Had Jesse Cline listened to the economic pundits back in 2008, he would not have left a steady job as superintendent for a large home builder to pursue the dream of his own cabinetry and home organization shop: Brave Custom Woodworking.

“My accountant said I was awfully ‘brave’ to start a company during the recession,” Cline retold. “But what helped me succeed was that I was able to adapt to the market and handle small jobs, when a lot of other companies wouldn’t or couldn’t, and went under.”

Since beginning in a two-car garage, the company has grown significantly, with sales surpassing $1 million the past few years. Based in Manassas, Virginia, Brave Custom Woodworking serves the homeowners and builders market, offering complete design, fabrication, finishing and installation services to customers located throughout the region.

Organized mix of products

Despite its small size, the company offers a large range of products. Brave Custom Woodworking specializes in quality custom cabinetry for every room in the house, including products for the kitchen, laundry room, mudroom and closets. Kitchen and bath cabinetry account for approximately 50 percent of the company’s work, with built-in cabinetry around 30 percent, followed by closets and mudrooms at 10 to 15 percent; a small percentage of work is also in commercial.

 “Our closet and mudroom offerings evolved from requests from our customers,” Cline said. “We’re a little bit different from a typical shop in that we build the closets in boxes – base and upper units – then customize from a basic template.”

The company also markets the fact that it differs from other closet providers “in that we do not bring in a ‘bag of parts’ to your home nor are we a franchise operation.”

Wood Industry 40 Under 40

Brave Custom Woodworking's Jesse Cline a 2018 40 Under 40 honoree

Read about Jesse Cline's achievements, and those of the Wood Industry 40 Under 40 Class of 2018. For information on the 2019 and other 40 Under 40 alumni, or how to nominate an individual, visit WoodworkingNetwork.com/40-Under-40.

Brave Custom Woodworking promotes its products and services to homeowners, builders and interior designers through word of mouth, online marketing, social media, articles and website traffic. In addition to showroom displays, photos are posted and updated regularly on the company’s website, builtincabinet.com, as well as at Houzz and Pinterest. They provide a visual testimonial of the quality work, along with inspiration for future projects. “A lot of customers will reference the pictures on the website,” when contacting Brave Custom Woodworking, Cline added.

The company has developed a simple checklist for prospective customers to submit information, which it uses to develop a project estimate (see sidebar). “One of the first questions we usually ask is, ’What’s it going to be used for?’” he said.  “We’ll give them a ballpark figure and if it fits within their budget, we’ll go on site to meet with them, get more details and take measurements,” he explained. Three-dimensional drawings are also provided for review, prior to any construction.

“We’re willing to work with customers and give them what they want, to their exact needs and specifications,” Cline said.

Range of capabilities

Business is often brisk, with typically six to 10 projects in process throughout Brave Custom Woodworking’s approximately 12,000- square-foot shop, and a turnaround time of approximately four weeks from the signing of the contract. With 15 employees, the company also has a certified designer on staff, while providing solid wood and panel processing, CNC machining and on-site finishing services. Brave Custom Woodworking is also well-known in the region for its handcraftsmanship and attention to detail.

High-end residential projects account for three-quarters of the company’s work, and can price anywhere from $400 for simple bookcases to thousands of dollars for a complete kitchen, depending on the size and complexity.

“I don’t think any job we do is considered standard,” Cline said. “We can customize every part of the job.”

Cabinetry is a major component of the company’s work, whether for the kitchen, bath, closet or another area of the home. The cabinet boxes are made from premium cabinet grade 3/4-inch thick prefinished hardwood plywood, such as PureBond from Columbia Forest Products, or 3/4-inch thick TFL MDF from companies such as Arauco, Roseburg and Uniboard, and joined with a combination of screwing and blind dados.

Along with face-frame construction, the company also offers frameless cabinetry construction. A third, proprietary method – a shared face frame, in which the two sides fit into each other – is also available.

Components such as one-piece MDF and five-piece solid wood doors, are also manufactured in-house. Approximately 80 percent of the projects incorporate solid wood, such as maple, poplar and other hardwood species, and the equipment inside the shop reflects this, with a mix of dedicated machinery for solid wood production, along with CNC and panel processing equipment. “We may be a small shop, but we try to maximize all the space,” Cline said. Employees are also cross-trained.

Recently purchased, the SCM Morbidelli CNC router is already a workhorse. “We nest everything,” Cline said. “Every job that goes through the shop gets cut on this machine.”

Also used widely is the Brandt edgebander, with 100 percent of the closets jobs involving edgebanding such as on shelves, along with 20 percent of other projects.

Cabinet Vision software is used for the design and programming. Also in the shop has a variety of equipment, including a vertical panel saw, dedicated shapers for upper and lower cabinets and a new dowel machine, from suppliers including Grizzly, Ritter, and Atlantic Machinery. The dust collection system is Whispurr, from Dustek.

Also within the shop is a dedicated finishing area, with two bays, Eagle spray booths, Kremlin guns and a drying room. “Eighty-five percent of everything we do gets finished by Brave,” Cline said, with custom color and stain matching available.

What also sets Brave Custom Woodworking apart is its full-service, including installation. The company has two installation crews and guarantees one-day installation on most jobs.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Cline said he regularly looks to industry magazines, trade shows, suppliers and associations for news on technology, trends, advice and networking opportunities.

One piece of invaluable advice, Cline shared, is to work with the customer to obtain the best value, “but don’t be afraid to go outside the box.”

“If the customer is willing to let us try something, then we’re willing to do it,“ he said. “It’s definitely not boring around here.”

5 questions to ask before providing an estimate

Before a project estimate can be given, here are a few things Brave Custom Woodworking needs to know. (Visit builtincabinet.com for more on the company, plus the full checklist.)

Along with customer contact information:

1. What is the type of dwelling: single family, townhouse or high-rise installation/floor?

2. What are the basic dimensions of the intended installation (wall width, wall height & depth of cabinets desired)?

3. What type of finish is desired (paint, stain grade wood or a thermofoil finish)?

4. How will the space be used (TV area, home office, closet, kitchen, etc.)?

5. What are some of the dimensions of items to be displayed or hidden (i.e., size of TV, stereo equipment, children’s toys, etc.)?

Prospective customers are also requested to email low-resolution photo(s) of the existing room/area. They are also encouraged to consult the portfolio on Brave Custom Woodworking’s website for ideas or inspiration.

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