Recently, I was able to take the free Stickley Factory Tour in Manlius, NY, just outside of Syracuse. This huge building is where virtually all the Stickley furniture is made – some of the more inexpensive furniture is made in (Ugh) Vietnam. They give a free factory tour every Tuesday at 10am. Since it’s only about 1.5 hrs away, I took the tour.
I was hoping to glean helpful ideas from the tour, and I did, and I’ll share them with you.
Our first stop on the tour is where they make custom pieces – you, as a customer, like a certain table, but you’d like it all in cherry, and a bit smaller. One dedicated guy will make the whole piece; the only thing he won’t do is finish it. They had quite a bit of incredible equipment – a band saw with a throat depth of 2′, and a blade 4 inches wide – which you would expect. They are given mechanical drawings, and off they go. In this area, we also met a guy who’s dedicated to making jigs. He’s told “This is the part we need to make, now make us a jig (or several jigs) that we need to make it. No plans for the jigs, he has to figure it out. Ugh. However, the lesson is, use jigs as often as possible to help with accuracy, cut more safely, and more efficiently.
We then entered the massive stockpile of lumber – Quartered white, cherry, sapelle, walnut, etc. A bundle was perhaps 10 feet wide by 12 feet tall, and probably 16 long. I saw at least 40 of these bundles on racks to the ceiling. Surprisingly, the grade of the wood is only B and C, not the A you would think. I’m not sure why they do it this way, but I would say it’s a lot less costly, and they can still get a lot of usable lumber out the wood (we were told 50% of the wood is wasted, used for heating the plant, shredded for farmers, etc).
The wood is scanned by a computer that takes hundreds of photos per second of all four sides, and decides the best way to cut it for least amount of waste. How and where it goes from there to get cut, I couldn’t hear (it’s quite loud in the factory, of course). I did see guys sorting out pieces that were cut, according to grade and size, and someone would make a pile on a pallet, to be used later.
Next, we came to a glue-up station, where they would glue up large blocks of long pieces, I’m guessing for large turned table legs. A worker would glue the pieces, stack them, maybe four high, then put them on a slightly-tilted-from-vertical bed. He’d put maybe 5 of these atop each other, then a large angle iron would be pressed down hydraulically onto these piles. He was doing several glue-ups at once, and using not clamps, but presses. Very efficient. The glue was Titebond, but colored a pale red, and I assume it would set up quickly.
We were informed that they do in fact use CNC machines for some work, placing a large plywood sheet down on a bed, being held in place by suction, and a computer would cut out the parts. I assume these parts were things like the backs of bookcases, or other case work.
NEXT: Mass cutting and assembly.