Shopping For Shapers (To Make Your Own Doors)

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There's a choice of machines, but is it worth it? April 10, 2005

I have a small shop that turns out 10-12 kitchens a month. Iím currently buying my doors from a manufacturer. Iím going to invest in a shapers and time saver etc. Can I get some suggestions on what type of equipment I should be looking at?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Weaver shapers. Get their 6 shaper set up plus but one more for door edging. This is assuming all your doors use the same panel, outside edge and stile and rail profiles. You will also need a panel clamp, door clamp (JLT has nice ones), wide belt, planer, crosscut saw, straightline ripsaw, downdraft sanding table, random orbit sanders and a decent sized air compressor with drier. You can also go as far as a shape and sand or two, and a moulder and fladder sander. This may sound overwhelming if you do not have many of these tools already. Many are available in the used market for good prices. Set up time and rework will kill you in the door business so do it right or keep buying your doors. At 10-12 kitchens a month I think it is worth looking into.

From contributor B:
Continue buying your doors. You're not going to make money making doors with a shaper and a wide belt sander. The amount of labor to make a set of doors exceeds the labor for the rest of the cabinets.

From contributor C:
I would partially agree with contributor B. For the most part, I would generally let those who make doors make doors. But there are certain types of doors that the big boys are overcharging for. I would identify which ones those are and let them have the rest. Your lead times and quality might improve but it will be at the expense of getting out your next job if you're pushing out 12 kitchens a month. A lot depends on what market and level of quality you aspire to.

From contributor D:
A Unique 250mc door machine takes up little space and gets the job done fast, along with a two head wide belt. A small clamp carrier would help.

From contributor E:
You might want to look at the numbers. If you have a good relationship with a door company, it might be hard to compete.

But to answer you question, you should look at Extrema. I have a shop full of German/European equipment, but I have been very pleased with my Extrema 37" widebelt. They offer a lot of bang for the buck. I have had it for 4+ years and no problems.

From contributor F:
I am a small shop and make most of my doors so here goes:

1. You will need a good supplier of wood - my wood cost about equals what I can buy doors for. My waste factor is about 60%, lower for some and higher for others.
2. You will need skilled labor.
3. For machinery, a jump cut off saw, straight line rip, glue applicator, clamp carrier, planer/sander, moulder, shapers, unique door machine, and some way to sand the raised panel part. Vorwood comes to mind, door clamp, glue applicator for stiles/rails, more skilled labor and last some way to get out the cross grain sanding marks left by the wide belt - a fladder comes to mind or you could hand vibrate sand them but it takes too long if you are doing 10 kitchens a month.

There are other reasons to make your own doors but cost is not one of them. Minimizing set-ups is key - standardize production. The nice part is you can provide a product your competitors can not.

From contributor G:
I wanted to get in the door business in 1996 just to service the local market. I bought the Weaver system, AEM widebelt and a door clamp. It is 8-1/2 years and about $200,000 spent on improvement in equipment and we are still trying to improve productivity.

Don't be fooled that a shaper set-up and a widebelt will make doors efficiently. Stay with your door supplier and let him eat all the mistakes his people make, all the bad lumber that gets shipped, and all the other hidden (unseen) costs that are involved. If it was more profitable for cabinet shops to build their own doors there would be no door manufacturers out there.

From contributor H:
Just a curious observation - there sure seems to be a lot of people, (a lot of door companies), not making money on doors. If this is such a money pit, why the number of ultra sophisticated door shops around, with 2-6 week lead times? When you can throw millions of dollars at a process, some money is being made, somewhere. My door operation isnít the pentium chip of my operation, but no one thing is. My door operation consist of three wrung out shapers, a wide belt sander, some very good insert tooling, and an edgesander, RF gluer, and JLT door clamp - total investment of about $12,000.00 used, which is on the very low end. I would buy the heaviest equipment I could, not necessarily the latest. I have one shaper that's at least 60 years old, but you can't hear it run. I purchase my material surfaced and gang ripped, which is done for less than I can buy and maintain the equipment for. I'm not trying to take the operation thru from the tree. Really, how many door styles can/do you offer? I offer the standard flat, raised, and beaded ceiling panels, 2 raised panel profiles, 3 cope and sticks, 3 edges, 2 arches, and 2 stile widths, and raised moulding, with a square raised panel door being 90% of my requests. I would certainly look at the Weaver products - their shapers are basic, but very solid and functional, and their accessories are well thought out and great time savers. My door operation isn't a great money maker, but certainly isn't a loser either, especially considering their done on my schedule, keeping my employees busy, and building my equipment base, and that 2 grand a week stays in my account (for a little while anyway). I do an average 2400 sq ft house a week, roughly. No way would I outsource 12 houses worth of doors a month.

From contributor I:
Door makers don't make the money they should because the cabinet maker wants him to offer what ever he needs - more styles, more raises, more beads, and more edges. This means more tooling, shapers, space, maintenance, but the cabinet maker does not want to pay what it cost to have that resource available for the day he needs it.

Yes, door guys may be backed up, because many cabinetmakers realize it does not pay for them to do it. It does not mean that they are paying what it is really worth.

From contributor J:
I totally agree with your statement - a huge amount of shops either don't have or won't spend the money on the machinery to do it right! I have been building cabinets for 20 years and never once bought a door or drawer nor will I ever. I can make money building doors. It's not about who can make them cheaper, it's a matter of upselling my products to the customer. Think about it - all you have to do to become a cabinetmaker anymore is assembly - you can outsource everything else. All you need is a Makita drill and youíre done.

From contributor H:
I think in large part it is a trickle down from the customer. My equipment is not the latest by any means, but it's a shaper, or a sander, not the space shuttle. And I don't buy lightweight import junk. When it's too far outmoded for heavy 3 shift manufacturing anymore, it's just right for my operation. I don't have any qualms spending $500 - $600 or whatever on a insert head, or whatever. I buy the best equipment I can afford, and outfit it accordingly. As far as the labor difference in cabinets versus doors- I'll take doors hands down. I don't set my door suppliers prices, he does! The only problem I had was with a delivery time. I ordered doors before ever flipping a switch, and still wait 7-10 days after the cases and drawers are built to get doors - that really dampens my cash flow.

From contributor G:
I never said that I wasn't making a profit building doors. I started my business for the purpose of making money. After being in the cabinet/millwork business for over 25 years, I'm not here for the thrill of joining pieces of wood together.

My post to this thread was more to the point of what it would take to make doors efficiently - for the shops that make their own doors and fronts, more power to them. For anyone out there that is under the assumption that three shapers and a widebelt provides them with a cost effective means of producing quality doors I think they are fooling themselves.

My shop produces 100-125 doors and 40-50 drawer fronts with 4 people in a 10 hour day. The thing that sets us back and kills production is the two or four doors ordered the wrong size, or the doors that our customer forgot to order and we try to get him out of a jam. We are all in the customer service business, and I share my problems with every other person out there trying to make a living in this business.

If you have a shop that is running out of work then you should make your own doors, but if your shop is always full and/or backed-up then why would you want to add more burden to your already stressed business?

From contributor A:
Sometimes we can be as bad as some of our own customers. We want quality equipment to be more productive but God forbid we spend any money on it. We buy junk and it costs us more in the long run or live without it and try to justify that excuse by outsourcing. That is fine for some but not all of us. I believe in spending good money on good equipment and doing everything in house. I would rather do more work per job (by not outsourcing) and run fewer jobs through in a yearís time. I actually have my least experienced help build doors because with my good equipment it is almost a no-brainer. They, of course, need to know how to run the tools but it is not rocket science. I know this will not work for everyone but it works for me.