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Stile/Rail door machine - opinions?2/18
What I read hear mostly about cabinet doors is that making your own doors in-house is wasting of time and money for cabinet makers compared to outsourcing it to door companies.
However, sometimes lead times for those are deal breaker, especially if your customers are rental property management companies who tend to shrink unit remodeling time to about a week between past and future tenants, and I do not get notify about the project weeks or more in advance, but the day when the unit becomes empty.
I can build complete kitchens with slab doors enough fast to meet those deadlines, but when some other type of doors are required (mostly to maintain uniform look throughout the property) then there's nothing I can do and the job is lost.
So, I've been thinking about making my own doors and was looking at some of those stile/rails/panel machines like "EZ Doors" by Fletcher or "RPM 5" by Laguna Tools, and some others, mostly on YouTube videos.
What are your opinions on such machines; i.e. are they worth the money?
How many doors are you making? A shaper or a few smaller shapers maybe just fine. I would think you would need to make a lot of doors to justify the cost of one of those machines. I would rather have a smaller shaper and a wide belt sander than a stile and rail machine if I only had a certain amount of money to spend.
The multi machines have their limitations. With the variety of styles and profiles that i provide for my customers, a machine like that would never work in my shop. If you are doing the same doors all the time with just a few profiles, a machine like that would be great.
Providing cabinets to someone who needs them in a week is a valuable service. There are very few options available that can provide this level of speed, therefore it should be compensated as such. That level of compensation should pay for the door equipment.
We are at different ends of the market, but the concept is the same. In my market, about 10% of our clientele is unwilling to wait the typical lead times and are willing to pay a premium to receive their cabinets in 1 to 2 weeks. In your market, your client is unwilling to wait because they don't want to lose out on rental income. In my market, it's because my client's wealth gives them the means to play by a different set of rules. But the end result is the same, which is that speed costs money. In your case, you should charge enough extra to pay for the equipment you need. In my case, I charge enough to compensate me for the disruption to our normal schedule and the extra labor it takes to make doors vs. buying doors. I literally charge double for this service. A vanity that would normally cost $2,500 I charge $5,000. I have 2 to 3 projects a month that are willing to pay that price. My guess is that you are not charging enough money for the lead times you are offering. Start charging double, and buy the equipment.
Yes, they are expensive, that's why I'm trying to find out if they're really worth it, or the high prices are inflated due to something else, e.g. small number of units being built in general.
I'm not that much concerned about the number of doors I plan to build, but more about the number of jobs being lost when I can't build the doors.
Door Shop Guy,
as you probably already guess I'm not door expert. But when I look at machines like this I somehow imagine that those arched guides could be custom cut to whatever shape one needs and I expect (probably due to my very limited experience in such matters) that various stile and rail router bits would also be available (correct me if I'm wrong), and with that the machine already exceeds most of what I could imagine, except maybe for those kind of doors that have some kind of non router-able ornaments like ropes, pointed arches and such "exotic" things.
Your pricing remarks are true for the rest of the world, but in this market that I'm trying to find the solution for things are usually a little bit different.
So, rental properties managers or companies (at least these that I'm involved with) are always interested in two things: low price AND short lead time. But they are interested only if those two appear simultaneously; i.e. they will not compromise on lead time for even lower price, and they will not compromise on price for even faster service.
1) They have limited monthly/yearly budget to spend on remodeling and maintaining the property. Unless something is real emergency (like water leak, roof leak, excessive pest infestation, or the government inspectors are forcing them into something) they will not have access to additional funds. And ugly worn out kitchen that will fell apart in FEW MONTHS is not an emergency NOW.
2) They have limited time. Property managers do not think in terms of long term financial profitability, but rather short term operability, e.g. they'll often have me replace just the countertops on top of failing cabinets (if they "don't have" the money to replace whole kitchen this month), only to have me replace both those cabinets and newly installed countertops again 2-3 months later when cabinets finally fail.
Anyway, there are lot of other thing, that are sometimes relevant and sometimes not, but these are the main ones.
On the other hand, there are also some positive aspects in doing such projects, but we can leave it for the next post/topic...
Door Shop Guy,
thank you for your input.
I'll keep looking and learning. At this moment what I'm trying to figure out is the difference between $15K machine and $30K one.
Not sure why you wouldn't just invest in a couple basic shapers. Decent HD used shapers can be had for around $3g, I paid under that for the older Invicta models I have. Panel cutters on one, Stile and Rail cutters on the other, good to go. Get an arched jig if you want to offer arched designs, or just tell them no arches if you want them fast. We order about 50% of our doors if paint grade but make specialty doors, with bookmatched grains, etc. Works for us ok.
I second the previous poster.
