For our purposes, in this the early dawning of the 2lst Century, we will hear about "what's new" from the perspective of Susie M., a ripsaw operator employed at a medium-sized case goods plant. I recently had a long phone conversation with Susie, who was eager to tell me about all of the new things going on at her place of work. Following are some highlights of our discussion.
'Cleaner and Brighter'
"Two new things about our machine area make it a much better work environment for us," Susie related. "The new exhaust unit for the dust collector has really improved the efficiency of the system. Combined with the new lighting that was installed, our work area has never been cleaner and brighter. One of the nice things is that I no longer feel that I have to wear a dust mask when I'm working -- the air quality is that much better!
"One recommendation that the owner of our plant borrowed from your column is to hold monthly department meetings. I really like the opportunity to share ideas with the company brass. It's also good that they are more willing to share information with us, including financial information about the company and goals.
"I'm proud that one of my suggestions got used. Now, whenever someone comes up with a money-making or money-saving idea, they earn a cash bonus of $100 to $ 1,000. The company even gave me $200 just for coming up with the idea. Yet another idea that was adopted is the monthly pizza parties that the company throws for employees if we go a month without a lost-time accident."
During our more than one-hour phone talk, Susie talked about some of the other ideas -- big and small -- that have been adopted since regular meetings were started six months ago. They include:
* purchasing more comfortable respirators for finishing spray gun operators;
* allowing machine operators to stop their equipment twice a day to inspect the quality of the ripping and look for blade dulling;
* switching to a slightly more expensive widebelt abrasive that has nearly doubled up time;
* establishing a 401(k) plan; and
* closing up shop a few hours early one Friday to allow all interested employees an opportunity to attend a local woodworking show.
"After working here for nearly 12 years, I can't begin to tell you how these changes have improved work conditions here. It's really changed my outlook on how this industry operates. I feel much better about my teenage son's interest in entering woodworking as a career than I did a year ago. My only regret is that it took the boss so long to make ah of us employees feel like we are an important part of the team and not just cogs in the wheel."
I hope all of you bosses are taking good notes.
Are there any you can recommend? Thanks. Mr. E.
A Two possibilities stand out: the Architectural Woodwork Institute, (703) 733-0600 and the Small Cabinet Council of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn., (703) 620-6530. Call each group for additional membership information.
Q Until lately we have never sought outside technical assistance for finishing or anything else for that matter. Recently, however, I visited a plant that routinely calls in a technician from its finishing material source whenever it tries to develop something new. I must say, I was very impressed. Not only is this company's finishes superb, the owner says he is saving a lot of money in efficiency. You're not surprised to hear this, are you? Thanks. Mr. S.
A It's hard to be an expert on everything; that's why it pays to hire a specialist. Now that you have seen with your own eyes how well this can work, I imagine you're going to rethink your policy about how you choose and work with your vendors. Right?
Q Our boss has been spending a lot of time in the shop recently. At first, some of us were very suspicious and a little nervous about it. But some real good ideas have come Out of it. He's actually asked us for ideas for improving production and is implementing many of these suggestions. What are the chances he got this idea from reading your column? Mr. G.
A He might have been inspired by this column, because I do address this topic from time to time. I think it is very important for the big bosses to get around the plant and learn what's going on and to get acquainted with the people who are making the products that are making them money. I'm glad to hear your boss is doing just that.
Q We buy kiln dried lumber and I wanted you to know that we check every board for moisture content. Our checker has it down pat, so it doesn't take too much longer to unload the delivery trucks. Just thought you'd like to know. Mr. K.
A I know that it is hard to sell some people on this concept. I appreciate your help in spreading the word.
Q What can you tell me about yellow birch? Your stuff is great. Mr. L.
A Somebody gave that name to birch that comes from a strong mineral base.
Q I have read your column for many years and know that you have written a lot about the use of gluesize. Up to now we have used other materials for edges and open pores. But for various reasons, I think it's time we take a better look at gluesize. Would you mind going over it one for time? Thank you. Mr. F.
