Equipment For New Cabinet Business

      Equipment and other advice for a beginning businessman. August 26, 2004

Cab Parts

Question
I have completed my new shop and am about to purchase equipment.

What equipment is the minimum any shop needs? I think I have more on my list than I actually need to start a shop, but I don’t want to overlook a basic piece.

Of that equipment, what size and name brand would be best to purchase?

What software would you recommend for cabinet design and why? I know it can be very pricey, but I need something easy to use and that may override the pricing issues.

I know that cabinet finishes are key and there is no substitute for experience, but I would love to hear any advice or tips you may have in that area.

Also, a friend told me that the best question you can ask someone is “What do you wish you knew before you got started?” I know some folks will say that cabinetmaking is a tough business. I do realize that, but I am definitely doing this as my career. I would really like to hear answers that will benefit me as I get started. I am sure there are many mistakes to be made - hopefully your advice will help minimize some of these.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
Table saw, drill, lube (you'll find out why)…

Your best bet is to buy good brands used. Better money spent.



From contributor M:
Invest your money in a very good table saw such as Powermatic 66. It is well worth the money. It also has a left tilt, which is essential for easy angled cuts.

Jointer if you're doing solid wood, too. I have a Powermatic long bed and I love it.

Good blades for your table saw and miter saw, 10x80 alternate bevel, negative deg rake "high top".

I have all Dewalt for the following: miter saws, screw guns, plug-in drills and angled drill.

Routers and sanders you'll only want to buy Porter Cable.

If you're doing laminate work, buy a nice spray gun, such as Binks, and buy sprayable contact cement ("flammable").

I have Cabinet Vision's solid manufacturing and unless you're planning on spending over $10,000, don't even bother looking at Cabinet Vision's Solid Manufacturing, which is their top software and can do pretty much anything. Huge learning curve, so don't expect to use it any time soon for customers' projects.

A lot of people here are using KCDW and from what they say, it's easier to learn, and it's about half the cost. You can't do everything Cabinet Vision can do, but it all depends on how advanced you want to get.

I use all Binks guns and have been pretty happy with the Mach 1 as my main gun. It's an HVLP gun, which helps reduce the overspray. I use ML Campbell for finishes and I'm very pleased with the results. You will need to learn how to do aniline dyes, a must for this business. I used to try matching some colors using wiping stains, but when I didn't have much success, I talked to the right people. I'll never go back to wiping stains. Aniline dyes are a beautiful thing, but if you don't learn how to do them properly, you might as well invest in a big can of stripper, because there isn't any turning back.

My friend, let me put it as kindly as possible. Get out of the business now, before you start pulling your hair out. I sometimes work between 80-90 hours a week. No time for a family or girlfriend, if I wanted one. I'm a one person shop and until I break down and hire someone, it will continue to be this way. My business is my life.

Everyone wants everything for nothing and will keep whining about how expensive it is, until you lower your price. Sometimes you need to bite the bullet and work deals with people, but when you get your name out there and you have consistent work, you pretty much have to eat crow.

A person at this forum taught me a big lesson. Never change your price. Adjust your materials, but never give them the same thing without lowering the quality of materials. Regardless of what you use, your labor always stays the same. Figure out what it takes for you to keep your doors open and to make a living.

At times, I wish I never got into this business, but other times, I'm glad I did. It's 11:15 pm right now and I'm working on a job.

Interior designers, decorators and architects don't know their butt from a hole in the ground when it comes to designing cabinetry/custom furniture. I couldn't tell you the amount of times I've had to change the drawings because it either wouldn't work or it was in Disneyland compared to the customer's budget.

Always find out what their budget is and charge a design fee. I also learned to never ever start your car up unless you know they're a serious buyer and are willing to pay for your design services.

The other day a customer told me he wants to do two home theaters, a full office, paneled walls, etc. and the kitchen. I told him about my nominal design fee of $500.00 and he canceled the appointment because he found someone to come out to do it for free. A good saying I came up with is this: "if they're going to whine about $500.00, they're going to really whine about $15,000.00. People who are serious and aren't tire kickers will be more than happy and understanding about the design fee.

Last but certainly not least, get your contracts done by a lawyer! Don't screw around with it, because if you don't do it right, it could not only cause you to lose money, but it could end up putting you out of business.



From contributor J:
Definitely a must have in my shop is a widebelt sander. Yes, pricey - but they will do a huge variety of tasks that will save you huge amounts of time and improve your quality tremendously. If you're not building your own doors, probably not as crucial in the beginning.

