Adams Architectural Millwork uses up-to-date technology to create historically accurate windows, doors and millwork.
“Our niche is historically accurate windows and doors,” says owner Chad Lueken. “We can also handle anything that comes in the door, including large conference tables and reception desks. I would say we’re best at historically accurate doors, or doors in general. We can manufacture about any door that is out there, match a design or someone’s idea.”
Lueken has had to manage purchasing another company, moving that operation once, and then moving the combined operation again, all within a few years. In 2004, Lueken purchased and operated Dubuque Sash & Door in Dubuque, Iowa. Four years later, the company bought Adams Architectural Wood Products in Eldridge, Iowa.
“We bought them out in 2008, a case of a smaller company buying out a group that wanted to retire,” Lueken says.
They moved Adams to Dubuque, incorporating it into their existing operation that was housed in a building scheduled for rehabilitation. But only two years later they had to move everything again, to their current location near downtown Dubuque where the company has 30,000 square feet total of space.
Buying a larger company led to a larger, national customer base. Lueken did not have to spend as much time looking for the next job, and was able to take advantage of the good name Adams had built. But there were challenges, including the need to crate and ship products for over-the-road deliveries, hiring people with the right skills to handle the extra work, getting rid of excess, doubled-up equipment, and the increase in dust collection and electrical requirements.
Dubuque was at one time known as the millwork capital of the world. (There’s still a neighborhood called the Millwork District—in fact Adams was in it and had to move out.) Years ago, timber was floated down the Mississippi from the upper Midwest to make lumber and millwork. Known for windows and doors, the city also has Andersen, formerly Eagle Windows and Doors, and a Jeld-Wen operation. In years past, Farley & Loettchner was a major supplier, and Caradco made windows here.
About 75 percent of work is commercial, mostly bid projects, and mostly historically based. Commercial jobs are usually larger, and Adams works with contractors.
On the storm window business, homeowners are responding to the website, email marketing, and project profiles. Residential work is usually not local.
“On our website we have a quote request,” Lueken explains. “People will type in what they want and the quote request will come to us. We’ll send them an estimate. We probably get two or three quote requests a day on our website.
Overall, white pine is most common species, mahogany is next and is used in several variations. Vertical grain fir, walnut, white oak, Spanish cedar and even gum are used in custom windows.
Since everything is custom, sometimes the jobs have different components, such as a job that included large church doors. And it seems every piece of commercial hardware is different. “In a commercial standpoint the hardware is difficult,” Lueken says. “Doing all your research beforehand can mean a lot of time. Not knowing if you’re going to get the bid, you don’t know if it’s worth it to research it. Then when you get the job you wish you had really researched it to really know what’s involved in this hardware.”
Adams bids every job they can and tries to get four or five big jobs every year -- that’s their optimum. There are eight people working here, and temporary people help part-time.
“Sometimes we’ll have a large job going through the shop, and all of a sudden we’ll get small jobs, and we’ll have to figure out how to do the small jobs.
“We break up the jobs. The large job will go through certain people, smaller jobs will go through other people so the jobs won’t clog up the factory. We may have a storm window job or small window that will go to certain people rather than taking them away to do the big jobs. It’s hard to leave one job, then jump back into it a week later.”
The flow of work for door components starts at the straightline ripsaw. Pieces are planed, jointed, glued up, then component parts will be made. They go to the CNC, then to glue-up area, and then assembly. If it’s a window, Jon, the window specialist, will do all those processes, then they’ll go through a single-end tenoner or shaper, and then assembly.
Adams has a Biesse Rover A3.30 and it is used for doors and curved work. Lueken originally looked at a machine to build doors at IWF, but decided on a machine that would do more instead. This uses BiesseWorks software only. The Rover machines door components. They want the people to look at a number of component parts that make up a door, rather than the door itself. “When you do that it simplifies the whole process.”
Doors, cores and windows
To make door, stave cores are glued up on a clamp carrier. Then a Baker resaw slices 4/4 mahogany and this is applied over the doors. A Grizzly 20-inch planer gets rid of the rough cuts from the resaw. A Timesavers Series 2300 widebelt sander and an older Northfield jointer are also used here. An Italpresse Falcon/S clamp system for doors is also used. They’ve put a lot of extra effort into the doors by making them with stave cores but these are less likely to warp.
Adams is offering four basic types of storm windows, but customer modifications make any window custom. These windows have historically accurate features and can be made in two to four weeks. “It’s a good business for us. We’re price competitive, not many companies can offer what we can. We can customize as much as a person wants.”
Historically accurate means the same materials, same profiles, true divided lites, putty glazed, possibly using weight and pulley, mortise and tenon joinery, single pane, putty glazed. (See sidebar for characteristics.) Or, Adams can make a window look like the old one which incorporating insulated glass and other modern features.
Jim and Jon each have been with the company more than 20 years. Jim focuses on door manufacturing and Jon focuses on windows.
“They are a very critical component of the company,” Lueken says. “Their skills, knowledge and ability make the business run smoothly even though we are a custom shop. When we bring a shop drawing out to the shop floor Jim and Jon will tell if something is or is not going to work and may need to be re-designed.
“Rich Osborne at one point did estimating and ran production. Ozz has been with the company for more than 25 years and has a lot of experience and knowledge of historical windows and doors. He is phasing out for retirement and working four days a week estimating projects. Ozz is a good sounding board from a business and woodworking standpoint.
“Paul has been with the company for a little over a year. He is a contractor by trade but has built cabinets in the past. He has helped improve flow and meeting customer deadlines. He has implemented a lot of new processes to the business. Paul is in charge of the Job White Board, which it lists all the current projects that we have and deadlines. It really put a production focus on custom products. Sometimes I see that with the products we build that we could tinker away time and not add value to the product. Paul makes sure we get the project done to the customer’s expectations and then move on to the next project.
“We’re doing more with plant layout, flow, rather than equipment right now.”
Adams has a weekly meeting, with an agenda that may include quality issues, equipment that might help, materials, supplies and tooling. Getting everyone involved is key. Goals for the future include determining new equipment, improving the quoting system, and reducing the number of pieces of equipment that they have to babysit (There are 19 different single-end tenoners at the back of building, and many older machines in a large area that are not needed.)
Also, Lueken wants to have tooling that’s interchangeable, universal heads and different types of profiles, and to buy only backers and inserts instead of buying a whole dedicated head.
“What keeps me awake at night are Jim and Jon are getting older. Those are my two quality guys,” Lueken says.
“I’m trying to find equipment that is easy to train new people on. Every one of those tenoners, has its own personality. It would be hard to train a person to learn and set up all those machines. So I’m looking for a machine that is easy to use, easy to set up, and hopefully help us with efficiency.”
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