Fingerjointing Adds a New Dimension to Great Lake Woods
Profile-wrapped parts expand component firm’s profits.
By John Iwanski
Great Lake Woods produces hardwood components for the kitchen cabinet business, as well as furniture parts for residential and office applications from its plant in Holland, MI. Among its clients are office furniture manufacturing giants Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth.
The company, which was founded in 1988 and is co-owned by Keith Malmstadt and Ben Philips, has carved out one of its most lucrative product niches from using the scrap wood pieces somebody else does not want. By profile wrapping fingerjointed materials for interior and cabinet mouldings, as well as cabinet door and door frames, Great Lake Woods has been able to cost-effectively offer components to local furniture customers, and now hopes to expand its scope out to a larger, more expansive clientele.
“Right now, we sell our capabilities to the customer,” says Malmstadt. “We manufacture what they need, to their specifications. It’s what we’re good at, and it lets the customers do what they’re good at, which is making furniture or cabinets.”
Fingerjointed Mouldings Take Off
According to wrapping supervisor Wade Brooks, many of Great Lake Woods’ customers are driven toward fingerjointing because they need a product that is both consistent and straight. Fingerjointed products offer the end-user both benefits in one package.
“This is a cost-effective alternative to solid wood,” says Brooks. “The customers want a product that’s straight. But when you get a piece of poplar that’s 15 feet long, it is going to bow some. It is going to twist. When you fingerjoint that piece, and apply the veneer around it, the bow is almost non-existent. That is what the customer wants. And that is what we want to give them.”
Great Lake Woods produces a wide range of products, including trim mouldings for cabinets, top caps for Haworth’s office furnishings, signboard mouldings and casket parts. Great Lake also produces fingerjointed frames for various applications, including hollow-core doors and closet applications.
Production supervisor Rich Popa notes that the company has taken on special jobs because it has the knowledge and expertise to work with fingerjointed materials. For example, he says, Great Lake worked in conjunction with Herman Miller and the federal government to produce more than 6,000 fingerjointed tackboard panels in the first six months of last year.
“We produced a fingerjointed frame that was moulded to go around a tackboard panel. We also added a fingerjointed piece in the middle for stability,” Popa says. “The whole piece was wrapped in a fabric, and then the moulding was placed on the outside. It was a nice project that allowed Herman Miller to see what we could really do on a consistent basis.”
Outsourcing Fingerjointed Lumber
Great Lake Woods has not looked back since deciding to purchase fingerjointed materials from Red River Hardwoods.
“We have an excellent source of material, and we are able to turn it around into a great product,” says Malmstadt. “Right now, we’re probably running about a truckload of wood from our supplier every month. That might not seem like much, but we’re turning out quite a lot of product. And as we see more restrictions in the supply of woods, and the costs of quality hardwoods continue to climb, fingerjointing is going to become an option for a lot of companies trying to keep costs down and quality up.”
In fact, because Malmstadt predicts demand for fingerjointed products will continue to grow, Great Lake Woods is studying the possibility of purchasing a fingerjointing machine to manufacture product from its own roughmill.
“With the increase of costs in woods, people are going to look to veneered stock as a way to get more out of the available wood supply,” Malmstadt says. “Cherry has dramatically increased in cost over the last year or so. Other woods are also going up. But if you take a wood like soft maple, fingerjoint it and veneer it, you can get the long 15-foot pieces that contractors want for baseboards and other applications. Red oak, mahogany — we want to be able to fingerjoint and wrap all that material here. That is our long-term goal, to bring fingerjointing back in-house.”
For the time being, though, Great Lake Woods is content to bring the fingerjointed blanks in, mould and wrap the product, and then send it on its way.
“The biggest savings for profile-wrapped materials is in the quality, the yield and the lack of rework, Malmstadt says. “Companies can get a fingerjointed 15-foot-long piece and it will have the quality of an 8-footer that is solid wood.
“As we see more restrictions on lumber, and the reduction of the import of foreign lumber, more and more people will turn to fingerjointing,” he adds. “As things become rarer, you are going to see more of this type of operation. The key is to make it profitable and keep the quality consistent with the needs of the customer. This could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
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