In This Issue
Author’s note: It is difficult writing an article about an Amish manufacturer. I worked with the Miller family on several occasions, and even worked a woodworking show in their booth. The Miller’s were reluctant to be quoted, and find an article about their company to be very embarrassing and a bit to forward and showy. Many of the comments were brought out in discussions on product quality and from their non-Amish customers. With this in mind, I want to make sure that the readers know that the Miller’s did not really want this article written and I apologize if I have offended their cultural ethics and decorum. In a small white shop beside a dairy barn in Amish country Ohio, David slowly chips away at Goliath. Throughout the Midwest USA, dairy barns and their adjacent buildings have fostered thousand of small businesses serving local needs, but Century Components decided 6 years ago to use their shop to and develop a line of kitchen accessories, going up against some of the largest manufacturer of cabinet accessories in the country. Century Components started in 1991 as a manufacturer of hand steam bent rims and embossing for chair backs. Jeff and Jay Miller took over the company from their father, Atlee in 2007. The Millers knew that the market for chairs was steadily declining, so they translated their steam bending experience in a new direction and started making solid wood one-piece rims on lazy susans for kitchen cabinets. The logical adaptation created a new higher quality product for lazy susans. “The Century Component product line gives the cabinet company an upgrade from the common products they now use. Customers started telling us that they wanted to set their cabinets apart from the local competition. We gave them an opportunity to upgrade their qualitym,” says Jeff Miller. As the business increased in double-digit percentages over the next few years, Jeff and Jay Miller realized they had a unique business on their hands. The next step was to create pullout trash container systems. Century developed both plywood and solid maple; hand dovetailed, multi-coat, finished trash pullout using Blum undermount heavy duty slides. Century priced these units competitively, and Century continued to grow. More new products were introduced. Pullout fillers were added. Pullout organizers in plywood and solid maple with soft-close slides came into the mix. Trim-able silverware trays and spice racks followed. “Our new product ideas and improvements come from our customers," Miller says. "They call and we listen.” That listening attitude has increased sales 36 percent in 2011. Century now employs seven people making all kinds of cabinet components. The limited space issues of their beloved shop have created some unique challenges in manufacturing. Jay Miller runs production and he uses other businesses in the community to either manufacture products or distribute to local cabinet shops. A local drawer manufacturer employs another six people helping with dovetail boxes for the trash units. Another shop in town does the multiple coat, clear finishing. The hardware distributor in the next town stocks the full line of Century Components, ready to ship out. As in many Amish communities, whenever opportunities for business growth develop, Century relies on their network of shops close by to help with the workload. The steam bending is done is the same way it has been for decades. The maple is steamed in a steam tank and then put in a press for making the radius of the susan. Century has some proprietary secrets that make this process easier and quicker, but it is more of an art than a science. After the wood takes on the proper radius it is hand fitted and mitered to the susan tray. Jay and Jeff feel that this hand fitting is where their product excels. “Compare our susan to the imports and you will find our joints are solid without putty. Our finish is very smooth and doesn’t have that starved look and feel of the imports.” By making the susans in the U.S., Century can offer standard and custom sizes. “We make all kinds of sizes. Our current standard offering is 20”, 22”, 28”, 30”’ and 32”. We also fabricate our continuous one piece rim in 1 ½”, 2” and 3” heights,” says Jeff. The most recent introduction is custom-made roll out pantry units. "We see a market for a solid maple, American made, custom size, made to order program that is a great alternative," says Miller. One particular challenge to the Millers is their lack of a computer and e-mail. Amish companies face this difficulty on a regular basis and must rely on their products to promote themselves. One myth about Amish companies is that they have an advantage over other companies because they don’t pay taxes. For the correct answer to this myth, I turned to ASK Yahoo: Here is the response: Just like the rest of us, the Amish are not exempt from