Other than that, get a nice table saw (two if money will allow - the second could be a cheaper one). Delta is about 500 bucks cheaper than Powermatic and can be had in left tilt. If you get a Beismeyer fence, the tilt doesn't matter because you can work on either side of the blade.

A nice jointer is a must as well as a panel saw. A vertical panel saw from SSC will be about $1800, otherwise it will be difficult to manage large sheet stock. The above is a good suggestion with Porter Cable routers, but my choice would be Bosch 1617evs. I have both - the Bosch is a little easier to set up. Make sure you have shapers or good router tables or both, depending on your operation.

Another must that no one has mentioned is some type of pocket hole cutter. Kreg has a nice manual system if your budget is limited. Otherwise, get a floor unit from Ritter or Castle. You will also need a nice variety of clamps, brad nailers, ros sanders, compressor, jig saw and a nice variety of router bits. Make sure you use flush trim router bits and most of your trimming. The v-groove bit will add a nice touch to your face frame/box transition as well.

Good luck, and don't be scared away by the negative remarks that you will get from some. Your business will be what you make it to be in the end. If you allow yourself to work till midnight, then you'll have to live with it. If you get scared and greedy this will probably be the case.



From contributor O:
Here's another option: outsource.

You can buy your cabinet boxes from a place like CabParts. If you just do melamine Euro boxes, you have no finishing. You can buy drawer boxes, drawer fronts and doors from a place like Connestoga or Decorative Specialties. Some of these guys will also finish and drill (for hinges) the doors for you.

You can design just about anything you want using the free eCabinetSystems software and order almost anything you need directly through them at discounted prices.

This way all you need is hand tools and a good mitre saw for moulding. If you don't like the business, you have not invested that much. The cost for the outsourced components is probably cheaper than if you were to make them yourself, and you know the exact cost up front when you make your bids.



From contributor P:
What stuff to have:
Cabinet saw with a solid outfeed area large enough/strong enough for full sheets. Don't care what brand, just don't use a contractor's saw. Used machines are decent deals in this area.
Jointer - 8" minimum width.
Portable planer - I have a DeWalt but any of them are fine.
Open sided sander - either wide belt or drum so you're not too limited in width or narrow doors/tops.
Edge sander - wish I had one, as using a belt sander is a PITA.
Misc hand tools - drill, pocket hole jig, etc.

I don't use cabinet software. Faster and easier for me (don't know about you) to just draw it than play with software.

Get a good HVLP system. Any of the pricier guns should do what you need. Size the gun and the compressor to work together. Skip the cheap and shiny place for products and buy your finishes from Sherwin Williams, ML Campbell or another manufacturer of similar sort.

I wish I had known more about how different cabinets go together and how to handle different install problems. When I started I didn't know how cabs worked together to make a room and had to struggle to figure that out since it isn't in print anywhere. Some industry knowledge isn't written down and you learn on the job. Standardize your cab sizes to industry numbers and you'll be better off.

Last word: When I started I had no orders for cabinets. I was making custom furniture and quickly starving when I made a bath cab for myself at home out of some shop scraps. Long story short is that a contractor friend of mine saw the cab, asked me how much to make one for him and replied that "he'll be talking to me really soon" about a kitchen cab job. I got the kitchen job, made money on it and never looked back. Moral: Don't even think about starting in this business unless you have a ready market and someone who will sell your product to that market. Without customers you go nowhere except the poorhouse. I got lucky and am still not totally secure in the future sales area even after four years of making cabinets.



From contributor Z:
I just put a pocket hole jig in the classifieds. I wish I had the room and money for the things I want. We all would, but the things I get by with (I don't build a whole bunch of cabinets) are:

Table saw, but I rip my sheets flat on the stack with straight edge and clamps and I love the 24" and 50" Clamp n Guide clamps. Get a circular saw that feels good, not priced right. 6" jointer, planer, 14" band saw, at least two routers (one heavy duty plunge) for different setups. I use three. Lots of clamps, dust collection (I use jet, an air scrubber and a 48" fan on rollers), nailers and compressor, sliding miter, PC pocket cutter machine, biscuit joiner, several cordless tools, assortment of small things. I only run 110v equipment as I'm not wired for 220.

I'm sure there's stuff I'm leaving out, but I have found these the most popular I'm using. I make my own raised panel doors.

If I were building cabinets 40 hours a week (oops - 60-80 hours a week, from what I hear) I would be recommending much more. Definitely a vertical panel saw, 8" or larger jointer, Unisaw or PM66, etc.



From contributor M:
Contributor Z, if I may respectfully respond to something on your website… You said "We will match or beat any price."

