Profile wrapping and fingerjointing help Contact Lumber optimize materials, while adding value to component products.

Contact Lumber

Portland, OR

Contact Lumber manufactures window and door trim and mouldings along with furniture components, kitchen cabinetry and architectural millwork. Clear Pine Mouldings, the company’s 500,000-square-foot production complex in Prineville, OR, employs 450 people. Annual sales are $75 million.

Three Keys

1. Optimizing raw materials through profile wrapping, flat laminating and fingerjointing cuts waste and costs, while rendering the good looks customers desire.

2. Providing solutions to customer problems rather than selling products builds sales.

3. Emphasizing quality starts with processing pine veneer in-house and runs through the manufacturing process to a quality-control lab with final say on releasing production output.

An Oregon company that specializes in profile-wrapped components puts a priority on maximizing raw materials and reducing waste through fingerjointing, profile wrapping, flat laminating and other value-added, resource-stretching processes.

Contact Lumber Co., founded in 1946 in Portland, is a long-time leader in the production of profile-wrapped trim, mouldings, window and door parts. Newer marketing ventures for Contact Lumber’s profile-wrapped products include furniture, cabinetry and architectural millwork.

In branching out its product line, Peter McKibbin, senior vice president of sales, says Contact Lumber is seeking to become the primary source for ready-to-assemble engineered wood and vinyl components by creating products that help customers eliminate performance problems, manufacturing bottlenecks or both.

Everon Clad components are wrapped with rigid thermofoil for interior and exterior applications. Many of the company’s parts feature finger-jointed substrates (bottom), veneers or both.  

Saving Trees and Costs

Jim Snodgrass, vice president of export sales for Contact Lumber, says profile wrapping offers a cost-effective means of creating quality components. He says it is especially useful when a solid wood component is difficult or too expensive to produce, or simply does not perform as well.

While some of Contact Lumber’s profile-wrapped components are made with one-piece softwood cores, the company’s full capability of optimizing materials is seen in its fingerjointing operations. Using Industrial Woodworking fingerjointers, scraps of solid wood and veneer are reconstituted into useful cores and overlays at its 500,000-square-foot manufacturing complex in Prineville, OR.

In addition to using solid pine and finger-jointed pine cores, Contact Lumber sizes laminated veneered lumber and sheets of medium density fiberboard into surfaced four-sided blanks that are then moulded to the required profile, as well as vinyl and metal substrates. When expertly wrapped with a high-quality hardwood veneer, these lower-grade cores take on the appearance of solid wood mouldings at a fraction of the price.

Profile wrapping also allows manufacturers to incorporate parts that would be hard to make using solid wood. For example, Snodgrass says sleigh-bed rails and bedposts are examples of parts where looks are as important as dimensional stability. Fingerjointing MDF or a lower-grade wood substrate and wrapping it with a premium veneer gives the rail a quality, solid-wood look that holds up for a longer period than solid wood, he says.

“Thomasville is a good example of an OEM that has benefited greatly from using our skills to supplement their internal processes,” Snodgrass says. “We provide them sleigh bed rails that are less costly, more dimensionally stable and more readily available than the solid rails they used previously. In addition, since they’ve been working with us to provide them bedposts, their through-put on that part of their production process has improved by 30 percent.”

Extensive Product Offering

Contact Lumber custom manufactures products upon request but focuses its broader efforts on making stock pieces spanning several extensive lines. They include:

• RTA components for windows, doors, cabinets and furniture;

• Oak-Over and Maple-Over mouldings wrapped in veneer;

• Embark SL prefinished mouldings and millwork, engraved, stained and embossed to match hardwood grain patterns for major manufacturers’ prefinished door skins; and

• Everon Clad components, wrapped with rigid thermofoil for interior and exterior applications.

About 40 percent of Contact Lumber’s $75 million in annual sales is generated by wrapped products. The company has 4,000 knives in stock for producing mouldings. The company can create additional profile knives to satisfy custom-orders. In addition, the company offers doors with or without hinges and strikes, sill holes, weather-stripping and corner seals in accordance with individual customer needs.

A Portland Ironworks ripsaw cuts softwood to order with the aid of laser guides. In-line moisture sensors flag pieces that need to be pulled from the line for further drying.  

Every part that goes out the door of Contact Lumber’s Central, OR, complex is made with the company slogan — “adhering to a higher standard” — in mind, Snodgrass says.

“We’ve got experience and expertise in so many avenues,” Snodgrass says. “Customers tell us what they want and we give them the finished product. Flexibility is our biggest selling point.”

Focus on Value-Added Processes

Snodgrass notes that profile wrapping is “a huge extension of our natural resources.” Using a lower grade of wood for the core cuts costs for the customer, reduces weight for shipping and for handling parts on the job, and minimizes waste. Wood that might otherwise be scrapped because of knots or fissures can often be salvaged because the veneer or vinyl wrap covers defects, Snodgrass says.

Ten years ago Contact Lumber would build a single flat jamb for an interior door from one piece of clear pine lumber. Today that same piece of lumber yields enough veneer to wrap 17 finger-jointed flat jambs. “And we make a lot of them,” Snodgrass adds.

