Casework firm moves work from the shop to the office
August 1, 2017 | 11:07 am CDT

Implementing automation and standardization has been a good strategy for many companies, but in American Wood Design’s case it has been especially important. Its own shop space in Claymont, Delaware, has been limited since the company downsized during the recession.

They’re also planning to move work from their 5,000 square foot shop to another 16,000 square foot shop in a new location just over the border in Chester, Pennsylvania.

American Wood Design makes commercial casework, plastic laminate and solid surface countertops,  reception desks, custom plastic laminate fabricated units, custom cabinetry, fish tank cabinetry, custom displays, custom wood paneling and store fixtures.

Most work is for the Philadelphia-Wilmington market, and most customers (60 percent) are general contractors through local bid work. Another 20 percent of work is for other millwork providers (mainly New York City companies), where American Wood Design does fabrication to their shop drawings. The company also does service work and repairs.

There are 10 full-time employees, with help from part-timers if needed. The family business was started by Mike Gilhool Sr., and JoAnn Gilhool, who is the office administrator. Mike Sr. previously made retail displays for a paint company, and the company started in second-floor space above a doctor’s office.

Sons Jim Gilhool (project engineer), and Michael Gilhool Jr., (project manager, daily operations) work in the business. 

“Our niche is short lead times on custom work, we do not miss deadlines,” said Michael Gilhool Jr. “We offer timely, quality service at competitive pricing.”

“We are extremely responsive to clients’ needs,” Gilhool said. “We are in a market where the pricing is very competitive and it is always needed yesterday. That usually doesn’t change from job to job. How we stand out is our second-to-none quality service and doing whatever it takes to complete a project.”

Gilhool said the company thrives on last-minute jobs, and is willing to work extra hours to complete a project. He added that American Wood Design has more technology and software capabilities than other local shops.

One of the ways American Wood Design has been able to back up those promises is with improved efficiency and software.

Gilhool was creating shop drawings and shop-floor people were producing all the company’s products by hand when his father encouraged him to take a look at more advanced options.

“We were making ends meet, but it wasn’t totally working money-wise,” Gilhool said. “The impression that we got was that, if we wanted to be in this game, we needed to become more efficient.”

After researching the CAM market, Gilhool concluded that it was time for an upgrade and the company purchased the Cabinet Vision design-to-manufacturing software by Vero Software in 2014.

Today, Gilhool requests 2D AutoCAD drawings from customers, and those drawings are converted to DXF files and imported into Cabinet Vision. Previously, American Wood Design would storyboard projects by hand, a process that is lengthy and prone to error.

Gilhool and his team also take advantage of User Created Standards within Cabinet Vision. UCSs can be applied where a certain method or preference is used repeatedly. If a particular type of material is always cut a certain way, a UCS that specifies a particular cutting method can be automatically applied when that material is used to reduce programming time. UCSs also help with standardizing procedures on and off the shop floor.

“The hard part is putting all the information in before you start a job,” Gilhool says. “As long as it goes out there right, we’re much more efficient that we ever were in the shop. It really helps you to know exactly what we need and then have it there before it goes to the CNC.”

“Now, there is so much more work being done in the office, which is where it should be done.

“We’re really putting standards into place now,” Gilhool says. “Things change and we’re very custom, but we’ve created a database that we can use. We have a lot of different construction methods and a lot of materials. We produce it exactly the way we see it in the drawings, and we do it the way the customer wants it done.

“Before we got Cabinet Vision, I would bid a job, we’d close out that job I’d get a report that would say ‘We should have charged more for this job,’” Gilhool says. “I still see the profitability once a job closes and it’s definitely better than what we were doing before. We were really breaking even or making a little money, and now we’re making profits on our jobs.”

Those profits are a reflection of greater efficiency, as well as a reduction in man-hours and material waste.

“The main goal was to get away from the hand work of our labor force and put it into the hands of the office to figure out the fine details,” Gilhool said. “Leave the work to the machine and allow our labor to produce our product much quicker.”

American Wood Design works with primarily melamine interiors and plastic laminates, with the occasional wood veneer or solid wood project.  They do solid surface fabrication, but stone and granite countertop work is outsourced. Most finishing is outsourced.

In the shop, workflow starts with material stacking. Panels are brought onto the CNC machine, cut out, labeled, and stacked. Right now they use an Omnitech Spectra 510. Once they move to Chester they have plans in place for a new Weeke Vantech 510 with push off and conveyor table.

Gilhool said that the company got its feet wet as far as CNC is concerned with the Omnitech. A Homag Espana beam saw, and SawStop table saw, and TigerStop SawGear are also in the Claymont shop.

Cut pieces go to the Brandt Ambition 1100 edgebander (most edges are .018 tape). This edgebander is fast and works in a small footprint, a big plus for the shop. Then in assembly, cabinets are stapled and screwed together. Cabinet Vision predrills the holes and dadoes the parts together. Finished sides are post laminated, cabinets are cleaned and wrapped for shipment. The company installs most of what they make.

One major area of improvement has been in shifting a lot of the operations into the office, but Gilhool points out that was really driven by Cabinet Vision. They plan to continue to become more efficient in their new building. American Wood Design also put in a new time mechanism that measures employee time and the type of work performed. This replaced a traditional time clock.

For the future, the new Weeke Vantech510 CNC will almost double the capacity of the current machine. New space will increase efficiency and allow for volume growth and expansion. The next machine the company is looking for a dowel insertion machine to create faster assembly time and greater ease of assembly. The goal is to effectively increase revenue and put better processes in place.

American Wood Design Inc.

Claymont, Delaware

Product: Commercial casework, countertops, retail displays

Employees: 10

Plant size: 5,200 square feet, new location will be 16,000 square feet



For more information:

Vero Software  Cabinet Vision software 


Omnitech  CNC router


SawStop   Table saw


Stiles Machinery Inc.  Panel saw, edgebander


TigerStop  SawGear


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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at