A Gluesize is a special sizing concentrate available commercially. One popular way to apply it is to sponge it lightly on the edges and rough spots on surfaces. You then sand it to smooth the surface. You may have to experiment a little to get a feel for it. Contact me after you've tried a test or two if you have any more questions.
Q We need to expand our design options on doors and drawers. How do we go about selecting a supplier?
A You can find a bunch in the advertisements in this magazine. I suggest, though, that you attend the next woodworking show in your area and meet with the suppliers who are exhibiting.
Q Today's paper had a article on the way a forest in my area is being cut down and the prospects of the government responding to environmentalists' pressure to stop it. This is just another example of what's going on throughout the country, and to some extent the world. Where does it end? Will we have no wood at all, or at least none that we can afford? Is particleboard made from wood, and even straw, the answer? Do we hold off buying new machinery? Where do you think we will be in two or three years? Please tell me what you think. Thanks. Mr. W.
A I don't see the movement for restrictions letting up anytime soon. Consequently, lumber prices, though they will fluctuate, will continue to edge upward faster than the rate of inflation. Clearly, the wood supply/price issue is what is driving the expansion of the particleboard and medium density fiberboard markets, including the development of new products made with straw and other agricultural waste. In any regard, whether you are machining solid wood, or veneered or laminated particleboard made of straw, your equipment needs will not change all that much.
Q I want you to know that I went to the woodworking show in Anaheim as you advised. Though it meant putting a project on hold for a day or two it was well worth it. I found some hardware that I didn't even know existed and am also giving thought to buying my first edgebander. I will never again have to ask if the time and expense is worth it. Thanks a lot for convincing me. Mr. F.
A I'm glad you went. Trade shows are a great way to stay abreast of industry developments.
Q We are about to make a large cutting of a special bedroom design for a hotel chain. It is so well done and easy for us to do that 1 thought maybe with a few changes, we could add it to our line. What do you think? I've enclosed a photo and design print for your inspection. Thanks. Mr. J.
A Talk to your contacts involved in the hotel chain deal. If anyone so much as raises an eyebrow about your intentions to recycle this design, then I think you should forget about adding it to your line for the greater good of long-term relationships.
Q Following our conversation in August 1998, I did exactly what you suggested and promoted two of my newer, but more hungry-to-learn employees as foremen. One is overseeing sanding operations and the other is our chief quality control inspector. I just wanted you to know that, one year later, things are working great. What do you think about that? I appreciate your help. Mr. H.
A Good! I know you were worried about promoting two employees ahead of others who have been with you longer. But the way you described your situation, especially in terms of the strong work ethic of these two you promoted had demonstrated, I think your decision was an easy one.
Q You have a complete explanation regarding our problem with pin holes in the edges of tops. This has been a problem over a long period of time. I meant to bring this to your attention some time ago. Now that I finally have, what should I do? Ms. W.
A You are using a core that has "openings" that are very hard to see with the naked eye. Once these openings are sealed with a finish, "gas" forms and you get the popping of the finish. Your best bet is to use glue-size on the edges and your worries will be over. I'm sending you application details in my reply.
Q I took your advice and hired a couple of women woodworkers. Guess what? They are doing a fantastic job. You really taught this male chauvinist pig a thing or two. Thanks. Mr. T.
A I am very pleased that things are working out. While many firms have women working in their plants, there are still many out there -- for various reasons --that are reluctant to have women operate woodworking machinery.
Q I recently saw an article in Wood & Wood Products discussing the speed of some of the machines being made in Europe. I think there was mention of edgebanders capable of operating at 120 feet per minute or more. Don't you find that incredible? Thanks. Mr. T.
A Yes, I do find the speeds of modern day equipment pretty amazing. But what impresses me even more is the ability of today's machines to perform multiple operations with repeatable accuracy thanks to computer technology. As we develop more sophisticated technology, perhaps the day will come when a board is dried and processed into a finished part on one machine. Now that would be incredible, indeed!
Q We are having miter problems. We tenon about 2/3 of the edge and glue the tenon and the rest of the miter. The machining is perfect. Yet, as you can see from the samples we sent you, somethings not right. Can you tell us what's wrong? We appreciate all of your kind help. Mr. K.
