WCMA tour showcases diversity

For those that enjoy the mountains of the southern United States, then the place to be this past October was the 2005 Wood Component Manufacturers Association plant tour.

Tour participants trekked through seven very different manufacturing plants nestled in and around the mountains in southern Virginia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. And despite the differences in final products, there were common themes among all the plants visited. Speed, efficiency, automation and a focus on domestic production were mentioned repeatedly throughout the tour.

Steve Lawser, executive director of the WCMA, felt the tour was successful, with nearly 200 people attending. "I was pleased with the variety and the quality of the plants," he said. "I was also pleased with the fact that we were able to get in to see some plants that are highly innovative and have some proprietary manufacturing methods and products that are normally closed to outside visitors."

Catawissa Lumber & Specialty Co. Inc.

The tour kicked off with a visit to Catawissa Lumber & Specialty Co. Inc. in West Jefferson, N.C. Catawissa was founded in 1957 and has four plants the North Carolina facility plus three in Pennsylvania. Taken together, the four plants have the capability of processing 25 million board feet of lumber into edge-glued panels, face-laminated panels and squares, semi-machined components, drawer slides, drawer fronts, mouldings, butcherblock panels, stair treads and fully assembled bed ends and chair components.

The North Carolina plant specifically does edge gluing, planing, sanding, shaping, tenoning, moulding, edge-profiling, profile edge sanding, face laminating and vertical and horizontal boring.

The plant recently acquired several pieces of automated equipment that have increased speed and efficiency. Of particular interest to tour participants was a Cameron Color Matcher. Catawissa has also added a Cameron Rip First System, a Weeke CNC router and a Weinig moulder.

"At Catawissa, you have a true, bonafide, domestic dimension/component manufacturer," Lawser said. "It's one of the leaders in our industry, and has been around a long time."

Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co.

The second tour stop was at the Galax, Va., plant of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. Vaughan-Bassett has long been a leader in the charge to keep residential furniture manufacturing in the United States.

Approximately 95 percent of production at Vaughan-Bassett is bedroom suites, with the remaining five percent consisting of youth and dining room furniture and occasional tables.

Vaughan-Bassett does import one item children's bunk beds. Wyatt Bassett, executive vice president, explained that the price point for bunk beds is about $250. If Vaughan-Bassett made the beds, the price would have to be about $400. However the rest of the children's suite is made up of Vaughan-Bassett furniture. "We import six bunk beds, so of 250 SKUs, 244 are domestic. We think we're doing pretty good," Wyatt Bassett said.

John Bassett, president and CEO of Vaughan-Bassett, spoke with tour participants about the importance of domestic production and Vaughan-Bassett's work in this area. "The only things we import are those things we can't produce as well ourselves," John Bassett said. "We have 95 percent domestic production."

Speed is another priority at Vaughan-Bassett. "Our goal is to run all hardwood bedroom suites as fast as our veneer suites," Wyatt Bassett said. "Our CNC routers all run in two or three shifts." According to Wyatt Bassett, Vaughan-Bassett is already faster in the production of hardwood bedroom suites than the rest of the industry. The company is completely integrated from dry kilns through finishing and veneer application.

Webb Furniture Industries Inc.

The next stop was also in Galax, Va., at the particleboard plant for Webb Furniture Industries Inc. Lee Houston, president of Webb Furniture, summed up his view of the Galax facility. "All material leaves here as either product or energy," Houston said. "Everything we manufacture is 100 percent Made in the USA'."

One sight that was out of the ordinary at the Galax facility were piles of raw material various grades of sawdust and wood shavings located outside the plant. The piles were roughly 15 feet in height and, according to one plant spokesperson, are turned every three weeks.

The plant has 80 employees and produces door core through furniture-grade particleboard. Many tour participants were intrigued to see how particleboard is produced, and carefully followed the mostly automated process as raw material was heated, pressed and cut.

Vaughan Furniture Co.

The final stop of the day was also in Galax, at Vaughan Furniture Co. Originally founded in 1923 to manufacture dining room furniture, the company now manufactures bedroom and living room furniture as well.

Vaughan makes use of a "straight shot" approach to the manufacturing flow in their plant, with rough lumber housed at one end of the plant, moving from there through cutting and glue-up, then through one of four CNC routers, and on to assembly and finishing.

Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co.-Atkins Division

Day two of the tour began at Vaughan-Bassett's Atkins division in Atkins, Va. Vaughan-Bassett purchased the facility from Virginia House Furniture. It is currently being used to manufacture components for Vaughan-Bassett's furniture products as part of Vaughan-Bassett's domestic manufacturing commitment.

The facility produces edge-glued panels. According to a plant spokesperson, the facility cuts 20,000 boards a day, and glues 10,000 boards a day. Material goes through one of three gang rip saws, and then is glued into panels before being warehoused for delivery.

Sure-Wood Dimension

Located in Chilhowie, Va., Sure-Wood Dimension is a division of Sure-Wood Forest Products. Sure-Wood Dimension produces hardwood stair parts from oak and poplar. The WCMA tour was the first time an outside organization had been allowed to tour the plant.

According to Don Almashy, plant manager, material is bought kiln-dried and starts at a rough mill. Efficiency initiatives have now enabled the 120,000-square-foot plant to run 50,000 board feet per day. Home Depot is currently Sure-Wood's biggest account.

Tarkett Wood Inc.

The final stop on the tour was in Johnson City, Tenn., at Tarkett Wood Inc. Like Sure-Wood, this was the first time an outside organization was given permission to tour the Tarkett plant.

Tarkett Wood is the second-largest wood flooring manufacturer in North America. Tarkett manufactures pre-finished solid, engineered longstrip, and engineered plank flooring. In addition it also manufactures mosaic parquet and real wood mouldings. Their most recent innovation/introduction was the ClicLoc glueless installation system for engineered longstrip flooring.

The Johnson City location has 300 employees, and produces between 35,000 and 40,000 strips per day. Of that amount, red and white oak makes up 75 percent of overall production, maple makes up 10 percent, and the remaining 15 percent falls in the miscellaneous category.

Tarkett begins the process with drying rooms, and uses different drying rooms for different species. The goal is to ultimately end up with 8 percent moisture content in the wood.

In a very fast and highly automated process, boards are cut into veneer pieces, which are assembled into five-foot sections. Boards are cut and assembled so the final result is a pine middle layer and pine bottom with plywood center. Individual planks go through a flat line finishing system with UV curing, and two different moulders create the tongue and groove on all four sides. From there the finished planks are grouped and packaged for shipping.

The 2006 tour

According to Lawser, in 2006 the WCMA will combine its Fall Conference and Annual Plant Tour. Both events will take place in the period of October 14-17 in eastern Kentucky.

At this time, specific plants for the 2006 tour have yet to be named. For more information about the 2006 tour or about the WCMA, call 770/565-6660 or go to www.woodcomponents.org.

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About the author
Ken Jennison

Ken Jennison was a senior editor at CabinetMaker and FDM magazines from 2006 to 2008, writing more than 70 articles about cabinet and furniture manufacturers. He is currently director of acquisitions at Hearland Historical Properties LLC in San Francisco.