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Domestically produced plywood vs. imports


We are in the process of rebuilding our website. What we have been working with for several years has been absolutely great for attracting customers and training them before they show up.

I am working right now on the page that describes our design services and why it is that our cabinets are different from the people we compete with.

One of the differences are that we use, to the extent possible, domestically produced materials. We don't use any Chinese plywood at all. Part of this is because we don't trust what they put in it. The bigger reason is that we would rather keep some guy working in Oregon than send our money overseas. It's part of our Make-America-Great-Program.

Another difference is we build our own doors. We'd rather keep someone working in our own community than send the money out of the county. This is part of our Think Global - Act Local campaign. We try to keep the prosperity in our neighborhood.

We do use a lot of Fulterer pantry slides. I believe these are made in Germany. The majority of our hinges are made in Pennsylvania by a company that's been in business since four years after the civil war. I think the only reason this company didn't go to China was that the US Navy needs someone to produce brass accouterments for the warships.

I have been offered pretty good looking import plywood for $33 a sheet. We pay closer to $64 a sheet for our box material.
I figure if my customers can afford to remodel their kitchen they can afford to MAGA. (Full disclosure: I am pretty sure the shirt I am wearing was made by slave labor in some Pacific Rim shithole country.)

I am curious about the rest of you guys.
Do you build your own doors or send the money outside your community.

Who makes your plywood?

Is it domestically manufactured or is it an import product?

2/20/18       #2: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Leo G Member

For most of my plywood, it is either made in Canada or USA as stamped on the side of the sheet. I recently changed suppliers because of price and how quickly I get served at the will call window. Now most of the plywood I get is USA made.

2/20/18       #3: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert Member

Sorry to say that most customers are great believers in comparative advantage.

You yourself have stated that customers don't care about dovetail drawers. Cabinetmakers certainly do.

What cabinetmakers think is irrelevant. I would bet that most of your customers couldn't care less about where the plywood came from.

I have installed a bunch of kitchens in Ranco Santa Fe (high dig zipcode), all were made using chinese plywood. I don't recall hearing the plywood mentioned once.

As part of your SWOT analysis, Chinese plywood may make you different as your plywood cost half as much.

BTW there is a reason why those tee shirts are made in 3rd world shitholes. Hard to pay bills with an ideology. BTW more people have been raised out of poverty by comparative advantage than Any government program.

2/20/18       #4: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
mike  Member

Website: http://www.lustigcabinets.com

what thickness are most people using for interior boxes? We used 5/8 forever and now it will be no more because of the import. Did anyone else make the switch from 5/8" import to something price comparative?

2/20/18       #5: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


I would say that most cabinetmakers don't really care whether the plywood is made in America or if it's made in Canada or China.

If you ask them if they would be willing to pay a little more because it's domestically produced they'll look at you like a deer staring into headlights.

As you said, for most cabinet makers money trumps ideology every time.

In the 1980's Canadian cabinets were heavily subsidized by the government. This was probably the number one reason wages are so depressed in the cabinet industry. Their reasoning was that rather than ship raw sheets of plywood to their southern neighbors they could ship complete cabinets and keep more of their people working.

It used to be that carpenters and cabinetmakers were similarly compensated. As the general contractors learned they could buy a whole kitchen for not much more than what we paid for materials the prices of kitchens plummeted. When this happened so did cabinetmaker wages.

When a carpenter was making $12 an hour a cabinetmaker was making $8. You needed a drivers license to work as a carpenter because the job sites were geographically scattered. For quite a while the only people who worked in cabinet shops were those individuals who couldn't qualify for a drivers license or were otherwise socially impeded. I myself had a hard time keeping jobs when I was younger. I could get hired easily enough but it never took me very long to realize I was going to be broke shortly after payday and I didn't have to work for somebody else to be broke.

In order to raise cabinetmaker wages and make America great again we need to stop being so self indulgent and being willing to pay a little more to keep the folks in our own community working.

By building doors in-house we create wages that are spent locally. When my guys go out for lunch they help keep the restaurants alive and as a community we get to have much richer and more diverse dining experiences.

2/20/18       #6: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
D Brown

I would say it is true that customers are not concerned about the origin of the plywood.
It is our job to educate them of the difference , so they can make an intelligent decision.

2/20/18       #7: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert Member

Yup Tim, I hear you, but that buy locally thing is specious.

Literally comparative advantage (trade) is the oldest economic activity in the world. It literally has built the world economy.

I hadn't heard that before about Canada subsidizing cabinet shops, but would not doubt it. After they devalued their currency in the 90s it became harder to get store fixture contracts. I think in the US a lot the subsidizing is in the form of public transfers to low cost workers, which may keep the wages down.

But I think the overriding factor is productivity. Construction in general has low growth in productivity. See the obligatory chart.

As to the OP, as Elvrum used to say, sell the sizzle.

