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Starting cnc cabinet business8/26
Hello new here, I have read many discussions on both business and CNC parts of this forum but I may have missed where this was asked.
I am a union sheet metal worker and I am ready to quit my hourly job and benefits to try to make my own money.
Why would I change fields? I have a passion for woodworking and I am computer savvy tho I have minimal experience with cad, SketchUp, and even some Revit, but I pick up very easily.
I have never operated a CNC but has always been a desire to combine both of my passions. I have never made cabinets and know basically nothing about the industry, but seeing how relatively easy Mozaik is I know I can do this.
Onto my question, I know mozaik helps with costs but I plan on doing other work as well like pool tables and acrylic work so I don't know a thing on how I am to charge for anything. For cabinets do I charge by the hour or by foot? For acrylic and one-off woodwork do I charge by hour due to design material costs and all that?
As to some details about the situation for costs, all this equipment will be at home so I have mortgage no rent, the CNC will be second hand 2018 laguna smartshop m with atc. The cabinets I have a neighbor that builds homes from the ground up and will be using me but will be wanting cheap cabinets to start off so I'm thinking mdf, the pool tables I have a buddy that owns his company and wants to make his own custom tables.
Gee, seems like the perfect time to quit a union paying job with benefits and open a garage shop to compete with union cabinet shops and have no benefits!
That said, start out part time and don't quit the day job until you show a profit you can live on and have a backlog of work. It's be rough with your neighbor since he already is asking for cheap cabinets, even before you make one. You charge any way you like on cabinets, as long as it's profitable. You must have a ton of room at home to move in a full size CNC and have room for a unit of MDF, assemble all the cabinets, and have a spray booth.
Remember in a one man shop, when you are out on a sales call, on the phone, on the computer, or picking up materials, the CNC ain't running. Your billable hours must be adjusted in all you profit calculations.
How much start up capital do you have?
Rich, you left out all the other fun stuff! Power,air,dust collection, maybe a forklift?
I am in AZ we have no union cabinet shops, it's a right to work state. My wife is a nurse so I know about the covid stuff first hand and she is paid very well, I have quite a bit of space, I have many people that know my skills and know my determination and have a use for me they are just waiting for me to pull the trigger but I do appreciate the little bit of helpful input, not a very good way to welcome someone, but judging by the majority of your posts I've seen that doesn't surprise me.
I will choose to see the positive helpful things rather than the negative things.
I am aware that when I am out that the machine is not running but my clients so far primarily will be coming to me since they know me and know what they need, my neighbor is using cheap overseas cabs and wants to get away from those and give more options to their prospective buyers, so that is the reasoning I want to start with mdf and then move to hardwoods. i have a graco air assisted sprayer so that should do for now for painting and fine finishes.
I have read on here to contact my local SCORE and i have done that as well this morning, i am trying to gather as much and any knowledge as possible, good and bad, i don't live in a fantasy world so i am prepared for the bad, i understand it is not an ideal time to quit,I am the foreman and have been in my trade more than 13 years but this covid shit and the bs things they want us to do that make zero difference are too much for me to do my job effectively and i have plenty of money, so i hope, for overhead and startup costs as well as backers if need be.
startup i have bout 60k without cards, air dust collection I have, no forklift tho I am looking into.
the cnc I'm looking at idk if it has a pump for the table with it but I have a guy that has one if I need it.
and if I need more capital my buddy with the pool table company has whatever I need.
power is also not an issue its a single phase stuff atm
my first response was directed at rich since the others came in as I was writing, but rich you did provide valid points at the end so thank you
to be clear the 60k is after the cnc and dust collection and other stuff that I have already accounted for, that's for overhead materials and the countless other things I'm probably missing right now
The easiest way to get going would be building frameless cabinets out of melamine with thermafoil doors. You will need an edgebander but that was going to come up anyway. Do some homework on door suppliers and drawer suppliers, these will be essential in getting underway.
You will have a tough road ahead, but it is doable.
thanks bob, yes i definitely would like to be doing those cheaper cabs but a decent edgebander is not in the cards atm and I definitely don't want to be doing it by hand, but I will look into the other stuff for sure.
why would i want to look into door and drawer suppliers though if they can all be done on cnc? is it a cost savings thing?
Absolutely , time is money... As a 1 men shop anything you can outsource will help you
Give me a call. We are a 38 year old custom furniture manufacturer and make plenty for you to live on. I have a 7800 sq ft shop full of equipment but we don't use CNC or make cabinets. Upholstered and wood furniture and the guys have worked here for 35 years. Just found out my wife of 52 years has pancreatic cancer so I would consider selling. I bought the business 18 years ago and had a successful transition. No installing and no retail sales so a nice no hassle format. Call me at 480-620-2853 if you want to talk. We are located in Scottsdale.
