Not every shop has gone hi-tech. At  H&B Woodworking Co. in Plainville, Conn., the emphasis is more on personal touch, close relationships with customers and practical, no-nonsense shop solutions.

Shop partners Lydia Witik and Matthew Malley ( see video tour ) are proud of the decades-old tradition of quality in the shop that was founded by Witik's father in 1968.

Witik and Malley have both worked in the shop for 24 years, and over that time have developed a system that connects pragmatic manufacturing solutions with hands-on design that is closely tied to efficient construction and installation methods.

Hands-on design

Witik's father came to this country from Austria in 1956 from a tradition of cabinetmaking going back several generations. Witik continued her father's legacy, growing up in the shop and beginning work immediately after high school.

Although she went to school for interior design and currently handles all the sales and design for the company, she knows her way around the shop and on an installation crew.

"I know how to put it all together," she says. "That has helped me tremendously on the design side."

Her approach is unabashedly old school: paper and pencil. Sitting at her desk, flanked by a collection of potted plants and a wall of moulding samples for their Williams & Hussey moulder, Witik draws every project by hand. "I think with my pencil," she says.

Working with a handful of interior decorators and directly with some customers, she says the close relationships she builds with clients doing it this way, are a powerful tool.

Marketing by referral

"We've never advertised," she says.

"It's strictly word of mouth. That's good for the customers because they know other customers. And it's good for us because they are not going to refer a deadbeat."

Witik thinks a lot of the shop's success has to do with paying attention to customer needs and finding solutions. "We think outside the box. We do both face-frame and frameless. We solve the problems," Witik says.

Work in the shop flows in a circular pattern, beginning with a loading dock and lumber storage. Malley says one of the biggest improvements they made was installing a humidifier system from  American Moistening. The resulting increased stability of wood products has made machining and assembly much easier.

Most cutting is done on a  Striebig vertical panel saw located near the loading and lumber area. Malley says the saw is very accurate and easy to use. An old horizontal panel router and boring equipment are located at the next position on the circular construction path.

From there, parts that need edgebanding go to the SCMI Olimpic K208 edgebander. For face frames and other parts that need joinery, Malley's favorite new tool is the  Festool Domino. Working much like a biscuit joiner, the Domino makes precise and strong loose-tenon joinery a snap.

Malley also uses a  Lamello biscuit joiner for assemblies where that is more appropriate.

Sanding and finishing

Past the assembly and joinery areas, the circle continues through a  Timesavers widebelt sander and on to the finishing area.

Wood flooring is typically uneven in the old brick factory building where H&B is located, so in the center of the production circle are a number of specially leveled low platforms to fully assemble and stage cabinets and furniture before delivery.

The shop can make its own doors but frequently outsources them to  Conestoga.

"It's like adding a man to the shop," says Witik.

Custom finishes are a specialty of H&B. Finisher Robert Witik prides himself on matching custom looks.

He uses a  Kremlin spray system to which he has added pivoting metal access gates for easier inspection of finish levels and adding material.

While Witik and Malley are happy without computerized design and automated production, they acknowledge a place for CNC.

When they encounter projects where CNC manufacturing would be advantageous, they outsource those services.

But with pencil in hand, Witik is ready to meet the challenge of working with the next custom customer.

She and Malley are convinced that their success in the past and moving into the future is really a formula for customer satisfaction.

"We build it and they're happy with the results," she says.

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