As I was making some shelves this afternoon, I was wondering how many of us stress over the little time consuming things that make our cabinets "custom." I wonder if my customers even notice the things that make their cabinets unique.
For example, here are the steps I take to make an adjustable shelf:
1. Cut unfinished birch plywood to correct size.
2. Rip 1/4" x 3/4" hardwood stock out of same species of wood as the cabinets.
3. Cut hardwood edging 1/8" longer than shelves.
4. Glue and tape hardwood edge to shelf.
5. Remove tape and sand edge flush with shelf on both sides.
6. Putty joints on both sides of shelves.
7. Sand entire shelf to 180 grit.
8. Bump ends of edge trim flush on edge sander.
9. Run shelf through a shaper to profile the front edge.
10. Seal, sand and two topcoats.
This process takes a lot of time! I do know that most of my customers will not pay more for my cabinets over the next guy's because of my adjustable shelves. Here are some things that we do. Are they overkill?
1. Adjustable shelves
2. Sand and putty joint where face frame meets box
3. Full extension drawer glides on every job whether they are requested (or paid for) or not
4. 3/4" plywood for all cabinet boxes
5. Cabinets screwed together and face frames pocket screwed to case
6. Fill nail holes on sides of drawer boxes
7. Decorative route on edge of finished ends (chamfer or roundover)
I wouldn't consider my cabinetry to be high end, but I try to do a nice job and give my customers a quality cabinet. It seems to me that a lot of people are only concerned with two things: price and looks. A lot of people are really ignorant when it comes to things that I call "quality." They just want nice looking stuff that won't fall apart.
Every now and then, I get a job because someone noticed the details. Should I relax some of my standards to make more profit (they aren't paying for it anyway), or build two different grades of cabinets?
From contributor L:
Interior adjustable shelf.
Cut plywood blank.
Cut hot melt wood edge tape to length and iron on.
Sand to 150.
Clear coat both sides, two coats.
For anything that is not extra, not paid for, this is what they get. If it is an exposed shelf, it will get a solid wood edge.
For the interior shelving that no one really sees, I have learned people really don't care. I used to do the same as you - full profiled wood edged shelving. As people got more preoccupied with price over quality, I let the niceties go to the way of their closed wallets.
Do they appreciate the little extras that you give them? Yes, I'm sure. Would they be willing to pay more for them? Doubtful. So they are not valuing your time. Why give it away? Most people do not realize that those little details that make a project nice are usually not really that little when the labor comes into play.
Once you put a profile on something, you have just made more work for yourself. First, you applied the detail. Now you have to sand it - much more laborious than a square edge. Now when you apply a finish, you have to be careful that you don't burn through the color or the clear because of the extra details; same with the clears. All the extra sanding costs a lot of time. And if the finish isn't silky smooth, the client won't be happy. So just by adding that simple cove on the corner of your face frame, you have introduced at least another 10-15 minutes of time in care of not screwing it up. Multiply this by all the little details that you have in the entire project.
1. Make all common rips for adjustables.
2. Pull solid edge from bin and glue all rips.
3. Lipping plane and sand all rips.
4. Finish rips.
5. Cross cut to size.
6. What's putty? Seriously, clamp them tight and there's no room for it.
Average size kitchen shelves are done in under two working hours. There's always a faster and better way, and that will go straight to your bottom line.
Rip your edging twice as wide as it will be applied and add the kerf to the width. Take two shelves and put the front edges towards each other in the clamps. Put the solid wood in the center and clamp them up. (Yes, you applied the glue already).
This does a couple of things. First, you are gluing up two shelves at once. Second, you only need a minimum of clamps because the width of the plywood will transfer the clamping pressure pretty evenly throughout the solid wood. Then when they are dry, you cut them to final size, plus any sanding or jointing that you wish to do. Sand as usual, etc.
Also, I'd drop putting the holes on drawer boxes and where your frame meets the box, unless of course it's on an exposed end. I think the plywood boxes and full extension slides (mind you not Tandems, they have to pay extra for those; my non-Tandem choice is a $5 full extension ball bearing) sell your job for you. At least they do in my area. About half my customers wouldn't consider me if I didn't use ply boxes (pre-finished). The other half go ahead with the pre-finished; the others go with a white melamine and a few more bucks in their wallet.
In 20 years this is what I have learned about clients:
1. They look at the big picture.
2. They love communication.
3. They hate liars.
4. Please spare us the talk of 2 1/2" stiles and rails on the doors; we want the picture.
5. They hate jobs that drag on.
6. They don't want it to fall apart.
7. They want you to keep your promises.
8. They really have no idea what quality is.
We built a mahogany library recently. She questioned me about face frame joints being sanded smoothly. I questioned her about grain filled mahogany. We installed the entire job with no exposed fasteners. Not one. The builder called, asked if we wanted to look at three mil+ homes for everything, including the trim packages. People do notice, just what they want, and you've got to figure that out.