life's two certainties: death and taxes. However, there is a reason behind the persistent myth that the Amish do not pay taxes. The Amish live within self-sufficient communities and do not collect Social Security, unemployment, or welfare benefits. According to their religious beliefs, paying Social Security, an insurance premium for the elderly, is tantamount to not "taking care of their own." Amish people who are self-employed are not obliged to pay Social Security tax, but they do still pay all other taxes, including property, income, and sales tax. If an Amish person decides to work outside of the community, he or she must also pay Social Security tax like any other American. In 1955, the IRS extended the Social Security Act of 1935 to include farm operators. At the time, some Amish people immediately complied with the tax, while others conscientiously objected to it. Many felt that it violated the separation of church and state, some did not want to accept monies for government programs, and still others believed that paying a commercial insurance for the elderly went against their trust in God to take care of them. The IRS and the Amish went back and forth for close to a decade, until it all came to a head with the seizure of a struggling farmer's horses in 1961. The Amish elders stuck firmly by their principles, and the ensuing media and community outrage over the incident led the IRS to relent four years later. Tucked away in the 1965 Medicare Bill was a clause exempting the "Old Order Amish" and other religious groups that conscientiously objected to paying insurance premiums from Social Security tax. To be exempt, the group or sect must have been established prior to 1950 and maintain reasonable provisions for their elderly. As the growth of Century continues, the Millers realize that the small white shop will not suffice as the center of their operations; and are planning ahead for a bigger facility in the future. But for now they both share the same sentiment. “We are blessed to be able to work close to our homes with family and friends nearby. We enjoy being able to share our work with the many great customers and distributors that see a value in our ethics, ideals and products.
Starting a custom woodworking shop in the struggling Florida market may have seemed foolhardy in 2011. But Grand Woodworking has taken a unique approach as it literally carved out its niche — one that involves using profile knives. Grand Woodworking was started in 2010 by Neil Heuer, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Eddie Martin, a woodworker accomplished in fine residential interiors. Their paths crossed as Martin remodeled Heuer’s home, and the two hatched a plan to start an architectural millwork company in the Naples, FL, market. “Eddie actually did a job for me building my home theater,” says Heuer. “We became quick friends and I learned about his capabilities. He had a desire to be his own boss and to be aggressive. Given my entrepreneurial spirit, we decided to pursue this business.” That was in April 2011; the new shop was up and running by July 2011. As Martin and Heuer laid the framework for the company — providing kitchens and baths, organizational projects like libraries and wine storage, architectural millwork and commercial projects — market conditions began to weigh on their investment decisions. “When setting up the shop and purchasing equipment we kept in mind the economy as a major factor,” Martin says. “You just can’t get the same money that you could eight years ago. So our key was to produce the highest quality piece for the most cost effective price.” According to Heuer, “Ninety-nine percent of the equipment is refurbished. This was a motivating factor for us to start this business during the economic lull.” Pursuing residential architectural millwork as the southern Florida real estate market declined more than 60 percent also lead to leaning on renovations and remodeling, which is a major revenue stream for the company. “People are renovating their bathrooms and kitchens like we have never seen before,” says Martin. In Naples, he says, estate owners use millwork and other fine woodworking to distinguish themselves and their properties. “It’s no longer ‘low end’ or ‘medium end’ — it’s exclusively ‘high end’. That’s where Grand Woodworking fits in.” Carving a Niche This reality has boosted business for Grand who are often called upon to match or extend fine woodworking from solo contractors in high-end homes and businesses. “With two like kind homes — one having a number of custom features such as hand milled cabinets or quality custom built-ins will always sell faster and typically for more than the blank canvas,” says Glenn Bradley, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Naples. Grand Woodworking purchased a Holz-Her CNC wood router to streamline production, and