October 2005

Increased Automation, Increased Productivity

Chesnick Corp.'s new equipment moves projects through the shop more quickly.

By Hannah Miller
Chesnick Corp.

Raleigh, NC


Year Founded: 1985

Employees: 20

Shop Size: 30,000 sq. ft.

FYI: The company took advantage of favorable pricing and purchased more than $250,000 in new equipment in 2003-4.

Attractive equipment prices created by the recent economic downturn gave Raleigh, NC, architectural millwork company Chesnick Corp. the chance it had been waiting for.

"We got a lot more automated," says president and owner, Mark Chesnick.

In 2003 and 2004, the 20-year-old company, specializing in custom commercial architectural millwork, took advantage of favorable prices and invested more than $250,000 in computerized machinery. By replacing manual tasks with computer-driven automation, it has been able to save both time and money, says Chesnick.

"We want to stay on top of technology because that's what's keeping us in the game," he says. Chesnick Corp., which has $4 million in annual sales, specializes in upfitting and rehabbing Class-A office spaces.

Purchases included a Homag SawTech Profiline CHF 51 beam saw from Altendorf America. The saw works off a cutlist created by Chesnick and vice president/project manager, Charlie Lingenfelser. It cuts parts and prints identification labels that are attached to each part. The labels, listing a part's name, job name, work number and whether it requires edgebanding, enable anybody in the shop to return it to its place in the production lineup if it should go astray, Chesnick says.

For this lawyer's office, Chesnick used cherry to create paneling, columns, a reception desk, a credenza, framing for a window wall and library bookcases.

Other new purchases include an Opti-Sand denibber that Chesnick uses in two operations. It makes the first pass at mouldings, smoothing sharp edges before finishing, and then re-sands the piece after sealing. Because it has made that first pass, there are fewer standing wood fibers or nibs left to contend with after sealing, and the post-sealant sanding can be done by the Opti-Sand rather than by hand. "We're trying to do as little hand sanding as we can," Chesnick says.

A Butfering two-head widebelt sander, also new, is used on flat mouldings. A new Altendorf sliding table saw replaced an older Altendorf, and a return conveyor was added to the company's SCMI edgebander.

In the finishing department, Chesnick has an automotive spray booth with Kremlin spray equipment. It uses Chemcraft precatalyzed sealers and lacquers, dye stains from Raleigh Hardwood and oil stains from Sherwin-Williams.

To run the new machinery, as well as the existing Wadkin and Lida moulders, "we try to get as good people as we can," Chesnick says. The company has 20 employees, and at least one besides Chesnick has been there since its beginning.

A Mandate for Precise Measurement

The new machinery shifts the burden of manufacturing responsibility from the shop to the front office, where Chesnick and others use AutoCAD and Cabinetware software to create designs and download cutlists to the Homag beam saw.

Measurements have to be much more precise than before, Chesnick says. "If I'm off a half a millimeter, it will throw the whole cabinet off." By the time a project gets to the shop, "all the answers to all the questions" have been worked out, he adds.

Chesnick created a futuristic look for this ice cream parlor using metal laminates. The center column is clad in the laminate, while its countertop is undergirded by blue steel supports. A circle of metal laminate creates a frame around a wall mural.

Cabinets are frameless construction. The shop uses a Jonsdorf JBR10/25 double-row line borer that can do fifty 32mm holes per stroke. Joinery is with screws and glue and is always concealed. Hoffmann butterfly fasteners are used to connect moulding at corners.

The new equipment is a far cry from the single Skilsaw that Chesnick started business with in 1985, working from the bed of a pickup truck in his dad's driveway. Formerly a general contractor, Chesnick had opted for what he thought would be a less stressful life. "I had a vision of working in a little shop, building things of wood," he says.

Before long, susceptibility to weather chased the business indoors, to a nearby barn. Then, Chesnick moved to leased space, and eight years ago he shifted the growing business to a business park on the outskirts of Raleigh, where it has been expanded three times. The last addition was during the recession, and the total square footage is now 30,000.

Commercial Work Only(!)

Throughout the years, Chesnick has kept a determined focus on its core business, custom commercial work. A sign on the front office wall stresses that "We do not do residential work!!! We are a custom commercial cabinet company!!!" It was put there by persons unknown, Chesnick says, as "a reminder for me. Every now and then, I get a little soft and take a residential job for a friend or a family member. That upsets everybody here."

The professionalism of the clientele is one reason Chesnick and his staff are drawn to commercial jobs. He considers "trust in who your builders are" a major factor in the success of millwork companies. "We don't accept work from just anybody."

This wall of maple paneling with stainless steel reveals was created with special boxes to display the tenant's collection of art glassworks.

Over the years, Chesnick Corp. has built relationships with general contractors and building owners, to the point that "We don't actually sell anything," Chesnick says. "We're really hand-picked to do these type s of projects. Typically, we have more work than we can do."

Even during the recession, "Our numbers were good," he adds, though the company shifted focus to include more medical and dental projects.

Chesnick has built and installed millwork from Charleston, WV, to Savannah, GA, including a desk and conference tables in the Pennsylvania governor's office. But its primary market is the fast-growing area around Raleigh and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.

The company uses solid wood, veneers and plastic laminates, including melamine, to build a variety of items. Products include mouldings and wainscotings, door frames, doors, reception desks, tray ceilings, window walls, conference room tables, shelving and cabinets. It has also covered a steel staircase in wood, then put wooden railings on top.

Within the commercial category, Chesnick prefers total millwork packages for Class-A office space. "Class-A gives a good mix," he says. "We can use the whole shop."

Two areas of specialization include mouldings and elevator interiors. Chesnick uses 90 percent of the mouldings it makes, selling the other 10 percent prefinished. The company got into mouldings, Chesnick says, because it was hard finding manufactured mouldings of the quality he wanted.

"I've got full control over my product now," he says.

The knowledge the company has acquired about fire ratings has given it a strong foothold in the elevator interiors business. "We know what the code is," Chesnick explains. The company also knows what is needed in finishes, substrates and backing panels to meet the code.

All work is custom, Chesnick emphasizes, with no catalogs published. "Everything is built to order, JIT manufacturing. It's all hot off the press."

By moving materials through the shop quicker and increasing productivity, the new machinery is helping clients as well as the company, Chesnick feels. "It enables us to meet their schedules."



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