1. That doesn't sound very good when you're dealing with custom furniture/cabinetry.

2. So if I went to a furniture store and saw this huge wall unit for $4,000.00, you're going to tell me that you'll match or beat it? I highly doubt it. If you could, you'd end up being out of business.

3. Someone could call that "false advertisement" because you're claming you can do something that in reality, you really can't do and make a living for yourself.

You might want to change your statement around to something like,

"We will match or beat prices of other custom furniture shops, but it must be with like materials, hardware, construction and quality."

Do you really think you could make those pieces of junk entertainment centers that you see at Walmart for the same price? I couldn't buy the cheapest materials and still be able to pay for all the materials for what the whole unit costs.

I personally don't try to compete with other people. My price is what it is. If you want to negotiate, give me more work and I'll give you a better deal. I don't give deals on projects that are under $10,000.00. Spending $10,000.00 on an entertainment center is on the lower end. I've done laminate wall units that were over $10,000.00.

I'm only trying to help, so please don't take my advice offensively.



From contributor Z:
That's a good point. I was only intending it to be apples to apples. You're right - I sure couldn't keep up with the production line prices. I had more on the site regarding home improvements and such and it was primarily for that type work (kind of grabbing at straws for a while there after a divorce) and have since cleared my head to do more what I like to do and have deleted a few things. I may remove that also. I don't take it offensively - everything's constructive and I appreciate your help.


From contributor T:
What do you intend to build? Makes no sense to me to offer raised panel doors and have an edgebander in the shop. What I mean is you need to sit down and think about what you intend to do. That dictates what kind of equipment you need. Also consider what quality standard you have, as well as the product width and the product depth. Hope that helps you a little to determine what equipment you need. By the way, hope your building is laid out for your production.


From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice so far! To answer a few of your questions:

1. My shop is 44x28. It was built specifically for my cabinet business. Lighting, ventilation, etc. is all ready.

2. I plan to do custom cabinet jobs, mantels, etc. I have a contractor who watched me build my house from the ground up and is waiting for me to start up shop. I have two jobs ready when I am - two kitchens.

3. I enjoy working with my hands and consider myself a perfectionist - my girlfriend says I got it bad!

4. I would like to know where to find more information on the sprayers mentioned. As I said, I know finishes will sell my product and I would like to start working with that immediately.

5. Where do you purchase your cabinet hardware (handles, hinges, etc)?

6. Can you suggest a good place to purchase internal cabinet components such as lazy-susans and pull-outs?

7. I also need a good source for woods and laminate.

8. I also know that I will have some remodel jobs. I assume there will be troubleshooting that goes on with these jobs. Any advice in this area would also be much appreciated.

9. Lawyers. *sigh* How much will they want for the set-up on the contracts? How do I know if my lawyer knows what kind of contract would best serve me? Is there a source out there for contracts for this kind of work that I can review?

10. I can sketch anything you want - whether you recognize what it is or not, is a different thing. How artistic do I need to be with my sketches if I decide to go this route? If I am a basic sketcher, is this a drawback?



From contributor M:
There is only so much advice that we on WOODWEB can give you. A lot of it you'll need to learn on your own. May I ask how old you are and where your experience comes from?

Do you know the standard sizes for kitchen cabinets and appliances? If not, I would turn those jobs down, because if you're not familiar with those basic things, your first job could become your last.

I paid my lawyer $500.00 for my contracts. We sat down for a few hours and I told him exactly the situations that I've seen or heard happen in this business and other things that I want to make sure I cover myself with. Don't skimp on your contracts, because it could be what keeps you in business - god forbid a job goes wrong.

Always, and I mean always, have your clients sign off on everything - changes, color samples, drawings, anything and everything that could come back to bite you.

How much actual shop experience do you have professionally, and what were your duties?

The last thing you want to do is bite off more than you can chew.



From the original questioner:
I am 38 years old. I have worked in construction, assembly, built furniture in a custom furniture shop, and also built my 2400 sq ft house from the ground up. Have I worked in a cabinet shop? Not yet - almost there.

Yes, I do know the standard sizes for kitchen cabinets and appliances.



From contributor A:
You can find standard sizes for appliances only in Europe. As far as cabinets, the standard here is 24" - 12" which is a size totally wrong. The correct size would be the ergonomic size used, again... in Europe.


From contributor M:
I'm referring to the sizes that are typically known here in the United States. This day and age, nothing is "standard" but there are certain dimensions that haven't changed in over 20 years, such as the opening for a dishwasher being 24", hoodvent 30", range 30", etc.

Now with so many different manufacturers, there are hundreds of different sizes, but for someone just starting out, it's always good to know what is "Typ".

