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Subject: Re: Carts or no Carts??


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Message Thread:

Carts or no Carts??

John Bishop  Member

I am re-reading a book called “The Business of Woodwork”, by Mr. Bill Norlin. I read it some years ago and I had forgotten his hatred for carts. We tried a set up he recommends of basically jumping materials from bench to bench. The problem was we had to put all our benches much closer than they were.

Immediately we found a big concern, folks don’t like to be that close to each other. Some craftsmen are just pigs and getting them to clean once a day is a miracle. But the number one problem by far was safety. We build architectural items that are not only awkward sizes but large. We found people whacking there neighbors almost daily. Plus folks had no place to put materials since the benches were so close to each other. Acraftsmen’s neighbors materials might encroach on his or her space and that does not fly at all.

We tried this for almost a month. We also found it to be human nature to sort of drag parts from bench to bench and we started getting a lot of bench marks which we did not have preciously. Our standard cart is narrow 24” x 60 “ long. It can hold materials both ways.

I’m still not convinced that the no cart thing might be better but I could not seem to make it work with our working conditions and the product we build. We also have a very strict no tow motors in the machining area rule that we enforce. I have had serious problems with people driving tow motors around the machining areas with benches nearby and craftsmen focusing on what they are doing not what you are doing.

We just did not like the idea of loading a common area table saw with a tow motor in very tight spaces. We had several injuries and some very close calls. One of the biggest was someone just driving a tow motor so close to benches on one liked that at all.

Please share your opinions and thank you.


4/1/19       #3: Carts or no Carts?? ...
Paul Downs

You tried something, it didn't work, move on. I haven't read Mr. Norlin's book, but it might have been aimed at a single person or much smaller shop than yours. In a larger shop carts are not an option. We have more than 200 and my guys are always begging for more. That's for 13 people on the shop floor in a 25k sf space.

4/1/19       #4: Carts or no Carts?? ...

I would say every shop would have its own set of circumstances dependent on size and shape and layout.
I worked in a shop similar to what Paul said and the machines were all at one end, it would take forever to get the material from the machines to the benches with out carts or some kind of conveyor system.

You might have 10 guys building boxes for a large job, after a box was completed it was again put on a cart, after 6-10 boxes were on the cart they would be taken to the warehouse area of the shop. It would be a lot of added time if you had to carry each box there when you completed it.

The carts were a necessity in the large shop, but I could see them being a pain in a small 1-3 man shop.where space may be a factor.

4/1/19       #5: Carts or no Carts?? ...
Pat Gilbert

It has been a long time since I read that book but Mr Norlin did not have a one man shop by any stretch.

It has been mentioned many times on the Wood Web that conveyors are the biggest bank for the buck a shop can get.

IMO the ideal varies according to shop size carts to conveyors to big ass pallets.

4/1/19       #6: Carts or no Carts?? ...

Continuous improvements lead to big changes. Take what you liked and learned what worked and improve it. If they are to close together move the benches a little further apart. No carts doesn’t mean you have to carry everything, conveyors or even a long table can be a method of moving things.
We changed the way we loaded our jobs and I had guys fight it all the way. Yeah we had some rough patches, but we went from 2 hours to 15 minutes in the mornings and now that we have it figured out there is no way we would go back to the old way.
I hate carts, but we still have them. I try to put everything I can on wheels so if it’s not working out we just roll it to a different spot.

Here’s a quick video of my load up boxes


4/2/19       #7: Carts or no Carts?? ...

Shop 25,000'+-, employees16-18, architectural, store fixtures, medical, schools -- CNC, beam saw, big bander, bore & insert, case clamp, hydraulic work benches, molder, shapers, sanders, widebelt, resaw, etc.

15 years ago: 140 carts, could never find an empty one, if you did it was on the opposite end of the shop and usually had something on it (My cart, hands off!) It seemed like a lot of wasted time moving empty carts back to the beginning of the manufacturing process.

I decided to try roller conveyors. It required rearranging equipment to get proper flow. When the idea was presented to the shop absolutely everyone said it wouldn't work.

So I bought 450' of used roller conveyor and had 5 transfer cars built. I'd seen the systems sold by the big machinery dealers but didn't like the very low height or the floor mounted guide tracks. Put our height @ 30", (24" high stack of 3/4" parts = 32 pc. and still easily handled & easy on the back.) Recessed guide tracks cut into the concrete floor (no tripping, easy sweeping.)

