Equipment Investment for High-Volume Wood Flooring Production

      What's the capital investment to produce tongue-and-groove wood flooring in a serious way? And is it worth it, when outsourcing instead is a practical option? April 21, 2008

My business specializes in making Panamanian artisan, hand-crafted furniture. We have been asked to produce a relatively large amount of 3/4 inch solid teak tongue-and-groove flooring. I am wrestling with the equipment purchase - moulder and finishing equipment. I've heard Weining is good for teak and have been in contact with Baker and Moulder Technique. What do you experts recommend - moulder, finisher - ??? Also, is there a particular finishing product you recommend? I understand that flooring companies apply up to 7 or 8 coats of urethane. Is this correct?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor J:
Carbide, carbide, carbide.

From contributor T:
I would think about this before you dive in. Will this new equipment purchase help you in the long term? Can you use it to generate new business? Will it be just a one time purchase with no long term benefits?

From the original questioner:
I appreciate the recommendation to use carbide and fully intend to use it. The customer's requirement is at this time a one-time run, however, it is large enough that I am quite sure that it will justify the equipment purchase with sufficient ROI even if there are no following flooring orders. And the moulder should come in handy for any number of other potential product runs, from flooring to mouldings to cabinetry to hung wooden ceiling accents (called machinbrado in Panama). So, once I identify the most appropriate machinery (moulder, finisher, end matching), then I can run the numbers and determine the true viability of the venture.

From contributor M:
Why not produce the flooring blanks or just send the rough lumber and outsource the manufacturing to specialized companies that can mill it into flooring and finish it for you? I can assure you that you will save money and headaches in the long run and will gain the benefit of professionals who have done this before, rather than learning to do it yourself. The product will be far superior and the hassles to you will be minimal.

To put things in perspective, to do it right, assuming lots of labor and good machines, you're talking $250-500k for the flooring production (some new, some used). I don't see how you can get out for less than $2M for a true flatline finishing operation.

I would say you will easily have $2.5M by the time you install, test, fix, test, fix some more, test, staff, run, fix and get into production. If this job is 2,000,000 sq.ft., which is huge, you're at $2.50/sq.ft. plus your labor to keep the line running, say $3.50-4.00/sq.ft. total. If you mark this up just 20%, you're at $4.80/sq.ft. and not making much for your hassle. Conversely, you send the blanks to someone like us or many others across the western hemisphere and you'll be paying us about quarter of that amount.

My advice, if it's a one time thing and less than 8 million sq.ft., find someone to partner with. Over 8 million, have fun and welcome to the wonderful world of flooring.

You are missing some equipment from your list. Here is some of what you need:

- Roughing planer (insert carbide)
- Defecting system
- Rip optimization system
- Gang-rip
- Molder with carbide heads
- End-matcher
- Tooling for the above list
- Training on the above
- Lots of electricity

- Calibration sander (easily $500k+)
- 7 Rollcoaters
- 7 UV curing ovens
- Inspection/defecting/re-endmatching/grading
- Packaging system
- Training (2-3 months)
- Chemicals supplier
- Training
- Lots of electricity
Couple of forklifts
Say 30-40 people if no material handling
Cut that in half with $500-750k in material handling.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your input. We already have a TimberKing on site for rough sawing timbers down to what I believe you term "blanks." Would be kiln drying the rough sawn blanks prior to processing through moulder. Wasn't aware of the calibration sander requirement. Was talking with a teak decking owner in Florida with nearly 20 years experience who stated that he's seen SE Asia plants take teak product right off the finishing machine and stack it for packing... We're trying to figure out what the finishing product is that dries that fast to see if we can negate the need for UV dryers. Of course that chemical would have to be appropriate for flooring. Is any of the brand name machinery particularly suited for making teak flooring? Or not suited for standing up to teak wood flooring production?

We may go the route you suggest... outsourcing the production. Panama has recently passed a law restricting timber exports unless it has been worked to a "finished" product... Not sure if blanks would qualify, but they might. Panama is trying to stop the SE Asian community from buying logs in Panama, exporting them to SE Asia for processing and then having the products sold in the US/UK as teak products from those countries, especially since they continue to talk down about the grade of teak from Latin America and Africa. Must not be too bad, since they're buying it up like gangbusters and selling it to the world market. Training and continuous, knowledgeable on-site quality control/mentoring of the local workforce also concerns me.

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