Quality and Service Issues with Outsourced Cabinet Doors

A long discussion of how large-volume specialty door companies address occasional defects in the products they ship. March 6, 2008

Out of an order of about 35 doors from a well-known door company which was recommended to me on this web site, I got two of these bozos with the designer knot holes (sorry for the glare in the photo). I called the company and, after submitting an email photo of the situation, they promptly sent me two replacements.

I liked that - good customer service. The only problem was that, on one of the replacement doors, there was an alder stave in the glued-up center panel (these were cherry doors). So now what do I do? Call back the door company again? Or do I just try to "tone in" the alder piece in the finishing process? I usually use some burnt umber tinted clear coat to tone cherry anyway, since it has so much color variation if you don't, and customers are known to freak out over color variation.

Anyway, for all you yahoos who sing the praises of outsourcing like an angelic choir whenever the subject comes up, I have never found an alder stave or knot hole in a clear cherry door job I have done myself.

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Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
I think that this can be a good reason to outsource. If it is wrong, they redo it for free. It clears you of liability. You really have never had a knot show up in a profile that wasn't there before? My guess is that you have, but you rebuilt the door before you shipped the job. Even though the door didn't get rejected, you still had to pay for it twice. This wouldn't happen on an outsourced door.

From contributor I:
I second the second post. They redid at no charge. Maybe needed tuning up on the phone on second one. I build doors and when you're being pushed hard, things will fly by. They're probably a huge company, and things will get through - you know it and I know it, and everyone else here knows it. Just how it gets handled after it happens - that's the difference.

From contributor T:
That is just one of the reasons I make my own doors and dovetail drawers. If there is a problem, you can replace it today. Not to mention profit - if you are set up properly for doors (all dedicated machines - no setup time), it's very profitable. Same for dovetail drawers, and the newbie can be making them in 30 minutes. I have bought both before and still had to work on them.

From contributor E:
Sure they redo it for free - they didn't do it right in the first place, so how could they charge to fix it? But now you and your client are waiting, and when it comes the second time and it is wrong again...?

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against outsourcing doors. Heck, I might even try it myself one of these days. But I do agree that some people here make it sound like it's the only option. I make my own doors and drawers and don't have to worry about finding knots or incorrect woods in the panels because I mill everything myself. Maybe that's the advantage of being a small shop. You can build everything in house and still make money.

From contributor L:
Unless you inspect your order when it comes off the delivery truck, then you can not refuse delivery, and the return shipping is at your expense. Not to mention the down time in transit. If you are really under the gun and opt for express ship, then you pretty much lose the outsource advantage (if there is such a thing). What works well is to have a local supplier that you can pick up from. The quality and turnaround is pretty consistent and you have control of the substantial shipping costs.

From contributor I:
When I bought doors, I used a somewhat local guy. Not great quality, but very sellable. If there was a goof up, he made a replacement immediately. I could pick up or he would deliver. I might be in a bind (rush), so he would help me out and push my order through. I like to think of this as a business partnership, maybe an extension of your business. I produce for my customers faster than they can instruct their employees to do it, and at a lower cost. 30.00 spent doesn't necessarily mean you lost 30.00 or you made 30.00. Downside? Just find someone kind of local; I'd never order doors from out of state or even out of a long drive distance.

From contributor D:
The fundamental truth here is that absolutely no one cares as much about your work as you do. To outsource is to shift responsibility to someone else, and take on the added risk of the vendor's willingness to pick up that same level of responsibility. No matter what, you are just a customer - maybe a good one, maybe a small one, but just a customer nonetheless.

While many of us have informal agreements with vendors in place where this responsibility is traditional - lumber sawing and drying, delivery companies, maybe even finishers - any outside supplier can become a problem before you even know it. Then it is too late. When the vendor agrees to replace the doors at no cost, then do you get to backcharge them for the lost time, aggravation, phone calls, faxes, e-mailed photos, etc. it takes to remedy the situation? Will they call the customer and make the apology for you? And keep the customer smiling?

From contributor F:
Yeah, contributor D has got this right on. I have been plying this trade for some thirty years. Along the way I have learned how to insure quality in every aspect of my work. If I need to outsource my doors, I know that they are going to be made by several individuals that probably have one or two years experience at the most. They sell these doors at a very low cost and you can't do that if you are paying someone with my experience.

I no longer expect to outsource a cabinet door that is ready to seal the minute it comes into my shop. It will need to be sanded, inspected for the occasional glue fingerprint, etc.

Example - current customer expected cabinets as fast as take out food, so I bought the doors. Glass doors came in with the rabbet at one full sixteenth wider than the door company specs. To make it worse, the doors were all 1/16 wider than my order size, which meant I needed to remove even more stock from the width of the doors so that the pairs would clear each other, since I had to lessen my planned overlay amount to keep the edge of the hinge boss from hanging over the too wide rabbet. Since the doors were already three weeks late, I didn't have the luxury of having them make new ones that were correct. I had to fix them myself.

