Whether to Mill Your Own Cabinet Mouldings

Is it practical for a cabinetmaker to mill his own mouldings? Shop owners say that depending on your situation, investing in a moulder might be worth it. July 29, 2007

I am presently close to several sources for moldings, but I will be moving to a more rural setting where a 30 minute trip to the supplier doesn't exist. Are any of you cabinetmakers milling your own moldings? Is it worth the trouble and profitable to get something like a W&H or ShopFox molder and a few sets of knives for frequently used base, crown and light rail? Are these machines pretty high maintenance?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
To be honest, I am not sure about the profitability. And I mean if you only want to offer a few standard profiles. You could profitably offer a few standard profiles that you can outsource.

I have a planer style molder and I hand grind my own knives. I think where it can give a guy an edge is from the stand point of convenience. I just finished a job of adding on to an existing kitchen and the customer wanted all the cabinets to match as though made by the same outfit.

The existing cabinets had an unusual crown molding that I couldn't find in my supplier's catalogues. So, for convenience, I ground a single cutter using a piece of the original molding as a guide. This was less hassle for me than dealing with a third party to make the custom molding.

I think the biggest shortcoming of the planer style molders is that although they produce good moldings, the finish isn't quite as good as moldings run on large multi-knife industrial machines. If you don't mind sanding your moldings and if you can justify the sanding in your bottom line, there is some satisfaction to making them yourself. I always enjoy watching that blank come out the other side of the machine with the fresh cut shape on it.

From contributor T:
To add to contributor F's post, another consideration in milling your own moulding is the time to prep the stock. We used to make our own crown but found that the time it took to straight-line stock to the proper width (and then bevel for crown) was not worth it. We only had a small (13") planer/moulder, though. Maybe a dedicated moulder with knives ground to produce the bevel also would be better.

From contributor D:
We make all our moldings but only because we are making a lot of furniture and never know if it will be paint grade, cherry, mahogany, walnut, etc. It's nice to know that you can make all your moldings out of the same batch of wood and it will all be consistent in color.

I have found that it doesn't take up that much time to prep the wood. I face joint one side of the wood and the edge, rip to width and run through the W&H. No need to run through the planer; the machine will knock it down to the same thickness. We make a lot of moldings out of the cut offs and narrower pieces. The knives are not cheap but I figure the cost of tooling into the job if I have to have a knife made, then you have the knife for the next time. If you go and have the moldings made, say from mahogany, the millwork shop is going to charge you possibly a knife fee, setup fee, and so much per foot. I have shops that come to me to make some of their moldings. They buy the knives and leave them with me since they don't have a machine and when they get ready, they call and say I need X number of feet. I charge them for materials, labor, and setup fee. Plus I have their knives if I need to use that molding myself.

From contributor F:
Yeah, I did leave out the positive things and I agree with contributor D. The ability to run from the same stock as on the rest of the job is a big plus if you care about quality. You are also able to run molding from same grain type instead of who knows what from outsource. You can also make straight moldings which are hard to consistently outsource and you can run woods that aren't commonly available, plus run moldings free of sapwood and knots which outsourcers usually won't do.

From contributor A:
Williams and Hussey molder only takes fifteen minutes to set up if you have the beds already made up. Switching the knife from front crown molding knife to back angle knife takes maybe ten minutes. Finish is excellent, no sanding needed unless you try to underpower the thing. We use a 5 hp motor on it, never lost any material, good job every time.

Like the above posters, save your scrap, run it through the table saw and planer for rough size, then set up and run molding. Little maintenance, replace the feed rollers every couple of years. Oil the chain once or twice a day if you are using it hard.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. You provide some great reasons to make the moldings myself. I frequently have a difficult time getting moldings that closely match my board stock, so that alone would be a big plus.

From contributor M:
If you can buy it off the shelf, then that would be the most cost effective. If you want piles of red oak, then pay someone to run you a pile. If you need 5 different flavors a year, then make it yourself. It's more cost effective to have your lumber distributor plane it and straight line rip. You basically want to cut it to width and mould it. But you can buy a lot of moulding for the $2k of the W&H and then $150 for each set of knives.

From contributor F:
Just a note from the other side of the tracks... I bought a used RBI molder about 8 years ago for $250.00. I buy bars of corrugated high speed steel knife stock and hand grind molding knives on a simple bench grinder with 1/4"x8" wheels. I now have over thirty profiles that I made in my shop. It takes me about two to three hours to grind and hone a three inch crown molding knife. The high speed steel in a three inch crown knife costs about $8.00. My machine has the original feed rollers and they work fine. I oil and grease the machine on a regular basis... about four minutes work.

From contributor T:
We've recently decided to do much what you are thinking of. We do mainly built-ins and general trim work. In some cases we may only need 5-6 pieces of a particular molding and no one near us will order that small amount of molding. If it's not stock, we can't get it easily. Given this, we are looking at getting a small machine for the limited amounts we need.

From contributor M:
I would encourage you to buy a decent shaper instead of a small moulder. I'm assuming that you wouldn't be making any moulding wider than 4".

From the original questioner:
I have used >4" crown on just a couple jobs. A 4" crown is very common. I would also be interested in making flute/reed casings, light rail, a 3 7/8" base board and some other trim as needed. I will take a look at a shaper.

From contributor R:
W&H is the easiest way to go, for short runs. You pay someone else to grind the knives, they keep them, and usually there is a minimum run charge. Plus you can offer truly a one of a kind trim.

From contributor K:
I have been using a Grizzly planer/molder since 1998. I run most of my own molding for the same reason as some of the others above. I use small quantities in many species of wood. I also do quite a bit of restoration work and have to match profiles that are no longer available. I have set this machine up on job sites and run full houses of 5" casing and 8" base moldings. The machine still has all of its original parts (the feed rollers are getting pretty beat up). My opinion is that a molder (even a little one like the Grizzly) is much better for running moldings than a shaper.

Bridgewood has some interesting molders for a little higher production. I order all of my custom knives through Belsaw. I fax them the profile and they do an amazing job of grinding the knives. I use a spread sheet that I downloaded from WOODWEB to calculate my selling price for the moldings I run.

From contributor F:
I have a great shaper with a 5 horse motor and nice power feed. There is just no way a shaper is the better tool for full face cuts on wood. Shapers are the king of edge cuts. Molders excel at wide face cuts. Besides that, I can only imagine what it would cost to buy a custom shaper knife that would cut a three to four inch crown when I look at what a simple 1.75" raised panel knife costs that is a standard profile to boot.

From contributor M:
You misunderstood my last post. If someone is only going to produce mouldings 4" or less (majority of kitchens), then one's money would be better spent on a shaper. The cost of corrugated shaper knives is slightly less than W&H because the knife stock costs more and there is more waste per knife inch. Obviously any molder is easier to use for face mouldings, however the shaper works just fine as well. It's a little tougher to set up. I bought my shaper long before my molders (Woodmaster & W&H).