Sizzle does not equal dovetail drawers

Sizzle does equal soft close drawers

Sizzle does not equal domestic plywood

Sizzle does equal lower prices.

Lose the ideology.

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2/20/18       #8: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Ideology is inexpensive.

It's easy to defend ideology until it costs you some money. Money always trumps ideology.

There is a reason I prefer shirts made in those shithole countries that can exploit comparative advantage by using slave labor.

Like most of the guys in our industry when it comes time to putting my money where my mouth is I would prefer cheaper imports than helping to sustain a vibrant local haberdasher.

2/20/18       #9: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert Member

Ideology is costing you plenty.

2/20/18       #10: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert Member

haberdashery = Tim = anachronism

2/20/18       #11: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

We don't use chinese plywood because we have found the quality to be unacceptable.

-We have found it to delaminate
-We have found the face to be anything but smooth.
-We have found its quality to be a moving target (more of a moving target than US/Canada)
-It has too many voids.

Has something changed?

We use plywood with a combi core or 1/8" MDF outer layer. It's thickness is very consistent and it sands through a segmented platten widebelt beautifully. It has very few voids. We use dowel construction and too many voids can be a problem.

2/20/18       #12: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

i don't find domestic plywood as quality as imports. which plywood brands consider is average or good ?

2/20/18       #13: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Alan F.

Random thoughts

Do you want to give customers the choice of Import plywood and the cost / social / quality impacts or sell to customers that believe what you believe or are willing to pay extra?

What about plywood companies that import cores and just do faces?

When I was in Germany 20 years ago (don't know if its still true) Hafele had pallets of Blum and Fulterer slides they were repackaging into "Hafele" boxes

2/20/18       #14: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert Member

It doesn't matter what you think of the plywood.

FYI the Chinese are getting better at making plywood.

2/20/18       #15: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

We are using Roseburg. I have not looked at Chinese plywood in a while.

Is it CARB compliant? What brands are good?

2/20/18       #16: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

I would and do pay more for domestic plywood, always have. Our supplier is going to stop carrying it. Because of the new tariffs the price difference isn't there anymore.

2/21/18       #17: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

We have used both, but primarily import up until the tariffs. Right now we have units of both ready to be cut. Prefer the higher quality import due to squareness issues with domestic. Cutting euro boxes on a traditional table saw requires a square sheet to start out with and have yet to find a domestic that was.

Doors we both make an outsource to local shops depending on the door and current workflow.

My ideology actually align with Tims on this one...shocking.

2/21/18       #18: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Mark B Member

We run 99% Columbia PureBond (domestic). I am enticed by the price of the import ply and our salesman often offers to ship us a small order of sheets at multi unit pricing to try but we have never bothered.

I am on both sides of the fence on this one. I agree completely with giving your customers the choice. I pretty much know what the outcome of that would be. 98% of the customers when presented one price for import and another for domestic, would choose the cheaper option to my dismay, leaving me befuddled. They would trade the better choice in box material for a cost savings or the ability to add some costly blind corner hardware. Their principles would cave in an instant to their desire for more "stuff".

The big box quality downgrade has pervaded the marketplace and is just the norm now. The consumer is completely accustomed to buying things that dont work, dont last, and may have other unforeseen repercussions, and are accepting of all of it.

So the logic then becomes, just take their money.

I also agree that the Chinese completely have the ability to provide whatever we foolish Americans want them to build. They have a space program, a submarine fleet, and are able to build to a very high level when they are compensated or its in their best interests (no different than the rest of us).

The reason they ship us lousy products is because that is what the corporations, marketers, and consumers, tell them to ship. I dont blame them in the least for shipping product at a value level directly commensurate to what they are being paid to produce.

With regards to doors, we make doors in house when it works and we outsource when it works.

Our business model has been to support our local area and supply locally sourced materials wherever possible (thats a very cryptic/convenient statement because it allows you to source whatever you want based on the dynamics of the job). We are asking our customers to support a local business and we feel we should do the same in respect. It is most definitely a narrowed customer base which is another issue.

3/4/18       #19: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Well said Mark.
We don't do residential so build to commercial specs and are competing on price. Poor quality can result in costly call backs but if the quality is acceptable price trumps point of origin. We don't use much plywood due to its highly variable thickness tolerances and lack of stability. We used to use a lot of Canadian plywood but had to buy it in full semi load lots. The most recent bunks of Chinese prefinished we got were very well made and finished. We also use a fair amount of Baltic Birch (Russian.) Family Man, building Euro boxes with a table saw seems like punishing yourself excessively. Get yourself a router.

3/4/18       #20: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Larry, I don't know perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment but as a one man shop I average a 35 cabinet job per week, or a total of roughly 40-60 homes depending on the given size of the homes in a year, or a little more. I don't have a ton of experience with routers but I track what you guys state here on Woodweb who own routers and it seems I keep up with most 4-5 man shops so until I see the evidence without the overhead I'll stick with my system.

