|Complementing the Red Essex painted and glazed finish is a pine beadboard back and mouldings finished to match the pine floor.|
Outdoors, on a crisp fall morning, the leaves on the trees lining the streets of Doylestown, PA, offer an array of colors. It is a pretty sight. But inside one of the townâs buildings, an even wider variety of beautiful colors can be seen, available year-round.
The building houses the showroom, offices and production shop of Superior Woodcraft (superiorwoodcraft.com), a custom cabinet manufacturer located in the town for more than 30 years. Started as a one-man shop by European cabinetmaker Karl Geiger in 1967, the company has grown to 32 employees in the 17,000-square-foot facility. The showroom overflows with colorful examples of the finishes the company can create, and its growth has been due, in part, to the beauty and quality of its finishes.
âOur finishes are a part of what we do; we are a true custom shop,â says Patrick Kennedy, vice president. âOur clients are looking for something that no one else has or they are looking to match something precisely. That boils down to the finish.
âPeople can appreciate the construction and how durable the cabinetry is,â he adds. âBut really, the finish is what most people perceive. That is something that we have always been strong in.â
Kennedy notes that about 50 percent of the companyâs finishes are custom. However, even the finishes considered to be standard go far beyond the norm. Superior Woodcraft offers as standard 30 to 40 paint colors, a like number of stains and 16 glazes. With all the possible combinations available, its standard finishes number in the hundreds.
âCustomers can take any of those stains and glazes or paints and glazes and mix them, and we consider that a standard finish. How much glaze, how little glaze, whether they want a lot of hang-up or distressing, thatâs customized for each client. But we still donât consider that a custom finish,â Kennedy says. âA custom finish for us is when we have to formulate the actual paint, stain or glaze.â
Because the company offers limitless choices, about two years ago it expanded its standard finishes to help customers in the selection process. âWe established a wide variety of colors to give clients something to start from, rather than having them come in and say, âI have no idea,ââ Kennedy says. The showroomâs samples help them visualize their options.
Having a lot of standards not only makes choosing a finish easier, but also is more cost-effective for clients. In todayâs economy, even in the high-end market, customers are watching costs much more closely, Kennedy says. While they may love the look of a complicated 8-step finish, many choose something that has fewer steps to bring down the cost.
Attention to details and care given at Superior Woodcraft, such as hand-sanding with special lighting.
Obsession for Detail
Offering an unlimited number of choices is only one small part of the entire finishing process at Superior Woodcraft. The amount of work and attention to detail in creating the finishes is what really tells the story. And when it comes to the level of labor expended to get just the right look, Showroom Director Amanda Bertele says, âWe are almost obsessive about it.â
It is somewhat of a challenge to describe the steps involved in the finishing process, since virtually every shop operation to produce the cabinetry takes the finish into consideration. This is particularly true with the painted finishes, which account for about 60 percent of the companyâs work.
âWe start with the wood,â Kennedy says. âWe paint on soft maple, and the same wood species is used throughout all the construction, so the moisture content is consistent. We use extra glue on our joints on our painted product to make sure that we have good coverage. From our cabinetmakers to our sanders to our finishers, we put putty on all the joints. Any time any of them sees a little void, they use putty or similar products to make sure that itâs filled.â
The shop worker who makes the frames and doors is aware of what the finish will be, so that he can select the best wood for the particular finish. Mortise-and-tenon construction is used for framed cabinets, and the company makes its own tenons out of the same species as the cases. Frames are assembled with C-clamps and yellow wood glue in order to get the tightest joint possible; door panels are made oversized and fit into the frames by hand, also to get a tight joint. Frameless cabinets are doweled and assembled in a Hess case clamp.
Sanding also is considered an important part of the finishing process. Machine sanding is done on a Sandingmaster widebelt sander, followed by extensive hand-sanding. The sanding department is equipped with numerous lights, angled at 45 degrees to the wood, to show up any scratches or imperfections.
Knotty pine is elegant in this library thanks to the custom finish â distressed, stain and glaze.
Quality Control at Each Step
The entire shop follows a âproducer-consumerâ quality control system to ensure that any mistakes are caught quickly. The concept is that workers at each step are producing a product for the âconsumerâ doing the next step. The producer must get it to the consumer on time and in proper condition; the consumer must make sure that he is getting what is appropriate and, if not, send it back.
Beyond that, there is an extra quality control check of products as they enter the sanding department. After the sanding is complete, there is another formal quality check out of the sanding department and into the finishing department. âBasically, everybody is looking at the product all the time,â Kennedy says.
The company uses finish stepboards for all projects, and each client gets a sample door that has to be approved before the finish is started. After every step in the finish, each component is checked against the stepboard and the sample to make sure it is right.
There are three spray booths in the finishing department, which is equipped with an air makeup unit. The main spray guns are Kremlin HVLP models. Once a day, everything is removed from the department and it is thoroughly cleaned. If a particularly tricky finish is being done, such as high-gloss, the department may be cleaned twice a day.
There are eight finishers in the department, and all they do is finishing. Kennedy estimates that on average, they have 15 to 16 years of experience. âWe look at it that they are specialists and that is pretty much what they have done their entire careers,â he says.
A Good Supplier Partnership
Working closely with their materials supplier is another important element in achieving an excellent finish, Kennedy says. Most of the materials come from Sherwin-Williams.
âWe are a pain-in-the-neck customer for a finishing company, because we have so many custom finishes,â he laughs. âWe are not buying 55-gallon drums of standard finishes. Our finishing area has a lot of 1-gallon buckets that we are sampling colors from.â
Kennedy says that Sherwin-Williams is open to working with them in a number of ways. âWe have gone to their facility with about 8 finishers and they have taken 6 or 7 of their techs to work together on a Saturday, just going over products to understand how we are using them,â he says. âWhen they do duplicate finishes for us, we give them the sandpaper, rags and everything else we use here so they are using the exact same tools to get a perfect match.
âThey also accept that our tolerance for color variation is extremely low,â he adds. âSo when they are testing our materials, they know what that number has to be.â
The final result of all these efforts is a satisfied client base that keeps the company growing through repeat business and referrals. âWe are building products that people have in their homes for 35 or 40 years now,â Kennedy says. âWe feel that when we install our cabinets, it is the last cabinetry the customer will ever have to put in his home, and it needs to last that long.â
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