Yet, in spite of the lower costs involved in using lower-grade materials, customers can achieve the looks they want. Plus, in the case of softwood cores, machining is easier and moulding installers benefit because they do not have to predrill nail holes in the wrapped components as they would with solid oak.

Contact Lumber uses fingerjointing extensively for making cores and coils of veneer for many of the same cost-cutting, material-saving reasons, Snodgrass says. “Straightness is another big issue,” he says. The increased use of lumber from younger trees means manufacturers have to work with wood that has more inherent problems related to stress and tension. “Fingerjointing takes away all that,” Snodgrass says.

Contact Lumber’s flat laminating operations involve gluing surfaced-four-side cores together to make dimensional blanks that can be moulded to a specific profile. Then a veneer is pressed onto the flat surface with a cold press or radio frequency process. Products manufactured this way include furniture posts, and stiles and rails for entry doors.

Wise use of resources helps sell wood to environmentally conscious customers concerned about forest habitat, Snodgrass says. He says Contact Lumber’s processes attack those concerns head on. At the same time it is touting its optimization capabilities, the company reminds customers that wood is a renewable resource. Snodgrass says he thinks it is important that people bear in mind “That it’s OK to use wood if you use it sensibly.” Last year Contact’s primary domestic source of wood received SFI (sustainable forestry initiative) certification through the American Forest & Paper Assn.

Sensible wood use also relates to constructing split jambs out of one composite piece, which uses 20 percent less wood than building them separately. Some pieces are engineered with oak in the corners, where it is most needed, instead of with solid oak sides.

Wrapping is a more labor-intensive production process than putting solid pieces of wood through moulders, Snodgrass says. Some components are too small to wrap; a 1/4-inch by 1/12-inch batten piece is about the limit, he notes.

Comparing costs piece by piece may not always fall in favor of wrapping. But the broader cost picture is more important, he says. With savings from reduced waste and labor, the math frequently works out in profile wrapping’s favor, he adds.

“It’s an extra step, but it saves you from having to do a lot of other steps,” he says. Face gluing, for instance, is not required as it would be with a solid piece.

Quality and Production

Cross-training production employees and using statistical process control helps keep productivity high. Workers in the quality-control lab, however, have the final say. There products are subjected to a wide range of temperature tests, adhesion tests, blocking tests — whatever it takes to ensure a top product. “Nothing goes out until they sign off on it,” Snodgrass says.

Finger-jointed and resawn cores are sanded before heading into the wrapping workcell.  

The huge output from Contact Lumber’s three-facility manufacturing complex keeps the laboratory hopping. Snodgrass says the plant runs through 75 million board feet of lumber a year. Efficiency is important to achieving quality and production goals. Floor space at the three buildings is arranged into 13 workcells that are process-focused — resawing, moulding and wrapping, for instance — rather than product-specific.

Some of the production equipment is built from homegrown designs, while some of the purchased machines have been modified to meet specific company needs. Two of Contact Lumber’s newest pieces of equipment are a Kuper edge-splicer for veneer processing and a Marunaka veneer splicer.

Veneer gets extra attention. Strips are finger jointed into long rolls. Great effort is taken to match the grain at the joints to help hide them. A Kuhlmeyer four-head sander equalizes the thickness within tight tolerances and then the veneer is rerolled to achieve accurate tracking once it hits the Duespohl wrapping machines.

Most Popular Woods

Ponderosa pine and Radiata pine are the predominant core materials, with some MDF, aluminum and vinyl also used as substrates. The veneers can be just about any species. The most frequent is red oak, followed by cherry, walnut, clear vertical grain fir, hemlock, and maple. In a limited number of instances, even Ponderosa pine veneer is used for wrapping.

Maple is gaining quickly in popularity, Snodgrass says. “Oak, from a housing standpoint, has dropped back for moulding and millwork.”

One recent custom project featured architectural millwork of veneer-wrapped certified MDF for the George Lucas Ranch. Snodgrass says the company hopes to expand its work on furniture and millwork by gradually stepping up its marketing efforts; the small amount of advertising Contact has done to date has mainly targeted window and door industry distributors.

Most of Contact’s millwork is destined for the residential market. The company offers a 20-minute fire-rated doorframe. One of Contact Lumber’s big commercial jobs, done for Japan’s Landmark Tower Hotel, included many pieces of wrapped maple and anigre along with the company’s prefinished doors and trim.

Contracts for hotel projects such as the one in Japan and others in Hawaii and Taiwan are not easy to land. The trick, Snodgrass says, is to lodge your product and company name in architects’ heads. Future marketing efforts will target that task.

Meeting Challenges

Recruiting and maintaining the best possible workforce is one of the company’s biggest challenges, Snodgrass says. Central Oregon is sparsely populated. Encouraging young people to stay put and enter the wood products field rather than head for a big city is the push of an ongoing effort Contact has taken in partnership with local high schools and community college.

Another challenge is meeting customers’ lead times, particularly those that have set up just-in-time inventory programs and demand that their suppliers meet their delivery schedules.

Snodgrass says Contact Lumber works closely with individual customers to iron out details to ensure regular shipments of required stock items arrive to customers on time. The ability to monitor orders and inventories with computers, plus the development of strong customer relationships, eases the burden, he says.

In the final analysis, Snodgrass says, “We go in looking not so much for a product to sell but a problem to solve.”

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