A funny story: I worked for this job about seven years ago. This guy told my boss he had 25 years of experience. Well, this guy's first job was a kitchen.

My boss wrote on the plans 12" for the uppers. Well, the dummy took 12" minus 7/8" for the doors, minus 5/8" for the back, minus 1" scribe and ended up with an inside dimension of 9-1/2", not enough depth to put a regular kitchen plate in!

What's even more pathetic is that the customer actually accepted it!



From contributor N:
Whoa! You are not sure exactly what you will be building, what tools you will need, you have no experience in a shop, and you already started to build a shop?

The most important question you asked is “what do you wish you knew before you got started?"

For me, that would be a complete business plan. I had a half assed one when I started. But I still had 10 years experience, a complete understanding of how to build and slowly bought the starter tools I needed before I opened shop. All this plus a never say die attitude will go a long way. You, on the other hand, sound like you have no plan, no tools, no idea how to build plus no experience in shop. I am not trying to be harsh or make you feel bad. I am just trying to give you some sound advice and save you tons of money and headaches. Stop right now before you waste another dime! You can always do something else with your building.

You need a business plan immediately! Reading every post in every forum in the history of this site will not help you in the long term if this is how you started. A perfectionist with no experience and no business plan is a fast track to business bankruptcy. These guys gave you great advice, but what you said sent bells and whistles off in my head.



From contributor S:
I used to be called a perfectionist or meticulous. The correct definition for either word would be: kind of slow, but nice. It is a good formula for not making a good living. Lots of people think fast is better quality. (Only an expert could do it so quickly.) Set a good standard, but scratch perfectionist.

Get a hold of as many old Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding and JLC magazines as you can. There are tons of good ideas and sources in them.

Don't go on a spending spree for tools just because you have the money. (This especially applies to all those pretty hand tool catalogs.) I have a collection that would fill a small hardware store. Most of it just sits in its drawer. Concentrate on buying tools that will really get used for the kind of work you plan to do.

Get a book like "Contractor's Plain-English Legal Guide". Don't depend only on lawyers for info. Do some of your own research. Check into your state regulations on licensing and tax requirements. Some states are stricter than others with contracting.



From contributor R:
Building a house is great, but if you don't know what tools are basic and what are luxury, you are not ready to start a cabinet company. Anyone can build a metal building and put some tools in it. That's a cabinet shop…

But if you want to earn a living building cabinets, that's a whole different story. Just swallow your pride and get a job in a cabinet shop, even if you only work there a month. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how well you love working with wood or your hands, you still will learn more working around a cabinet builder in a month than two years on your own. You need to know which tools you need, without asking us which tools you need. You need to buy tools, place them in a shop in an order that works for your style of construction methods, then wire the shop accordingly. We all started somewhere for sure, but you are putting the cart before the horse here.



From contributor W:
I was in your shoes about six years ago starting out on my own, by myself. Looking back, the tools that I have had and the ones that I bought when I started are a very different list. For a one man shop the ones that I should have had when I started are:

Good cabinet table saw
Sawtrax 52" panel saw
Porter Cable pocket hole machine
Sliding compound miter saw
2 stage air compressor with big tank
6x80" belt edge sander (minimum)
Table mounted hot air edgebander
Drill press with Euroease hinge jig
Router table/shaper
CabinetSolutions software

These are the basic tools that we have used from years 2-4 to make loads of cabinets. We have since upgraded in most areas but all of these tools were used in a very productive manner.

I have often found useful info in a book by Danny Proulx called "The Kitchen Cabinetmaker's Building and Business Manual". He lists many of the pits that many new cabinetmakers fall into. I can honestly say that I have been in a few myself.



From contributor K:
I have been building furniture for 14 years, and in the last couple I switched to cabinets. I had a fully equipped shop, including a Unisaw, 37" widebelt sander, 12" jointer, 15" planer, miter saw, and other tools. Last year we spent over $100,000 adding new equipment to build frameless cabinets.

Through a series of events, I had two clients that refused to pay, and put a crunch on our cash flow. We also bought a used edgebander that now sits in our shop taking up valuable floor space. We are waiting to hear from the arbitrator, some 10 months later.

I wish to impart some lessons learned from my experience. My intention is not to embarrass you, but to help. So if my comments read like a put-down, give me the benefit of the doubt - they are not intended as such.

