Harden Furniture’s Proof Is in the Finish

This high-end manufacturer of residential and contract furniture rests its reputation on the finish quality of its products.

By Rich Christianson

Harden Furniture Inc. of McConnelsville, NY, is a fifth-generation-owned company that, not surprisingly, clings fast to tradition when it comes to preserving its reputation for craftsmanship and quality.

The quality of Harden’s home and office furniture is defined in the lustrous beauty of its carved details and 21-step finishes. Great pains are taken by the finishing department to meet the company’s stringent quality control goals, not to mention the demands and expectations of Harden’s customers.

“People expect a lot from Harden Furniture,” says Andrew Clark, Harden Furniture’s director of quality assurance. “Our furniture is expensive. We cannot afford to ship anything that is less than top-notch quality.”

 

     
     
   
    A wide variety of cherry furniture pieces travel through a forced air oven via the Rhodes tow cart finishing system at Harden Furniture.

Vertically Integrated

Because it is such a stickler when it comes to the final quality of its products, Harden Furniture maintains a higher degree of self-sufficiency than is typically found in the furniture industry. Not only does the company have its own dry kilns, a roughmill and truck fleet, it also operates a sawmill adjacent to its main furniture factory and owns 10,000 acres of forest land.

“Ours is a very integrated facility. With the main exception of veneered tops we do very little outsourcing,” says Bruce Brach, director of engineering. “We feel it is to our advantage to have as much control over manufacturing as possible. This way we know where all the the parts are and they are ready when we need them.”

Harden almost exclusively uses solid cherry for its the exterior parts of its products. Soft maple is used for interior case goods parts and upholstery frames. Distressed maple is also showcased in the company’s Bristol Channel collection.

About 10 percent of the cherry logs it mills each year come from its own forest. “We go through about $9 million worth of cherry a year,” says J. Barclay Mutch, vice president of manufacturing. “It’s a prized furniture wood that helps us stand out from the oak crowd.”

Brach says the two-shift sawmill cuts about 800 logs a day. “We put in a new sawmill in December of 1998,” Brach says. “It is much more efficient than the 30-year-old mill it replaced. It’s cleaner, provides a safer and more comfortable work environment for our crews, and produces better quality lumber with less waste.”

The sawmill feeds 10 Irvington-Moore dry kilns with a total capacity of 450,000 board feet. Two of the kilns were installed in 1999 and incorporate the Kiln Boss, a computerized system that monitors and controls the kilns’ temperature and humidity. Process heat for the kilns and the plant is generated by burning wood waste in one of three hopper-fed boilers.

 

     
     
  21-Spraygun Salute

Harden Furniture is extremely meticulous about its finishes. Up to 3-1&Mac218;2 days is consumed to run a dresser or dining room chair through the company’s 21-step process for premium-grade finishes. Every finish step is panel-matched for color consistency.

 1. Pre-inspection looks for minor defects requiring touch-up.

 2. Hand sanding smooths the surface.

 3. Inspectors double-check finish readiness.

 4. Non-grain-raising toner is applied to even base coat and color.

 5. Wash coat, a diluted sealer, allows

stain penetration.

 6. Sanding removes excess wash coat.

 7. Wiping stain provides foundation of desired color.

 8. After color inspection, color tints are added to achieve a precise match.

 9. Drying oven extracts solvents and dries the glaze consistently.

10. Sealer application primes and stabilizes the wood grain.

11. Sealer sanding smooths out any raised grain.

12. First coat of lacquer is applied.

13. Drying oven dries lacquer coat evenly.

14. Inspection and burn in is the last chance to make finish adjustments.

15. Second coat of lacquer for sheen and satin finishes is sprayed.

16. Drying oven dries second lacquer coat.

17. After air drying overnight, each piece is inspected by a rubbing specialist.

18. A variety of machine rubbing and sanding is performed.

19. Hand-rubbing with steel wool.

20. Inspection precedes final hand-

rubbing with wax to highlight wood tones.

21. If required, Harden custom matches a customer’s color sample.

 
     

Inside the Roughmill

Most of the burnable wood waste is produced in the company’s block-first roughmill. Offal from sawmilling and defecting operations is conveyed to a grinder and converted into wood fuel. Fine sawdust, meanwhile, is sold to local farmers for use as animal bedding.

Harden Furniture worked with Thoughtline Industries to develop its board optimization system. Key equipment includes an Oliver Straitoplane, Oliver optimizing saws and Mattison edgers. A high percentage of the dimensioned cherry wood is edge-glued and clamped into panels on James L. Taylor clamp carriers.

“Our goal is to have boards in a clamp carrier within 10 minutes of being ripped,” Brach says. “We don’t want to give the boards time to take on added moisture, and we want to keep work-in-process to a minimum.”

To help achieve the desired finished look of its furniture, employees carefully select boards that match in color and grain to compose edge-glued panels.

The company has four Taylor clamp carriers for cold pressing of edge-glued panels. “We tried hot pressing our panels,” Brach says, “but found that pressure and time is the best combination. We have very few glue joint problems.”

Equipment Old & New

Much of the machinery Harden uses to make furniture, including Mattison moulders and a World War II era Greenlee double-end tenoner, is more than 25 years old. Mutch makes no apologies for the fact that “these well-built machines are still productive.”

“We’re blessed to have a lot of experienced machine operators. They are extremely capable of quickly changing over the setup of their machines without gadgets,” Mutch says. “We also do our best to schedule our workflow to minimize set-up changes.”

A notable exception of the older, dedicated work-horse machinery is a trio of Komo CNC routers. The routers are primarily used to machine tops for dining tables and desks. “They combine a lot of operations into one machine,” Brach says. “We also use the routers to make curved doors and do fret work.”

Mutch says the CNC routers are integral to the company’s ability to make furniture to order. “One of the strengths of this company is that we only build to the white wood inventory stage. All of our tops are made to order. Then the piece is assembled with legs, drawers and other parts that we have in inventory and finished. This way the customer gets exactly what he wants.

“If you buy a dining room table,” Mutch cites as an example, “you’ll find that you can choose from between 30 and 35 finishes. We shoot for offering customers as much flexibility as we can.”

Custom Finishing

Another one of Harden’s strengths, Mutch says, is its color matching program.

“Special match finishing is one of our hallmarks,” Mutch says. “We have customers who will send us a table leaf and ask us to match the finish for a new china hutch. We have the expertise to do that.”

Clark says the company uses environmentally-friendly coatings from Lilly Industries for finishing home furniture and Lilly’s catalyzed lacquers for contract furnishings.

The company’s Rhodes tow-cart finishing system was installed in 1983. Workpieces snake along its path at the speed of 10 feet per minute, Clark says. The carts pass through various stations of spray finishing, wiping and forced-air drying. Air curtains prevent dust from blowing onto furniture.

“It can take us 3-1/2 days to do a premium sheen or satin finish,” Clark says. (See sidebar page 77.) “Premium finishes require overnight drying. Then we do rubbing process with steel wool and Scotch Brite pads to bring out the highlights of the wood.”

Dining room tables and other large workpieces are finished separately off-line, as are painted finishes.

In all cases, workpieces are subject to inspection every step of the way. The goal is to catch any defects or flaws at their point of origin so that the necessary repairs can be made.

“Our ultimate strength is that we have employees who know how to make furniture,” Brach says. “They know how to make quality products.”

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