Entry Level Equipment for Making Mouldings

A woodworker ponders what to buy for a first foray into producing small runs of custom mouldings. February 10, 2009

I have been asked quite a few times over the years if I made moulding. I never really wanted to get in to it since I had plenty of other things to work on. Now with the economy the way it is and me being slower than in years past I am seriously considering purchasing a W&H molder. Recently someone came to me wanting 400' of 4 1/2" base and 400' of 3 1/2" casing for their upper level and 400' of 2 1/4" casing and 400' of 3" base for their basement.

Figuring the purchase of the required knives and a bd ft tally and 30 - 40% waste factor it seems it could be a pretty fair profit. My question now is the board foot total and 30-40% waste an accurate estimate? Also since I have never done molding before, is it something I can jump right into with the W&H?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor L:
The W&H's keep their value pretty well, so you can always resell if it doesn't work out. It might be worth a shot to try it out, but that is a pretty good run for that machine. They aren't that fast, or intended to do large molding runs. Their best use is for small custom runs.

From contributor C:
I got a Shopfox a couple of months ago and it has worked very well for me. I bought it because I couldn't buy the casings, crown and base in the wood that I needed without having it custom milled, so it made sense for me to buy it. I'm not planning to go into production millwork, (I do mostly historic renovations). I'm just using it for short runs I need. Yes, it was easy to use.

From contributor D:
Your missing some things here. The WH is a good machine but when you push it, it will break. There are small pins in the drive system that don’t take force well. In time anyone that has one of these machines can tell you that. You’re talking about a lot of material in one order. You also have ripping and s4s prep before you can even think of running the moulding.

From contributor K:
I have used a W&H once and felt it too limiting from the stand point that it won't cut edge profiles. It also needed to be run in multiple passes for deeper profiles. I like using my 1 1/4", 7 1/2 h.p. shaper because I can do 4 sided moldings as well as all other shaper work I need. Yes, it costs more, and you will need a feeder as well. But the versatility of a shaper over a W&H I think is worth the extra money. One more thing, the W&H uses a unique design of knife and can't be used in any other design of cutter head. The knives for a shaper are the same as you would use on a true moulder and so can be moved up if you decide to do that down the road. Knives made for a W&H would stay with that machine even if you sell it.

From contributor L:
I have been using a W&H for about 15 years. There is a brass gear in it that protects the transmission from being destroyed by letting the brass gear strip. I had it strip twice on me in those 15 years. First time was because all of the oil leaked out of the tranny and I didn't realize it and the second was when I let a fellow woodworker use it and he put boards through it that had a slight taper on the width, it got jambed and stripped the gear.

I now have the electronic variable speed motor for the feed. It is a wonderful upgrade. I can do most of my moldings in one pass, just by slowing it down to about 8 ft/min instead of the mechanical trannies 17 ft/min. I have done a baseboard that is 6 3/8" wide out of 6/4 stock and the thinnest part is a bead that ends up 7/16" thick. This molding pushes the capabilities of the molder and I really wish it had a 3HP motor to do it.

For short runs of molding and custom milling it is a great machine. You could do about 2000 LF of molding a day if you were making your own blanks and running them. You could probably to 5000 LF a day if you were running pre milled blanks. It can be a good money maker if you charge the right amount of money. If you are going to try to compete with the box store, forget about it.

I have a formula for running most moldings. I charge .75 per inch of width up to 4" anything wider than 4" I charge at a .25 rate. This is per foot. I also take the cost of the wood and add 15% to it and add them up. So a 5" molding would have a milling charge of .75x4+.25x1=3.25, if I was running it out of poplar that cost me $2/bd ft I would add .84 to the cost.

From contributor B:
The 35 to 40% waste factor is what you could use for pricing but I would order 1 x 6 for the 4 1/4 and 2 1/4 runs and 1 x 8 for the 3 1/2 and 3" runs. As said by others, the ripping and s4s will take a long time. You will also have a large pile of ripping and a lot of saw dust to deal with.

From contributor C:
You’re on the right track for the waste factor. The biggest help in keeping this as low as possible is getting things pretty close to width without a lot of odd rips that are worthless, or at best small molding later, not now when you need to sell all the board footage. A good straight-line rip saw is a great timesaver when making molding. Your waste factor typically is in the offcut pile and a smaller % in the dust collector and dumpster. The straight line rip saw makes nice smaller offcuts into useable squares for shoe and cove very nicely.

From contributor L:
The W&H is an ok machine for very short runs but if you are considering selling moldings for a profit - consider the very slow speed, at 17'/min. it will take a minute to run one 16' piece of base in addition to the material prep time. That assumes the profile you are running can be cut with a 2hp motor at that speed. The W&H can be more useful for curved casing and the like.

We run a small Weinig 5 head at30 to 40'/min. 20hp top head that is sometimes maxed out even when we drop our feed to the slowest it will go (20'). Our charges are: setup $65, $0.40/' + mat'l. That includes all the things that go into making a molding: office time, material ordering, storing, selecting, waste, straight line ripping, knife, head and machine maintenance, bundling, collecting. We can custom make knives and more importantly if a knife picks up a nick while running the job, we can sharpen, measure and reset the molder very quickly and still deliver on time.

