How Long to Build Cabinets?

Cabinetmakers share views on how long a typical cabinet job should take a small shop, and help a colleague figure out why his progress has been slow. April 20, 2008

How long should a cabinet shop (mine) with four guys take to complete a 45 cabinet frameless job with painted doors? The doors and drawers are outsourced, but we are finishing them. The job consists of kitchen, laundry, vanity and library cabinets. I realize it depends on experience, tools, etc. But what can I hope for? So far the job has taken four weeks.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
Not knowing all the details (CNC or not), I would give it two weeks max with my two guys. I think four weeks is milking the job.

From contributor J:
I'm a one man shop and that seems like a very long time to me. Frameless cabinets and you're outsourcing most of the work, so where's all the time being spent? Without knowing the details, it's hard to be fair with any opinion here.

From contributor L:
Four weeks is entirely too long. What else is going on in your shop? If this is the only job you guys are doing, then two guys should have it cut out in two days and then all four of you could have it together, ready for finishing, in four days, which would be just in time for the doors to arrive and be installed. Assume two to three days for finishing schedule and another day for install. So with all that said, I made some pretty big assumptions. For instance, material availability, correct layout, etc. At any rate, I think that four weeks would be hard to justify. Of course, we are doing one a day, but our backlog is two months.

From contributor G:
Unless you are set up to use a software package for design and cutlisting, do edgebanding with a good machine, and do all hardware and shelf hole drilling with specialized equipment, then this is a job for which the carcasses should have been outsourced to a CNC cutter with an edgebander. Such a shop would knock out the parts using about 39 sheets of sheet stock, and it would be done in less than 1-1/2 days.

But that said, a shop your size should be able to get as output, 5 to 6 cabinets per day, complete. That means your 45 cab job should be taking between 7 and 9 days to do, start to finish.

But those figures presuppose you know what you are doing. They are from Bob Buckley over at True32, and are real numbers taken from his operation, with a shop crew the same size as yours. The difference is that he is doing this day in and day out, same system of cabs every time, all processes lean to the bone, and he works with pre-finished doors and drawer fronts only. If your finishing of all the fronts could be done in three days, that would bring your job in at between 10 and 12 days, total. Can you put detail to your 20-day timeline thus far?

From contributor I:
I run a Flintstone Frameless cabinet shop - manual Striebig (old one), entry level bander (hand work), Ritter 46 spindle (so old it's flat belt drive), manual Hersaf panel router. I can cut, band, dado, groove and install guides and baseplates while falling asleep in two days (if I'm not shopping for tools, etc. on the net 1/2 day). Finish assembly next day. All the while my man is building the doors in house (buying all gang rip and RF gluing panels, and building the dovetail drawers in house). While he's doing that I'm shopping for tools and kicking out free advice again. Then he and I widebelt and Dynabrade the doors and install the hinges and load the trailer with the cases, about day 4. Run the shelves and clean the mess up on day 5 and get the undercoating on and seal and waterclear the drawers. Day 6, spray first two coats finish while he's putting the guides on the boxes and putting in the cases. Day 7, sponge sand and apply final coat. Day 8-9 (depending on how messed up the jobsite is and any MIA doors or such), install and get the check. Sounds like you need to trim the staff and streamline operations.

From contributor S:
Or to put it another way: Your current production output is 1/2 of a cabinet per man per day. Not including doors and drawers. I think there's a little room for improvement.

From contributor M:
I'm a one man shop, and I'd be a little disappointed in myself if the install wasn't almost finished at four weeks. I would think there is room for improvement.

From the original questioner:
You guys gave some awesome responses. The thing that took a long time is the white tinted lacquer finish. The job has 135 doors. The library cabinets have to be painted inside and all the shelves painted both sides and have solid wood edging on them. The painting took 1 guy in our booth 2 solid weeks, with dry time and moving the doors in and out and flipping them after each spray. They have 3 coats of paint per side and two coats of clear. The cutting did only take one guy 4 days. This job was edgebanded with a state of the art Sunbeam (iron). I am getting a Holz-her edgebander in about two weeks. I think I'll fall in love with it. I have no CNC equipment, but I think a guy down the road who will charge me 64 cents per sq. ft. to cut all my sheet stock might work for me. I recently outsourced (for next job) all my solid wood rails. My cabinets are mostly euro. I think the finishing would be good to outsource.

From contributor N:
Five coats of lacquer sounds like a lot. Do you know what your final film thickness is? Depending on the type of lacquer, you could be in danger of cracking.

From the original questioner:
I don't know the thickness. I need the 3 coats of white to get full coverage, so I don't see the poplar or paint grade maple underneath. And one coat of clear over the top seems inadequate. If the coats are thin, should I be okay? I have painted white, black, green and never had cracking, although over MDO it seems brittle. I have not solved that yet.

From contributor P:
I build frameless cabinets too. I have a slider, edgebander, and 23 spindle boring machine. Not counting doors or drawers or finishing, I can build an average cabinet in about an hour and a half... That's 5 cabinets a day, with one man.

From contributor N:
When you refer to coverage and seeing the wood underneath, you mean the texture and grain, don't you? It sounds as though you are not using a heavy-bodied primer, such as Bernyl Surfacer from Becker. You may be able to cut a few steps from your finish schedule, which is what you identified as your bottleneck.

From contributor W:
We are a small to medium size (19 production employees) shop specializing in Euro (frameless cabinetry). Our production standard is 1/2 box per labour hour. 45 boxes would be a total of 90 hours. We outsource doors and drawers but finish in house.

From the original questioner:
I mean I can see color of wood instead of white or off white paint. Would the primer you mentioned help with this? The paint I use is a tinted lacquer.

It helps to know what is possible. Of the responses I've heard concerning specific production rates, I wonder if the level of cabinetry is as high quality. For example, we build our own lazy susan shelves (custom) - no white plastic. We build really nice solid wood roll-out shelves with fully captured bottoms, custom spice roll-outs, etc. Solid wood rails instead of plywood edgebanded rails. I know we can be faster and still high quality, and I'm glad to know how fast you guys are building cabinets. I'm sure you could come into my shop and streamline it. What do you do with the specialty stuff? Do you have a few guys that just handle all the really unique stuff?

From contributor W:
Most specialty stuff begins as normal. These boxes are included in a cut list with the other standard boxes for that kitchen. The only time that they are taken off line is for assembly. This allows our regular assemblers to concentrate on meeting expected productivity rates of 52 boxes per 8 hour day. Specialty boxes are assembled separately but still factor into our total shop production rate of .49 boxes per labor hour. We have eliminated some of our non-value-added processes and expect to achieve a production rate of .54 boxes per labour hour this year.

From contributor N:
Primer would definitely help, as would getting your lacquer supplier to put more tint into the white lacquer. If you post your finishing schedule in the Finishing Forum, you'll get lots of advice on streamlining it.