CWB March 2004
Vintage in Name and in Deed>
A Nashville company uses modern technology to preserve woodworking traditions.
By Sam Gazdziak>
The "Vintage" in Vintage Millworks Inc. is not there just for show. James and Margaret Dunn founded the company in 1987 as a result of a passion for authentic woodworking.
"We both appreciate the find craftsmanship of hand-made [woodworking]" James says. "We've always felt it was a possibility to be able to continue that, even though we live in a modern world.
"We have some very sophisticated equipment, and we still have the passion for the wood, the beauty of the wood and really good design," he continues. "It doesn't have to be lost in all the technical equipment; it actually makes it a little easier."
Margaret adds that they love to be able to participate in building "something that is beautiful, that lasts, that can be enjoyed for generations, that has the signature of a craftsman." She means that literally, as their employees sign their names on their projects in discreet places. "Our craftsmen take great pride in their work," she explains.
Vintage Millworks started in Nashville, TN, with three employees. Now, including the Dunns, there are 27 employees, including two of the three original workers. While the company has done commercial projects, including an expansion of the Opryland Hotel, its heart is in residential construction. James Dunn says the company's combination of tech and craft suits their customers well.
"Our clients are not satisfied with secondary products. They travel all over the world and they recognize good work and good materials, and they're not willing to sacrifice that," he says.
A New Old Home
"[It is about] celebrating the hand-craft and the quality of life that you have," Margaret says. "Buildings should enhance the quality of life, be it commercial buildings or residential."
One of James' favorite projects involved a farmhouse on 100 acres of land south of Nashville. The owner wanted a weekend home, so he had plans drawn up for a home to be built on the property. He first brought the plans to Vintage Millworks to let them critique the house.
"We were able to suggest features that you would have found in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse," James says. "Very simple lines with exposed rafters, circle-blade sawn wood, metal roofs, the appropriate size of windows - taking it away from the ranch look that the designer had drawn."
The best part came when the building codes inspector came to look over the house. He didn't remember the house being there before, but was very impressed and commended the carpenters for the fine remodeling job they did.
"That was one of my personal favorites because it was small, simple, and it represents a lifestyle that we've really lost, the agrarian lifestyle," James says. "Yet here's a place we provide both design assistance and product to replicate that time period to be enjoyed and treasured by family and friends. There will be a lot of good memories."
Continuing with the company's love of woodworking, it frequently uses antique (or vintage, in keeping with the name) woods in its projects. James says that there are several suppliers in the area that provide reclaimed lumber from turn-of-the-century buildings that have been torn down, so the company has a good supply of woods like antique heart pine.
In keeping with the company's traditional outlook, Vintage offers the option of hand-carved details in its pieces, from arches and ornamental details to large panels. The company has two employees who do the carving, but any employee with the potential and desire to carve is encouraged to develop that skill.
"We see a need and a desire for authentic carved pieces," James said. "But with the cost of doing that, you've got to find more efficient ways sometimes."
To that end, Vintage makes good use of its Northwood CNC router, which it purchased a year ago. Not only does the router speed up production and accuracy of the work, it makes the hand-carved pieces easier and safer to produce.
"We can still get the hand-carved look by taking it off the router and taking it one more time to the bench," James says. "We still get to put our hands on it. It's not cookie-cutter [work.]"
Now, instead of one of the carvers working on a piece for hours, the router is programmed, and the part is partially cut. Then, the carver takes it to his bench, where he puts the finishing details on it by hand.
The router was part of an expansion that Vintage went through last year. About 10,000 square feet was added to the shop, bringing it up to 26,000 square feet total, along with 1,500 square feet of office space. A Mereen-Johnson arch moulder was added to the shop floor, along with an upgraded dust collection system.
One of the benefits of the moulder was that Vintage did not need to make any extra tooling purchases. Vintage has a Weinig Profimat 23 moulder. The Mereen-Johnson arch moulder accepts all the same cutterheads, increasing the existing curved moulding production capacity previously served by a Steigher arched moulder.
Those two machines complement Vintage's existing equipment, which also includes a Mereen-Johnson ripsaw, Timesavers widebelt sander, Altendorf sliding table saw and several Powermatic table saws and Tannewitz bandsaws.
Nashville and Beyond
Vintage is also moving outside of the Nashville area, which is where the bulk of the company's work has traditionally been. They were recently invited to provide a unique antique oak carved entry door for the "Traditional Homes"-sponsored "Weekend Living in Montecito" House in Montecito, CA. It has also manufactured products to several other states and even shipped a container of kitchen cabinetry and outdoor lawn furniture to St. Bartholomew in the Caribbean.
While the company's scope is increasing, the company will continue to take the "Vintage" in its name to heart. "We still want to keep the fine woodworking alive," James says. "Whether you're using electricity or manpower, it doesn't really matter. Good materials, good craftsmanship, good design - that's the very essence of the trade."
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