McDonald Cabinetry hit pay dirt in Utah's silver-mining town of Park City. No longer focused on mining, this ski resort town has some of the most exclusive homes in the United States and a good market for high-end residential cabinetry work.

Alan McDonald's work in Park City has provided him with a steady supply of customers, which he works closely with on designs, colors and layouts. Aside from all the glazes and finishes demanded by the Park City market, the distressed wood' look is quite time-consuming. "They want the knots, splits and wormholes, which we put into the wood largely by hand."

Start with a sample

To create a sample, McDonald has at times put down five or six different glazes to come up with a certain look or add even more depth to the wood. The sample, a smaller modular box that looks just like the final cabinets, helps to ensure the final product meets the customer's approval when installed in the home. Customers sign off on a form to accept the style and color.

"If you don't do that you may run into trouble," says McDonald. "If questions arise, you can bring the sample and the signed form to remind them. That way, if changes are still requested, those are done at the customer's expense. We do this with every customer to eliminate any questions."

Keeping it small

McDonald Cabinetry is not a high-volume shop; it isn't set up for that. "At one time I had a number of employees but it seemed like all I ended up doing was running from one spot to the next in an effort to put things together and it really wasn't worth my time in the production line," says McDonald.

"Basically 80 percent of the work goes through my hands," says McDonald. "I now have one employee, Jerry, who has been with me eight years. He does most of the product sanding." When McDonald's 17-year-old son, Sean takes over he will be the fourth generation of cabinetmakers for McDonald Cabinetry. Part-time help is brought in to supplement his small staff when needed.

McDonald does full face-frame furniture-grade cabinetry. He does not go after the modular market, which is well supplied by many other shops in the area. He still uses the old methods his dad, who was trained by his dad, used, incorporating various methods which, though more time-consuming, turn out a more durable, traditional product.

"I still can't think of a better way to build a box, even if it does take more time," says McDonald. "By gluing and screwing in from the back side, my cabinets are more solid and stand the test of time better, even if production is a bit different, perhaps than many others out there. We're still old school' as they call it; we dado all our joints on our cabinet boxes and still tongue and groove our face frames."

Standing the test of time

The 3,600-square-foot shop McDonald occupies was built by his father in nearby Heber City in 1949. Although McDonald says he learned a lot from his father, over the years there have been some changes.

"Products, of course change," he says. "We went from plywood to melamine. That proved a big transition for me; melamine was a better product than the plywood as they made the core lighter, but that made it more challenging to work with as far as I was concerned.

"The architecture style demands all square panels," says McDonald. "Doors are very simple to construct for that reason. We make all our doors in-house. That way I can choose all my own colors of wood and styles and this increases our quality tremendously. Many varied woods remain popular here, including alder, knotty cherry and knotty walnut as well as glazes ranging from whites, greens, reds and blacks. In one recent project we tackled, there were eight different steps involved to get the glazes and finish on. Applying glazing, if more than just clear finish is required, can nearly take as much time as assembling the cabinet box itself."

McDonald retains much of the control of his business. He does all the bidding, takeoffs, production schedules and assembly himself. He considers himself the most vital of all the equipment he has. "If I'm gone, nothing happens," says McDonald.

Multipurpose helps

McDonald makes his doors on his Ritter Door System Door Shaver. Once the doors are constructed, they are taken to the sanding area and then to the Casolin saw to square and size up. The saw has proven to be a multi-purpose tool and one of the key elements of his shop.

With limited space, McDonald needs to make the most of his equipment. By having two different types of door hinge machines, Grass and Blum, he is capable of doing any type application.

"I did buy a software program and haven't figured it out yet," says McDonald. With limited volume he says he doesn't do it often enough to truly learn it. And some of the things McDonald does are so customized that he can't get a computer program to do it. As a result, he still does all his drawings by hand.

"I can actually do it all faster on graph paper than sitting down and trying to get the computer to do it for me," says McDonald. "I can even do three-dimensions in my work faster than any of the programs out there."

McDonald's attention to detail is still a force in his work. Nothing leaves his shop unless it's exactly where it's supposed to be. He prides himself on his personal stamp of approval.

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