Doors: Outsourcing vs. in-house

Exploring issues of quality control, efficiency and profitability. November 7, 2001

My shop has always made its own cabinet doors, but we are considering buying the doors to speed up production.

We have two concerns:
1. We always make an effort to match grain on panel glue-ups and also try to use interesting grain patterns for panels. We feel we will lose this quality control if we outsource.

2. We always (partially) pre-finish our panels prior to glue-up. How do we avoid showing unfinished wood when panel shrinkage results?

Forum Responses
I make my own doors for quality concerns. I tried a local door manufacturer and found it more profitable, but the quality wasn't what I wanted. They didn't match any grain, and the copes all had tear-outs. Doors seem to be the bottleneck in my shop, but since we're after quality, we have to cope with it.

Though I understand your concerns, I think there are door makers that will build you a high quality product. Many of the larger custom door makers offer various grades of doors. At the high end, they take pains to match colors and grain to a certain degree. They also have expensive equipment that automates the tedious sanding processes that are necessary to achieve a superior finish.

Personally, I feel that there is a middle ground in the grain/color selection process thatís important to shoot for. Building a kitchen is different than building a one-off piece of furniture. In the furniture piece, with probably no more than a 6 or 8 doors, itís usually no problem to go the extra mile grain and color-wise. When youíre faced with 40 or more doors to build, it becomes important to homogenize the look a bit, spreading minor variations throughout the kitchen. Iím not really recommending that you relax your standards, just that you spread the standard over the whole job somewhat.

We were once in your position. In order to satisfy production demands, we looked at outsourcing doors and finishing. A visit to the door maker showed me machines that I could never afford to own: straight-o-planes, optimizing cut-off saws, hi-speed moulders, profile sanders, and 3-head, 42 inch widebelts. While those machines donít guarantee high quality, they make getting it an efficient process. My next visit was to a custom finisher. He was a wood finishing specialist using sophisticated systems that turned out near-bulletproof, piano quality finishes. I gave them both a tryÖand never looked back.

There are many qualified door makers listed in WOODWEB's Components Directory.

I agree with the above post. You gain so much freedom by ordering doors. Making doors for a large job can take just as much time as everything else combined. It may take trial and error to find a company you're happy with, but I think it's well worth the effort.

From contributor T:
I have a very small shop with 1 employee and I am always bottlenecked with doors. I thought of outsourcing the doors, but I rarely draw more than the most basic plan and never plan out the exact width of every member of the face frame. Therefore, I cannot determine the exact size of the doors until the face frame is complete. This is especially evident when inset doors are used. I have more control when I make the doors. But I only average 8 to 10 doors needed a week.

To contributor T: Rather than contracting for a standard door vendor, is there another cabinetmaker close by who you can work with on short runs? You should look for someone who is set up to do raised panel doors. He will use an array of shapers (3-5) dedicated to specific details, or he'll have a raised panel assembly system (such as the Ritter R-30). He will have a standard detail that he sells mostly. If possible, try to conform your sales to it. Then as you grow, you may find another larger company and get more consistent in the sizes you want to build.

This could be a short-term solution that will help you get into better numbers and allow you to grow your business to a better level of production. It will also build your understanding about the value of outsourcing for the most important person you work with--you! People outsource mostly as a matter of convenience to themselves. People leave outsourcing for the main reason of a desire to control their own production and lead times. It's not what's right or wrong, but what's right for you and your company. And things change, based on where you and your company are at any given moment.

Jon Elvrum, forum technical advisor