‘Simple’ Shop Does Top-Grade Work
A small Idaho shop makes a big name for itself providing local builders with high-quality custom woodwork for the whole house.
By Helen Kuhl
Brent Carpender is quiet and unassuming when he says that his company, C.B.H. Woodworking, is a small, unremarkable shop “with just 8 employees and regular equipment; nothing special.” But as he flips through his portfolio and describes the type of work the company does, it becomes apparent that it is anything but unremarkable; it’s quite impressive.
Located in Meridian, ID, just outside of Boise, C.B.H. is a custom woodworking shop started in 1994 by Carpender’s partner, Herb Lee, in his garage. At the time, C.B.H. stood for “Cabinets by Herb.” But when Carpender joined him in 1995, Lee jokes that it became the acronym for “Cabinets by Brent and Herb.” Either way, it is now a name recognized by local builders as standing for reliable quality.
Lee and Carpender met while working for another cabinet shop, but neither was happy there. After they joined forces, combining their woodworking skills and previous customer contacts, they built up their own business without much difficulty. In fact, they grew almost too well. At one time, C.B.H. had as many as 14 employees, with plenty of work to stay busy. But Carpender says that managing that large a work force, which grew very quickly, was problematic. So they decided to scale back and stay at their current size.
“We experienced growing pains, trying to grow the business end of the company to match the growth in production and employees. We found that building woodwork was the easy part; the other end was hard,” he says. “When we were twice as big, it wasn’t fun for anybody. We kind of got out of our element. We are much better at our size now.”
The company has always specialized in residential cabinetry for high-end homes and does most of its work through builders. The homes it works on range from $850,000 up to $5 million; its typical projects are in the $120,000 range. A lot of it is new construction, with some remodeling, and annual sales are about $750,000. Carpender says that he and Lee always focused on the high-end market to avoid competing with modular cabinet companies and the “big boxes.”
“All the shops Herb and I had worked in were higher-end and that’s what we knew,” Carpender says. “We also knew that there were many cabinet shops out there that did a modular-type cabinet, and we didn’t want to compete with them. We just wanted to be more specialized.”
The whole house, done in-house
When Carpender says that most jobs involve woodwork for the entire house, it is not an idle phrase. Not only does the shop do cabinetry for kitchens, baths and built-in units throughout the house, such as entertainment centers and bookcases, it also does extensive millwork, including mouldings, casements, columns, arches, passage doors, mantels, stairs and paneled libraries, complete with coffered ceilings. It also builds stand-alone furniture pieces, such as dining room sets, coffee tables and bedroom furniture.
“We do everything,” Carpender says. “It is pretty much anything out of wood.”
The woodwork is top quality, almost all done in-house to maintain maximum control. This includes cabinet doors, which are mostly face-frame and done with pocket screws, and drawers, which are mostly dovetailed. The company applies wood edges to all its shelves, by hand, because Carpender feels that this gives the best edge. Although C.B.H. buys some decorative items from Raymond E. Enkeboll Designs, it does most of its own turnings and carvings in-house as well.
The company also does all its own installation to ensure total quality and minimize problems, Carpender says. “Our product is at its most expensive state when it goes out for installation. We hired out the installation a couple of times, and it just didn’t get done right. We don’t want to have that be an issue, so we just take care of it ourselves.”
Similarly, the company does all its finishing in-house, at a separate facility about two miles from the main shop. “For insurance reasons, we find it easier to have a separate facility. But the finishers are our employees, not contract workers,” Carpender says. “We feel that we need to do it ourselves, just for quality control. If you hire it out, you run into problems.”
The finishing shop is about 1,200 square feet with one spray booth. The company uses Binks airless sprayers, but most stains are applied by hand. Finishing is an important part of C.B.H.’s work, Carpender adds, and it is proficient in all types of specialty finishes, especially glazes and crackles.
Specialty finishes to create “antique-ish” looks often come into play because a lot of the projects done by the company are in a rustic style, especially for the resort-area homes. The shop also does a lot of traditional-style cabinetry and casework, featuring elaborate ornamentation. Most projects are in solid wood, although C.B.H. does some veneer work. Most of its lumber and veneers are supplied by Lumber Products, which has several locations in the West.
One outsource exception
“We both were outgrowing our space, so we moved into the shop next door to get more room for ourselves and let Arrow expand as well,” Carpender says. “There is no reason for us to do mouldings ourselves when we work so well with them.”
Arrow’s shop, equipped with a Wadkin five-head moulder, a Pinheiro gang-rip two-sided surface planer from Auburn Machinery Inc. and a Timesavers widebelt sander, complements the equipment at C.B.H., which includes a Casolin sliding table saw and Casolin F90 shaper, both from Adwood Corp. C.B.H. also has a CanTek widebelt sander, Powermatic drill press, Jet oscillating spindle sander, a Ritter face-frame boring and clamp table, and a 20-inch planer, small shaper and dust collector from Grizzly Industrial.
With its recent move, C.B.H. now has about 7,500 square feet. The expanded space added some production area and also gives the company more room for offices and a showroom. With remodeling still underway, the showroom currently features several samples of door styles and finishes, in addition to shop-built high-end office furniture and casework, in a rustic style. Carpender hopes to add some kitchen displays and millwork items, such as columns and archways, to give customers more examples of the company’s capabilities, as well as ideas for their own designs.
C.B.H. also maintains an extensive portfolio of past projects, showing the breadth of its work. “We have always tried to keep pictures of our work, just so people can get an idea of what we do, in that we can’t have a showroom of all we do,” Carpender says. “Our work is so custom, it’s hard to put it into a display.”
Most work comes steadily from several builders with whom C.B.H. has developed good relationships over the years. While the company has to bid its jobs, Carpender says that it is done just to give builders costs to quote to homeowners and not as part of a selection process. “We haven’t had to go out and look for work so far,” he says. “We have done a good job for our builders, and they continue to use us.”
More often than not, builders put C.B.H. in touch with the homeowner and they work together direct. Lee handles most of the company’s customer-related duties, while Carpender is in charge of the shop and production-related tasks. They both collaborate on design issues, and Lee generates shop drawings on Generic CAD. Lee’s wife, Cindy, also is a partner in the company and takes care of business matters.
While there are three formal partners, Carpender says that they consider all of their employees as partners and try to treat them with that level of respect. This is not only because they need employees with skill levels higher than most other shops and want to retain good workers, but also because their former work experience makes them sensitive to such issues.
“It really has a lot to do with why Herb and I got going in the first place. We had worked for other people and got tired of how we were treated,” Carpender says. “We would not be much without our employees, so we try to treat them as we would expect ourselves to be treated.”
The partners are equally thoughtful when it comes to their customers. “We want to do work as good as we can and make it a good value for our customers without skimping on quality,” Carpender says. “There are a thousand different ways to build something and get to the same place. We want to make it affordable for customers and for us to make some money.
“That’s how we got started,” he adds. “I don’t think we ever envisioned getting rich; it wasn’t about money. It was about getting to do it our way and making a good environment for our employees.”
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