I consider myself to be well educated. I have two Masters degrees. I had 14 years of woodworking experience (building furniture and some cabinets) before I decided to focus on cabinets. I have a shop full of expensive and impressive equipment. But I will say that these things have had little impact on the success of my business. When you ask what tools, you have shown your lack of experience. It is not the tools that bring success. Look at www.Exfactory.com and see all of the late model equipment for sale - all of the plant liquidations. If equipment were the key, then you would not see these listings. Reading books, magazines, and even message board threads will not guarantee success. Every situation, every experience, every personality, every job is different. No amount of writing can cover every situation. And even prior experience will not guarantee success. The rules are constantly changing.

For example, finishing. It sounds like you don't have a clue about this. And I mean that in the nicest way. I have lost more time and money doing my own finish work. There are three variables to finishing: the equipment, the finish, and the skill of the finisher. When a finish goes bad, it is up to you to determine which and why. And then you have to decide who is telling you the truth. Is the equipment bad like the finishing supplier said, or is the finish bad like the equipment supplier said? And then you have to deal with the fire department who says nothing is safe, no matter what you do or how much time and money you spend. In the questions you ask and the comments you make, I see an optimistic traveler preparing for a potentially disastrous journey.

I suggest that you get some experience, and get paid for it. Learn from someone else. Watch and see how and why they do it. What mistakes are they making? How would you do it better? Learn about systems and philosophies. There are several systems out there for building cabinets. Repetition is key to this business. Learn several systems, evaluate them, pick one, and stick to it as long as it works for you.

You will also need to adopt a philosophy for the cabinet business. One thing you need to get through your skull is to realize that perfectionists will not survive in this business! Check your ego at the door and build good product. Do not associate your self-worth with the product that you make. This would be your biggest mistake, and you will find your equipment being liquidated. You will see that there are two kinds of people in the trades: craftsmen and businessmen. You can identify the businessman. He is the one that works from 9 - 5, drives a nice car, takes vacation, has money in the bank, and makes a product that the majority of the population finds acceptable. The craftsman, however, makes an outstanding product. It is full of details that other craftsmen will recognize and praise. Grain-matched, special joinery, top-of-the-line hardware, and a flawless finish characterize the work that comes out of his shop. However, you will not see the 9-5, car, vacations, and money.

The goal is for you to maintain your craftsmanship while adopting more of a business approach. The most important tool in your workshop is your brain. All the other equipment is incidental. Learn how to make money at this profession and the tools will follow. Know that most middle-class people feel entitled to upper-class service and product, but won't pay for it. Learn that saying "no" does not mean that you will starve - your work is valuable and they should pay appropriately. And finally, understand your strength and shortcomings. Build your business around these. Lead with your assets and find a way to work through your shortcomings. Decide what is profitable and pass on the rest. Build a referral source. Not everyone who pounds a nail is you competitor. When you pass on work, send them to someone who will do a good job. You may not get that business, but you will look better by extending that goodwill.

I would say that most people in any profession fail because they lack good business skills. Know that your actions have consequences. You discount your work and your satisfied customers will send you more people expecting the same discounts. You give additional things away for free and the customer will use the money they saved to go on vacation or build their retirement account. Remember that your number one goal is to be doing this tomorrow. And for that to happen, you will have to make it financially. This is a business that provides a great service for people. To continue this service it's got to work for you.

Get some experience from others (just don't come to work for me, get trained, and quit). You can spend your time and money inventing the wheel, or you can get a head start watching someone use the wheel successfully. And get some practical experience finishing. This is one area that can break you. For finishing, book knowledge is fine to get the basics, but get someone to show you how to do it. Find a good supplier. Someone who understands how to apply the finish, how to fix it when it goes wrong, and knows more than one product. If there is not someone at the store like that, then move on. When you find someone who is competent, ask them to refer you to a good finisher that can show you a thing or two. And finally, get involved in a good network. Find guys with various levels of experience. You can learn from all (just know that some advice is stupid - never mine). This is a good forum. Some of the guys in this group have great experience and wisdom. As you become more experienced in this trade, you will be able to identify those who know and those who don't.

Wipe that optimistic grin off of your face, think long and hard, make good plans, evaluate your options and resources, and don't be afraid to turn this profession down. A contractor promising two jobs is not the same as cash in the bank. I wish you the best of luck and hope for your success.



From contributor M:
Good luck and I'm sure we all wish you the best. We are not telling you that you won't ever succeed in this business, but you need to have a minimum of 5 years working for other people to see the ins and outs. That doesn't mean sitting behind a bench all day building. You need to take part in everything that goes with this business.

I don't know if you have a family or a wife, but let me be the first to tell you that if you want to be in this business, you better be willing to bust your a**, and you need to accept the fact that the family or girlfriend will end up coming second to the business for about the next 3-5 years minimum! I'm on my fourth year of being in business for myself and as I sit here at my shop, it's now 1:00 am and I'm working. I put in at least 70 hours a week working, between meeting with clients, paperwork, ordering, building, finishing, installation, thank you letters, advertising, marketing, etc.



