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Big job prompts purchase of CNC router
story and photos by Linda Ohm
Shop’s familiarity with software is key to a smooth transition to CNC machine
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Picture perfect—This beautiful kitchen, built by Nixon Cabinet Co. Inc., with its glazed finish and inset doors, began as a drawing in KCDw software. The kitchen features mixed-height cabinets and has no fillers.

When shop owner Bobby Nixon first started working with computer software, it was a DOS-based version of KCDw and he didn't even own a computer. But he was determined to learn the program, working hard with KCDw owner John Murphy to do that. His effort really paid off when he added a CNC router.

Nixon bought a MultiCam CNC router in August 2004, and it arrived in December. KCDw software has been used in the Athens, Ala.-based Nixon Cabinet Co. Inc. since 1988. Prior experience with the software helped cut down the amount of time it took to get the new machine up and running, said Nixon.

Why buy a CNC?

Nixon has been in business since 1965 and incorporated Nov. 2, 1992. NCC builds custom cabinets and millwork with 12 employees in 15,000 square feet of space. In the past, whenever a production process became bogged down or things just got too cramped, Nixon would add a machine or expand the shop. When it came to the CNC router, everything started with one job.

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"What made me buy that CNC was we bid for 40-unit condos and that's the biggest job we've ever taken on 40 sets of cabinets in one building," he says. "I knew what CNC equipment could do."

Nixon didn't really even have the job when he decided to buy the machine, just a strong hunch that he was going to get it. "If we hadn't got the job, we wouldn't have bought the machine," he says. "Once we got the machine, an add-on room was needed. We got that machine working in half the time they said it would take."

Before the machine came, the shop used KCDw as if there were a machine, working off cutlists created by the software and doing door orders based on the information the software provided.

"A lot we already knew how to do with KCDw," says Nixon. "We just had to learn where to transfer it to."

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From screen to machine—The CNC router uses the information supplied by the program to create special millwork, radiuses and projects to exact specifications.

Fine tuning

It was the machining details that proved the trickiest thing to learn with the new router. It's more than just sending files to the machine, says Nixon. Everything needs a cutter or tool, and it all has to be set up.

"The file that goes to that machine has to have a set of cutters to do it. So it's knowing the best tool to use and speed," says Nixon. "You've got to learn how fast to run stuff. If you run it too fast, it'll jerk it out and splinter it. And some things you can't run slowly." MDF, for example, should be run at a faster speed, while plywood requires a slower speed, he says.

When it comes to software, Nixon says KCDw is easy to use and can be set up to accommodate the way any shop builds its cabinets. "It isn't any trouble to change and it doesn't take much to do it. I'm sold on KCDw."



Nixon also uses KCDw for estimating. Originally he says he estimated jobs by hand. He spent three or four months fine-tuning the KCDw estimating program to get numbers and prices that would be in balance with what he did by hand. Now, the numbers are close enough so that he no longer figures jobs by hand.0604CMNIX5_opt.jpg

Building cabinets

Nixon's son, Greg, is responsible for doing the CNC setup and detail work. All cabinetry jobs are drawn in KCDw, while millwork and special projects are drawn using Scanvec Amiable EnRoute, a computer-aided drawing program. On cabinetry jobs, Nixon first draws the job out in the office.

When Greg is ready to cut a job, he transfers information to his computer in the shop, located near the router and determines what parts of the job to cut. The machine operator, Jonathan Legg, then pulls up the job, cuts it, labels each piece with a marker and puts it into a stack. From there it is moved into the shop for assembly.

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Transferring information—Greg Nixon determines what is to be cut and machined and checks out the details before sending jobs to the machine. He says his drafting courses in school made the programming work much easier to do.

In the past, plywood was cut on a table saw and dados and holes were done by hand. "Now everything is done on the CNC. The cabinets are constructed using dados, nails and glue," says Nixon. A Virutex EB 25 edgebander is used to edgeband anything that needs edging and is located near the CNC router.

Prefers face frames

At one point the company considered switching to doing all frameless cabinets. "We backed off from frameless. We do them. It's different and it seems to take longer to install," says Nixon. "We'll do frameless, if asked, but we prefer to build face-frame."

Hardwoods for the face frames are cut with an SCMI gang rip saw, then sized with a Bridgewood moulder and planed with a new Powermatic planer. Using a printed cutlist, frame pieces are cut to size using one of three Delta table saws and a DeWalt chop saw. Frames are constructed using pocket holes made with a Castle boring machine, then screwed and fastened together on the frame table and run through the Ramco widebelt sander, on both sides.

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Committed to technology—Bobby Nixon believes in the power of technology to make his shop run smoother. He uses software to design, a CNC router to cut parts, e-mail to place orders for materials and cell phones to keep all the installers connected.

Doors are outsourced from nearby Cullman Cabinet Shop. A three-head Ritter shaper is used for some parts and when doors need to be made in the shop. The shop builds dovetail drawers for a lot of its cabinets.

Cabinets are finished with a pre-catalyzed Sampson lacquer and Greco spray equipment. NCC uses glazes in 75 percent of all cabinets it builds.

All installations are done by shop employees, because Nixon sees installation as critical to producing a quality finished job. "If there aren't installs to do, I can have them ripping lumber or running moulding," says Nixon. Moulding is done on a Bridgewood five-head moulder.



Company: Nixon Cabinet Co. Inc. 

Location: Athens, Ala. 

Founded: 1965 

Key equipment: 

MultiCam 3000 CNC router, KCDw software, Scanvec Amiable EnRoute software, SCM gang rip saw, Bridgewood five-head moulder, powermatic planer


Updated: Aug 26, 2008 This article appeared in CabinetMaker, April 2006. ©Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved.