Equipment needed for one-man startup

Advice on budgeting and buying machinery for a new custom cabinet shop. December 12, 2000

I'm interested in professional opinions on equipment required to start up a one-man cabinet shop.

I'm planning on doing face frame cabinets. My shop size will be 36x46 (this area will also have to contain office, bathroom and spray booth). I would like to keep the flexibility to do custom wood furniture, as well as cabinetry.

I have all the small power and hand tools, but the only large item I have is a 5hp 3ph Unisaw with a unifence and Delta sliding table. I'd like to go with central dust collection. So, how about a thickness planer (size?), bandsaw (size?), shapers, wide-belt, other?

I'd like to find used equipment. What would you budget for each piece? If I have to prioritize due to budgetary constraints, which pieces are most critical? What would you spend the most money on to get better quality?

For purposes of discussion, letís say my budget is between $10-20K for equipment, including dust collection. I hope to go into this debt free and owning everything (this will dictate my budget of course).

Forum Responses
If I had to start over again I would probably use the first $10,000 as follows:
1) Scissor Lift work bench: $2000
2) TigerStop fence for chop saw: $3500
3) Unisaw: $2000
4) Hoffman Lipping Planer: $1000
5) Ryobi type planer: $500

6) Dewalt 12 inch Chop saw: $500
7) Decent quality boom box: $500

This doesn't get you everything you need but at least you start with the right kind of work bench and your crosscutting is accurate.

I'd hold off on the lift bench and tiger stop for now and get the following tools for starters:

1) 8" jointer - don't be afraid to go Taiwan here.
2) 15" planer - again, save your money and go Taiwan.
3) 3hp shaper - I think Grizzly has one for $850.
4) Feeder for shaper - this is really a must for speed, quality, and safety.
5) 15" wide belt sander - get it from Sunhill. It's a huge time saver.
6) Chop saw - with a manual stop, please!
7) If you can afford it, get a second shaper. Itís very handy to have two when making doors.

I wouldn't bother with a lipping planer yet either, but when you're ready, get the one that Virutex makes. It's about 1/3 the price of the Hoffman.

1) Most important, moisture meter.
2) If you live in a humid location, invest in climate control, either A/C or dehumidifiers.
3) A lot of clamps.
4) 20" or larger thickness planer.
5) Router table. With a 2" straight bit, this can work as a small jointer if you have a split fence. A quality router table is a good temporary solution to a shaper.
6) Good dust collection system.
7) Radial arm saw or miter saw station.
8) Large compressor piped with overhead drops at workstations.
9) Heavy duty bench with clamps and vises.
10) Spray booth.
11) Spray guns and a pressure pot.
12) The larger the bandsaw, the better. Cutting veneer, remember.
13) Floor model drill press.
14) Heavy duty lumber racks.

When you start making a PROFIT, buy

1) 12" jointer.
2) Tilting spindle shaper with a power feeder.
3) Vacuum press.
4) Line boring machine.

1. Make your own workbenches.

2. Consider buying as many pre-finished components as possible, to begin with. There are plenty of good door, drawer and panel producers out there and at competitive prices.

3. A router table is a good solution to a shaper and you can make this yourself. Make it heavy so when you are pushing your material through it will not move and will also reduce the vibration.

4. Miter station. Get the saw and again build the table and outfeed tables yourself and also the fence(s) and stops.

5. Nothing lesser than a 20" planer. (After you start making a profit.)

6. 12" Jointer (also after you start making a profit).

7. Good dust collection. This you can pipe in yourself.

8. Plenty of clamps.

9. Lumber racks (make yourself).

10. Large compressor (pipe it in yourself).

11. Good moisture meter (a must!).

12. Floor model drill press.

1) Moisture meter (delmhorst)
2) 3 ph converter (make yourself)
3) 12" jointer (Wadkin)
4) 13" - 16" planer (general 14")
5) 14" Delta band saw
6) 3 Shapers min (8- Weaver)
7) Time Savers drum sander (more width than wide belt and more useful in small shop)
8) Leigh dovetail jig
9) Lathe (Oliver)
10) Freud makes the best shaper cutters and saw blades and has excellent tech support

These are some of the tools in my one-man shop. I've found that you should buy the best you can afford. It will be reflected in the end product.

I build custom kitchens and have bought everything used, but in very good condition.
1) Scoring table saw (SCMI)
2) Dewalt 16" crosscut (50 years old, wouldn't trade it for a new one)
3) Blum hinge boring machine

4) 12" planer (I'd get a 15" next time)
5) 8" jointer (Delta)
6) Lots and lots of clamps
7) Porter cable pockethole cutter (production model)
8) SCMI basic 1 edgebander

I have less than $7,000 invested, plus $6,000 more with the bander. Start out buying your doors from a door manufacturer. It saves a lot of time, especially if you are going to do most of this yourself. Don't try to compete against a low end cabinet line--if you do quality work, get paid for it! I do 1-2 kitchens a month part-time with the items I listed.

