Tooling Up for Efficient Custom Wood Window Production

Advice on tooling and construction methods for speeding up the process of setting up to build custom windows in small quantities. July 15, 2012

I build windows and storms for older/historic homes. My products are 1.25" thick storm windows, traditional 1.375" thick residential, 1.75" thick light commercial and 2.25" thick heavy commercial windows. I also build a custom window that varies in wood thickness from 1.5" to 1.625" thick. There are four or five different sash molding profiles for each size that I should offer.

The equipment I have is great for extended runs. Once setup, it is easy, but I'm often asked to make only one or two units per order. As you can imagine, between the tenon height and width and cope height and position, setup time on my Powermatic 2A tenoner and my four head Maka OC mortiser is ridiculous. I've just realized that maybe a European system would eliminate the need for dozens of cope cutters and hours of setup time on change over (I'd haunch and bevel the profiles). But I can't find enough information to identify the equipment I need. I thought the Accu-systems MMTJ would work, but it's for mitered joints. The Pade SCD and MDO system looked good, but it says it's handwheel adjustment. I think I need either templates or CNC for rapid changeover. Any ideas?

My current system is working and I have plenty of time to shop for the best buy on used machines, but I need to know what I'm looking for.

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor R:
As I understand your question, you will still have different cope and stick, but you need to have a better and quick way to do the mortise and tenon. Do your cope and stick as you would normally, but use a horizontal slot mortiser to make mortises in the rails and stiles and use loose tenons. You can slip one odd custom piece in the middle of a production and not miss a beat. We use our slot mortiser for doweling as well. Can't get any simpler and faster for custom and production runs than with a slot mortiser.

From contributor D:
Stacked cutterheads. In other words, ignore the barrel cutters on your tenoner and just get large diameter stacked tooling. Cut the cope and tenon in one pass. Have matching profile cutterheads with the same spacing. Setup is only as long as it takes for the spindle tooling to be swapped and height set for the cope, and for the sticking the fence might have to be set up, dialing in with a few sample cuts, maybe 15 minutes. I think this is preferable to loose tenons, but that method is cheaper.

Smaller diameter tooling, and smaller machinery to run them is possible. Stab the mortise with a chain or chisel mortiser. Setup there is with handwheels for in/out or up/down and changing bar and chain (usually one nut for this) for larger or smaller mortises. We are a custom door and window shop and this is how we do windows. Most doors I do using a CNC router or combination of it and conventional machines, whichever is faster or better. We have no brand loyalty. There are all kinds of machines in our 66,000 sq foot shop, and it all gets used.