Joinery Techniques

A merger of two specialized cabinetry firms provides an
innovative solution to the challenge of finding skilled labour

Photo: Chris McKaskell, Paul Bilyea, Chris Haindl and Laurie Bilyea

TAKE TWO CABINETRY companies—one production-oriented, the other focused on individual custom pieces—bring them together under one roof, and what you end up with is a shop that caters to both ends of the spectrum, from high-tech to handcrafted.

Since opening in 1960, Cardinal Fine Cabinetry (cardinalfinecabinetry.com) has been known for its custom kitchens. Paul and Laurie Bilyea took over the company three years ago, at a time when four of the five employees in the custom shop part of the plant were within reach of retirement.

McKaskell Haindl Design Build (mhdbonline.com) has been making custom furniture since 1995. Owners Chris McKaskell and Chris Haindl needed eight sets of hands to keep up with demand, but a couple of years ago attrition reduced the company’s workforce to four.

“By joining forces, we have the cutting-edge manufacturing facility that enables us to remain competitive, and we can incorporate handcrafted, unique pieces into our designs” — Paul Bilyea

Last September, both companies found a synergistic solution to the talent shortage each was facing, when MHDB moved into the custom shop area at Cardinal Fine Cabinetry on Exeter Road. Workers flow to wherever they are needed, which has increased production capacity for both sides of the operation.

“This was a merger, not a buyout and not a takeover,” says Paul Bilyea. “McKaskell Haindl is now a division of Cardinal Fine Cabinetry. By joining forces, we have the cutting-edge manufacturing facility that enables us to remain competitive, and we can incorporate handcrafted, unique pieces into our designs.”

Walk through the 30,000-square-foot facility and you’ll find a range of cabinet pieces at various stages of completion, all built to order by the newly merged company’s 46 employees. In the larger shop area, two CNC machines are used to produce component parts for cabinetry, which is dowel constructed by hand. In the smaller shop area, custom pieces are fashioned individually.

“We run from lean manufacturing on the plant floor to bench-built,” says McKaskell. “McKaskell Haindl has always done things that other people can’t. For example, hand-carved mouldings—in the custom shop, we still use hand planes and chisels.”

All four principals say one reason the merger works so well is their shared values, including a concern for the environment. Cardinal now uses CARB2 (a certification process instituted by the California Air Resources Board) products for its cabinets and waterborne finishes, which ensures both staff and clients are not exposed to harmful chemicals. And McKaskell and Haindl are like-minded in their approach. “They source local material and fall in line with the same green manufacturing standards we have adopted,” says Bilyea.

McKaskell recently secured five trees that the city was removing from the grounds of the former London Normal School in Wortley Village. “We will be milling them and air drying them, so it will be a couple of years before the wood is ready—we are looking at using it to make fine furniture,” he says.

Cardinal is also looking at establishing a waste-to-renewable-energy system to further reduce the company’s carbon footprint by utilizing sawdust, ends and other waste wood. The challenge, says Bilyea, is finding the proper “recipe” to ensure a clean and efficient process. “We are working with a company that specializes in sourcing alternative solutions for business processes,” he says. “Bioenergy happens to be one area of experience they’ve had previous success with. We will be setting up an onsite system fairly soon, and eventually using the energy it produces to power our machinery.”

The Exeter Road facility includes a showroom displaying work from both divisions of the company, and McKaskell Haindl products are also showcased at a by-appointment showroom on Talbot Street.  Kym Wolfe