SAQs (Should ask Questions)
The Mission Woodworking difference. Things you should know about:
Mission Woodworking and Our Products
What separates Mission Woodworking from the rest of the pack.
Benefits of being a Mission Woodworking customer.
Experience You Can Trust
How long have you been at this? How long has Mission Woodworking been in business?
Automation-Customization Hybrid - How do you handle customization?
What does the "Mission" in your name signify?
Cost and Quality - How do you keep the cost of the product down?
Solid Wood versus Composite Building Materials - Why solid wood construction may not always be the best.
What you need to know about veneer.
Should I be concerned about using MDF? Isn't there formaldehyde in MDF?
What you should know about finishes and the type of finish that you can expect.
Do you have a warranty on your craftsmanship? How do you protect your customers?
Pit-falls to avoid when shopping for these types of products.
There are a couple things that separate us from our competition. One of the biggest things is the level of technology that we have incorporated for a business our size. We are doing completely custom cabinetry and products day in and day out, probably 1000 parts per day, completely custom but in a production line setting. So rather than paying for custom cabinetry that you might from someone who is building one or two, you are getting the same level of quality without the high price.
Even though we are a small company compared to many of our competitors, we are a century ahead of them in terms of the technology we use. For example, instead of having six or ten people in the office programming orders, we have 2 to 3 people. As a result, our overhead costs are lower which is reflected in the price of our products. In some ways, we are really a novelty in the marketplace as it relates to technology. Most of our competitors won't even touch the type of customization we do on a regular basis. For example, someone might call in and place an order but wants slight customized changes specific to their situation. Most of our competitors won't do this type of unique customization for the customer because they are not set up in their manufacturing systems to handle it, but this is something we do all the time and handle it seamlessly.
Another breakthrough for us is the ability to take the information on the order form that the customer sees and signs, and feed that directly into production and then directly into the shipping without having to re-key or reenter any of the information. This is huge in terms of our ability to be efficient, minimizing errors, etc.
We are a small enough organization that the customer can often have direct access to the salesman or even the president of the company, to help with any questions or concerns. Conversely, we have a large enough shop facility that we can take on medium-sized to large commercial orders too. Some people will order several hundred cabinets at a time, while other customers will order only one. We have the capacity to handle a variety of different types of orders. And we have an interest in doing this because this is the type of thing we are good at.
Mission Woodworking has been in business since 1998. Since then, we have earned an A+ rating from the BBB and we are an accredited business, which means we meet certain industry standards, quickly resolving any consumer complaints. We have been a BBB member since 2002 and since that time we have not had one complaint filed with the BBB against our company. This doesn't mean that we have been perfect – we have made some mistakes – but we always try to take care of them, putting ourselves in the place of the customer. We believe that treating people right builds profits in the long term.
Most of the cabinet builders at Mission Woodworking have been involved with us for about 10 or 11 years, and some of them have worked with Kevin before that. They all have woodworking abilities that go beyond radiator covers. Kevin can walk out to the shop with a project with a CAD print and hand it to one of our workers and he already knows and understands it. Kevin can just say, “Here, I need this done and he does it.”
There are very few if any other companies in the US that have done this kind of work for this long. There are a lot of people trying to copy what we are doing and in some ways we consider that an honor. However, we have yet to find anybody who does it as well.
Mission Woodworking, Bristol, IN, was founded by Kevin and Pat Beck in 1998. However, the core team at Mission Woodworking has been in the quality woodworking business since 1990. At that time the company that Kevin was working with had a very different manufacturing style, and was not very efficient at producing covers. After about eight years, with the formation of Mission Woodworking, Kevin and his team came in with some ideas and began to refine the manufacturing process. It became an art and a science.
In most companies our size, if an order is placed for something that is fairly custom, the craftsmen will go out to his workshop and start cutting. We on the other hand, walk to a design engine software program and design the product in a software environment, after which we can release it to the shop. Because we do it this way, we spend far less time out in the shop producing the product that the customer envisions. We spend the time up front building the product in our design department on a computer where we can even test the fit, track the design process all the way through to completion, and see what it's going to look like and how it's going to function before we actually build it.
An example of this, last year I wanted to build a custom design product for my TV at home. I came into the computer and spent 2 – 3 hours designing it. When I got it the way I wanted it, then I went out and spent three hours building it. I did not have to do rework or correcting anything. This is the whole new style of manufacturing. And this was the beginning of our learning curve. Now just recently, one of my craftsmen brought me a rough sketch that his customer gave him of a highly custom cabinet that he wanted. I went to my computer, and in 15 min. had it designed and sent it back to my craftsmen out in the shop. Now he just hits a couple of buttons and the machine will cut it, and he will be ready to build it. And this type of approach is really the way that manufacturing is going. There is still a market for the highly custom cabinet where you can sell a product like a custom rounds table for $2500-$3000. But the average customer is not going to pay that much. What we are doing is bringing that level of quality to the products we make and yet keep our prices are extremely competitive. And this technology, which didn't exist three years ago, allows us to do this. So, technology plus our talented craftsmen allow us to produce high quality and yet maintain very competitive pricing. Are we perfect? No, but there is a difference in the type of quality of product and service we provide.