soon after obtained 1,800 profile knives which they acquired from a struggling competitor. These knives allow for permutations of cuts and finishes running into the millions of versions, some of them used in their their market for decades, says Martin. “This is one of the greatest benefits of starting this business in these times,” Heuer explains. “We bought these knives from a company that went out of business. Now we have a library of mouldings that have been in use throughout Southwest Florida for the past 30 years.” With the CNC router and the extensive knife set in place they were now able to “reproduce or match any molding necessary from crowns, base, chair rails and also radius casework, arches, radius crown moulding, radius casing and radius bases,” Martin explains. While Grand continued to whittle itself into the woodwork niche of southern Florida, it simultaneously diversified services to radius multi-piece, veneer work. “Really anything and everything related to architectural millwork,” Martin says. The ability to take on such projects left room for sizeable expansion as Grand continued to gradually grow as the market shifted. Such growth allowed Grand to begin setting up their Naples shop warehouse, which took 10 weeks of 16-hour days to complete their 6,000-square-foot warehouse, which includes around 20 pieces of equipment. Quality Business Practices “Our Holz-Her CNC machine is our crown jewel of our manufacturing,” with an SCM edgebander and a Mikron moulder capable of arched mouldings, more equipment is on the horizon. “We are constantly looking for the best tools to help us in our process,” Heuer says. “We were only open for eight months and already replaced our sliding table saw,” Heuer adds. An outdated model was replaced with a newer Altendorf F45. That CNC machine has helped Grand create complex job components nearly impossible to make by hand. These pieces have been profit centers for their business. With the equipment and warehouse in place, Heuer and Martin formulated a very specific and focused business model that includes hiring skilled craftsmen, some with over 30 years of experience. Currently, Grand employs around 20, recently adding a second shift due to increased demand. They also pride themselves providing quality product, which is achieved through up-to-date equipment and a significant business sense. Networking with potential clients is one of the most important aspects of their business model. It is key in driving sales through word-of-mouth. “We cultivate relationships with people,” says Martin. “When we meet with potential customers it isn’t always about selling, it is more about getting to know this customer and what their expectations are. We work with them to determine their needs and we feel more like consultants than anything else. We hope that our advice, perspective and professionalism are enough to sell the job. We believe in the best for the customer even if it affects the bottom line.” Grand Woodworking’s owners say they maintain a business model destined to thrive under a wide variety of economic circumstances. Though they want to offer the highest quality product for the best price, “We want to do that without painting ourselves in a corner financially. We aren’t a guy in a garage with a table saw. We are a full-blown operation with a large investment in this to win. We are business people first, conscious of the customer, and we employ the best people we can to provide the best product,” Heuer says. Grand’s technology extends to more than just the equipment used. From straightforward in-the-shop time tracking to a more involved website for sales lead generation, they are incorporating best management practices in the operation. According to Martin, many displaced woodworkers are attempting to take on large projects and can’t seem to complete them due to lack of time and resources. And though those woodworkers are bidding low on those projects, often the quality suffers, which has become a harsh realization for designers and contractors. “We are a well-funded successful business focused on customer satisfaction. A vast number of trade people in the Naples area have recently gone out of business due to their lack of funding,” Heuer explains. Despite that fact Grand offers some advice for a woodworking marketplace stuck in a state of change. “Stay strong in your pricing. Don’t give your product away.” Quality is key in every business but Grand tries to encompass quality relationships with quality products which in turn should encompass quality pricing and help Grand Woodworking maintain an attitude of success.”
By Josh Krol
How to apply a finishing option for increasing color intensity: use the dye and wipe stain. In this system, a dye is applied prior to the wipe stain.
Brighton Cabinetry’s innovations in recyling reduce cost and manufacturing time.
