 70 edgebander to accompany it.”

In addition to the IMA machinery, other equipment used extensively includes a Tritec/Gannomat Concept 70 case clamp, Schelling FXH 330 panel saw, a Kundig widebelt sander from Holz-Her and more.

Software Assistance

Able employs a consultant, Kanemi Suizu, to program and lay out its cabinet designs with Cabinet Vision Solid software from Planit Solutions. “Kanemi has set up my programs, my library, everything in here, and helped us network all the tools,” says Littleton. “I will get a job and call Kanemi up. She will take the blueprints home and load the program from her house or she’ll come down here with a flash drive and load it into my Cabinet Vision program.”

The company’s clients are 95 percent commercial, including schools, medical centers and offices.

According to Suizu, after the drawing, materials, cutlist and final measurement are done in Cabinet Vision, the information is sent directly to the saw for machining. “We also use parts label printouts from Cabinet Vision, and separate parts with information to do point-to-point on the BIMA or edgebanding with the IMA machine,” she adds. “The BIMA also carries the dado and bore information for each part and can also do all the special cutting.”

What’s Next?

Littleton says he does not foresee any major changes for Able in the future, but likes to keep the options open for the company. “I’m trying to [break into] component manufacturing, but not like the big boys are,” he says. “I don’t want to go full blown. My next step is to comfortably run the work that we already have with our state-of-the-art equipment. We are very competitive in the market. If I decide to go to another level, I will purchase a larger building, which I’m trying to talk myself out of, and I’ll have two lines running. I won’t change a thing, I’ll buy identical tooling. But only if customers force me into it.”

And although Littleton has thoughts of retirement in the not-so-distant future, he does not seem ready at the moment. “I’m one of those guys who has to get up early in the morning and work all day,” he says.

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