Adam, Okay, so I come across as grouchy old fart that doesn't give out hugs to everyone with a dream. Know why? Because I lived it. For 8 years I was too busy to spend time with my kids as they were growing up. I came home from a 10-12 hour day, had dinner with the family, then went out on sales calls. I pissed off my wife for being gone all the time, and had to delay getting many of our groceries while I waited for late payments to come in from commercial customers. I continue to have nightmares even now, after closing my shop in 1998 to go back into a corporate model making job. I dream about no business, I dream about too much business, 22 years latter. It took me 8 years to discover I was a craftsman and not a business man. Being a union sheet metal worker hardly shows business management skills. You'll find out what I mean really quickly. Let's see how positive of an outlook you have when you near 70. Good luck!
Rich i understand where you are coming from in most respects other than the money issues, i have no time for anything either workin 10+ hours a day but you also stated it yourself you realized your a craftsman not a businessman, in my blood im a businessman, and i may fail but it wont stop me from trying. I am surrounded by small business owners that dug in and are successful, so i choose to surround myself with positivity and success.
I have a good paying job with great benefits that just isnt for me it never has been but it has paid the bills, and although its not for me i always preach how great it is for other and encourage them to join, so to that point i would encourage you to look at the good points of owning a business without overlooking the bad and that although it may not have been a win for you it might for someone else.
That being said i appreciate your responses i just hope you can be a bit more positive.
I'd have been a lot more positive if you had CNC and software experience. When someone says they are going to open an CNC business and have never touched one, what's to be positive about? Passion burns away quickly slapping together MDF boxes at midnight. You didn't mention any small business experience either. You said you had a passion for woodworking, but no mention of what you have done. I ran a 5 axis CNC for 12 years in the model shop. I am fully aware of how long it takes to get proficient, but 5 axis is much different that cutting up panels. Not that it makes any difference, but I'm curious how old you are. When I grew up in the 50s and 60s, we didn't get participation awards. I didn't get a slap on the back for scooping hog manure on our farm. I guess I'm a result of hard German upbringing, with some bad lumps I got going through life. Pretty sure I'm not going to get more positive with hopefully 15 years to go. Caring and watching your Mother die from Alzhiemers in 2018 didn't do my attitude any favors either. Kinda ruined my dream of a wonderful retirement with golden years ahead. But that is life!
Cranky old bastard. :-) Cabinet shops are not the biz to be in if you enjoy fine woodworking. I was really good at my home shop and had a full array of tools. Bought this place and never did woodworking again. These Romanians are absolute masters at fine woodworking and upholstery. You do what you want and you can make it work.
The advice youve gotten to outsource doors and your comeback that you can make them cheaper on your machine simply shows you have no comprehension of what your contemplating and what your neighbor is asking you to do. There is NO WAY POSSIBLE, for you to feed him "cheap cabinets" with the capacity youve outlined. The lumberyard, the homecenter, will eat your lunch. Its simply not possible.
The business you outline speaks to a smaller operation that does some oddball stuff that they can charge a reasonable $80/hour shop rate for and get paid. You dont have a snowballs chance in the "hot place" of getting paid to do that making cheap cabs and with the equipment you outline. The pool table and acrylic work sounds juicy but dont treat it as a way to look at the dog crap cabs as a lost leader.
I dont personally think you have 20% of what you need for back side cash to move into a business pretty much green and get it rolling. Then you throw in your wifes income which is the cardinal kiss of death for many in this trade who work for pretty much nothing and their wife covers the real bills and benefits. A luxury Ive never had.
I wont get into all the other details because a lot of your responses sound like your moreso going to come back over the top with your own answers as opposed to really looking for input and willing to hear the real nuts and bolts. But youve gotten some stellar input so far.. Your CNC choice will be a few months to a year and be ready to fork it out the door, youll likely never make it long period without a bander so if thats out your out, forget about the mile of other tools from small to not so small, and then the real killer?.... Is that about 10%-15% of your time will be spent in "the work" getting this rolling. The other 80-90 percent will be spent doing paperwork, drawing, calling, measuring, invoicing, ordering and receiving materials, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the floor, fixing and modifying stuff,...
Honestly man,.. the best advice youve gotten is to park it on the side for a while and keep your day job. I personally think you'd be nuts to jump off especially with whats potentially on-deck..
