The word “quality” is chronically overused in today’s society. Everything is billed as being quality-made from quality materials. It’s easy to become hardened to the term, it means less every time you hear it. I am guilty of being a little overzealous with the Q word myself as I describe Jewett Farms + Co. So it occurred to me that maybe it was time to take a step back and show all you nice people out there on the internet exactly why I will probably continue to over-use the word “quality”.
The earliest cabinets were designed to store important papers and valuables, by virtue of the preciousness of their contents, cabinets were considered to be worthy of the best craftsmanship and often incorporated lavish finishes, in the form of precious woods, inlay, marquetry, veneering, and carving. As a result, the cabinetmaker became the most highly regarded woodworker.* Before the advent of industrial design, the cabinet maker was responsible for the conception and the production of any piece of furniture.
With the industrial revolution and the application of steam and electrical power to cabinet making tools, mass production techniques were gradually applied to nearly all aspects of cabinetmaking, and the traditional cabinetshop ceased to be the main source of furniture, domestic or commercial. In parallel to this evolution there came a growing demand by the rising middle class in most industrialized countries for finely made furniture. Over time, the desire for higher productivity and lower cost has moved cabinetmaking from an art to a method of production, and many traditional cabinetmakers have been replaced by factory workers.
However, the art of cabinetmaking is still alive and well, and Jewett Farms + Co. is proof of that. When Mike Myers and Matthew Lord discussed what kind of a company they wanted to build their focus was clear, to create a culture of craftsmanship that blended traditional skills with modern innovation. How did they do this? By hiring and training cabinetmakers, not assembly line workers. There’s a widespread model in large scale cabinet production where workers focus on one area and do that all day – the door department, drawer assembly. Each area is separate and focused only on what they do, day in and day out. There’s no doubt that this model is efficient, but it is far from the craftsmanship that cabinetmaking is founded on.
In the JF Shop there are no production lines. We work in a different way, a way that requires skill and focus from all our cabinetmakers, all the time. Each project that comes into the shop is assigned to one or two cabinetmakers who are charged with the whole project. From milling the materials to creating every cabinet box, drawer, and door. They know each project inside and out. They dry fit before finish is applied and then do the final fit when the last coat is complete. They even wrap everything for delivery. Start to finish, soup to nuts, they know it all.
There are a couple of different reasons for this. The first is that having a craftsman with the skills to do every part of a project means that the overall level of quality (there’s that word again) is far superior than simply assembling parts made by many different people. The end result is the best it can possibly be, which of course is the way we want it for your kitchen! But the second reason is less about business and more about people. We value our cabinetmakers and want them to stay with us. We feel that the long term effect of building the same door over and over again is less positive for an individual than the ability to develop a rounded skill set, to hone skills and become a master of their craft. That seems like a career, not just a job.
Don’t get me wrong, we are all about innovation and utilizing technology, we own and use a CNC machine which cuts all our plywood to the specific sizes needed. There are definitely some jobs that are more labor-oriented than skilled and everyone in our shop is happy to offload them to a machine. But when it comes down to it, we want the best, most well-rounded craftsmen building our work. Because that’s what quality really is.
*Read more: http://www.finewoodworking.com/woodworking-plans/article/a-short-history-of-cabinets.aspx#ixzz4AupO3D3L