MAMARONECK, NY - When his core architectural millwork business was hit by the slowing economy, Ray Culin, president of Culin & Colella Inc., Mamaroneck, New York, launched a residential furniture line sold direct to consumers.
Culin's existing company specializes in producing high-end kitchens, libraries and related millwork with complex contours. It has used CNC machines for 20 years, adding its most recent, a Premium Class Techno, six years ago.
To diversify, Culin and his wife and business partner Janis Colella, VP, designed a Bamboo Gems collection of bamboo accent tables, stools, benches and gifts to allow for a variety of designs and colors and sizes that could be made to order at a reasonable price. Components for the specialized line of made-to-order bamboo furniture are cut on the same CNC router machine used for millwork and cabinets. The business sells throught he website bamboogems.com
The success of the new venture changed Culin's outlook on the wood industry's business prospects.
"I am becoming a believer in the ability of small U.S. manufacturers with the right technology to compete and beat imports,” Culin says. “The Techno CNC routers we have in our production shop make it possible to produce the entire line of products to a high level of accuracy in quantities as small as one with very little human intervention.”
Both Culin and his wife had been running their own furniture making businesses until they married, merged shops and moved into wood interiors work, adopting CNC machines for production.
“CNC technology has been so successful over the years that I frequently thought about a furniture design that could leverage this concept,” Culin says. “One day I dreamed up a table with the legs forming part of the top. I call them Gem Tables because the design is faceted."
Culin drew up 30 different variations of the tables using mortise-and-tenon joinery, hunting for several years for the right wood species to use.
"Then three or four years ago we did a kitchen in New York City where engineers specified bamboo sheet materials to be used for the project. A flashing light went off,” says Culin.
Janis Colella says it was immediately evident that bamboo was a perfect match for the concept. "It has beautiful edges and is 100% eco-friendly," she says. "Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource yet even stronger and more stable than wood.”
The CNC system is a good match for the new venture.
“The design consists of many different irregular shapes including contour legs that fit seamlessly into the top of the table. There is no economical way of manually producing these types of parts, especially in the U.S.," Culin says. "But the CNC router can produce a complex shape just as easily as it can produce a simple shape.”
The CNC's tool changer reduces the number of setups. For example, to make the stars and hearts in Bamboo Gems ornaments and gifts collection, three tools are used: 3/8 inch straight cutter, a v-groove, and a drill bit.
The next challenge was clamping the table parts together during gluing. Culin used the CNC router to build a table and he designed a pneumatic clamping system using off the shelf parts. He uses water-based rather than solvent-based finishes to further increase the eco-friendly nature of the product.
Once one side of a small bamboo part is machined then it cannot be held with the vacuum table to the level of stability required to meet the demanding accuracy requirements. Culin came up with a way to hold the machined side of small parts on the router table but insists on keeping it a secret to maintain his competitive advantage.
"Techno machines are considerably more accurate than low-end routers," Culin said. The Techno machine is constructed on steel stress-relieved bases with hardened steel precision THK linear ways. Its shaft-and-bearing system produces very smooth, play-free motion and is an extremely rigid system that produces high-quality cuts.
Both Culin and Colella were educated primarily as furniture designers and makers. Culin, while studying architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, also designed and built cabinetry and furniture in the woodshop. Colella attended SUNY Purchase, NY, where she discovered working in wood.
By the time they met, they both had established careers as designer/makers, with a large clientele in the New York metropolitan area. Today they continue to design and build exquisite residential woodworking projects, like kitchens, libraries, media cabinetry, and custom furniture, while also making BambooGems.
“Our success provides proof that furniture manufacturing can be carried out in the US with the right technology and right designs,” Culin concluded. “We are selling our new Bamboo Gems line through retailers and online at www.bamboogems.com. Manufacturing a broad line on a build-to-order basis makes it possible to provide consumers with exactly what they are looking for without the expense of carrying a large inventory.”
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