Mark thank you very much for your thourough input that means alot and definitely alot to take in and think about, i beleiev some of my responses were misunderstood by you but the bigger picture you make is very clear, thank you.
We are booked out 6 months so I know the work is out there but there's no way I would start a cabinet shop right now. We have almost 40 years of connections and work in residential markets that most shops don't have the skills or ability to do. Unless it is a huge manufacturing plant U.S. shops can't build cheap cabinets like the imports. For the cost that your builder is buying imports you can't compete even using cheap materials. If I were going to get into any type of cabinet work it would be assembling imports and installing all cabinets as a sub contractor. There is very little start up cost and good installers make VERY good money.
Ryan's post is spot on. Spend your money on the stuff to do the pool table and acrylic work, tell your neighbor your building his cabinets, never let him in your shop... and just order in the parts KD flat, smack them together, tell him you will never deliver to his job and do no install. You fork them from your shop, to his truck/trailer, and walk away. If you never let him in your shop he will never see that your not making a single thing and just smacking together boxes and running screws. It will get old but it may be a way of funneling some funds into doing more of the creative stuff you more enjoy.
ditto the other negative comments. i'm 12 years in and don't think i would do all of this again, if given an opportunity to go back in time. it is very tough to make a good living in this industry. plus, all of the pressure on finding the next job (and getting the current jobs completed on-time) will shorten your lifespan.
in addition to starting out part-time and keeping your day job, i'd recommend becoming (or trying to) a social media star. easier said than done, i'm sure, but these guys and gals get to make/build whatever their hearts desire since they are working to promote their "brand" and not taking orders from partially insane customers. not that all customers are bad, but we build a ton of things that are boring and have sucked a lot of the joy of woodworking from me and my guys. small batch runs of whatever - tables, chairs, beds, etc. - would allow you to gain some economies of scale and make some money. it is very hard to produce this type of work without any reputation/presence.
and forget about cabients. all of the factory guys continue to make improvements to their products. i'm sure others will disagree, but i'm not sure how much longer the small, custom cabinet shop will be around, especially with the younger generation that thinks it normal to order everything online.
good luck with your decision. i, too, underestimated a lot and now i'm in too deep to get out. again, a very tough business to be in.
these last 2 responses are exactly what ive been looking for, excellent ideas. Yes i def dont plan on limiting myself to cabinets, as you know with one you can do almost anything, so id like to do more of the high end hardwoods and one-off things, custom entertainment centers all that jazz, so the idea of getting the flat packs to start off sounds great.
I will start off by saying I am a firm believer of chasing your dreams . I wish you all the best.
I will add that there is a ton of experienced folks on this website that have been in the cabinet business for years, sometimes they are skeptical with ideas we have.
As for your plan, if it was me, I would look into subbing out some of the components for your cabinet jobs, I have been building cabinets for 30 years. I have no clue about pool tables, I own one but have never built one.
The reason I am recommending subbing out is because most cabinets are built with the following materials. Cabinet boxes are generally built out of melamine or prefinished plywood, both those materials require edgebanding. Mdf is not a great material for building boxes as it has to be dowelled as it is a terrible material for nailing and screwing into the end grain. It then has to be finished with a solid color, generally sprayed, quite a few people I know also edge it before finishing as the edges are very porous and it is time consuming to finish. All the steps make it expensive.
If you do face frame cabinets you will require the equipment to cut and machine solid wood to apply. The other option is to buy all your material to size.
You will then require drawer boxes, these are generally solid wood with dovetails, Baltic birch with dovetails or prefinished plywood or melamine edged with dato joinery or dowel joinery. A lot of people buy their drawer boxes because it requires lots of equipment to build and finish them, it also takes time.
Lastly you will need doors, these are generally a 5 piece solid wood door, or a mdf door machined on a cnc, or with all the new materials on the market, there are a lot of just slab doors that are edged, usually with a very expensive edgebander.
Lastly is your finishing. Hardware is fairly standard.
In closing I will just say that a lot of the components take a lot of time and special equipment to build in house. A cnc is a great tool, but it is also very limited in what it can do.
As for pricing I would break every job down into the absolute smallest increments for everything. If I was building 8 ft of uppers and lowers for example.
You can try limit your types of construction, you can say you either get a white door or a brown door, but you also limit your customers, if Mrs Green says I want a green door, you either say ok I will do a green door or you tell her to go to your competition.
There was a post awhile back of equipment needed or required to start a cabinet shop. It is surprising on how fast the equipment adds up.
Anyways enough of my 2 cents, I should get back to work. I wish you success.
