Managing Quality Control and Defect Cutting

How can a millwork shop achieve good defect grading on various jobs with different specifications and standards? April 4, 2011

We make custom mouldings and millwork. A few years ago, most of our projects were high volume and repeating. Now, the number of projects is larger but each are smaller and don't repeat often. The issue we're having is with the defecting instructions. They vary wildly from job to job. Some clients are ok with intact defects others are not, mineral may be a defect but heartwood is not, etc. We write very specific cutting instructions for each job but it's a person at the chopsaw, not a computer. A small slip up on a small job and we've lost money. It's compounded by the fact that each spec is different and unlikely to repeat in the near future. How do you get workers of normal to above average ability to consistently defect on spec without personally supervising each job?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
Everyone in our shop oversees one another. One upmanship is super ceded by the end goal because all the employees are on a profit sharing deal after the first year. Consequently, firing of anyone is extremely rare with such high expectations out of everyone. Anyone who isn't pulling his weight pretty much hangs his head in shame and quits.

Enthusiastic people in general seem to work out better than the extremely experienced. Old burned out lazy know everything types don't seem to do well here. I like hearing "how we did it over at so and so," as we're always hip to learn new tricks. Not all the ideas are golden, but keeping an open active mind helps the enthusiasm level. Most people here go home and tinker in their home workshops, and comparing home projects is fun. If your people aren't happy doing what they do and are just looking for any old paying job, well, there are plenty of unemployed woodworkers out there.

From contributor V:
The best jobs I ever had were ones where we were incentivized by bonuses or commission - money above and beyond the base salary made us all work harder and the group cut out the under performers.

From contributor G:
Take examples of each defect and mount them on a panel to be placed near the chop saw operator's station. Label them A, B, C, D, etc. Include with the cutting instructions something like "No A, C or D". Having a visual reference may help the fallible human running the saw.

From contributor O:
As a sort of follow up to Contributor G, there are computerized defecting saws for both rip and cross cut, but now I am going to go run and hide because the cost is very high unless it allows you to drop a grade in purchasing and you use wood like a window manufacturing outfit.

On the more serious side what Contributor G offered is about as much on the spot supervision as possible, without you standing there. If that does not work then consider profit sharing. If not that, then fire the cutter and get a smarter one. (I know that is not easy.) On that thought would this not make a great position for an older fellow with some brains who needs a job, rather than a kid who is just showing up until something better comes along. I am reacting to your "How do you get workers of normal to above average ability to consistently defect on spec without personally supervising each job”? By suggesting that you may need to get a considerably above average worker for the job.

From the original questioner:
I just want to make our procedures more foolproof. In my opinion it's more of a procedure problem than a quality of worker issue. For example. if you look at a McDonald's cash register, the buttons have pictures of hamburgers, drinks, etc. It's not because they hire illiterate workers. It's harder to hit the wrong key than it would be with words written out. A $100,000/year manager will perform better with the picture buttons than without them.

From contributor M:
I feel your pain. A good saw operator is as important as just about anyone in the shop, and he can make you or break you in a heartbeat. We went to a Raimann saw a year ago which helps, but it still is the operator’s choice, and man can they make some sorry choices. The other day our second string operator ripped what should have been a clear board that had a big old knot a foot from the end. When asked why, his comment was they always order a foot longer than they really need so it would work. We have also taken the battle back to our vendors, and ship back what doesn't work before we rip. The quality of our lumber coming in has gone to crap, and I am tired of trying to "make it work" and warehousing a bunch of useless fall off.

From contributor K:
I like the board with the examples of defects on it. I also like the idea of realizing that this is actually an important job and should be left to someone with skills and knowledge. It is too easy to think that a particular task is easy for an experienced person so a person with no skill should be able to handle it easily. Our shop is having problems and one of the main ones is to think that more bodies means more work goes out of the shop. We have found this to be incorrect as the people who know what to do cannot do it because people who have no idea are now in the way. Hire people who know what they are doing and can teach others what they know. Someone who thinks they know everything is useless unless they can actually perform. I have found that they cannot, it is just fiction. Also people have to be able to think in three dimensions, some cannot.