A I have explained this many times. Tenons are not the best construction method because they can be difficult to make with repeatable accuracy. I prefer dowel joints; they are cheaper and easier to do. Just don't forget to wipe away the excess glue squeezeout before it hardens.
Q We have a chance to do some heavy business by making two or three units that two big outfits want. We have never done anything special like this before and I suppose if we screw up, we won't get a second shot at it. What is your opinion, based on the sketch and other information we have enclosed detailing this project? Many thanks. Mr. E.
A I think the items will sell and I think a firm with your reputation can do this well. Have faith and give it a whirl.
Q You warned me about the dangers of buying "bargain" hardwood plywood panels made in far-away places. Still, I thought if I proceeded with caution that I could get away with it. As you can see from the samples I sent you, things have not gone according to plan. Could you give me the bad news about the problems I have incurred as a result of not heeding your warning? Thanks. Mr. D.
A You have sent me some major messes. Here's the rundown on the sample panels you sent me:
1. This construction has a mahogany face veneer, soft particleboard core, very porous 9% moisture content and a wild mahogany back.
2. This panel is warping. It has a pine face, pine core and paper back and is very dry.
3. This one is also warping because of its unbalanced construction. It has a walnut face, particleboard core and pine back.
All of these panels are bad to say the least. The first is too wet, the other two are too dry. Number three has different wood species on front and back. I can't imagine how anyone could sustain a business making panels as abominable as these.
Q I am over 50 now and ready for a change. I am able to build a good piece of furniture from start to finish. In seeking a new job, what is the best that I can expect? I enjoy reading your column every month. Mr. W
A Each time I receive a request like yours, I consider the dozens of business owners and managers clamoring to find qualified people of your ilk. If your skills are as good as your state them to be, then perhaps you want to consider latching on as a sample maker. Someone has to develop prototypes, and the pay and work can be very rewarding. Another possibility is to apply for a foremen's job. Good luck.
Q I want to complement you on your column. You have given us a lot of corrective detail over the years and I do hope this continues. Many thanks. Mr. D.
A Be sure to send a copy of your letter to my boss. I could always use a good word, especially around review time. In all candor, though, woodworking has been a big part of my life. I'm glad that I can still contribute.
Q We are a small manufacturer that makes several items that sell very well. I believe our workmanship is outstanding. The only problem is that a few of our designs have been copied by lower-class outfits that sell things cheap. Our name plate helps, because we do have a good name in our area, but we are still losing business to the copy cats. What is your opinion of design patenting? Many thanks. Mr. J.
A You can try to protect your designs with a patent, but it is easier said than done, plus as you note, you already have people borrowing your looks. You might consider a copyright instead. It protects the name you give to your product. At least this way you can develop some brand recognition.
Q Would you trust a young, supposedly well-qualified designer who only recently graduated from college to tackle a project that represents a vast departure from everything that your firm has done before? I hope you can steer us to the right track. Thanks. Mr. H.
A Have him prepare some basic sample drawings based on your requirements. Then sit down and go over them with him and see if the two of you are on the same page. Make sure he understands that even if you decide not to work with him, that you keep the sample sketches because they are based on his idea. Make sure you put this in writing in your contract. If you have any more questions, feel free to get back to me.
Q I recently checked out iswonline (Wood & Wood Products' web site). I came across some articles about you in the Archives section that I found most interesting. I have since become a W&WP subscriber and avid reader of your column. My question concerns manufacturing chairs. What is your advice for getting a production line started? Thanks. Mr. M.
A I think your best bet is to outsource parts to a component specialist. This will limit your capital outlay and need to find qualified help. Work on design and assembly first and as things progress, consider bringing part production in-house Good luck!
Q We have a large job that calls for very intricate bending. You have a copy of the design. How do you suggest we go about it? Mr. T.
A I think you should utilize the Member Match Program offered by the Wood Component Manufacturers Assn. Just phone (770) 565-6660 and supply your requirements and the association headquarters will furnish you with the names of members who can fulfil your request.
Q We are entering our fourth year in the custom cabinet business. We have attended a couple of machinery shows, but until now, have not been involved in any associations.