The social media star thing is dead and dying as well. All the old school content creators carry on about it endlessly that they built their subscriber base long ago and are cashing their grand-a-week checks (and a lot more) but its dwindling and fast. That money is being diluted heavily though for the nasties (justin beiber, kardashians, and worse) there is still in-sane amounts of money there.
Sadly the "maker" movement in my opinion has horrified the furniture making, woodworking, cabinetmaking, world. Products and items being showcased that are utter disasters, will not last, will not stay together, and have spawned a million two car garage couples with a gopro to sell and market a bunch of disaster on any customer who pays. No need to get started on the epoxy river/encapsulation nightmare that will be unfolding in the coming years.
But thats the market. And if you have the tenacity to just make crap and ignore angry calls from individuals threatening to sue you.. I guess you just cash the checks.
And dont forget to add in a scale factor because you cant build a 6' bank of cabs for what you can build a 50' bank or a whole house of cabs. The pricing is not flat. 3' doesnt bill at the same rate as 43'. I have this conversation regularly. A 36" vanity is going to cost me 3x what it is to build if its part of a larger project. Back to the one-of's. There has to be a scale factor in there.
Scott this response is by far and away what i have been looking for very detailed as to what to do and why it should be done, Mark as well with your last comment is very spot on as well for factors to include
Check out Cabinet Notch, they are a component manufacture. I believe they have there own software or use KDC.. can't recall. Any way quote one of the normal kitchens you buddy buys through them. It will show up ready to assemble to you door. That will give you a good idea of what a full scale cnc shop needs to charge to survive and make a profit
So after scotts detailed response it really opened my eyes and was info i desperately needed, i had no idea the majority of cabinets were not actual wood and in further reading on the forums have found our that even the high end uses melamine primarily so with all that info as a few have stated i will definitely be getting an edgebander.
A reputable door and drawer supplier would be greatly appreciated. The other sources provided here today have also helped very much so thank you all.
Thanks for clarifying that pricing information, that is so very true.
My post was getting way to long I thought so got a little vague. I am a math guy so my writing quite often lets me down.😳
I think if your pool table buddy was serious about his custom made pool tables his business "plan" would not depend on you to come up with a decision - at some unspecified time point in the future - about what you want to do in your life.
I would advise doing anything you can to get real-world experience in building and assembling CNC-cut cabinetry, either through employment or operating as a side business if only for a few months while keeping your current job. As many threads on here indicate, the material cost is the 'easy' part. Estimating labor accurately comes with experience. I would be wary of striking out on my own without some experience in the sector directly. To be an owner in a field you haven't been in before comes down to business acumen. However to be an owner/operator also requires experience and technical proficiency. I'm not discouraging you. It could be as simple as picking your CNC and CAD programs; design your own garage storage cabinets for your new business; draw, cut, assemble, and finish them; all while taking copious notes on time per task. You would then have your first data points to start building a spreadsheet that will give you estimates for time to build based on style, fit, finish, and linear footage. This will become more accurate with time as you add more and more data points in.
I am not discouraging your idea, only speaking from my own experience. My first job after school was as a consultant with a large business consulting firm. I did a bit of work in supply chain and manufacturing operations for large aviation companies. All our recommendations were direct results of time spent watching, communicating with, and learning from the shop floor. Business knowledge could fine tune, but lacking experience putting the parts together makes it hard to learn it all from a computer screen. A few years later I now am a one-man cabinet shop and would still do it all again. However I still find that my weakness is a lack of experience having only worked under experienced cabinetmakers for 2 years before going out on my own. The more knowledge you have, the better you can start and run a business.
As a final bit of rambling advice - Excel is an incredibly powerful tool. Use it to compile data on past projects to learn for future ones. Keep one up to date master price list with drawer runners, hinges, plates, shelf pins, lacquer, 3/4" prefin sheets, everything. Use that to populate each project estimate file. You will be learning plenty about selling and building cabinetry. Let excel learn about pricing for you.
Best of luck,
There are a million ways to go about this business, order and assemble components, make everything from scratch, and hybrids. Personally, if you're savvy on the tech side, go get a job as an entry level engineer/project manager for reputable company. You can learn the real trade and try before you buy. Nothing stopping you from doing some side work here and there. Many have bought out companies this way.
Thanks. She starts chemo today then surgery so hoping for the best.
Even if you have millions of dollars starting a business that you have no experience in is risky and some may say foolish. Please try and get some real world experience before jumping in. I have about 40 years in the business as a mostly one man shop.
