Work Experience 20: Cabinet Maker
Some of my favourite experiences on this adventure are those where I’ve been able to get my hands dirty (literally at times). This is because not only am I learning about a new career or business at each job, but also because in many cases I’m doing something I’ve never done before. It’s the chance to tick things off my bucket list that I hadn’t even thought to write on it yet. Walking a baby camel, using a fire hose, arranging a beautiful bunch of flowers, riding a John Deere mower, taking horse x-rays, sanding furniture that I’ve painted…it’s all been so much fun. When I was offered the opportunity to do work experience for my cousin Beau Small in his cabinet making business, Cabinetry Queensland, I was excited at the thought of getting to use some tools in the workshop. It may also have had something to do with the fact that it’s located at Coolum at the Sunshine Coast, which meant I could hit the beach after work. Yay!
Beau’s company, Cooper Small, undertakes both commercial and residential construction works. Cabinetry Queensland is a cabinet making business which trades under the Cooper Small banner. One of the beautiful spaces they helped to create is shown in the picture below.
What did I do?
It’s an early 7am start for Beau and his team at their headquarters. After being introduced to my new colleagues it was time for the Monday morning meeting. An agenda had been prepared, and each item on it was discussed such as which projects have been quoted on, the status of projects that were currently being undertaken, and future opportunities.
Day 1 was interesting, as Beau had quite a few appointments to attend out of the office, and he let me come along for the ride. One was a home renovation project that his business had recently completed for a customer, and Beau wanted to check to see if everything was to her satisfaction. What a beautiful home, a small Queenslander positioned to overlook a rolling acreage property in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Beau was genuinely interested in chatting with the owner, and was happy to follow up with any concerns she had. As someone who has done home renovations before and had some not-so-customer-focussed tradespeople doing work for me (and many fantastic ones too), it was lovely to see that Beau was all about customer service. So much work in the construction industry is through word of mouth, so quality work and good customer service is essential in my opinion.
Next we drove to Maroochydore to do a handover with the business owner and staff of an accountancy firm that had just expanded into larger premises. The office space required a complete fitout, including individual offices, desks and storage, reception desk, boardroom, team meeting and work space, kitchen and bathroom. Beau’s clients were thrilled with the work, and were very excited about moving in the following week.
After that we met Beau’s gorgeous family for lunch at Mooloolaba Wharf. It was a beautiful Summer’s day, and the whole time we were at lunch I was trying to work out how I could work and live at the coast again. My first teaching job waaaay back in 1999 was in Noosa at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast, and I loved every bit of it. What an amazing lifestyle! People pay to holiday there (and I’m one of them) and these guys just get to pop down to the beach or canals on their lunch break. So lucky!!
When my belly was full of fish, calamari and chips (essential beach eating), we headed back to the office. Beau and his colleague Matt had to do a teleconference with an interstate client to discuss the detailed design and drawings for the fitout of a bowling alley venue. There was a lot to discuss, as the fitout included everything but the bowling alley itself, such as the reception area, dining area, seating and bathrooms. There were many drawings for each space, showing different angles and including which materials would be used. Essentially it was an opportunity for the client to be certain of what they were getting in relation to the detailed design and materials, and for Beau and Matt to be certain that they were providing exactly what the client wanted before they started undertaking work. The meeting took at least an hour, but was an important one. Afterwards the client was issued a contract to be signed to show both parties agreed to the work that was to be carried out.
Before I knew it, 3pm rolled around, and it was time for me to leave for the day. I collected my kids and mother-in-law (we were staying at their place for a couple of nights), and headed straight to the beach. Seriously, who wouldn’t want this lifestyle? An early morning start, early afternoon knock-off, and beach on the doorstep. Happy days!
Day 2 was a completely different day, as I was heading into the workshop. Beau thought it’d be a great idea for me to be involved in the design and construction of a cabinet, so that I could get a full understanding of the process they go through when designing and constructing cabinetry for their clients. As it turned out, I was in the market for a new cabinet and bench for my laundry. What a coincidence! (Seriously…I had no idea we were going to do this, and had to get my husband Tim to measure up the space after he’d finished work the night before.) What I was after was a 2-door base cabinet with a bench covering it, but extending further to fly over the top of my washing machine.
Draftsman/cabinet maker Anthony was given the task of turning Tim’s rough hand-drawn plan and measurements into a functional and practical architectural drawing using the Microvellum CAD program. I was able to see pictures of the front-on view, plan elevation and isometric views, so I was certain of what I’d be getting. For paying customers, a disclaimer would be added at the bottom of the drawings for them to sign, to show they agree with the design, effectively giving the go-ahead for works to begin.
Once the detailed drawings of my cabinet and bench were done, the program compiled a spreadsheet of all of the components required, and put them into a cutting list for the CNC (cutting machine) using code. The final stage in the office was to print stickers for each component on the cabinet.
This was the moment my sandals came off (literally kicking them off under the table) and my work boots went on. I’m quite amazed at how much use I’ve had from my trusty Blundstones on this adventure, and you can tell by the state of them!
In the workshop after the CNC machine had been turned on and given time to warm up, Anthony and Beau placed a large piece of whiteboard in position on the machine before I pressed start. And away it went! The machine cut each of the pieces of the cabinet that were required, such as the doors, shelves, sides, and kickers. It even cut each of the holes needed for screws. Before moving any of the pieces, we placed the stickers on each component, according to the layout that had been printed from the computer. Even with a relatively small cupboard, if we didn’t have a guide as to which piece was which it would’ve been really difficult to work out.
Once the stickers were on, it was time to use the edge banding machine. It’s clear on each sticker which sides of the cabinetry components need to be edged, and they’re the ones that would be seen once the cabinet is constructed. You can imagine a cupboard door being cut straight from a large sheet of whiteboard has a raw edge. The edging makes it look neat, clean and finished. The edge banding machine uses a roll of edging material, which is attached using hot glue as the cabinet component is fed through the machine.
Next, we needed to scrape off any remnants of glue, and file where two pieces of edging met at a corner to make them feel smooth. Using the stickers again to work out which piece was which, we put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and constructed the base cabinet. I used an electric drill to screw in many of the screws, using the pre-drilled holes as a guide, and then used a nail gun along the edges to ensure each piece was securely in place.
After that, we used a different machine to cut an extra protective layer for the kickers, which were then sprayed evenly with glue and attached. Finally, the bench piece was cut to size and put through the edge banding machine.
The cabinet was complete! Luckily for me, I was able to lay one of the back seats of my car down, and fit the fully constructed base cabinet and bench in for my return trip to Brisbane.
For the remainder of the day, I spent time with Beau’s Accounts Manager Jane. She showed me how to process purchase orders and invoices, and also explained the business’s cash flow spreadsheet which she frequently updates. This spreadsheet tells a lot about what is going on in the business such as when money is due to come in, go out, or has been paid. It’s also useful for planning and forecasting work. Jane’s other duties involve liaising with the accountant, paying staff wages, and organising vehicle services, registration, insurance and any other bills to be paid by the business.
What did I learn?
It was great to see a business of this size in operation, and get an understanding the many different roles people have within it.
In terms of the design and construction of cabinetry, I learnt about the importance of having accurate measurements and quality control in the manufacturing, so that when the materials are taken to site they fit exactly. Any mistakes can cost Beau’s business a lot of time, money and loss of reputation, so need to be avoided.
I also confirmed that living in a location like the Sunshine Coast has many perks. I would never get bored of going to the beach every day before or after work. Love it!
Beau shared some interesting insight into his career as the business owner of a construction company in my interview with him. Click here if you’d like to check it out.