For small scale production I bought an invicta 5 speed sliding table shaper for the cope cut at 1500.00 came with a power feeder but never use it as itís the cope machine.
And for the sticking cut I got an older SCM t130 with power feeder for 2500.00 .
I stack three cutters on each machine so I have a few styles and pretty much just keep to that , seems everyone wants shaker style anyway.
John B, Quicktrim
It's not that I wouldn't, it's just that I don't know enough about "proper" door fabrication to be able to make best decision. Basically, I just started googling around to get some ideas.
At the moment, I can not afford a skilled woodworkers, and I'm looking to replace myself in the near future from everything in the shop except making drawings and cutting cabinet parts on slider, therefore, I'm mostly interested in the machines where one could set the machine once and forget about it, and have somebody else bringing the pieces of wood to it and pressing a button, with minimal chance of cutting their fingers off or causing any other kinds of damages to himself, machine or material.
I could easily crunch the numbers if I had them, but at the moment I don't, so unless there is someone with first hand experience in both ways (2-3 shapers vs these automated stile/rail/panel machines) I'll have to look for more info.
People mostly give me info about capabilities one setup has, but I'm mostly interested in speed and simplicity.
What others said, buy a shaper or two if you can afford it and then buy tooling as you require for various jobs with different profiles.
It sounds like you need a unique 250.
Unfortunately I donít know of any other door making machine that will allow you to have a button pusher load parts and spit out doors without risk of hurting themselves or material.
That machine would be the closest to it. So if thatís what you are after itís where you need to go.
But then you need to sand, finish, glue, clamp, bore, etc the doors, how are you going to do that ?
You could do CNC cut doors in MDF that look like 5 piece and have the CNC cut your cab parts too and then you donít have to worry about anyone getting their fingers in a shaper.
This work is inherently dangerous, you have to know how to listen to the machines and shut them down and get out of the way when something is going wrong. Thatís not easy to teach a button pusher or a green employee. One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to price my work so I could make money having other people build it. No one else will build with the passion you bring to your shop so price for an employee to build it and still make money. Thatís the trick or you will never grow.
Unique 250 is exactly one of those machines (like Fletcher's EZ Door, or Laguna's RPM 5...) from my first message.
It looks like a possible solution for my problem (speed and simplicity), the only thing I need to find out is if the marketing videos correspond with real world.
Now I'm worried that nobody here has such machine in his shop? If they were so great than why not?
You can start out with just one shaper if that is all you can afford. You will be moving tooling a lot and don't mess up cause you will have to reset back up to replace the parts.
You can precut your stile and rail stock to 2.625" on a table saw with a power feed. No need to joint the edges. Cut to length on a chop saw or jump saw. Make you some rolling racks with a couple doze shelves to sort the parts into, number the shelves so you don't have to number the parts.
Then use a Grizzly shaper, 1.25" spindle or larger for the stick head, use a good five wheel power feeder and climb cut the sticking. Keep it waxed but no too much wax or it will take it away from you for a few inches. The 2.625" stiles and rails come out at 2.5625" so the inner edge has been skimmed off.
You need a door clamp. Bar clamps or the cheap harbor freight F clamps work but they are a pain to get the doors square enough if you are doing frameless cabinets. A big door clamp is wonderful, you can glue up four doors at a time for most size doors, use the Dorus white glue from Wurth and you can rotate the clamps every twenty minutes.
You will need a panel saw for the five part panels and a shaper for any raised panels. You can get buy without a feeder on the raised panel shaper but minimum three horse motor. And a flap sander if you are doing stain grade RP doors.
And a wide belt sander. I use a 36" Timesavers, older than dirt but you can keep one running.
Next you need another shaper for the edge shapering. Spend a bit more, Grizzly is fine. The Freud door edge shapers are fine, insert tooling, you can have four or five patterns. You do need a track style feeder for this process because you are going to have to do narrow top drawer fronts. I use a swanson speed square to line up the narrow drawer fronts and keep them square as they go through. Once you get to the 11.25" wide they go through fine without the square. The shaper pulls off about 1/16" from the width and length on each side so the stiles wind up 2.5" wide after sticking and shapering the edge.
All that and you have a fairly efficient door making operation. Ought to be able to get all of this in a mix of used and new for around $20,000 to $25,000. Start out with one shaper, change cutters like mad, hand clamp the doors, sand them with a belt sander, get an edge sander to clean up the edges, then router the edges. Your doors will be crap, not that flat, routers (or jointers) leave crap finish with lots of chips. But you will be able to make doors in house and re make a door if one gets damaged. Then slowly add to the equipment as you can afford it and the doors will get better.
I had a Unique 250 for several years. Worked great for us. We only had one set of cutters for it though, if we had to do something different we used shapers.