True. I had 30 years as a top corporate executive before buying this biz. I was shocked how simple the founders set up this business. Designers only and no deliveries. 50% up front and the balance before they can pick up. I could work 3 days a week and nothing would change. I don't deal with retail or builders so life is good.
2) Making pool tables is precise work and if they want custom they probably want some find wood details and finishes and methods of which you have little or know experience.
3) Relying on your customers to help finance your business should you need money.
4) A firm business plan with startup costs, operating costs, capital cushion, operating capital, and a method to make a profit along with financing for a line of credit or additional capital for when you have to pay the IRS, the state taxes, the sales taxes and all the regular bills and the unforeseen.
After SCORE find a good business CPA.
Find out what the laws are in the city or county where you want to start up so you know dust collection, air quality, permit cost, fire regulations, spray booth regulations, etc.
Good luck with your venture
Drew and others, yes yesterday the advice and knowledge of others providing me with info that I needed to do more research on the things I didn't know has allowed me to alter the plan. I think what I want to do can be done slowly with the tooling i will be getting so I will be keeping my job and working as much as possible on the side to build up a business. I just know that with a cnc my possibilities on things I can make and avenues i can go are substantial so I know that the investment will be worth it for me.
Without a doubt. Work ethic and perseverance go a long way. I think the point most (including myself) were trying to make is that pounding into a new venture, with capacity that is going to leave you behind out of the gate, is a recipe for one thing and one thing only. You will work a million hours for a meager wage.
Its a very simple balance sheet. XX hours to produce XYZ item, material costs, operating costs, and what do you have left. Feeding budget cabs, its not going to be a pretty final number.
Then you have to add in on the funky/odd stuff, and the one-off's, with the wild boom for the "maker movement" you will be quoting work against a bunch of people who have good day jobs, or retirees, that have spend 5, 10, 15, 20K, on a CNC, and if they are making a few bucks here and there they are happy. They will run 12 hour rin time 3D cnc carvings for $100 bucks because its fun and not even bill for the design/drawing/customer interaction time.
Things in the small custom shop world in a lot of segments are changing very fast. CNC is still impressive where it shines, but the entities mentioned previously will pork a lot of what use to be decent low end potential.
If I had to start over again, knowing what I know now, I would, quite possibly, have the following business model.
1) Buy all cabinet parts from a company like Cabinotch, or Elias Woodworks
2) Buy all doors, drawer fronts, drawer boxes, and end panels from a reputable manufacturer of those parts. Same with molding.
3) Learn how to finish VERY well.
4) Finish and assemble all pieces.
5) Hire part-time labor to help with installs.
6) Invest in a covered van or trailer to move cabinets to jobsite.
7) Have a small footprint shop space to allow for assembly with a dedicated separate space for finishing.
8) Have only the minimal of power/stationary tools to either fix things or make the once-in-a-while custom thing that I can't buy.
9) Enjoy life with less overhead, less headaches, less employee concerns.
10) Take more time to spend with my wife and family.
What Tracy said
My 2 cents is you have to find a niche to service if you can't do that than "you don't know what you don't know"
The economy was strong before the covid BS it will be strong once the restrictions are lifted
Also where possible assemble the cabinets on the jobsite
I think Etsy and similiar are going to play a role in the future, Paul Downs might be considered the Amazon of conference tables, that has proven to be a viable model. Not sure about office space in the future but the paradigm is viable
If I had capacity today I would start looking into designing work from home office spaces that are easy to move, collapse and set up.
The tech people in the bay area working out 900 square foot apartments with a kid are struggling.
Some moveable sound panels so two people could work desks that fold out of the way for the weekend, desks that hang on cable from the ceiling that can lift up out of the way. A way to safely move a monitor out of the way.
There are lots of potential new markets depending on how long this lasts and the tech companies moving to larger work from home workforce long time.
Facebook is moving to a large percentage of work from home by 2030. 80% of Google is working from home.
Its a future for some workers. It will be a refinement of an exiting market.
People that live in larger house may dedicate a room as an office which may be a hybrid of today home office and plug and play work form home 3-4 days or weeks and go into the office.
Trying to compete in the bottom of the market for a large part of my work and make a highly specialized item as another is tough as they are two completely different quality and details areas of work so different equipment and skills.
Everyone including myself talk and discuss the physical parts of the job. Making and installing. However, for me the biggest and most important part of the job is the selling. You have stated that you have two friends with businesses that can get you started. You need a lot more than that to get it rolling.
In my experience, the selling of the projects is the big part that no one talks about. No matter how well you do the work, if you can't sell it, you are going to not have any jobs. I would look into learning how to sell as the making is just physical work.