All of the (4' X 10') hydraulic assembly benches are served by paired 10' sections via one of the transfer cars. The benches are used for things that can't be case clamped. The molding/solid wood area still uses carts due to the lengths involved. The forklift rarely needs to go anywhere near the assembly areas.

If you ask the shop now, "would you want to go back to carts" .... the overwhelming answer is "never."

Before I made the commitment I did many scale model layouts. stretched strings over push pins. Put marks on the shop floors, considered the cost of moving equipment (electrical, ducts, air lines, vacuum system.)
Does it work for every project? NO! Could the design have been better? Maybe but it continues to work well.

Some equipment changes were considered in the original design. Many things about the building layout simply can't be changed but ways can be figured out to minimize the impact.
The move was completed in 3 days, over a weekend +1.

Has anyone else done something similar?

4/5/19       #8: Carts or no Carts?? ...
Bill Walker

@ Larry

I installed a very similar system for high volume small square foot operation. We built the "trollys" using Creform, a very modular system allowing us to customize the trollys for our product. One main conveyor down the middle of two rows of 4 x 10 lift tables service by overhead air and electrical on retracts. materials came in via parts on conveyor left as cabinets on conveyor right to pack and ship. As long as the part kit was 100% complete the system worked well.

4/9/19       #9: Carts or no Carts?? ...
Karl E Brogger

I thought it was a fundamental truth of the universe that cabinet shops never had enough carts.

We're four people, 7900 square feet, and we've got ten welded up carts for miscellaneous things, 34x48 (ish) Door parts, drawer parts, face frame parts, sometimes they get used for assembling things on the benches. Even just ferrying material from the back side of the widebelt back to the front side. I couldn't function with out carts. We could easily use a few more. It's a small shop in size and volume, so we go from no carts available to four five empty ones pretty quickly. There's nobody has one fulltime job at this point, we jump around so there's no consistent flow feeding benches.

We've got four carts I had a buddy make that are similar to the parts carts that Hafele sells for box parts coming off the router. I park them right outside the light fence and drop parts in. We haven't needed to do it yet, (our cnc has only been up and running a few months at this point), but on BIG jobs I plan on cutting parts sequentially and just filling them and cycling in the next set of empty carts. We have four, I wish I would've had him make six. I've only had one really big job come through since I got the cnc, and I didn't have those carts yet. That was a nightmare trying to keep things organized and not turn into a furball. I ended up shuffling a bunch of stuff around when I was done, that's not smart.

And we've got a whole mess of furniture carts for shooting cabinets over to the staging area.

A shop bigger than a garage stall with no carts sound like a giant pain in the rear to me. I don't know what the critical mass would be for square footage or personel to say "yeah, we need carts", but it can't be very big. Likewise, I don't know what the cutoff would be for putting in a conveyor system, but I'm nowhere near that point yet.

4/10/19       #10: Carts or no Carts?? ...

Carts are a necessary evil.

What we did is this.

We have the cnc router. It has a conveyer.

The bander, doweller and assembly area for strictly “boxes” are close so we can mitigate the transportation waste.

However, the bander has to have a large entry and exit to process countertops and other larger millworker items. Hence, carts.

Since the cnc cuts the larger millworker items like die walls, we obviously need to get that out of the box building area, hence carts.

When it comes down to the rubber hitting the road, we only process in small bites Sized jobs of 200 cabinets, 60 tops with corian and a Plam mix, are processed in lots of 10 or less +/- focussing on capacity completion in assembly and can it ship out.

There is no point in 50 carts or jobs cut sitting with an assembly back log. Getvthe cnc operator involved to band and bore, assembly or whatever and keep the machine cutting.

Look at your capacity constraints as follows.


Materials logistics.


Processing for assembly





Review of the job improvements

There is a myriad of other topics and concerns, but at the end of the day, carts are a necessary evil.

I’m sorry but a nurses die wall cannot be conveyorised. But the parts can be if small enough. So, therefore pin point your needs and cut the excess.

2/19/22       #11: Carts or no Carts?? ...
Michael Rose Member

It would be a lot of added time if you had to carry each box there when you completed it.

Concrete Driveways


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