From contributor E:
My brother and I do general contracting and remodeling. Our two shops are small compared to most cabinet shops. We aren't tied down to them because we aren't heavily invested in equipment that requires the shop to always be operating. There is a flexibility to our set-up that lets us shut stuff down and switch gears.

We built our share of houses and additions. Remodeling has been the most profitable, especially when we got to the point where we could remodel homes that we bought and then sold. You can get the most creative when you don't have to worry about getting paid or answer to an architect or homeowner.

The right type of woodworking can make a house sell fast. That's when a craftsman's touch can pay off. You might want to consider orienting your shop towards remodeling. It sounds like you already have jobs lined up.



From the original questioner:
I don't want you all to think I am completely green or completely crazy. This was not a decision I made overnight. Most every consideration or warning you have given me, I have already considered. There were some that were new to me and with that you have given me a few more things to work through.

My building, built specifically for my shop, has an office upstairs (not a metal building). I spent hour upon hour researching the equipment I would need and wired accordingly. Nothing was done in haste. I have spent more than a year of planning and building. I know what tools I need and in no way meant to make it look like I didn’t have a clue. My main question was more to be sure there wasn't something I needed, that I hadn't considered. You know, the piece that if you put five cabinet makers in a room they would say “you just gotta have this!” but even more importantly, what brand names to purchase. No one wants to spend a huge chunk of change on something and two months later find out it's not a durable piece for continued use.

Again, thanks for the advice. Any additional comments on tools and name brand preferences would be great. I am taking notes.



From contributor M:
You're not getting the big picture. You can have thought of everything we've talked about and/or taken in new stuff. Nothing we are saying is going to give you the experience needed to do the cabinetmaking end of this business.

A good cabinetmaker isn't someone who knows a lot of things from listening to others and reading books, rather it's someone who when they screw up or run across a problem, they'll devise a way to make it work, without remaking the project. This is mostly important to know when you're in the field.

Do you even know the difference between vertical grade and standard grade? Do you know the difference between A-1 and B-2? Do you know what type of finish is needed for a kitchen? Do you know what the O.D of a drawer box would be in a 20" wide cabinet when using 3832's? The last one is a trick question. I'm giving you that hint. All of these are very simple questions.



From contributor I:
Some of what has been said is true, but if you are smart enough and work hard enough, you can make this work. I am doing pretty good and I used to be a manufacturing consultant. I was smart enough to pay a retired cabinetmaker to come in a few hours a week and help me get all the stupid questions out of the way before I got caught out in the market looking like an idiot. The guy's son now runs the shop floor and I am an owner of a small business. Get help on the technical stuff from a retired guy and he can help with the lingo that seems important to some.

I would not give advise on brands because manufacturing methods have changed over the years, but we buy used when possible and refurbish. When you decide to go CNC, make sure you get with someone you trust. That is big dollars and it needs to make you big dollars. And always remember, call back your customers in a timely fashion and don't lie to them. If something has gone wrong and you cannot recover, let them know. They'll be mad but they will respect you. If you want it bad enough you can make it work. I started slow and now I love it. Didn't know a Blum hinge from a clamp carrier. Didn't know where to buy lumber or hardware, but I got some help and made it work. Not easy, but very satisfying.



From contributor C:
Most equipment advice has been given. My advice is buy what you can afford and upgrade as your business will allow. Most of the import stuff will get you started and get you building cabinets; however, time is money and as you progress, the higher end/higher production machines will begin to show their worth.

I can only comment on Cabinetvision software because that is what I use. It is an integral part of my business. My opinion is that design and cutlist software is the tool that I am glad I purchased early on. I call it my second employee. Yes, the learning curve is steep, but once you get it dialed in the shop, efficiency increase is unbelievable. I spent a week when I first got it and built a beaded inset kitchen as the first job, so it is not impossible to learn.

I would like to comment on some of the negative responses to your endeavors. I was in the same position you are in less than 10 years ago. Had a lot of experience in finish work, stairs and on site built-ins but never worked in a cabinet shop. I built out my shop, pretty close to the same size as yours, researched and purchased equipment and continued working at my finish carpentry business. People told me I was crazy, there was no money in it, I wouldn't succeed and so on. I kept my focus, learned what I needed to and kept going. I didn't know what the standards were, but that information was available and you only needed to learn it once.

The craft is the easy part to learn because it interests all of us. The business end is where most have failed. Try to spend equal time with each. I know I would rather be making dust than clicking a mouse or having a telephone stuck to my ear, but the business is just as important.