3/4/18       #21: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Aspiring Cabinetmaker


Thirty five cabinets a week for a one man shop is pretty impressive. What kind of saw are you cutting these cabinets out on?

You must order most of your parts.
What software are you using?

Do you also deliver, finish & install?

3/5/18       #22: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Sell,design, engineer, cut all parts and boxes here, finish all parts here, make 25% of our doors, finish 40% of our doors and deliver. But no install.

$2,000 Sawstop 10"

3/5/18       #23: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

No software

3/5/18       #24: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Aspiring Cabinetmaker


That's encouraging to hear.
Are these faceframe cabinets or european style?

How many days a week do you work?
Do you sell these to contractors or homeowners?

3/5/18       #25: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Wow Familyman, that is impressive. I would think that you would be making good money with that setup.

Although you have not said how many hours a week that takes I imagine you work very hard. My initial thought about a router is that it would increase the potential amount a cabinets you could make and/or increase your quality of life.

Even if you stay away from a router I would think a vertical saw or slider would make your life a lot easier.

Keep up the good work!

3/5/18       #26: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Bill, I probably average 60 hours a week, including delivery/sales drive time. But the commute is five feet other than the one day a week I am on the road. Because I know how I am able to accomplish that I can say with pretty firm conviction that a router would actually slow me down and cause me stress. It's not the tools fault, I know they are amazing. But it does't fit the system I have built and therefore it would be a detriment to productivity. Other than outsourcing you guys would probably laugh at how I run the shop breaking most every rule. All my equipment adds up to less than 30k, forklift included. Truck and trailers not included. Shop is only 2400 square feet. What a small shop and limited tools (for ten years due to lack of power availability) allowed me the privilege to do was work out every inefficiency-mostly between my two ears. Sometimes our greatest weakness can become our strength if we let it.

AC, 95% modified european, 5% inset. Probably a 60/40 GC/HO mix makes up our client base. Average house in the 500k range with a couple handfuls of million to multimillion dollar homes thrown in every year. I think up until the last year or two I made better money on the smaller jobs as I hadn't yet mastered the multitude of differences in the larger jobs. Thankfully I think even my thick head learns eventually.

Mostly, I've tried thinking outside normal parameters and ways of doing things. It's worked, but you are all right in that it keeps me very tied to the business. Long hours and all. But I do love what we do for a living, enough I'm sure I will work till the day I keel over. But I've always liked working and since my family is close by it works out pretty good.

3/5/18       #27: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Family man the "no software" is interesting. How do you sell it? Draw it by hand? It is also a hindrance to moving to a router.

But a 10" saw with a tigerstop? I think I would treat myself to a slider. SO much easier to get a good result. Also easier on the body over time (I think I don't know what you do).

Finally, not really trying to talk you into a router but a preconception is that a router will take away your creativeness. I have not found that to be true. It changes how it is applied but you can be every bit as creative.

3/5/18       #28: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Bill, by hand. In a world run by computers people absolutely love a well done 2d elevation drawing.

my record for a day is 109 boxes cut in eleven hours. Regularly knock out 60-70. Sliders are clunky and inefficient in my estimation. Hard part is lifting the whole sheet and even that is what 60lbs and has to be done on any type of cutting device that is not a vac unit.

I appreciate your thoughts on the CNC but the results speak for themselves. I say it again, I KNOW it would slow me down and cause me grief to my system.

This works for me. I'm quite happy with it. Thanks for the conversation on it though. Have a great day.

3/5/18       #29: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

"Hard part is lifting the whole sheet and even that is what 60lbs and has to be done on any type of cutting device that is not a vac unit."

Try a google search for: "tilting panel cart".

We have a CNC. Bought our cart from Hafele years ago. It holds up to 10 sheets of 3/4" 4x8 plywood. It can be loaded in the vertical position. Rolled around. Then, when a sheet is needed, we roll it in front of the CNC bed, use the built-in jack with foot pedal to raise the plywood to the correct level, then tilt the plywood horizontally. If the sheet is too high, a second foot pedal lowers the jack. Finally, simply slide a sheet of plywood onto the CNC bed.

3/5/18       #30: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Charles, thank you but you are solving a problem I don't have. The day I can't lift that sheet of plywood on a tablesaw bench neither will I be able to lift a cabinet on a bench to hang doors, or put it in a trailer or deliver it. It'll be time to retire to being an owner only. I can appreciate "easier" but I've rarely found it to be the most efficient and that would be the case here also. Either lift or have your forklift right off the saw with the unit on it. All else you are hurting your bottom line.

3/5/18       #31: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

I think the big lift is getting enough decisions out of customers to sustain 35 cabinets per week.

When we moved from 2D drawings to 3D drawings it became easier for our customers to connect emotionally with the project. We get our decisions much quicker and the customers had more conviction about the design. This in turn allowed us to increase prices significantly.