An interesting side note is that two of our regular customers have W&H molders that they use for a few very short runs. We run a lot of crowns, doorjambs, picture mold, and etc. often as part of the entire millwork package. None of these can be completed on the W&H, but can be completed by using a shaper and feed and matching knives.

You can make the shaper knives form either lock edge or corrugated just by eye with a bench grinder and the right wheels. The disadvantage is the added time/cost. If you really have the demand in your area I'd buy a decent used 5 or 6 head molder. A 4 head is really best suited to S4S rather than moldings. If I had it to do over, I'd buy a 6 head (two tops). I'd also put an infinite reverse profiling top shoe on it (about $4K). How many times have any of you put 5,000 feet through your W&H in a day?

From contributor B:
I ran a 4 head Weinig with ATS for 18 years and no problems with cutting 99% of the profiles requested and that was in the Northeast. When looking for a new moulder, no one could tell me why I had to have a 5 head over a 4. I did relief cuts up to .100 thick from the first bottom. Sure a 5, 6 or 8 head machine is nice but a 4 will do for a small shop in my opinion.

From contributor W:
I'm definitely no expert but I'll chime in. The quality of your mouldings will depend on the many things, most already mentioned here. But I'll bring up one more point and that's knife chatter.

WH's and the knock-offs are light duty - key word there being "light". Light machines are prone to more chatter, and the WH will chatter even on modest profiles. A decent shaper with a power feed and min 1 1/4" spindle will outperform a WH hands down, with a better finish. It’s a bigger machine, so there’s more mass, and less vibration.

Sure the WH has its merits - also detailed here. But I bet more than half of the WH you'll see in shops have been braced up, welded, bolted, screwed down to the floor you name it, just to get the vibration in the machine settled down. Go with a shaper, get a couple corrugated heads (they give you infinite adjust ability) and outsource your knives. Work your way up to a small moulder and you'll be on your way!

If you do end up with the WH, check around and you should be able to purchase knives with the WH bolt pattern that are also corrugated. Lets you use the same knives on your WH and shaper. I think I've also seen shaper heads with the WH bolt pattern which lets you run the smooth WH knives on your shaper.

I used to work for a guy long ago who ran a pretty good sized moulding shop with a big old Wadkin and a Weinig. Let's just say he did very well for himself. Two things he told me back then stuck. He said "When I got my first moulder I was feeding it material and I thought 'this is great!' then he frowned and said "but there's a lot more to it than that". A decent profile grinder, grinding wheels, knife stock, bearings, bedwear, and etc. And a solid SLR will also be a requirement at some point. Be prepared for the expense as it relates to support equipment

Later on he says "everybody's labor is about the same, you make your money on your materials". You need to zero in on the absolute best width boards to cut your blanks with the very least amount of waste. He'd come out of the office and yell like crazy when he saw the offcut pile. Simply put that off cut cart is profit. When your volume grows you'll get better deals on materials and can purchase wider boards. Soon, every board you pick up will be a "counter" and your moulder will be backed up with blanks!

From contributor G:

The only problem I find making molding on a shaper is they are usually front referenced and depend on the thickness of the stock to be maintained. A true molder is bottom referenced and will always produce moldings of consistent thicknesses.

From contributor L:
I have to agree with contributor W on most everything especially the need for a lot of support equipment and the need for a lot of thinking at the rip saw. I'll disagree about a 4 head machine being a good solution: the first bottom head establishes a reference surface and the guiding groove for the fence prior to the Rt. head. The long infeed table provides better support and some straightening similar to how a jointer works. The last bottom head removes the bed lubricant and molds the bottom (usually a backout.) There is a heavy hold down shoe over the last bottom to more securely hold the work.

I agree about the face ref. on a shaper but many times that's not an issue since the blanks are pre-planed to final thickness. If the entire face is being removed then you have more problems to deal with. For edge shaping you can go to an outside fence and have exact width. Large area face molding on a shaper has the issue of the soft (feed rolls) backup that the cutter head is working against allowing some chatter marks, the deeper or wider the cut the worse.

Short story: you will get better, lower cost moldings from a real molder. You can use the same knives on a heavy shaper as on a molder, which can be an advantage on some work. A heavy shaper can be jigged to make curved casing or if it is a tilt shaper it can also do curved crown mold.

If you are going to run very small batches of the same molding the W&H is a good bet for cheap entry into custom. The draw backs are its slow speed, multiple passes required for deeper cuts due to the limited power and rigidity, greater blank prep time, and issues about buying and sharpening the knives.

From contributor B:
I always used moulder blanks so the first head did the reference and backout no problem. The biggest need for a fifth head (bottom) for us would be to remove lube. We waxed the table before runs and the back of the moulding was always down. On flooring runs we used WD-40 to lube the bed. All I am saying is the four head worked great for us for 18 years running about 500k linear feet per year (that is only 10k per week so not a big operation). Extra heads cost 10k and up so buy only as many needed.