Daniel Island Woodworks, North Charleston, SC, offers high-end manufacturing and custom woodworking services from its state-of-the-art facility. The 15-employee operation works with a range of demanding clients, including local and out-of-state contractors and architects. Its wide portfolio of projects embraces educational institutions, medical facilities, national chains, restaurants, office complexes and increasingly, private residences. Voted one of the best architectural woodworking firms in the Southeast U.S., Daniel Island Woodworks says it meets or exceeds premium grade and museum-caliber work.

Owner Sam Epstein and his wife and business partner Polly Epstein have reinvented their business since its 1992 launch as a supplier to the gifts and decorative accessories markets. Now the firm focuses on working closely with architects and builders to translate their designs into well-crafted cabinetry and interiors. Sam is focused on the design and sales activities, and Polly on manufacturing operations and general management. Daniel Island Woodworks output is principally business and institutional projects, which represent about 80 percent of its production.

“Our motto is ‘On time, on budget, with exceptional quality,” says Sam Epstein. Representative of its projects are build-outs for the rapidly expanding national Five Guys restaurant chain. Daniel Island Woodworks has produced interiors for four sites near Charleston. Another high profile effort is a new Charleston area high school that formed in the combination of two campuses: the Academic Magnet High School and Charleston School of the Arts. That project, run by M.B. Kahn Construction, was completed in April 2010. Daniel Island Woodworks supplied custom wood and laminate cabinets, solid surface countertops, reception desks and trim. That project even included a quarter-sawn oak window bench.

During the downturn, with the closure of several local cabinetry shops serving the home interiors segment, Daniel Island Woodworks adjusted its business plan to move deeper into the home interiors arena. Selected as a dealer of Merillat cabinets, the firm now builds into projects Merillat’s lines of kitchen cabinets, countertops and luxury bath cabinetry and adds its own countertops into custom and semi-custom projects for home builders and homeowners.

“In the past we had said we were commercial only; it suited who we are so much better,” says Polly Epstein, co-owner and general manager. “Now Merillat is the new residential component.” With home builders and homeowners looking for a local source for cabinetry projects, “It’s a nice incremental piece we can do as well,” she says.

As part of the entrée into home interiors, Daniel Island Woodworks will open a studio and display center this month, where homeowners can come for inspiration and to visualize designs. “It will translate designs into buildable projects, but that is not the primary purpose,” says Polly Epstein. “It will be a place where a general contractor can bring clients to show design ideas; someplace that will be a destination for creativity.”

High-profile brand projects include Five Guys restaurants,
this exterior in historic Charleston SC style. Daniel Island
Woodworks has done four Five Guys sites.

Its First CNC System
Daniel Island Woodworks was an early adopter of CNC woodworking production, commissioning Northwood Machine Manufacturing of Louisville, KY, to build its first system in 1998.

“We were the second shop in Charleston to have CNC,” says Sam Epstein. “We use it on everything,” including one-of-a-kind output on individual custom projects, as well as for batch manufacturing.

“In 1999, we started making parts for a national fixture company,” says Sam Epstein. “We started to get a reputation. At that point all our software was AutoCAD with a macro program for outputting G and M codes that was designed by Northwood Machine manufacturing.

“When we first started, projects were quite large and would run for months at a time. We would draw the parts and run it through the Northwood CAM software, and hand edit everything. We would spend hours writing programs; we would run from 12 to 18 hours a day on the CNC.

“People started to come to us with projects. We made cabinets and furnishings for sleeper cabs for a large trucking company. We fabricated and installed our work in 375 sleeper cabs,” says Sam Epstein. “We had to hire a draftsman.” With the adoption of CNC and the AutoCAD, “There was a learning curve,“ he says.

Later that year, “We really took off in the custom woodworking interiors segment,” says Sam Epstein. For three years the business of custom woodworking continued to grow, with CNC the heart of the production. “In the first three years we realized we needed to move into something more specifically for cabinets, because that was where our company was moving,” he says.

“After working really long hours trying to put programs together, we bought a design program specifically for cabinets.”

Assembly at Daniel
Island Woodworks
Watching CNC in operation. Software drives CNC operation

That application, Planit’s Cabinet Vision, simplified the creation and CNC output. “Within a month of adoption, we were in control of our production,” says Sam Epstein. Instead of having to edit files between the AutoCAD and the CNC machine, the program allows Sam to focus on design, while Polly manages production output. “We continue to upgrade Cabinet Vision—we’re on version 5.0,” says Sam Epstein. AutoCAD still finds plenty of use, including jig-frames for the boating industry, another segment that uses CNC for production.

“We take boat architects’ drawings and convert their parts from drawings into wood parts for the framework of the hull or for the deck,” says Sam Epstein. The firm has contributed to boats from 36 to 60 feet in length; one as large as 109 feet. “Boat architects started referring us and we started shipping all over the U.S. and the world.”

Daniel Island Woodworks’ cabinet design, production, and installation teams have been with the firm an average of seven years. Building business through referrals and word-of-mouth, the company is known as a reliable performer. It is even being specified as the subcontractor in job orders, says Sam Epstein. It is now expanding beyond Charleston, SC, to serve the Southeast region, its reputation further driving its growth.

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