After you seen TV you won't want to go back to the farm.

3/5/18       #32: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

PS: For what it is worth, policy is the very easiest constraint to elevate.

3/5/18       #33: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Given some of the equipment you have already listed, I didn't think that cart would work in your particular shop. But, it might work for someone else reading this discussion.

I can lift full sheets by myself. But, I also realize there is a risk of injury every time I do so. If I am injured, my productivity slows or stops. That can have a serious effect on my family's income. (Income is why we do this, isn't it???) Keeping that in mind, I have found ways to use equipment where appropriate instead of brute force. Trust me. I still get a lot of exercise in the shop. :-)

3/5/18       #34: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Charles, thanks for clarifying. Glad it works for you.

CM, on the contrary we do not have problems getting decisions or trust in our designs/drawings. Folks don't come to me for a 3D drawing. They come to have the big burly guy who smells of sawdust and does "hand sketches that look like it must be an expensive computer program." Its artisan or in your language they are tired of TV and want to go back to the farm...even on sleek modern slab grain matched jobs....I appreciate the advice but we are down to very small tweaks until the economy drops and we pick up more of our own door making again and then I'm sure I will be working that process down as it's been 8 years now of 60-75% outsourcing of that. Thanks though.

3/5/18       #35: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


Is this just a theory of yours or have you ever actually produced a 3D drawing for your clients?

I'm a trained blueprint reader. I can look at the plans and pretty much see just what it looks like. However, whenever I see a 3D model of the same space my comprehension goes up dramatically.

Sketchup 3D has helped me design several pieces that I could not construct in my head or even remotely explain to others. Sometimes those others are the customers, sometimes they are the cabinet installers, and sometimes they're my own crew.

The part about your customers preferring a 2D drawing from a burly guy with sawdust all over him could just be the movie in your own head. If that's all you offer them that is all they get to see. How would you ever know what they prefer?

I was able to raise prices and lower costs with my 3D. Maybe its just the flouride in the water.

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3/5/18       #36: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Respectfully (as I do appreciate your thoughts, you have influenced my drawer box selection and pigmented finishes at times) you have a tendency to miss the forest for a single pine needle. It's why you need a manual that lists all 86 steps to build a drawerbox and a one man shop can match or exceed your shop output.

It would be a cold day in hell before I put that diagram in front of my clients. There might be 2 jobs a year max I'd give my clients that kind of detail on anything other than door profiles- and even then I can do 98% of my doors with 3 outside profiles, 3 cope profiles and 2 raised panel profiles. Usually my clients, unless it's a raised panel door, don't even see a door profile selection sheet. They hire me because I have their trust, because I had their friends trust, they are painting just the big vision and with a couple pictures and with a just a few pointed questions by me design can be done. Last week a 15k job was designed in under 15 minutes onsite, 2 hours with drawings.

3/5/18       #37: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


You missed the point, again.

That is an engineering drawing. It shows how to recess a pre-finished maple plywood cabinet box into a solid lumber radiused end panel. The customer never needed to see this drawing but the cabinetmaker did.

Maybe this drawing will help you better understand the benefits of 3D. In this case five people had to participate in the juxtaposition of a tall peninsula cabinet with low kitchen counter.

This element involved a cabinetmaker, an installer, a countertop guy, and an electrician. There was also a tile installer eventually involved with the backsplash. The customer had not yet made their decision about how the backsplash would resolve so we engineered in enough tolerance to handle any kind of material.

How would you communicate these things with five people?

Do you really believe your 2D drawing is as effective as something that can be exploded, rotated, and color coded.

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3/6/18       #38: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

No I did not miss the point. You make something that should be easy difficult. All this eliminated by saying-client make a decision. I build a box that reflects that decision. On the rare instance the story does not tell itself by what is drawn, built and delivered and I feel some responsibility to communicate something that is entirely not my shop to communicate- backsplash- a one sentence note is noted on the drawings. I'm glad your system works for you but it is the exact opposite is what I want and need.

3/6/18       #39: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


Is interesting that you bring up drawer boxes while disparaging the use of lists to improve manufacturing processes.

Like you, we used to think we really knew how to build a drawer box. We had been doing it the same way for 15 years. After that much time you would think we really understood it.

One day we tried out a method that Taichi Ohno wrote about in his memoirs. We wrote down the processes and actually looked at them. As a result of this exercise we identified five separate processes to improve how we built drawer boxes. Three of them were very significant.

One of the improvements created a better quality outcome. Two of them eliminated a potential possibility of mistake. One of the improvements eliminated the need for a spatial relationship between drawer box and framed drawer face.

I would say that was a pretty good return on the investment of the time it took to make a list. The first step in this process was to accept that maybe I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

We leveraged that list into a manufacturing paradigm of bucket brigades. This approach to manufacturing minimizes management costs and allows you to make a profit on a greenhorn his first hour of employment.