I would not buy less than a 10hp compressor and at least 2 Dynabrade sanders.

If you have room for it, get a planer that is 24Ē wide (at least 20Ē is a must). Small 12" to 18" planers are usually under-powered and prone to leave a lot of cutter marks. If you scimp on a planer, you will make up for it in the time spent sanding your work.

For starting up, it is a lot cheaper to use smaller 4 bag dust collectors.

The best miter saw on the market is the Dewalt 12" sliding compound. It will cut 16" across.

Another tool to look at very hard is a wide belt sander--very important if you are building face frame cabinets. My father and I just bought an SCM Sandya 1k. All told, it cost about $11,000, but we eliminated a guy from the shop (who cost about $23,000 a year), and cut what was once a 3 day job of sanding our face frames into a 30 minute job. Also, this sander lets us sand veneer sheets much faster.

I've been in the business of cabinet making for about 15 years. A few things you need are a compressor, a chop saw and a table saw. With these 3 items we made enough product to support our company and our incomes.

Can you buy all the tools you want from a machinery dealer who has them used from a trade in? If so, you can buy more for less.

I think the most important steps, which we tend to overlook by getting too involved in our "wish list", are:

1. Do I have a realistic business plan? You will be concerned with how you will pay your bills, even as a one man shop. Letís say you pay an average of $1,000 per month in rent, electric, telephones, insurance, etc. and $600 per week salary to yourself. Your direct monthly overhead will be $10,000+/-.

2. Find your niche--what you do best and have the customers to support--and stick to it. You can diversify when you have sufficient capital behind you.

3. If you have to outsource doors and drawers and boxes because the expense for equipment is not yet in the budget, do it. There are enough good manufacturers out there for this and you should still realize a good mark-up.

I have recently been through what you are about to go through. I purchased approximately $25k Canadian in new tools to set up a one-man shop to build custom furniture and a few production pieces. I decided to keep away from kitchens because there are many people in my area doing them already.

The items that I purchased were:
1) 10" general table saw with 52" fence
2) 2-3hp routers
3) 10" sliding compound miter saw, top of the line, which serves me better than a radial arm saw, but must be easily and accurately set to zero
4) 20" planer
5) 2hp dust collector
6) 14" bandsaw (looking to upgrade)
7) Floor model drill press
8) 6" jointer with long bed
9) Delta mortis machine
10) Lots and lots of clamps
11) Air compressor and brad guns
12) Lots of smaller tools under $300

I found that I was spending a lot of time setting up dado blades in the saw, so I brought my old table saw from home. Along with another dust collector, a 15" planer, a moisture meter and a lot of smaller drills and sanders.

I rent a shop that is 1600 square feet plus another 800 square foot show room and office space. Each month I pay about $1200 in rent, taxes, insurance, utilities, ect.

I send out a bit of stuff to be done when I am too busy, mostly doors, but I have not had one door yet come back that I felt was done properly, and I have been to several different shops.

I have a small shop that does mid- to high-end cabinetry. I donít agree on outsourcing everything. I purchased from a raised panel company for 10 years and wish that I had not. I hate to think how many times I was promised a date of delivery which came around with no product. When you build your own raised panels, you control the amount of time it takes to get the product.

I purchased a Panel Master 2 by RBI Industries. Itís a no-brainer to make raised panel doors with the right software.

Make sure that you use Space Balls in your raised panel doors.

The next tool is the RBI universal planer. This unit has a 20" planer, a 20" drum sander, moulding cutter head, and a gang rip saw. These two tools are the source of my shop profit line.

Other tools I have are:
1. a Delta DJ-20 Joiner
2. a Delta In-Line 13 spindle pneumatic boring machine (this is used for shelf pins)
3. a 5-10 hp air compressor for the use of a Dyninger 8" profile sander (a must for any profile sanding, raised panel doors, crown molding, trim, etc).
4. a 12" Dewalt cut-off saw with an 8' to the left and 6' to the right fence system. (I had mine welded and powder coated. My fence is very similar to a Biesmeyer fence, but I can buy a new saw and adjust the lag bolts to the new saw height).
5. a small jig called the Facemaker, which aligns and you drill and screw the face frames together.
6. a Saw Trax panel saw, which has helped in dangerous cross cutting.
7. 80 clamps, and thatís not enough.
8. sanders and routers and miscellaneous stuff.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I too am putting together a business plan for a cabinet/custom furniture shop. The building I am planning is very similar in size and I have come to the following conclusion for large equipment and tools:

6Ē jointer (canít afford more)
15Ē planer (same story)
DeWalt 12Ē sliding saw
Dual head sander (??)
Panel saw
Dust collection
7 HP middle of the road air compressor
Finish racks for panels
Table saw (will utilize my small saw for the first two years)

I plan to spray water base finishes and build my own work bench, router table, etc. I plan on buying my doors for the first year or two.