From contributor L:
That one machine that the five cabinetmakers are looking at is a nested base CNC router. I tried one and fell in love. If your shop isn't up and running yet and there is no rush, get a good one, some CV solid manufacturing soft ware, and learn them both. After that you will be able to build any cabinet for any one.

Also, sub out finishes. Your building is too small. Been there, done that. When you go out on jobs for your new builder, become acquainted with the other subs because if they like the work you do and you have a good attitude, they will tell other builders, and soon the shop will be way too small. Been there, done that. Then you need more help, more equipment, and you wake up one morning and buy a CNC. And soon all them saws and routers and drills are just taking up space. Why buy ten when one will do?

I basically started the same way you are (about nine years ago)with about same size shop. I now have seven full time employees, have more than doubled shop size, and have permit to add on another 40x42, to be done this summer. The moral is be prepared to grow!



From contributor V:
Please take my advice in the spirit it is given. I really want you to make it as a professional cabinetmaker. But the questions you ask indicate to me that you are getting way ahead of yourself in considering doing this full time. I would suggest you keep your day job and burn some midnight oil and work weekends to start making some projects for friends, family and yourself. Play around with different styles and construction methods and see what you like and what you think you can do efficiently. After you have narrowed down the 1,398 details of cabinetmaking into a concise list of workable options, search high and low for an objective pro who can help you develop your list based on how you do it, in the market you plan to enter. Just a thought.

You need to spend at least as much time on digging a deep cash flow well as on technical thought. You probably have great credit, but my guess is that is fairly shallow. Venders will probably require you to buy C.O.D. You will be amazed and perplexed at how fast your cash will evaporate. Cash flow is the life blood of every business. It doesn't matter if you are making cabinets or selling goat milk, you need cash reserves. Get money from every source you can. Rich uncles, lottery wins, male prostitution, begging, borrowing, stea... well, maybe not that one (the IRS already has a corner on that market). Seriously, go to your bank and get a credit line. It doesn't matter if it's $50 - it is a start. Get credit cards. But be very, very, very careful in how you use credit. You have to view cash just like any other supply in your shop and the people who market in this stuff (banks, credit unions, etc.) are just selling, renting or leasing a product. In this case, the product is cash. Just starting out (and every time you need to make a move up) you will be cash crunched. Even cash flow sources will help temporarily fill in the potholes of your journey. Just a thought.



From contributor G:
Lock the door to your new shop and run!

Just kidding. In all seriousness, you need to start making cabinets to know exactly what you need in your shop. Go to work for a local shop for a couple of months to learn what's going on (hopefully you have money saved since shop employees never tend to be what you call "wealthy", on the average. Hopefully you can find a shop that produces both traditional and frameless boxes and one that has some more modern equipment. We hope that you are very anal retentive as this is required to be a cabinet maker. You are kind of throwing the cart in front of the horse.

Buy a good table saw to begin with and a good chop saw. A good router, jig saw. And break down and spend the money on a good pocket hole cutter. With these you can get started and you will soon realize some of the equipment you could use to boost your production. We will assume you own such things as a cordless drill, etc. already. Buy some books on cabinetmaking from people who are in the business. As much as I like Fine Woodworking, it is not for a practical trying to make money cabinet shop. If you want a whimsical fantasy, working with your hands Norm Abrham shop, then go ahead. You would be best off contacting someone like Danny Proulx or Bob Buckley, both who have shops and are actually producing to make money, not creating fantasy island kitchen cabs. Nothing will get you there faster than a little experience.



The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
You can make it at any business you choose if you have the skills and the drive. Definitely get in to the remodeling business - this will feed your cabinet shop and put you well onto your way to offering a full general contracting realm of services, which is where you can make some money and diversify... real estate, rentals, all kinds of income opportunities.

It is wise to have a few streams of income to choose from. More work will come in than you know what to do with. Take it slow and do a good job and charge more than enough. Price yourself high and provide a good quality product and services. A good businesman can go a long way in this line of work, since thay are few and far between.

Your life is what you make it. Everyone has hardship stories. It is not easy to be a sucess in any line of work, especially running your own business. I left a very solid 6 figure white collar life to persue my own business in contracting and it has been a tough road, but it is working out well. Go for it. Read a lot, ask a lot of questions, know your competitors and be prepared to work a lot. Every start-up requires serious devotion.



Comment from contributor F:
We seem to be on similar roads, my friend. I have been remodeling kitchens and bathrooms now for about 20 years. Always installing products I buy from sources. This past spring I decided to bite the bullet and put my own shop together and make my own cabinets. Here's what I was able to do... Watch the real cabinet guys reading this go balistic.