From contributor Y:
Several years ago, when I first thought about outsourcing my doors, I was referred to Kendor Woods in Mayfield, KY. Only door company I've ever used. Over that time, I have probably bought in the neighborhood of 20,000 or more doors from them. Of those I guess I've had a problem with maybe 15 or 20 doors for various reasons (a small ding, 2 panels that weren't square, a cope/stick joint cracked). Not a bad percentage, in my opinion. Of those, they have always replaced them in 4-5 business days, no questions asked. I never have to touch them with a sander.

I know many are down on outsourcing. I guess I have just been lucky. I plug them any time I can because I've gotten very good service. Now, they are definitely not $17 a door! The two other local shops I know of who outsource their doors use a company that is closer to us and I have heard they pay about $25 per up to a certain size, but the quality is not nearly what I have gotten from Kendor. Maybe give them a try. I know that they have really helped my business, being able to rely on them. Their lead time is usually 8-10 working days, and doors always arrive the day they say.

As a side note, a local shop has recently started to produce doors and have contacted me about using them. They sent me a sample door. On the back they had routed a "window" to see inside their joints. It is a regular cope/stick joint, but they dowel that joint as well. Ever seen this?

From contributor Z:
We do our cope and sticking with Leitz insert tooling. The tenon is a full 1/2 inch deep. We also dowel every corner. The dowel adds 2 minutes per door.

From contributor B:
If this is the same mega door company in Texas that I buy that exact style of door from, it is obvious that either you did not specify "select cherry" or they misunderstood your order. The non-select doors will have much smaller pieces in their glued up panels and allow for small defects. Make sure you review your confirmation.

The lightness in color where the pull was seems to indicate that this door was in your shop and in process or installed for a while before someone decided it wasn't up to spec. If doors are QCd upon arrival, that particular door could have been replaced before it was installed.

I have had a good relationship with this company for several years. They have never given me a hard time when I need a door replaced. But I am watching their quality.

From the original questioner:
Yes, I did order "select" cherry from this mega door company, and as I said, my entire order was of that quality. Why they just sent two doors (they were actually a pair) which had obvious knots is beyond me, just as the fact that the replacements had such an obvious defect as a piece of another species wood.

Apparently they don't spend a lot of time on inspection, even for replacements! But they do seem to have a policy of giving you a no-hassle replacement when you complain, as if they realize they are a little sloppy in the production process. Like I said, they were quite courteous with me.

The only other defects that the order as a whole had were the usual ones: little shaper chips at some of the corners and edges, some unfilled nail holes, cracks, and pin knots, some glue spots, and a couple of places where there was rough sanding left in the center of glue-up panels where all the grits on their drum sander didn't contact the surface. Just the typical crap, really.

The doors came by special interstate shipper in sturdy, flat cardboard boxes and were not in the least damaged by shipment. Then, about a week after that shipment, a single large door came by UPS (I hadn't yet used the first shipment and didn't realize that one door was missing - but apparently they were on top of it and did notice). This single door had been almost destroyed by UPS, apparently by throwing the box, since the box wasn't the slightest bit crushed or damaged. I glued the door frame back together, which had been broken at the joints.

From contributor X:
Same thing here. I am using one of the big companies in California and getting the same type of problems. A few months ago I ordered a set of select red oak doors. One upper door had a piece of quarter-sawn white oak glued up in the center of the panel and another had a dime sized knot in it. I don't know why they won't put one good quality-control person at the end of the line so these things don't get shipped. I understand that they don't employ skilled woodworkers and that mistakes will be made, but the time that I lose waiting for the new doors to come is what kills me. Every time I have to reorder a door, I get one step closer to investing in my own machinery. Seems that finding quality products in this business is getting harder every day.

From contributor Q:
Well, it's funny. I build doors for a couple of local contractors and shops. I bet that we spend more time selecting and milling stock and laying up panels than they would if they could afford to build their own doors. But it is certainly more satisfying and fun to work that way, and to pay employees to think about the process with the final kitchen in mind. ("What's that pair of doors going to look like hung together?") We have certainly learned to throw away that odd piece of wood rather than try to work it in and have it stick out like a sore thumb later.

Compared to other outsourced doors that I've seen in their receiving areas, we have better stock selection, but our finish sanding still isn't quite as nice. As we grow and continue to invest in equipment, that will fall in line, too. Our doors are flat, though! And I have seen a cherry stave in an alder door - glad it wasn't mine!

I have no interest in shipping my doors, so this isn't meant as an advertisement. I like knowing my customers and getting a personal thank-you for putting the occasional rush order through. So I would have to agree that a partnership arrangement with a local supplier might be the best of both worlds. I even have certain styles that I only sell to a specific customer who brought them to me. It has cost me business from "me too" shops, but the relationship is worth it in the long run. $17/SF, maybe!