To do a bucket brigade you have to make one of those bad lists............but we have a computer that can make lists.

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3/6/18       #40: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

I am not in the US so not sure about what works there, but I will say here that the customer could care less about what kind of plywood is in their kitchen, they could also care less what kind of joint is in there drawer box? All they seem to care about is price, looks and features like lighting, soft close hinges and drawer slides, gadgets like special pantry hardware, pull out recycling or garbage containers etc.
I would buy material based on price and quality, I would agree with others if you are buying cheap quality and it is causing you issues that is not good.
I know it depends on your size and your sales, but a lot of the successful residential cabinet shops in my area, hardly build anything themselves, they just assemble parts manufactured by other companies. You are talking about drawer boxes, I would guarantee that you could find prefinished dovetail drawer boxes that are as good as yours for a lot cheaper than what you could build them for.
That being said if you are a smaller shop it may make sense for you to build everything yourself, that is not for anyone to judge.

As for your theory about cabinet companies in Canada being subsidized by the government you are totally out to lunch. Cabinet companies shipped and sold to the United States because of the dollar.

3/6/18       #41: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

I don't think you guys are missing the point, it is just obvious that you have different processes in place and do things differently.

I could look at those drawer boxes and ask are those pocket screws on the sides? Why are the guys using pipe clamps? Who feeds the dinosaur at lunch time.

Really it comes down to what ever works for you is all that matters. If your cabinet maker needs a color coded drawing, then he needs a color coded drawing. Maybe not everyone needs a drawing like that to build a cabinet.

I have a 300 foot long driveway, in the winter I get snow, I can shovel the snow, I can use a snow blower, or I could use a bobcat, or I could use a front end loader. It all comes down to cost or time or what works best for me or is important to me.

To me cutting a kitchen with a saw stop seems like a long painful under taking, but for Family man that is what works for him, so it is really not that important what I think or what you think.

3/6/18       #42: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


What we are really talking about is efficacy and discussions like this actually do cause changes in shop behavior. They certainly do in mine.

I can remember many years ago initiating a thread about blum drawer front adjusters, those little white buttons that provide elliptical rotation of drawer faces.

I was curious about methods for getting the button in the right spot. The question was whether to drill the holes in the drawer boxes first and match the buttons to the holes or flip the sequence and use dowel centers and let the drawer face drive the drawer box holes.

These were two diametrically opposed systems with a whole subset of unique operations. I had my own theory at the time but wanted to see what others thought about this chicken & egg conundrum.

What actually ended up happening was some smart guy like you explained how he didn't use those drawer button adjusters at all. The method he used to line up drawer faces to drawer boxes was far faster than mine and completely accurate. The real advantage of his approach was that you could install drawer faces to drawer boxes before you had even built the base cabinet.

As a result of that thread I immediately abandoned drawer button adjusters altogether and now have a system you can teach an absolute greenhorn. I have made a lot of changes in my company because of threads like this.

The primary reason I color code cabinet elements is because I can more elegantly talk about them to people on the phone. As I mentioned before, not including the client, five people have to interface with that peninsula countertop. Parsing it out in color coded 3D will get you to the finish line more elegantly.

Other people's mileage may vary. A good old fashioned 2D pencil drawing might be all that they need.

3/6/18       #43: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

My initial reason for this thread was to figure out how cabinet shop owners really felt about using Chinese made plywood at the expense of domestic manufacturers.

The overwhelming opinion seems to be one of ambivalence. If it is less expensive they don't really seem to care.

3/6/18       #44: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
pat gilbert

Since FM is an iconaclast, what is better for a one man shop Lean or Batch processing?

Do customers really care about dovetail drawers?

3/6/18       #45: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Okay you stumped me...how exactly am I an iconaclast (a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institution. critic, skeptic; 2.
a destroyer of images used in religious worship, in particular.)?

I think I am actually the one upholding the tradition...at least from my point of view. Unless you worship at the CNC & computer altar?

And yes, I had to google it...you got me Pat! How's the health?

3/6/18       #46: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
pat gilbert

You got it, everyone on the WW taughts the benefits of machinery. That is Another thing you and Tim have in common you are both Luddites.

What is you take on lean verses batch processing?

History says that machinery wins it is the very driver of the economy.

I have a clean bill of health, thanks for asking.

3/6/18       #47: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

I'm not against machinery. I just don't think you need a semi to do something an F150 is capable of. I also believe that as we become more and more electronic and computerized there is a niche for someone that exploits both the emotions and benefits filled by that vacuum. I'm generally laughed at by my clients as I'm the only guy I know who is actively and has been for years trying to make my business smaller. Going against the flow not only runs true to my nature and wiring, it can be very profitable if you are willing to do the examination and hard work necessary. In the business world aspect of life is there a better sweet spot to be than both personally fulfilled and extremely successful?