Joe Valasek, owner of Carveture, started his career as a wood sculptor over three decades ago. But in the past 20 years he has focused on harnessing the power of the computer to produce large scale woodwork of a scope and level of detail that would be difficult to imagine using manual methods. The carved artwork and architectural pieces that Valasek’s Eugene, OR company produces were in the past only accessible to very rich individuals and organizations. now, using CAD/CAM software and a CNC router, Valasek can produce breathtakingly large and detailed carved murals, doors and accent carvings even for customers even with modest budgets. An example is two 12-foot-wide by 6-foot-high murals shown here with enormous levels of detail and a wide range of different scenes that would have taken six months to carve with traditional methods Using Delcam’s artistic ArtCAM, CADCAM software and a Precix dual-head CNC router, the project took a relatively short two months to complete. For the first few years of his career, Valasek worked purely with hand carving tools. Then one day he decided to try an electric router equipped with a bit he made himself. He was so impressed with the results that he decided technology would have a place in his tool chest from then on. “Every classical artist has always used the full range of tools available to them,” Valasek said. “If Michelangelo were alive today, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be using the most advanced tools in existence.” In his early years working with CNC, Valasek teamed up with a couple of others to carve grapevines onto the ends of wine barrels to make decorative faces for clocks sold through a wine accessories catalog. “When I was sculpting and carving by hand, I found myself feeling jealous of bronze artists who produced a model and then cast 200 copies,” Valasek said. After spending six months hand carving a mural of a dawn forest, "I spent eight years searching for the right tools that would marry the power of the computer and CNC machinery with the freedom and creativity of manual sculpting." He settled on a CNC router made by Precix with two heads that can quickly produce large jobs. After testing a number of different software packages, he selected ArtCAM. "It is the only one I have seen that can do what I was looking for.” With two decades of CAD/CAM experience under his belt, Valasek is now taking on much larger projects for corporate and individual clients. A typical example is the series of murals that he produced for PeaceHealth, a group of hospitals in the Northwestern United States. The background of these murals is an undulating sine curve that repeats every ¼ inch across the mural. Valasek created the sine curve in ArtCAM by creating a 2-D sine curve with a period of one-quarter inch the length of the mural, then extruding the shape across its height. The overall effect looks like corrugated sheathing. It took him about an hour to create the background in ArtCAM. To do it by hand would have taken about a month. Next, Valasek created the ornaments which are swirls that are based on foliage and appear on a larger scale than the sine curve throughout the background of the mural. He created two lines that represent the outer edges of the swirl and a series of cross-sectional shapes. He designated points along the swirl for the cross-sectional shapes. Then he used ArtCAM’s ‘Two Rail Sweep’ feature to extrude the cross-sectional shapes along the lines while blending from one shape to the next. Valasek thought about creating an area of ornaments and duplicating it but decided it would look too static so he created each ornament individually. The ornaments all originate from a cross which is the corporate logo of Peace Health in the center of each mural. Valasek created about 20 detailed areas in each mural with symbols of the geographical areas where PeaceHealth facilities are located. They include plants, animals and natural scenes. An example is a scene from Ketchikan of a mountain covered with fir trees and buildings on a waterfront. He started by scanning a photo of the scene and importing it into ArtCAM as a guide for the profile of the mountain, trees and buildings. Then he created the buildings by using the software's ‘Angled Plane’ feature. The sides of the building are angled so that elevation off the canvas increases as they approach the centerline of the building where they meet. Valasek made three or four 12 inch tall wood carvings of trees. He scanned the carving on a 3-D Roland Pixca touch probe scanner and imported it as an ArtCAM relief file. He then copied the image to create groups of trees and made changes to the individual trees so they would not be all the same. Finally he copied the group of trees to cover the mountain. It took him about two months to design the two murals. He then set up the CNC machine to cut out the mural in High Density Fiberboard, in about 80 hours with minimal supervision required on his part. Finishing took about 30 hours including applying the base color and then a lighter metallic copper which is dry brushed onto the raised areas. The end result looks very much like metal. The hospital is now planning to have Valasek build two more murals and by re-using components he estimates that they can be designed in only two weeks “Besides saving large amounts of time in producing the first iteration of your design, ArtCAM also lets you re-use parts of your art,” Valasek said. “You can also buy artwork on the web and incorporate it into your design. The result is that carved artworks and architectural pieces that were formerly out of the range of all but the most lavish budgets are now becoming affordable. My hope is that carved murals, doors, and accent carvings will add delight, charm and value to my customers’ homes and businesses.”