My philosophy is I will have a lot of time to do more labor intensive work, and the lower the cost of getting started and running, the larger the profit percentage will be. I will be leaving a healthy salary/benefit package, so I have to be profitable enough the first year to cover the monthly business expenses plus my current salary. I hope to have the majority of the tools and building paid for before I start.

I have an engineering degree in wood manufacturing and have been working with a large wood furniture manufacturer for ten years.

Comment from contributor B:
I started my cabinet shop when I was 19. I started out with the basic 52" table saw and 12" miter saw and used hand tools I bought from pawn shops. Since then I've grown into a 3000 sf building and I still keep to the basics - 12" rigid planer, ssc panel saw, line boring machine, routers, air sanders and spray booth. I bought and upgraded as I made profit. With approximately 12,000 worth of tools I can make approximately 35,000 a year. Mmaybe I should have gone to college like my brothers and sisters, but I enjoy what I do and hope to learn how to stay small and profitable without the headaches of a big shop.

Comment from contributor C:
I would get the following:

1) 14" General stationary planer
2) 14" Delta Bandsaw with riser block, 1 1/2 hp motor, and Carter guides - it's much better than a bunch of the others and very underated.
3) Unisaw or Powermatic 66 table saw
4) Woodmaster 26" or 38" drum sander
5) Delta DJ20 8" jointer - best in class
6) Makita 12" sliding compound miter saw
7) Delta 731 6x48/12" disk sander
7) All the clamps you can afford and a good shop made router table.

Shapers are cost prohibitive for small shops. Every tool on this list will probably outlast you. You can get bigger models of Tiwanese tools but there are lots of ways to get around a smaller capacity machine; there's no way to make up for a junky one.

Comment from contributor W:
I have only worked in small shops. Here is my list of essentials.

A sliding tablesaw will save you a lot of time and backache, but will eat your entire budget. Think about leasing, as the advantages of a sliding saw will help you make a lot more profit.

Two floor model drill presses (the bench top ones are not worth the money). Set one up with a large, smooth table and fence with two flip stops and a carbide 35mm forstner bit. Set this up for drilling hinges and forget about it until you do your doors. Use the second one for regular drilling. You will love the time you save setting drilling depth and fence position.

The next thing is an air compressor. Home Depot has a Husky 7hp for about $450. You can do everything with this.

On a budget, forget about shapers. But get as many routers as you have bits. Three or four router tables are a good thing. One with a 1 1/2hp router you can set up for stiles, the next for rails and a 3hp for raised panels. The first two can be back to back on the same table. It's also nice to have one set up with a pattern bit.

I have an additional table set up to run dadoes, since the downside of a sliding saw is that you often can't run a dado blade.

A 14" bandsaw with riser block is great. A long bed jointer is essential. A decent portable planer would do for now. Finally, an edge bander is like a gift from the gods. The first time you do 60' of bookcases and it takes you two days to band every shelf by hand, you will rush out with every bit of profit you made and buy one.

Comment from contributor M:
1) A shaper and a feeder are the most versatile things you can have.
2) You *need* a G-tech 8" jointer or better
3) You *need* a cabinet saw
4) Clamps? fo shizzle...
5) Wide belt

Well, I guess you're broke now, but you still need dust collection and a clamp carrier, or at least a clamp rack (buy the clamps and weld up a rack).

Comment from contributor J:
I'm surprised no one on this thread had considered a combination machine as a good startup option. I did that recently by buying a used MiniMax CU410 Elite, which is a step up from just about every introductory tool mentioned here. A Tersa head 16" jointer/planer, tilting 1-1/4" shaper with interchangeable shafts, an 8.5' sliding table saw and a slot mortiser, all for less than the cost of separate machines and taking up a lot less room, which startups rarely have an excess of.

The machine is paid for now, and I only have to decide which grandkid to leave it to. Granted, when you grow you won't be able to have two workers operating the tool at a given time, but I've found I just adjust my workflow to accommodate it until I absolutely need to buy separates. Some combination machines like the Felder can be separated into jointer/planer/mortiser and saw/shaper, which is a better situation. Combos don't get nearly enough coverage for the value they contribute.