I think both cabmaker and I are that (although when he posted his weekly #'s I still have some skepticism on the second), but we come at from both very different goals, desired outcomes and ideologies (aside from the political) so the formula is going to look a lot different. I just play devils advocate because I think some guys reading are more in line with my goals than his (of course many are not) and if they apply his way of doing things but want my desired outcome they are in for a world of hurt.

3/6/18       #48: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


I wouldn't call myself a Luddite.
I just embraced a different form of technology.

Rather than get good at CNC I chose to focus on database, photography and website These are all things that are important to customers.

From a customer's perspective they could care less whether you use CNC or employ Gepetto to pound a chisel with a wooden mallet while wearing a leather apron. The customer could care less if you sprinkle pixie dust on the wood. They only care about the shape & color of the board. They don't care how you got there.

You are right, however, about FM. He is a proud Luddite.

3/6/18       #49: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
pat gilbert

I'll ask again, as a one man shop is FM better off batch processing or lean one piece flow?

3/6/18       #50: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


I don't think it's a case of either or.
It's more of a case of what to do when.

When we are building a walnut project the correct protocol is to fan out the lumber and do all of the allocating in a single large batch.

This produces a better yield but more importantly produces a better looking product. Walnut, as everybody knows, can come in looking like a pair of striped pajamas. Some of the parts of the project need to look real good. Other parts only need to be American black walnut as determined in a court of law.

The best batch size at allocation is ALL.
The best batch size for subsequent milling processes is according to the specific need.

You can certainly plane everything all at one time because it's going to need to be planed eventually anyway but the likelihood of getting confused by a bunch of similar dark grained wood is very high. (ask me how I know this)

3/6/18       #51: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


I would agree with you about using this website for getting great ideas and tips, there is a lot of experience contributing here.

Like I said earlier, whatever works best for each individual is fine, there is more than one way to skin a cat. When it comes to the science of it though, machines totally out work people and are way more efficient. It is true that an f150 may haul what a semi can haul, but is it worth making 50 trips where a semi only needs to make one. Is it worth it to work 60 hours a week when you could work 40 and have a Cnc save you those other 20 hours? I know some shops donít have the space, or the required electricity or the desire or whatever. Whatever floats your boat is fine by me. I myself would rather work smarter than harder.

3/6/18       #52: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...


I agree with you about the benefits of machinery. Every one of the processes we do here on a repetitive basis has a dedicated machine for the purpose. We don't have to move a fence or crank a powerfeed. We just have to turn on the machine.

I agree that a CNC machine could pound out cabinet boxes 100 times faster than we are doing it right now but even if the cabinet box portion of my business cost me zero pain I would still have the 99 other bigger problems to solve.

The more existential issues in my shop pivot around things like getting decisions out of customers, making sure we sell the right kind of work, having systems in place so we don't have to rely on brute memory powers of observation. You can have all the box making technology you want but shoving boxes around is the easiest thing we do. We never wait for boxes and we just about never have defective boxes.

We're a small company. Like every other CEO of a small company I have a limited amount of bandwidth I can apply to new initiatives. One of the very best things I ever did when the Sherwin Williams Rep was at my shop showing us how to run water-based lacquer through an HVLP cup gun was to refuse to take my turn trying out the gun. I didn't want to learn how to spray. I reasoned that if I knew how to spray I would be down at the shop on Sunday spraying cabinets.

For this very same reason I refused to buy even a pickup truck. As soon as we have a truck we become a delivery service. For over 25 years I have been able to get my customers to hire the mover we recommend. They show up at our shop at 8:30 in the morning and are gone by 9:30. Whenever my guys would move something it was always a shit show that took all day to accomplish while the shop was sitting idle.

I do from time to time recommend a painter but it is always from the perspective of a popcorn-munching bystander. I tell my customers that paint is hard, the painter I recommend has satisfied at least 25 of my customers and made 3 or 4 really angry. I tell them that's a pretty good ratio for a painter.

Did I mention that we don't have a paint booth?

If I was to reincarnate my business I might consider CNC but more likely I would forge relationships with other shops that had CNC. The closet guy on this forum had a video somewhere that showed a great way to strap parts to shop cart and anchor the cart during transport. I think it would be much smarter to invest in one of those trucks and maybe pick up parts 3 or 4 times a week. The movie in my head has this running kind of like when the milkman used to deliver milk door to door. Drop off an empty cart and pick up a full one.

The manufacturing challenge on that day would be to figure out how to keep my customers from knowing I owned that truck.

3/6/18       #53: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert


My point is that batch processing is faster for a one man shop. The only reason for Lean is to create flow, so that the other stations stay busy without a lot of WIP. That would not be the case for a one man shop.

As to the 99 other things, do you not use TOC?

3/6/18       #54: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Dave Edgerton  Member

To Family Man: So 109 boxes in 11 hours. Ok just so i dont cry, you mean just cutting the 5 panel parts to make the box, correct? not grooving or shelf holes or assembly right?

