Teamwork & technology leads to more jobs
By Linda Ohm
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

Levi Mize loves to design kitchens. He started with just a dream, himself and a one-car garage in 1990. To do what he loves and sell it successfully Mize, owner of Woodcraftsman Inc., Camarillo, Calif., has had to develop the right mix of employees, software and CNC machinery.

Today, his business employs six people and operates out of a 5,000-square-foot space. Among his most important tools are Cabinet Vision software, a Biesse Rover CNC router and, of course, his employees.

"Everything works together in harmony," says Mize. "I can have the best equipment in the world and the best software, but if I have a bunch of uninspired, unmotivated employees working for me, it isn't going to do me any good."

Software first

The move to automation began with Mize's use of Cabinet Vision software. "I'd been doing everything with a T-square and a ruler and it was taking me anywhere from 20 to 40 hours to design a complete job and God help me if they asked for changes," says Mize. Now, he can design a complete kitchen in 15 minutes and have the appliances dropped in and everything ready to go.

Mize admits that for him Cabinet Vision is very intuitive. After he got his first library set up, he's been adding to the program and learning more every day. "I do the sales with Cabinet Vision. I do the designing with it, too," says Mize. "It saves me tons of time."

Mize's first foray into improving his operation began with the purchase of an Altendorf F92 sliding table saw, a TigerStop fence system and upgrading his Cabinet Vision software. When Mize made his machinery decisions he considered productivity and assembly time, but he left one important element out of his equation the increased referrals that would lead to increased business.

"Within two years I had outstripped the new equipment and we couldn't produce any faster or get any more work out of the shop," says Mize. "So then I started seriously thinking about CNC."

Next step CNC

Mize was struggling with the decision about whether or not to purchase a CNC machine. "I've never, ever been in debt. I pay as I go," says Mize. It took a weekend at a church leadership conference to convince him to take a chance on purchasing a CNC machine. The Monday following the conference in November 2004 he ordered a Biesse Rover B4.35 FT router. He and his wife, Mandi, went to Charlotte, N.C., for the training and to be certified to operate the machine.

After the Biesse tech came in to set up the machine in January 2005, the Cabinet Vision integrator came out. That same week Mize says he was up and running. He admits that his experience with Cabinet Vision helped immensely.

"Having that machine has increased our productivity and our efficiency and led to callbacks like crazy," says Mize. "It used to take us five to six days to cut out a kitchen and process all the parts. Now, it takes us five to six hours. We're building kitchens now in the same amount of time it used to take to cut them out and process all the parts."

Changes in the shop

Before the CNC, the shop used a lot of jigs to save time and keep production moving smoothly. With the arrival of the router, Mize changed his construction method. "I'm actually building European cabinets with face frames," he says. "It makes assembly so much faster."

Mize wanted to have consistency in the shop, so the box is always built the same. Boxes are constructed using blind dadoes. Face frames are cut with an Hitachi chop saw using the TigerStop system, butt joined, glued and attached with pocket screws made with a Castle pocket-hole machine.

"Even though we're custom, they're still set up the same," he says. "I don't want my guys standing out there scratching their heads at every job that comes out there." The only thing the shop crew needs to worry about is whether the doors are overlay or inset, and the only difference is the location of the hinge hole.

To have CNC machining work optimally, it's critical to measure and re-measure every job for fit. "That machine can ruin a job and lose money just as fast as it can make it."

Moving information

Once Mize feels confident his measurements are correct, he'll send the information out to the machine and print up all forms, cutlists, assembly sheets, CNC sheets and a door and drawer list. Mize uses colored folders as a means to organize all the information.

A plain manila folder holds the original job information, while a yellow folder holds forms that go out to the shop with CNC data, assembly drawings and face-frame information. A blue folder holds installation information.

When the job is ready to go to the router, Mize hands off the door order to Mandi and she orders the doors from Decore-ative Specialties. It takes about 10 days to get the doors, in which time the shop can cut out, machine and build the kitchen.

Moulding is outsourced as are most of the corbels and decorative add-ons. Corbels and other decorative elements are purchased from either Enkebols or Pearlworks. The shop will design and create corbels occasionally for clients on a budget. Turnings are purchased from Osborne.

The shop makes its own drawers out of 9-ply structural birch with glued and stapled butt joints. If dovetail drawers are requested, they are outsourced to DBS drawers.

Finishing the job

The shop does not finish its cabinets. "All we do is design, build and install cabinetry, and we'll put on the hardware, no additional charge," says Mize. "I've got two finishers I use who do the work on site."

The job is prepared for the finish using an Extrema Pro series widebelt sander and a lot of hand sanding to provide a smooth, seamless finish, especially important with the inset cabinets in which the shop specializes.

It's important to have employees with good people skills that know how to respect clients and take pride in their work, says Mize. "We always try to work with peoples' budgets and give them the very best, because it's always going to come back to you," says Mize. "What sets us apart is our commitment to customer service and taking care of our clients. We love what we're doing and it shows. People pick up on that."

Mize also feels it's important to use the right products, whether it's plywood, melamine coated particleboard or functional hardware. "I use the good stuff, the name brand stuff that's been around," he says. "That's another thing that sets us apart we build the best. We build for our clients like we would build for ourselves."

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