Conestoga Wood Specialties is one of the largest manufacturers of wood cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Its Custom Division alone processes 850 orders daily for kitchen and bath cabinet manufacturers.
A few miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, lies East Earl, headquarters to one of the nation's largest suppliers of wood components for kitchen and bath cabinetry.
Conestoga Wood Specialties offers an extensive range of wood doors, drawer fronts, dovetail drawers and mouldings. Products are manufactured in seven plants by the company's two distinct business units: the OEM/Contract Division produces products for high volume customers, while the Custom Division produces single-set kitchens and products for just-in-time kitchen and bath manufacturers.
"Manufacturers" is the key word for Conestoga Wood Specialties. "We only sell our products to manufacturers and not to homeowners or home centers. Otherwise you walk a fine line, and we don't want to be in the position of competing with our customers," says Jeff Eichenseer, director of marketing for the Custom Division. The company is also a participating member of eCabinet Systems, a cabinet cooperative organized by Thermwood Corp.
At 73 percent, cabinet doors comprise the majority of the components produced, followed by drawer fronts at 21 percent and mouldings at 6 percent. The bulk of the orders are of solid wood, for residential use. There are 25 published wood species and grades available, with the most popular being cherry and maple. "We also have a special designs department to run unique species, such as anigre, on a per order basis," he adds.
A small amount of orders also call for rigid thermofoil components, which the company processes on a Kolmag press. "We don't focus on laminating as much as we do our wood specifications. It's a limited offering - we produce just a few hundred a day for those customers that require it," Eichenseer says.
As an added service to its customers, Conestoga's Custom Division will supply specialty products, including legs, corbels and range hoods, to coordinate with its cabinet components. "We purchase these accessory items from U.S. sources. We don't machine these products ourselves because we want our focus to remain on what we do best, while still offering our customers a kind of 'one-stop shopping' for their convenience," Eichenseer says.
The Custom Division will finish the specialty products to match the doors and drawer fronts. "We can also match most species in 2-foot by 8-foot PSA peel and stick, 3-foot by 8-foot phenolic back or 4-foot by 8-foot wood back veneered sheets for customers to apply to side panels in the kitchen," he adds.
The Production Arena
"Our prices are generally based on the grade used, species and (basic) design. There's no added pricing for the different edge profiles, beading, etc.," he adds.
At the East Earl facility, four Weinig Unimat CNC moulders machine several thousand feet of moulding each day. The Custom Division maintains 1,725 profiles in stock, "for as long as the customer requires," Eichenseer says.
There is an on-site tooling department for manufacturing and maintaining the carbide and high-speed steel cutting tools; diamond tooling is outsourced.
The tooling department runs two shifts a day. "This is at the heart of what makes our products such high quality," Eichenseer says. "In addition to making our own tooling, we'll also regrind our own knives."
Equipment includes six grinders: three Weinig Rondamats, two Schneebergers and one UTMA LC 35 NC4 from Colonial Saw. A 10:1 comparator is used to check for accuracy, and templates are used at the machining stations as another method of ensuring quality control.
From start to finish, Conestoga places a high priority on quality control. For example, each MDF profiled door is hand sanded after routing on the Shoda router. "We want to make sure everything is smooth. If you don't, then any imperfection can telegraph through the thermofoil," Eichenseer explains.
Attention to detail is also inherent in the construction of the solid wood components, where boards are first cut to width, planed, crosscut and then sanded smooth. Next, framing is cut to size on a miter saw and then bored. Dowels are inserted by hand, and the frame is sanded and then assembled.
"We put a fluorescent dye in the glue and use a black light during inspection. This ensures that any excess glue is removed before finishing," he says.
Further evidence of the Custom Division's commitment to quality is found in the construction of its radius doors. "Unlike some other companies, we don't take thin strips and just bend them. We use solid stock that's cut on a bandsaw and then sanded on a stroke sander," Eichenseer says. "We feel that this provides a more durable, longer lasting product which will never straighten out."
The Custom Division also adds fingerjoints to some of its wider door styles. "It's been a big selling feature," Eichenseer says. "It takes about 1 minute for the additional step, but, like a dovetail joint, it's something tangible that the consumers can see and appreciate."
A growth area for the Custom Division is decorative applied mouldings, such as pearl moulding, for doors and drawer fronts. Because each door is custom made, the application process is done by hand to ensure a precise fit.
The Custom Division is also seeing growth in the mitered door market. According to Eichenseer, this has been driven, in part, by the complex finishes and glazes used at Conestoga. "Mitered doors allow for more profiled areas, which in turn give added depth to the finished product."
All solid wood components are whitewood sanded on a QuickWood sander. Next, stains are applied by hand, then rubbed for greater grain definition, while the higher solid, opaque finishes are applied by an air-assisted airless gun. The Custom Division has more than 1,000 finish combinations available, plus an additional 1,500 custom formulations. Conestoga's newest addition, the Heirloom finish treatment, is a semi-opaque finish that gives an antique appearance to alder, cherry, maple and oak.
After the finish is applied, parts are scuff sanded by hand, then sealed and topcoated in the Cefla Ecosprayer. Both the front and back sides are sealed to ensure moisture content stability, Eichenseer says. The process is repeated for any products requiring glazing.
Perforated foam is used to wrap the products for shipment. "This allows any vapors from the finish to flash off and not cause dimpling from the gases," Eichenseer explains.
In addition to finishing, Conestoga offers assembling, branding and hardware notching services for their drawer box customers.
New accessories include the Stanisci range hood, willow storage baskets and fluted fillers. Conestoga also added more than 60 table legs, columns and bun feet to its mix.
Accessories are supplied as a service to customers. "It allows our customers to deal with just one vendor for their components and accessories, instead of 10," Eichenseer says.
Innovative Strategy Brings Recognition
In 1964, Norman Hahn founded Conestoga Wood Specialties on the premise that cabinet companies could maximize their productivity - and save money - by outsourcing their components.
In 2000, Hahn was recognized for his innovative concept and named to the National Kitchen & Bath Association's Kitchen and Bath Hall of Fame.
The NKBA's Hall of Fame was established in 1989 to formally recognize those individuals who have made significant contributions to the kitchen and bath industry. To date, there are 68 members in the Hall of Fame. Additional information on the Hall of Fame and its members can be found at www.nkba.com.
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