3/6/18       #55: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Dave, yes sir. Just cutting the boxes and shelves.

Jeff, it's a choice I make to work the hours I do. It's for a limited time during the boom. Let's call it peak earning potential years. Make hay while the sun shines and all.

3/7/18       #56: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Business Owner

An efficient cabinet shop should be able to produce about $250,000 per employee per year. Using Family Man's model of being a 1 man shop with no employees and no overhead, he should be able to clear about $150,000 per year in net income. Not a bad living.

A shop with 15 employees producing $250,000 per year per employee will produce a net income for the owner of over a million dollars. Also not a bad living.

3/7/18       #57: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

What if a one man shop was able to produce multiple(s) of that? What if he was able to do it without having empoyees to deal with every day? Didn't have to deal with all the government regulation surrounding employees? Didn't need the square footage the employees require? Didn't need the overhead of machinery the employees require?

I've only met a handful of shop owners in my life. I'm sure one is doing fine (more than fine) now but at the same time frame into business I am far ahead of where he was on the financial end. As to the rest, they either closed up shop or struggle out a living. I'm not saying that the shop owners aren't out there doing what Business Owner suggests, but it is a rarity and it comes with different level of risk, liability and responsiblities.

It comes down to what you want out of life. I've always wanted freedom, independence, answer to as few as people as possible and to have callouses on my hands and not stare at a computer screen all day. I like to sweat. About the only aspect I'd give up is the deliveries as I hate dealing with jobsites but due to location stack my deliveries with meetings to cut down on travel time.

There are still ways to make a living in this country starting with very little if you are willing to dedicate yourself. For most that will be a shop owner with employees and I understand that and congratulate you. But for some of us we want to take a different path and it can be done but the formula looks much different than the regular solutions proposed each day. That is my purpose for my continued dialogue on this thread for those small one man shops out there- it's doable. You can more than make it.

3/8/18       #58: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

I won't buy ply imported from Asia at all and my suppliers know not to bother asking anymore. However much of my ply is imported..... it's just imported from the other direction. I've been using a lot of Garnica over the last several years and it has yet to disappoint. It's not perfect, and not cheap, it is after all plywood, but it's a good product and I've come to depend on it.

good luck,

3/8/18       #59: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Pat Gilbert

With the coming tariffs this may become a moot point.

3/10/18       #60: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

JeffD: On the subject of Garnica. I just brought in 15 sheets (MDF face with poplar core) for my first experience with this kind of material. We're building a frameless kitchen with overlay doors which will get a White Conversion Lacquer finish.

We forklifted the wrapped stack of sheets into our shop and laid flat on our plywood rack for about a week, one piece of cardboard overlaying the top sheet. Once we started cutting & ripping - the bows in the board (mostly the 8' length) were horrific. OMG! Way too bowed for frameless, the supplier offered a $350 credit and stated they'd take back the 6 sheets not yet used and replace them.

Is this typical of Garnica (I believe it's made in Spain)? My cost btw was $1.89/ft., which is about .16 cents less than the white maple veneer core sheets we normally use for this application (Canadian board). The MDF face was the deciding factor, not the price. I figured it would be beneficial for the lacquer finish, but even that was a disappointment - not really smooth at all. Kind of bumpy, so we ran all the pieces through my Butfering - more extra effort that we should not have had to do.

We managed to lay out the pieces so as to balance bows where cabinets come together and for the adjustable shelves we applied solid wood nosings @ 1-1/2 wide to help correct the bow. Way too much effort.

You stated it's not perfect - due to bowing?

3/10/18       #61: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

ML, I don't know what to say. I've been using that product with the HDF faces for several years or more now and never had any issue like that with it at all. Was it stamped Garnica on the edges? It really sounds by your description like MDO? It's definitely still plywood and not going to be as flat as say mdf, but never so much bowing I couldn't use it for cabinet parts.

The biggest issue I have is with spraying. I use a random orbit 120 grit and then off to prime. If I put a wet coat on it takes forever to dry. I've brought it up with the suppliers and my finish supplier and nobody has an explanation. The primer is bonding fine, and the second coat dries normally, it's just the 1st coat that can be problematic.

Other than that it's a super flat surface and never needs sanding, I just sand to give the paint more grip. Over 8' I don't think I've seen too much bow, certainly a lot less than the veneer faced plies. I actually have several sheets of both the HDF faced product up to 1-1/2" thick and birch faced at 3/4" thick and the birch faced stuff is much more bowed and makes Euro style trickier, but the surface itself is really flat and easy for finish prep.

good luck,

3/10/18       #63: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

JeffD, seems you've been receiving a better product than I. My sales rep said he is confused as to this load, they've carried it for a few years now with very few issues. But after this load I'm not sure I ever want to try it again.