It has a dual meaning. Our primary furniture products are of the ‘Mission/Prairie’ style. And second, our company was founded to serve each customer with excellence so that we can give generously to human need around the world. See Our Mission.
The combination of talented craftsmen and technology allows us to keep the cost of our products at a very competitive level while at the same time keeping the quality at a very high level. Here's what we mean: one of our company's founding principles has been to take talented, gifted individuals and give them the tools they need to be really productive. What we didn't want to do is to hire a bunch of people at minimum wage which means you have a high turnover rate, which means that the level of quality is very hard to maintain at a high level. Instead, our craftsmen are very talented. Plus we have invested in capital equipment which means that the prices we charge have not gone up much with inflation but have remained fairly steady.
Along with this we continue to make improvements in our manufacturing efficiencies. For example we continue to invest in software so we can write our own bridge programs which allow us to connect our database directly to the manufacturing software programs of all our routing and cutting machinery. This allows us to be extremely efficient both in terms of time and material usage. We continue to hear comments from our industrial partners that we are a rarity in the market with the size of our company. There are lots of $200 million companies doing what we are doing. But you will not find many companies our size with this type of advanced technology in manufacturing. So we're pretty proud of this!
There is a myth out there that says if something is made completely of solid wood, it is high quality and if something is made using fiberboard or plywood, the quality is lacking. But the truth is you can have a product that is made of solid wood which lacks in quality. While on the contrary, you can also have a product that is made of fiberboard and plywood which is a high quality product. The difference is in the type of company, and the talents of the craftsmen who use these different products.
At Mission Woodworking, we use both solid wood as well as fiberboard and some plywood material depending on the situation. The rationale behind this is as follows. When we take a tree and cut it down, we then have to dry that material after we cut it into chunks of wood. It then goes through a number of steps, but ultimately you use some sort of kiln or oven to dry it out and prevent it from taking on a lot of moisture after that. The reality is, however, real hardwood will continue to absorb moisture through the seasons. So, during the summer in a high humidity climate, this wood takes on some of the humidity that is in the air and when it does it will tend to grow in the width, not length. Then, in the winter when it is dry it will lose some of that moisture, and thus contract and shrink. Sometimes you can see as much as 7% shrinkage. And with furniture, you have to allow this to happen so that there is no damage from the process of shrinking and expanding.
With this in mind, when you put this real wood in a large flat surface covering a radiator or baseboard heat source were you have a lots of dry heat, you open up that piece of wood to a lot of shrinkage in a high heat environment. This means that there is a high possibility that this wood is going to check or crack. And when this happens, there's really nothing you can do to fix it. When wood cracks like this, you're done. With furniture, you can get by with using solid wood if you are not beside the high heat source. Once you get a piece of wood and put it over a radiator or baseboard heater, you are going to have some trouble.
In the past we have done a few cabinets built of solid wood because the customer absolutely insisted we do it this way. But we did not provide any warranty on it whatsoever because of what I just described.
This is where MDF core within Oak veneer comes into play. Medium Density FiberCore is a very stable board not affected by this type of heat or humidity changes and was made for this type of industrial use. Not only that, but solid wood tends to be a much more expensive product. MDF makes a difference in the price for sure and it will be much higher quality in terms of the longevity of the product. The same baseboard cover, for example would cost 4 to 5 times the cost if made with solid wood. Even so, the main reason we use it is because it is more stable and production friendly. We use solid wood on all of the grill parts because all of the grill parts are smaller in size and so the shrinkage from summer to winter is not an issue.
On our Oak products, we use a solid Oak veneer. Because this veneer is so thin, it does not absorb nearly as much moisture and so does not have a problem with the expansion and contraction like a solid piece of wood does. In the past - 20 to 30 years ago - there were very negative things about veneer. Today however, the quality of veneers have improved drastically. Veneers are done with hot presses and a very different format which has eliminated the type of trouble you had with it breaking down as encountered years ago. Today with the new technology and the way veneers are made and applied, they are actually a very positive thing because you can get a much better grain match on flat surfaces, which obviously gives it a fantastic look. Another positive thing about veneer is that in a market driven by being green, veneer is a beautiful green product. Now you can take a tree that would've generated 1000 ft.² of material three quarters of an inch thick for example, instead with the veneer, the same tree can generate 10,000 to 20,000 ft.² Plus, the left over parts of this tree can be used to create the fiberboard – which is wood and sawdust and held together by non-formaldehyde glues. Because of these efficiencies, you get a lot better yield from that one tree. It's a great way to save and utilize the natural resources we have.
Formaldehyde is one of the products used in glues. MDF board has some glue in it to hold the fine pieces of sawdust together. So does plywood and a number of other sheeting products. All of the products that we manufacture usually contain some MDF material for the larger pieces. The smaller pieces like the slats in the grill, some of the trim, and front material is made out of solid oak or poplar.
