Production Capacity of a One-Man Shop

Can one man working alone knock out two custom kitchens a month and run the business too? It's debatable. January 13, 2008

Is it possible for a one man shop building custom kitchens to produce two kitchens a month? Finishing in house, farming out the installation, and without the use of CNC equipment. Using traditional equipment only. If so, how? If not, why? I'd love to here all comments.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
Depends on how custom you're talking. If it is just different sized boxes, probably. If you're doing staggered heights and depths, RP ends, fancy finishes, and that kind of thing, probably not. I'm assuming you're outsourcing doors and maybe drawer boxes. Of course, it also depends on whether these are small tract homes or large fancy homes. I couldn't do it working a 45 hour week the way I do things, but some guys might get it done.

From the original questioner:
The kitchens I'm doing are mostly custom in terms of wood type, finish, hardware and level of details (moulding, frieze board, furniture base, valances). Boxes are all made the same way, but vary in sizes (width, height, and depth). The size of the average kitchen in this area is small to mid-size (16- 30 cabinets). Doors and drawers are outsourced. Most finishes are stain, seal, topcoat. Some paint and glaze.

From contributor J:
In my 1 man shop, no way. Doesn't mean you can't do it in your shop, though. I build as much as possible in house and do everything from design to install, so it takes me a bit longer anyway.

From contributor L:
I would say that you can if you are disciplined and have a system. You will have to minimize your time thieves, though. You will also have to be skilled in terms of layout so that what you build fits where it is supposed to. Finally, if you can clearly communicate with your customer so that what you build is what they want, then you will be miles ahead. A typical 30 box kitchen could be cut out by hand in one day if you stay focused and work. You could also assemble those same boxes in 1-2 days. Order your doors and drawers. Figure out an easy method to attach the hinges and slides. Then concentrate on your finish and take your time on that. Remember, you only have two weeks to knock one out, so that doesn't leave a lot of room for mistakes, and change orders will slow you down. Of course, you could charge more and just do one kitchen a month. (Grin.)

From contributor H:
You can do two and do it all it all in house if you do nothing else. But that's the kicker... you won't be doing "nothing else." You will meet with the client several times. You will shop for and pick up various materials. Some you will have to wait for. Answer the phone and return calls of future clients and go measure those jobs and sign contracts. Deliver and install (farming out is easy to say) your product and allow for unforeseens on the job (other trades not having their part done). And did I mention eating or sleeping? Wife, kids, friends - remember them? In my opinion, you can do one job and do it well in a month, and make money as one man.

From contributor N:
I agree with contributor H. One man can put out a lot of production if he has a good system in place, but the business end is what's time consuming. Are the two houses a month a projection from a single builder? That can make a big difference.

From contributor F:
Same here. I couldn't do two in a month in my shop. Gotta work damn hard to get one out the door in thirty days.

From contributor Y:
I think most would agree that it largely depends on how much space you have, how much equipment you have, and how well that equipment is utilized. I am a 1-man shop most of the time and can usually kick out two kitchens a month, but I have a 4000 sq ft shop and a ton of equipment because in the past, I employed 3+ workers. Most guys that are one-man shops are shoe-horned into small shops (which I envy at this point), and that is largely the limiting factor for production speed.

From contributor M:
Consider buying doors, moldings, end panels, etc. pre-finished (I use Conestoga for this). This and a standardized system for as many steps of the build as possible will go a long way toward reducing your turnaround time. There's nothing like a finish problem to decimate a stacked work schedule.