I also just discovered the 'forever to dry' issue. I thought it was faulty lacquer. I'm using Valspar primer - their Valtec Precat Premium undercoater. Temp in my shop was 72 at the time of spraying, it took 7 hours to dry! That is normally a 45-60 minute to sand wait.. Waiting until Monday to hear back from my sales rep on this issue.

Seems I erred with 'MDF', that should have said 'HDF' in my initial post. See the attached photo showing the description right on the sheet edging.

View higher quality, full size image (838 X 115)

3/12/18       #64: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Mark B Member

This thread really took on a new life.

Im still finding myself head scratching over a one man shop churning out a 35 box complete kitchen, with finish, door making, in a week including selling the job and a hand drawn design and only working 60 hours.

Im no whiz and I know I can easily break down the full sheets for an average large kitchen in less than a day when we were running the slider but for me thats about 3% of the work. I really miss the days of sitting down at the drafting table with my old K&E drafting machine and laying out jobs (or entire homes) with a pencil. The machining that follows, drawer boxes, fronts, banding, hinge and line boring, boring for hardware, yeesh, thats not even close to all of it. Oh, I forgot about sanding, then sanding, and more sanding.

I dont drink the stuff but I dont think a tractor and trailer load of RedBull sitting at the dock would get me through a 35 box kitchen, designed, and dead finished with the drawings in 60 hours.

Now with the CNC we fly out about 6 sheets an hour dead finished with regards to machining on a good run. If they are simple melamine cabs there isnt a ton to follow but the follow up work is still way more than the machine time.

That would be something to see. I sure hope you get the itch to start a youtube channel one day. I would be a patreon supporter on day one just to watch.

You say "we" and then you say your a glutton and a one man shop. Gosh. Truly impressive stats.

3/12/18       #65: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Mark B Member

cabmaker - "The primary reason I color code cabinet elements is because I can more elegantly talk about them to people on the phone. As I mentioned before, not including the client, five people have to interface with that peninsula countertop. Parsing it out in color coded 3D will get you to the finish line more elegantly."

We have been dealing with this alot lately and man o man did this resonate. We just wrapped up a commercial job where 4 suppliers of stained and finished material had to interface at several points in the project. Seemed like a colossal nightmare from the get go. Our shops were much like the drawings you posted and caught the whole lot off guard. Shortly following they all took the lead of the shops and low and behold every entity in the interface column, and the GC, and the Architect, are at the end giving the wink.

As I said, I use to love hand drawn prints, but just like dovetailed drawers, no one appreciated them as much as I did. Since moving to 3D (and thank god out of the retail market) everyone from the Architect, to the owner, to the job super, estimator, and so on, can immediately "see" the conflict or solution being pointed out.

Id never go back in a heartbeat. The mere problems I head off in the shop are worth it alone.

3/14/18       #66: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

ML, that's the same stuff I've been using. The most surprising thing to me is yours isn't coming flat? I think you really did get a bad batch. Like I mentioned I've been using it for several years and never came across a panel that needed anything more than a quick pass with the ROS just to be safe before finishing.

As for the primer.... try doing a light mist coat, just enough to get say 40 - 50% hiding or so, it will take a couple test pieces to get a good idea. I've found this will dry pretty quickly and then I can go on to my heavier coats which dry normally.

Not trying to sound like a shill for this stuff, but I do a lot of paint grade projects and haven't found anything better yet. I've even used it as a veneer base and it came out nicely.

good luck,

3/15/18       #67: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

JeffD: I sure want to be able to use this product, but based on my first pallet, I'm not sure if I want to try another. My sales rep does say they move tons of it, but for sure this load was a downer. See attached photo of some 5" strips ripped off one of the sheets. This was typical of the entire load. I'll say one thing - screws bite in really well into the end grain of the poplar cores.

View higher quality, full size image (1786 X 1920)

3/15/18       #68: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Yup, that's definitely way too much movement for that stuff. The veneered stuff I'm cutting right now has at worst half that much warp. The HDF is not as flat as mdf, but I've never had it that far out of whack. If your supplier won't replace it with a better batch maybe you can try a different supplier? I have 3 suppliers that keep it in stock.

I'm going to see if I have any 3/4" in the shop tomorrow and measure how far out it is. I know I have 1/2", 1", and 1-1/2", the 3/4" just seems to disappear quickly:>)


3/16/18       #69: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...

Ok I don't have the pics handy, but I grabbed a 3/4" x 4" x 8', and a 1/2" x 14" x 8' strips of hdf out of the scrap rack, they both had a bit of wave but neither was more than 3/16" out when I placed them against a straight edge and most of the length was better.

good luck,

3/16/18       #70: Domestically produced plywood vs. i ...
Family Man

Most of the import prefinished I use is flatter than you are suggest your "good" stuff is. My classic core/armor core veneer in veneers is generally flatter than you are suggesting this material is. I'm a little shocked you are considering this product such good quality.

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