June 2005

Using Arch Shapers

Cox Interiors 'shapes' a plan for success.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser
Cox Interior's product line includes virtually every type of millwork, including stairs. These hallway arches are one example of the elaborate millwork produced by Cox Interior's arch department for its residential clients.

Cox Interior Inc. of Campbellsville, KY, produces a wide range of millwork products, including everything from stair parts, doors and mantels to all types of mouldings, jambs and casings. The arch millwork department at Cox Interior handles a large part of that production, running approximately 35,000 to 36,000 radius casings in all different types of profiles each year.

Richard Kearnes, arch department manager, says, "We are ready for a challenge. If a shape exists, the crew can create it. Whatever profile a homeowner, architect, designer or builder wants on a casing or crown moulding, if we don't have it, we will grind the knives, make a template and run it for them."

Kearnes estimates that his department makes between $3 million and $4 million annually and expects that figure to increase in 2005, because the arch department is already ahead in production over last year's figures.

No Job Too Small

The company was founded in 1983 by Charles E. Cox with a dream to create a market using high-grade hardwoods as an alternative to the pine traditionally used in interior wood products. He began by making interior mouldings in poplar, oak and cherry and then added a poplar door facility.

Eventually, the company branched into stair parts and circular and free-standing stair systems, which also require curved parts. Species choices have grown far beyond Cox's original alternatives. Today, virtually any species a client wants can be used, Kearnes says.

"We make 90 percent of our trim in poplar, but we also run red and white oak, cherry, walnut, Brazilian cherry and rosewood. We have a small selection of just about every kind of wood in the world, and if we don't have it on hand, we will get it."

Kearnes says he has worked for the company since its beginning; he was the second employee to be hired. "I started as a moulder operator, but after five years, we knew we needed a separate arch department and I became head of the group."

In the beginning Kearnes relied on a hand-fed arch shaper. "You had to hold onto the wood with one hand, pushing it through the machine while pulling the piece out the other side," Kearnes says. "If you turned the piece of wood loose for any reason or if the wood split, it could be a dangerous piece of machinery.

"Visualize taking a piece of wood, cut into a radius 41?2 inches wide, 3?4 inches thick and a knife turning underneath at about 6,000 rpms," he continues. "Imagine holding it by hand with only a little 5-by-4 to hold the wood."

Kearnes says he used the hand-fed machine for about five years until the company heard about a better, much safer way to do the process - an arch shaper.

"After we knew that such a machine existed, we checked one out at a shop and decided to get one." That was in late 1989. The machine was an arch shaper by U.S. Concepts and today, the company has two U.S. Concepts arch shapers and another is about to be installed. The addition of the third shaper will allow the department to run everything it does now plus radius crown moulding.

"The one we ordered has a horizontal head that moves up and down," Kearnes says. "One of our shapers has a bigger shaft and motor, which we use for cutting bigger profiles. We bought it because we wanted something that was more heavy-duty and featured more horsepower. It allows us to make the cuts we need in one pass."

For example, jobs like a mantel profile, where the material is thicker and bigger, work well in that machine, he notes.

Shapers Offer Safety

While the profiles the company makes are produced quickly and efficiently on the arch shaping machines, Kearnes says safety is an even bigger advantage to owning the equipment.

"We make a great product and our safety has increased by roughly 1,000 percent," he says. "When you use the arch shaper, there is no personnel involved in the operation of the machine. If there is any problem with the wood splitting off, the machine takes the punishment. With the old way of doing arches, my hand and elbow took the hit."

Kearnes says 99 percent of what they produce in his department is run on one of the U.S. Concepts arch shapers.

Along with the arch department, the entire company has grown dramatically over the years. It now has 750 employees along with a sales staff of 85 covering a seven-state area and total annual sales of about $69 million. The arch department has 13 employees. Kearnes says the majority of its work, roughly 90 percent, is residential with the rest commercial.

Lynn Benningfield, assistant to Kearnes in the arch department, says the arch shaper handles virtually any shape from ellipticals to ovals to true radius. She agrees that the company's philosophy of giving the customer whatever he wants is a winning strategy. "Any curve the client or architect wants, from a cathedral to something new - if they want it, we get it."

Kearnes says they are currently doing work for a $6 million home in the horse country near Lexington, KY. "Everyday people bring in architectural drawings or ideas and say, 'This is what we want.' Our job is to find a way."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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