Harden Furniture combines craftsmanship with modern production technology
May 15, 2009 | 10:39 am CDT

Tradition meets technology in upstate New York, where Harden Furniture combines old-world craftsmanship with modern-day technology, to forge a profitable future.

From the Cabinetmaker’s Cherry and Home Office Solutions collections, this birch-trim writing desk features a drop-down lid and two drawers. It is available in 18 finishes.

Adaptation — to the needs of the marketplace, workplace and the environment — is what sets Harden Furniture apart from many of its competitors. Since its inception in 1844, the five-generation, family-owned company has set a standard for fine craftsmanship and sustainable manufacturing.

This commitment literally starts from the ground up. Harden owns 10,000 acres of mixed timberlands and its hardwoods are certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Harden’s timberlands supply 20 percent of the company’s needs, with the remainder purchased from local suppliers. Harden’s own sawmill and kiln operation are used to process all the lumber.

Purchasing locally whenever possible helps Harden Furniture to reduce its carbon footprint. According to President Greg Harden, the company also has initiatives in place to reduce its carbon emissions by 10 percent yearly and its energy consumption also by double-digits annually. (See Green Strategies sidebar.) The company also has made a concerted effort to reduce material usage through lean manufacturing and to recycle items such as wood waste, which it uses to generate heat for the facility and the kilns.

Lumber is dimensioned first, then ripped, for optimal yield. Approximately 20 percent of the lumber used in production is from Harden’s timberlands.

Optimized Manufacturing and Finishing
Inside the 450,000-square-foot plant, the company uses lean manufacturing “wherever it makes sense for us,” Harden says. “We focus on yield optimization, particularly in the rough mill. We dimension first and rip second — that’s where all the optimization comes in.”

Once ripped, the boards are manually sorted by grain and color for optimal matching into panels. The edge-glued, 5/4-inch panels are then cold pressed and placed in Taylor clamp carriers to ready them for machining.

Harden Furniture has remained successful using a combination of high-tech equipment and older, standard machines to manufacture its lines of residential and hospitality furniture. CNC routers, for example, are integral in helping the company reduce its turnaround time and, in some areas, eliminate the need for inventory.

Integral to all of Harden Furniture’s products is the attention to detail given to all wood finishing. The multi-step process varies between 20 to 40 steps and involves hand sanding and hand rubbing of all individual pieces. “It’s very intensive,” Harden says. “But, our greatest strength is our finishing.”

Pictured is one of the company's many longtime craftsmen.

This has become an even greater strategic advantage for the company as more case goods manufacturing moved to the Far East, Harden says. Currently, case goods comprise two-thirds of the company’s manufacturing, with the remaining one-third being upholstered furniture.

The finishing system is on line, but a product can be pulled off at any given time for artistic enhancements, Harden says. The company offers more than 35 standard Valspar finishes, plus custom decorative colors, and stylized distressing and burnishing.

“We keep a custom registration panel on hand, which helps us maintain a record of the finishes we have done for a customer, so we can always go back and match the new piece to existing products,” Harden says.

Color preferences continue to be “across the board,” he adds. “We’re continuing to sell light, medium and dark — it’s very diverse.”

Part of the European Interpretations Collection, this oval dining table features solid cherry wood construction and a veneer top. Also from the collection, the coordinating Trellis arm and side chairs have carved wood frames and tight seats. They are available in nine finishes.

Marketing Trends
Of the company’s current product lines, two-thirds are targeted to the residential/hospitality market and one-third to the contract furniture industry. Harden Furniture currently manufactures nine collections in a range of styles, including “informal European,” Mission, country and traditional.

The latest collection, which debuted last month at the Spring High Point Market, is called Artistry. It is a contemporary, “clean-line” grouping made from quarter-sawn oak in four finishes. Although there are currently 26 pieces in the collection of dining room, bedroom and occasional furniture, Harden says that more probably will be added within the year as Artistry gains popularity.

Prior to developing any new collection, Harden says the company conducts its own major market studies, plus utilizes research by industry associations, such as the American Home Furnishings Alliance and Sustainable Forestry Initiative, to determine market trends. New products are introduced by Harden Furniture every six months, while the development of a complete new collection occurs every two years.

“Anytime you go through a recession, it seems like consumers’ preferences change,” says Harden. “You want to make sure, as you develop products and position the brand, that you are designing for tomorrow’s popularity and not ‘following the herd.’

“What we’ve done [with the Artistry Collection] has been completely supported by our findings.”

In addition to promoting sales throughout the North American market, Harden Furniture is increasing its efforts in reaching the international market through Internet sales and the possible development of a distribution base in Europe. Harden says the company already is selling its products internationally to high-end residential clients and embassies.

“With business being so soft right now, we have to work harder than ever,” Harden says.

The company combines the use of nested-based machinery, such as the Komo CNC router pictured above, with older, standard machines, to manufacture its full lines of residential, contract and hospitality furniture.

Green strategies at the forefront
Last year, Harden Furniture became the first furniture manufacturer to achieve Silver Exemplary Status from the Sustainable Furniture Council. In earning that status, Harden attests to the following: 15 to 25 percent of its wood products are certified under Forest Stewardship Council or an equivalent organization and 1 to 25 percent of its remaining products are made from recycled or bio-based materials. In addition, Harden not only completed a carbon footprint report, but reduced its emissions by 14.58 percent.

According to company President Greg Harden, the continued reduction of carbon emissions and electrical energy use are priorities for the company. Harden Furniture reduced its electrical energy use last year by 1 million Kilowatt hours and continues to work with the State of New York and others in an effort to further reduce consumption by an additional 10 percent or more.



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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]