Lloyd's Custom Woodwork: Shop-First Approach
August 15, 2011 | 2:41 pm CDT
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by Jeff Cronk, Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork

Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork handles a wide variety of styles and materials, from more modern
using anigre, walnut and steel.

Since the day in 2005 when we opened our doors in Concord, CA, Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork Inc. has thrived. At the outset our goal was simple, if a bit lofty: to become a world-class, full interior woodworking company, while striving to greatly improve upon the speed of the typical construction process.

My partner, David Lloyd and I set out to distinguish Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork by handling full interior woodworking using a technical, “shop-first” approach.

Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork also handles full interiors in
this Lake Tahoe home, with live-edge Chinese elm for
ceilings, trusses, doors, cabinetry and paneling.
We have found a steady niche building interiors for some of the nicest custom homes in the San Francisco Bay Area and Lake Tahoe, CA, markets, partnering with general contractors on very high-end projects. We have recently entered the nearby Napa/Sonoma Wine Country market.

Our process approach is founded on the steadfast belief that all interior woodwork can be produced faster, more efficiently and more accurately in a sophisticated workshop rather than measuring, cutting, nailing, sanding and installing at the job site.

This “shop-first” method keeps projects free of massive amounts of dust, lumber and on-site carpenters. Equally important, by keeping the majority of interior woodworking within our Concord facility, we leave the site available for other subcontractors to complete their work months earlier than otherwise would have been possible. For clients, this results in exceptional quality, as well as cleaner and more organized job sites, and shorter construction calendars.

To put this into context, years ago, custom cabinetry was typically built on-site. Over time, custom woodworking pioneers realized that using an off-site shop to build and finish cabinetry was much more efficient. Now, it is standard industry practice to install pre-finished cabinetry at most job sites.

So what makes Lloyd’s different? We believe the same logic and efficiencies associated with pre-finished cabinetry are valid for every piece of custom woodwork in a home.

“We set this company up to strive for perfection — using new techniques and technology,” is how my partner puts it. “This hasn’t been an easy path, but the rewards have been worth it. Careful selections of staff and creative engineering solutions have been incredibly important.”

Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork hand crafted this “English
Folly” home with sand-blasted douglas fir, mahogany,
and reclaimed white oak on interiors and exteriors.

Soon after Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork opened its doors we developed a reputation for fine quality cabinetry. In the beginning, we purchased prefabricated
drawer boxes, cabinet doors and drawer fronts from third-parties, then assembled the cabinetry in our shop. We hired local finishers to stain or paint the cabinets. Afterward, our own team would install the pre-finished cabinetry. We were “one of many” similar shops in our market.

Since those first couple of years, we separated ourselves from the local competition by investing and creating a superior shop facility. That facility helped us refine and leverage our “shop-first” approach. By adopting the right technology, we now make nearly everything in house.

Our 18 talented team members design, build, finish and install virtually every aspect of a job. This “in-house” approach gives Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork full control over quality and schedule. No longer does a dovetail drawer delivery or an outside finisher affect a project’s quality or timely completion — we do it all in house.

We begin our “shop-first” approach by thinking about creative ways to process and install the scope of the project well before actually building it. We constantly reassess our processes, trying out different scenarios. “There is a fair amount of trial and error,” says Lloyd. “If a technique doesn’t work it’s not a failure — it’s a lesson.”

We have learned that working on the cutting edge of change and constant improvements is not necessarily the most comfortable for all personalities. We have certainly hired and retired team members that were not up to the challenge and the intensity that comes from such change and evolution. We have followed one rule since opening our doors…nothing goes on a truck that isn’t perfect.

Challenging Each Other
From my vantage point, our success begins with a can-do attitude expected from every company member. We don’t sit back and build the same way we always have; we are constantly seeking improvements and changes. This works only if each team member is both agreeable to change, and motivated by it. Lloyd’s is a place for those who want to seek perfection and challenge each other.

As for fabricating full interiors in our plant, it is only made possible by collecting quite an arsenal of high-quality woodworking equipment. We operate our own “indoor lumber mill,” featuring a Northtech rip saw, a Grizzly re-saw band saw and an SCM Superset moulder.

We fabricate our own custom veneer plywood and other engineered parts using an Orma hot press. Efficient sanding is another major area of emphasis. We use a DMC Eurosand widebelt sander, a Quickwood finish sander, and several smaller Flex Trim sanders. The centerpiece of our shop is an SCM, 3-axis CNC router.

Much of our equipment is precise to the 100th, even 1,000th of an inch. Most of the equipment is also highly efficient. From a quality perspective, by putting those kinds of tools in the hands of quality craftsman, the results are better quality work produced more efficiently. From a motivation perspective, it means we are paying guys for technical assembly and finishing (i.e. the fun stuff), not routine tasks (i.e. sanding), and the result is higher job satisfaction.
A culture of excellence is vital. It starts by keeping an incredibly high standard and sticking to it. Our various managers do not let faults or blemishes slip through the system. We have quality checklists that are completed as work moves from milling, to assembly, to finishing, to installation.

Lloyd’s array of equipment includes (from left) a SCM Superset moulder, a Quickwood finish
sander, and Grizzly re-saw band saw. The shop’s centerpiece is an SCM three-axis CNC router.

It has taken time to collect and train our craftspeople. Some hires simply don’t have the attention for detail required or are too set in their ways. It’s important to recognize this swiftly and make changes promptly. Doing so tells the rest of the team that we are putting quality teammates beside you…and not letting poor workmanship settle into the shop.

Our company’s pursuit of perfection is at times stressful for all of us. So management celebrates achievements along the way. We also remind our team we are changing an industry, which of course is not an easy thing to do. A recently completed job in the Lake Tahoe area best summarizes the company’s full capabilities. Starting with 16 container loads of live-edge Chinese Elm, our team designed, manufactured, and pre-finished:

• Cabinetry and furniture
• Coffered and T&G ceilings
• Ridge beam and rafter beam ceilings
• Scissor trusses
• Wainscoting and full height paneling
• Stair parts and pickets
• Pre-hung interior doors
• Window and door casings
• Paneled openings
• Architectural trim (crown, base, etc.)
• Entry and garage doors
• Even a pool table and shuffleboard

One motivator is twice annual outings. We rent vans and take the team to completed jobs. They work hard and David and I appreciate it. “Seeing the final product is important. Most of our team works in the shop and wouldn’t otherwise see their craftsmanship,” says Lloyd.

Cronk is Principal, Lloyd’s Custom Woodwork.

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