All parts are pre-finished and no other time needs to be spent on it. Solid wood inside a cabinet with a door is nuts. The customer is not going to notice.
Therefore, if you are doing things that are unnoticed, you need to communicate to your customer (and prospective customers) what you are doing and why (Features and Benefits). This helps set your products apart from others, and will increase the perceived value of your product.
The average buyer today knows almost nothing about quality, and I know that many woodworkers know about the same. Dovetail drawers are perceived as a mark of quality, so some manufacturers print dovetails on an overlay and apply it to stapled drawers. Quality is about as hard to define as happiness, so everyone will do it differently. Define what you do and why, do it concisely (so as to not bore or overwhelm), and present it attractively.
I do not have a replacement, but the word "custom" is just about meaningless - means something different to your customers than it does to you. I love the British "bespoke," but most Americans would steer clear of words they are unsure of.
We sell any level of cabinet, never screwed together (they look like they were made in a garage). I offer my clients any material and explain the advantages from one to another. Every design is different and the details need to match the design.
1. Watch CNC cut and notch shelves to sit over pins.
2. Edgeband solids or tape including round over.
3. Lightly sand faces and edge.
4. 1 coat sealer, 2 coats conversion varnish (or water base recently).
5. Work on custom reception desk, custom hood, etc. - where the real money is.
As others pointed out, your process is slow and cumbersome. There should not be any putty involved. I don't really consider using putty as high end. You should be able to shape the molding before you glue it on. Use a pinner to hold it on while glue dries. All the sanding should be done at one time on the edgesander.
As far as the shelves go, rip 8' lengths of pre-finished material, apply edge, and then cut to length. Don't do each piece individually - takes way too much time.
Putty for something they are not going to see (shelf edge and where face frame meets the box)? Following that thought process, are you also applying putty to the joints on the back and top or where the toe-kick meets the face frame? My guess is no. I don't understand why you would even consider doing that. If you can't see it, and it does not affect the integrity of the structure, it doesn't matter, custom or not. We sell custom, and we sure don't fill the pocket-holes they don't see with plugs, because they don't see it, and it doesn't affect the structural integrity. I applaud the fact that you are detail orientated, but focus on the real details that matter.
Visible shelves (behind glass doors) are made from the same 3/4" plywood material (what I call project plywood) that goes into exposed sides of cabinets. They are edgebanded with matching material with the automatic edgebander. They are finished the same way as the rest of the project plywood. Hands on time (before finishing) the same as the maple plywood shelves.
Customers have never complained about the shelves. When I show them the material they are made from (3/4" plywood - not particleboard), they are very impressed and glad they asked me to make their cabinets. I don't think they would have a clue about a 1/4" hardwood edge or glued on edgebanding. They like that it looks finished and very professional.
I agree with the idea of custom - you are not locking the customer into a predefined product line they have to choose from. You can work with them from the ground up to design and build the cabinetry they want and can afford. You still have to use efficient production methods to keep the cost down for them and maximize your return.
Here is another thing to go on the list of details. How many of you fill and sand flush your face frame on a finished end (versus a V-groove)? I think flush looks the best, but V-groove is definitely quicker! How do you "pre-finish before assembly" guys achieve a nice looking joint on the finished end?
If your customer does not know what the finer points of your construction are, you need to let them know. It is part of selling the job. It's kind of like if you were to tell a customer that there was a blemish on the inside bottom of a shelf, but that it would not show, then every time they opened the door they would think about that blemish. Tell them what makes your work quality. Even the small unnoticeable items will be remembered if you tell them. Bottom line is sell what you make, but be sure there is profit in what you are making.
Paint grade is the same as above, but paint shows all. Visible defects get filled before priming and when I apply the first coat of primer, I hit these spots heavier. Most everything will come out with fill first if you just prime well in problem spots. I find with 2 coats of primer that almost anything will be sanded out if you do a 220 first coat, then a 320 second coat.
Take the advice from everybody on shelves, and stop doing some of the other little things that nobody notices and do dovetailed drawers instead of rabbets. All of the things that you do over and above what you need to labor wise is probably way over what it would take for dovetailed drawers, especially if you outsourced them.
I do the same as you - 1/4 solid wood glued to 3/4 plywood, mainly because I have the thin strips as leftover material, so for a little more of my time and effort I don't have to buy edgebanding. As my time becomes more valuable, this may change.