Hurricane, flood can’t stop Galveston shop
July 1, 2010 | 7:00 pm CDT

Richard Bloom is a case in raw determination. He was in the process of making some major improvements to his shop, Wud Cabinetry in Galveston, Texas, and had just invested $15,000 in new equipment. Then Hurricane Ike hit the island.

Both his home and his shop were devastated. “There were trees in the street and mud everywhere,” he says. The water level reached 82 inches high in the shop, and the mud on the shop floor was ¾ inch thick, he recalls.

At the insistence of his wife, Bloom repaired his home first, then he set about putting his shop right. “It took a week just to clean up with four or five of my nephews helping,” he says. But with no flood insurance to cover the damage, the cleanup was just the beginning.

Rebuilding everything 

Less determined men would have declared the shop a total loss and just walked away, but that’s not Bloom. He knew there were opportunities to make money in cabinetry helping to rebuild Galveston if he could just get his shop running again.
He had recently bought a new Kreg pocket hole machine, a Detel line borer, and a Ritter horizontal borer to complement older equipment he already had such as a Holz-Her edgebander and a Holz-Her vertical panel saw. Now everything had been under water as the hurricane flood waters washed through his downtown Galveston shop, which is only 6 feet above sea level.

“We started pulling the motors, taking the armatures out and cleaning them up,” he recalls. “All the grease in the bearings was gone.”

So, he started repacking bearings, cleaning and rebuilding one machine at a time. “Every night for two months I was here to midnight,” he says. One by one, he brought the machines back to life.

Rethinking the shop 

Bloom had always been interested in making his shop more efficient, and that had led to the machinery purchase before the disaster. But he thought even more about efficiency while he was rebuilding the shop. After the storm, he bought a Blum boring machine.

He was anxious to get the shop up and running to take advantage of business available as people rebuilt homes and businesses in Galveston. Bloom says there were only four cabinet shops in Galveston before the storm, but now at least seven cabinet stores have cropped up on one of the main streets in town. Ironically, because of the economy and other factors, the pace of rebuilding and available business in the area has not lived up to expectations.

Still, Bloom persevered and continued to develop plans for increased efficiency, including developing an elaborate written manual of procedures to systematically drive production.

Carts and color codes 

One example of Bloom’s low-cost efficiency ideas is a system of shop-built color-coded carts.

He starts with those common inexpensive dolly carts that are designed to roll on two or four wheels. Then he builds a wood framework that sits on the cart secured only by Velcro strips. That may not seem very sturdy, but Bloom is happy to demonstrate how he can pick up a cart by the framework, and the wood doesn’t separate from the metal cart.

Each of the wooden assemblies is painted a different color, and each cart is assigned to different roles in production. For example, the blue cart might be for base cabinet sides, the green cart for base cabinet nailers, the yellow cart for wall cabinet tops and bottoms, and so on, and there are stations for each cart color. All of this is documented in his written manual.

He says the system makes it faster and easier to machine like parts and to locate exactly the part you need for the next operation.

Computer saved 

Another important part of Bloom’s operation that did not have to be rescued from the flood is his computer, because it was upstairs when the hurricane hit.

Bloom uses KCD software to design the kitchens he builds and is a firm believer in its value for designing, estimating, and helping to sell customers on a project.

Another thing that helped Bloom after the flood was his reliance on outsourcing. He has long bought doors from Decore-Ative Specialties. He also outsources countertops to another regional shop. In addition, he sells stock cabinets from time to time.

One thing he does not outsource is drawer boxes, which he makes with pocket screws and dowels, hence the importance of the Kreg machine he rescued from the flood.

Still clearly struggling in the current economy, Bloom continues to move forward. Working mostly with his son in the shop, he continues the rebuilding process, determined as ever to come out on top.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.