Concerning formaldehyde in MDF, people probably have an unnecessary concern about having it in their home. The formaldehyde is typically released in the cutting. The most dangerous part of it is in the cutting with the dust produced during this process. This is where the biggest health issue is. We typically use a number of things to prevent or control the dust. While there is a possibility for a few months for there to be a low level release of the formaldehyde as it “sets up”, this typically happens right after the manufacturing of the raw material. Most times by the time we get the MDF here in our shop, do our work and then send out our products, you've already covered a lot of that time frame from the time the MDF is initially manufactured. For example, if it is manufactured December 1, it may get put on a rail car to the wholesaler we buy it from, which usually takes about two weeks. Usually, the MDF is ordered in large quantities, and so the majority of it will sit in their storage for several weeks as it gets used up. So the reality is, most of the MDF used in our products is already about 4 to 8 weeks beyond manufacturing by the time it gets to our facility and we do the work here.
The amount of formaldehyde in MDF now is much different than 30 years ago as glue technology has improved considerably since then. Currently, exposure to formaldehyde can be found in smog, cigarettes, fiberglass, carpet, permanent press fabrics, some paper products and some household cleaners.
Still the question remains, "Can the emission of formaldehyde reach harmful levels in the real world?" The primary concern is for industries using formaldehyde. The primary concern is not for the potential emission of formaldehyde released in the home because the release is so low, if any. So when we talk about formaldehyde in MDF products, the main concern is in the manufacturing of the MDF, especially at the mill, where they use formaldehyde in the glue. The main concern for us here at Mission Woodworking is in the cutting of the material. And this is why we have sawdust controls put in place to prevent the emission of much airborne dust of that material. As a side note, some vegetables actually create more release of formaldehyde than the MDF in our products (e.g. broccoli or cabbage)! These are the levels we are talking about.
On our radiator and baseboard covers, the top and sides are MDF board if painted, or a MDF board with a cherry or oak veneer on both sides if it is stained. For more information, see the attached MSDS form. The MDF we use is considered one of the lowest formaldehyde boards put out by any manufacturer in the states.
Finishes have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. What was once considered a great finish 20 years ago is no longer even looked at today. Today, we talk about “water white” finishes which means that when you look at the finish in a bucket or can, it is mostly the color of water. Years ago we would have talked about polyurethane finishes which were a yellow color. Polyurethane applied on a floor or a piece of furniture, eventually turns yellow as it ages. Polyurethane can also become brittle and chip and crack. Now, we have water white finishes which are more durable and do not discolor over time nearly to the extent that polyurethane will.
Our finishes take about 30 days to fully cure. During this 30 day period the finish may have an odor. Very few of our customers comment on this. But occasionally it will bother one of our customers. In this case, we encourage them to take the radiator cover or piece of furniture into a basement or garage or somewhere where it is out of the house and let it sit there for another week or two. The odor will dissipate and will eventually have no odor. This would be similar to what you get when you sit in a new car. It's kind of like that "new car smell” because when a new car is built and then shipped there is still curing going on from some of the interior components.
We currently offer a five-year warranty against defects in material and workmanship. However, most of the time this does not come and play. The biggest issue that we see relates to how people take care of their piece. I often tell our customers that the finish is similar to the finish on a car. So what you would do to or put on the hood of the car applies to your cabinet or piece of furniture. The point is, you wouldn't put stoneware directly on the finish of your car. You would put something down to protect it. So, the biggest problem that we have is when people put a planter on a cover and overwatering it so that water leaks out onto the finish – water gets trapped between the plate and the finish and sits there for several days. Or, they leave the window open and it rains in or the sprinkler shoots water into the window and gets on their furniture. And this dampness won't necessarily hurt the peace if it is wiped up immediately. However, the damage comes when the water or liquid is left for extended periods of time, especially if the surface has been lightly scratched. Then water exposes the weakness in the scratches in the finish and causes damage. Many times if we get into a situation where it is kind of a gray area as to whether or not it was workmanship or manufacturing defect, we will take care of the damage, but let the customer pay shipping. But by and large if you're careful what you put on it and how you treat it, the warranty is five years and no questions asked. If you get a piece of wood that splits or checks, you just send us a picture and will take care of it. Another big thing that we see is dogs or cats chewing on the product. Of course in this case we do not cover it under warranty but we can help them replace it.
Before you have someone build a heater cover for you make sure you know who you are working with. Make sure you are working with a company that has experience with this type of product. We have approximately a quarter century of experience of producing this type of product. There are a lot of cabinet makers out there who think they can make a product to cover hot water heat. But we already have been through our learning curve, and understand what goes into making a product like this which will actually be effective and last for the long term.
Questions to ask:
Does the company use the right kind of material? Are they allowing for the expansion and contraction that happens in a hot water/steam type of environment? Will this company be around in a year if there is a problem that needs to be fixed? Does the company understand the flow of air around hot water heat? There are times when we have turned down people's ideas because it would detract from the ability of the product to actually allow the heat to flow properly or to operate as it was intended. With regard to certain kinds of heat covering, we have one major US manufacturer who has said that their units may not be covered with any product except a Mission Woodworking product. And if you cover it with any other product, the warranty would be void. So these are important aspects to examine before you have somebody build a cover for you.