Rebuilding a Burnt-Down Shop

A shop owner is making a fresh start after a fire, and he has questions about layout, ceiling height, square footage, et cetera. November 23, 2012

My 7500 square foot cabinet shop just burned to the ground. The building used to be my grandfather's hardware store. It was not perfect, as the ceilings in 2400 square feet of it were just under 8' and I could not even stand a sheet of plywood up.

I have always built face frame cabinets but have been wanting to switch over to frameless. As I plan to rebuild, I have lots of questions and am taking any advice I can get. I plan to get a CNC router. Also a forklift, which I have never had before. What type of floor plan layout works? What ceiling height minimum would you recommend? Minimum shop size? I was a 2 -3 man shop and plan to stay that size or smaller. Minimum equipment recommendations? While retooling the entire shop I am trying to learn what equipment is needed for frameless and just where to start.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Are you rebuilding in the same 7500' square foot space? If you are, I'd spec the ceiling at 16' minimum. For frameless, I'd get a case clamp, vertical panel saw, slider (with miter capability), best edgebander I could afford, and racks for material storage. Put that forklift to use.

I don't care what anyone else says, but dowels are the quickest and most efficient way (not the strongest) to construct a frameless cabinet. The case clamp will prove its worth with dowels. And it's great for cold press clamping too. If you make doweled drawers, the case clamp can squeeze 'em square all at once (if they are all the same size) in no time. A few staples through the bottoms, and done. I could go on all day about the utility of the case clamp and dowels. But alas, I am now without case clamp. I miss you, case clamp.

From contributor J:
Sorry to hear about your fire. 12 foot ceiling would be good, 14 would be plenty - don't forget, even in South Carolina you will have to heat that space. CNC is a great idea and there are a lot of other possibilities that you can do with it other than build cabinets. The floor plan I would keep as open span as possible. There will be people who disagree with me on this, but it is a very good idea to go with frameless cabinets. I wouldn't give completely up on the face frames. We do both. Because we build what our customers want us to build.

One good thing about the timing of this fire - the cost of good used machinery is way down right now, and there are some deals to be had on new stuff. With frameless you will need either a good sliding table saw or a panel saw that will cut your sheet goods true. Frameless is quicker and easier to put together but must be built more precise. You pretty well should know what you need with face frame cabinets. One of the other nice things about frameless is you can get away with a minimum amount of tools with the exception of the saw for a while. One thing you could do to fill the gap is outsource as many of your cabinets as possible to meet any deadlines you might have had. There are several good outfits around that will make everything and send you all the pieces.

From the original questioner:
Thank y'all for your responses. I do plan on building in the same place. I want enough space in a building not to ever feel cramped or outgrow it, but I also need to balance a tool budget along with the building budget.

From contributor L:
If you want to do frameless, a CNC with tool changer and drill box is the way to go. If it's in the budget, I'd get one that can load and push off while cleaning the bed. Doweling and case clamping is fastest. If you can't get the case clamp yet, you can Confirmat. You still need an edge bore. Get a good bander, not what they sell as entry level. If you plan any commercial work it should do 3mm PVC well. Profile scraping and buffing are very desirable. With a decent set of frameless equipment you will be able to put out a lot more work than with the same body count doing face frame. Get some decent software.

From contributor Y:
I feel for you! Went through a plant fire years ago (~20k square foot CNC shop) and rebuild as well as building a plant from scratch. I currently have a much smaller, more efficient 2k sq ft CNC shop. We build almost exclusively frameless/euro.