I did not have the resources to jump full fledged into the proper quality shop tools I knew I would need. But I knew what my standards were going to be. Since this was a first venture, I wasn't willing to put a huge chunk of cash out until I knew I could make this work. Home Depot, and believe me that place sends shivers down my back, just happened to be clearing out their old line of Ridgid shop tools. I thought "Even if this stuff is garbage, I will at least have the chance to test the water without a big outlay of cash." If all went well I could upgrade one tool at a time to real shop tools. So here was the setup, all Ridged tools: 10" table saw, 6" joiner/planer, 13" thickness planer, drill press, band saw. I spent under $350 each for all the above, about $1600 total. I figured if I had to throw them all away because they were crap, so what - I didn't have a big investment there and I'd sell them on E-Bay if I had to. I did go ahead and buy a good router, 3.5 HP Porter Cable (great buy) and a table to mount it in. Whiteside and Amana Tool make good bits, I've found.

I spent a lot of time calibrating these tools as best I could and I could not believe the accuracy I was able to achieve with them. My first piece was a center kitchen island that I was able to display at my local bank ("Small Buisness of The Month"). It now sits in the showroom of a local kitchen center.

Back to tools. My first upgrade, I found, was going to be the thickness planer. The 13" was a neat toy but I found real fast that most kitchens will have raised panel doors wider than 13". I have since purchased a 20" planer made by Grizzly Industrial. Maybe not the best upgrade, but it fit the budget and has turned out to be a reliable tool. Some of my additional upgrades are to General Tools, table saw, drill press, 8" joiner/planer, bandsaw, still yet to upgrade is to a shaper.

Some toys for the job that I have found: Kreg's pocket screw jig (great little buy), Blum (hinges and hardware - get their catalogue) makes a hand held jig for drilling out your Euro hinge holes (look it up). Also, I found a mortising jig and chisels that I mount to the drill press.

It has been working for me so far and I've been able to ease my way in while I continue to remodel. My goal is to be in the shop full time by summer's end and it is looking promising. Go for it and don't get discouraged. If you can see it, you can have it!



Comment from contributor X:
After reading all the comments, I hope the original sender has not become discouraged. The tool list is quite extensive, as you can see. I think the outsourcing comments are great because you can do quite a bit with little, but it will only get you so far, especially when mistakes are made. Contractors and clients will find you as your reputation grows.

The best piece of advice I ever got and put to use in the machinery tool topic was to purchase quality items and service them. You can't make a living with sub-pro tools and expect them to operate in a pinch, and there pinches. The comments on working all might are correct - this is up to you.

I would most definitely go to Sherwinn Williams or a supply store for finish and learn from them. Bob Flexner's books are great and indespensible. I've shot tons of product with a 50.00 cup gun from the home centers and finally let my contact refer me to an AOM product and never looked back. You need to find reps from different supply houses and get to know them - they will truly become a partner in your success.

On the business side, before taking on a large job with a large contractor, call around to the industry supply houses and talk to the credit manager to find out if they pay their bills. You'll find out a lot in a hurry. If you provide excellent service and are reliable, clients will help you along.

You need to do your research. The tools aren't cheap, but not only will they pay for themselves, they will help you make money. Don't forget the truck or van to get your product to market.



Comment from contributor Y:
Joining face frames with pockets is fast and easy when using low angle pockets. Shifting occurs more when you try to join pockets with steep angles. Low angle pockets do not shift as much as drill tub pockets do. Castle's low pocket allows for very little shifting when using a face frame table. Kreg's pockets have a much steeper angle so that even with a face framing table you still get shifting when joining the two pieces. Ritter also has a low angle on their pockets; however, I have not used their machines. I can imagine that their machine joins similar to the Castle machines.


Comment from contributor C:
Design your cabinets in SketchUp Pro or Vectorworks. Both are inexpensive and totally adequate. Find a good CNC shop and sub out the cabinet parts. Don't get caught up in processing sheet good with a 10" Powermatic table saw - it's an antiquated procedure. No matter how quick and accurate you are you can't compete with a CNC. Unless you’re doing strictly high-high end custom cabinetry with complex components your clientele is comparing your prices with box stores. Don't break your back and bank, tooling up a shop to compete with Home Depot. Take that money you’re thinking of spending on a Delta or Powermatic 10" saw and buy a nice used Northfield #4. The same goes for the 8" jointers, 3 hp shapers etc. These are basically home owner’s tools not work horses. You’re setting up a new shop, but you don’t need new tools you need new blades.



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