CNC Router Helps Virginia Manufacturer Cope With Growing Pains

New technology enabled J. Kinter’s Cabinet Shop to increase production plus add new products to its repertoire.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Four years ago, John Kinter found himself at a professional crossroads. A manufacturer of wooden fireplace mantels sold wholesale through Masco Corp. dealers on the East Coast, Kinter had expanded to keep pace with the growing business, moving the shop from his basement to a newly built 3,000-square-foot facility.

“I first worked from my basement, a typical space with 7-foot ceilings, which meant everything had to be built laying down,” says Kinter, the owner of Virginia-based J. Kinter’s Cabinet Shop Inc.

As he added more Masco dealers to his client list and orders increased, Kinter hired his daughter Katherine and woodworker Jim Stonestreet to help. However, Kinter found himself facing a crisis situation when Stonestreet had a heart attack.

J. Kinter’s Cabinet Shop manufactures builder’s grade to high-end custom mantels. Low- to mid-range mantels are available in paint grade, stain grade, fingerjointed wood and birch plywood. Cherry and maple are popular for some of the higher-end models.  

 â€œWe were expanding at that point and very busy. With Jim sick, Kat and I worked 70- to 80-hour weeks just to keep our heads above water.”

Kinter said he knew he had to do something, so he contacted a friend, David Brown, of D. S. Brown Machin-ery. “I said, ‘Here are my options. What do I do?’”

Kinter considered buying a sliding table saw, a vertical saw or a CNC router. His friend convinced him to investigate routers and took him to visit C.R. Onsrud. “I shipped the plywood and materials that I would need to build a mantel, then cut them myself on the machine. That hooked me.”

Kinter says he was not daunted by the prospect of learning computer design or controls.

“My daughter is very computer literate and I am comfortable with computers, although I had no CAD experience. We bought AlphaCAM with the CNC router and took classes. Kat does all the programming and I run the machine.”

Since purchasing the CNC router, Kinter says he has seen a steady increase in productivity and has hired more help. In addition to full-time employees Katherine and Stonestreet, he has hired Milt Bageant, as well as part-time employee Donna Wolverton.

Kinter says the increase in business — approximately 30 percent annually over the last few years — has enabled him to further expand his offerings.

“We make a lot of bookcases and entertainment centers and media centers now, although the fireplace mantels remain the bulk of our business. Mantels used to be 98 percent of our production. Now with the specialty items, roughly 90 percent of what we produce is mantels,” he says.

Creating a Niche

Kinter got into the woodworking business in a rather roundabout way. He was in heavy construction, traveling four hours a day and hating the commute. When his employer sold the business, Kinter decided to work for himself. He bought some used equipment and outfitted his basement shop.

J. Kinter’s Cabinet Shop specializes in manufacturing wooden fireplace mantels which are sold wholesale through Masco dealers in the East Coast.  

 The mantel work came about in a very serendipitous way. Kinter had been hired as a consultant by Quality Building Products, an insulation installer, to advise it on fireproofing, one of his many areas of expertise. He saw a mantel in one of Quality’s shops and said, “I could do better than that. And they said, ‘OK, build us one.’ So I did and they said, ‘All right, build us 20.’ That’s how it started,” Kinter says.

In his first six months of business, Kinter built 250 mantels. The second year he did 800. “Today, we do approximately 5,000 mantels a year.”

His mantels range from builders’ grade to high-end, custom, with retail prices going from $125 to more than $2,000. “We recently installed a 17-foot-tall, cherry mantel. It certainly catches your eye as you enter the room,” he says.

Cherry and maple are often selected for use in the higher-end mantels. Standard mantels have a plywood breastplate and legs, MDF top and stock moulding, and are available in paint grade, stain grade, oak, fingerjointed wood and birch plywood styles.

Specializing has worked well for Kinter. “It was an opportunity that came to me at a time when I was switching careers. I didn’t want to travel; I loved woodworking and knew I would do something in that area.”

Kinter also manufactures several hundred bookcases each year, along with specialty cabinetry. “One builder wanted built-ins and we worked out designs that the builders now offer as ‘add-ons,’’’

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