Outsourcing Cabinet Boxes to CNC Shops

Outsourcing custom cabinet panel cutting to a CNC shop is a workable system for some businesses. March 18, 2006

I have a very small, part-time shop. I never expected to be starting a business. Most of you would probably consider me “the bad guy” (none of my customers were able to pay the going rates, but bartered for equivalent services). Now due to a strong desire to go back to a non-corporate job, some increased demand, and impending downsizing, I am exploring my options. I am doing this as a business, not a hobby.

I have noticed that many folks are outsourcing (not to China, just a local shop) drawers and doors. Is anyone using a service like the eCabinets CNC to outsource the actual cabinet box? What have your experiences been in regard to quality of materials used and quality of product (assembled and parts), accuracy of hole placement, reliability of delivery?

I do not expect the quality will be better than in-shop for most of you. I wonder if this is an acceptable starting point for a startup that is primarily limited by space and needs to work a second job during transition. My intention is to actually purchase some boxes from them for personal use before starting a business on this service.

I have read the archives and started successful businesses in the past. I am to the point of developing the “how” in the business plan.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor C:
A lot of shops outsource most everything and are very successful. If you outsource everything, you are doing prefab modular cabinets, which works for many people.

As far as the Thermwood question, I don't know. If you use e-Cabinets, this is your best bet, but you are very limited in the number of shops that can upload your data. I only outsource doors myself, but I hear that regardless of what software you use, the CNC shop usually has to modify the data to make it CNC-ready because most customers do not take the time to do this themselves.

From contributor R:
I outsource my boxes through an e-Cabinets CNC shop. It works great! I drop ship the materials and e-mail the completed file and my boxes get delivered in about 3-4 days. We do the assembly and finishing. I also outsource the doors and drawer boxes. We don't break down sheet goods very often anymore. This has really increased the production of my little shop.

From the original questioner:
As much as I hate to say it, I think that for now the prefab market is what I need to target. I would hate to build an inferior product due to lack of high quality tools and adequate space. Not to mention my initial survey of local contractors shows that most people here are very cost sensitive. They all say they want quality, but must fudge for the price. My experience with mel tells me that I need some tooling before I go full scale.

And just so you know, I have checked and all the "real shops" here are refusing new customers. I am hoping to sub some of the small stuff for a shop around the corner. Even if I go prefab, I hope to add accent pieces in house. Do what I do best, let others to their thing. Kind of looking for the niche.

Contributor R, you provide the raw materials? Was this your choice or the way the program works? Have you tried any pre-finished options? Do you find that the savings (overhead, man hours, hardware costs) justify the risk? On the point contributor C was making, do you have to tweak things beyond the eCab defaults before sending to the CNC shop?

I do like the eCab software. Very familiar to me, as it is reminiscent of some early 3d animation software I used. Haven't looked into anything else yet. I was planning a software evaluation a little later.

The conversation on shop rate determination was very informative. Forced me to look at some of the things I do now a little different. Specifically, that non-productive time needed to be factored in to the numbers. I am very glad I found this site before I started to make big mistakes.

From contributor R:
Using the outside CNC shop, I control everything. I choose and pay for the material, I control the design exactly the way I want it (all within e-cabs). If you use e-cabs you know you can change the design to match your own construction methods. I do framed and frameless cabinets using blind dado construction. Most cabinets I sell are melamine, some are laminate and I sometimes use pre-finished maple ply. All are cut on the CNC router.

I have fixed costs, no risk. No labor slippage on cutting the boxes and no mistakes or missing parts. I end up with a high quality, very accurately cut (better than anyone can do on any table saw) product. This shop does all the edgebanding required, no matter if it is framed or frameless cabinets. I sometimes provide the correct color PVC edgebanding that matches my finish.

I am told there are many shops across the country that offer similar services for e-cab users.

From contributor A:
I too use ecabs and outsource my boxes to a guy with a Thermwood CNC. I will only cut a job that is too small to send out. The time savings for a small shop is unbeatable. While my plywood is being cut for one job, I am installing or designing another.

From contributor O:
I think you can come up with much more than just a prefab modular cabinet. Contributor A is dead on about installing and selling. That's where the profit is, not in the "do it all, keep it all" mindset. I am sure I would make more money if I just used my full shop as a kind of false front, so to speak, and really became an assembly shop, hiring $10.00 an hour help, and subbed out all countertops. I used to build them in the yard, and spray them in a 12x16 shed, working long hard days in order to pay the bills and stick enough back to build a decent shop and furnish it with decent machinery, but with today's tech, it would serve better to be used as a stage prop.

From contributor D:
I am one of the Thermwood CNC shops mentioned above. We accept eCabinets files from many of our customers, machine the parts, edgeband if necessary, strap them to a pallet and ship all over the country. We machine everything from simple melamine kitchen boxes to elaborate mahogany home theater cabinetry that we lovingly refer to as "puzzles."

We use 5 suppliers that deliver to the area 2 to 3 times a week. We can order the material for you, or accept delivery of the material you order. We service shops ranging from 1 and 2 man operations to 20 man operations that don't want to tie up their capital in the equipment, or go through the learning curve to get a CNC up and running.

One of my favorite customer comments, the day after I loaded a 15 sheet kitchen into his pick-up, is: "It took me three hours after I got back to the shop and I had the kitchen assembled. The first hour and a half was spent unloading and sorting the parts."