Since 1954, Tuohy stays in step with design
At Tuohy Furniture in Chatfield, veneer panels arrive at one end of the plant and leave at the other as parts of elegantly designed desks, conference tables and other pieces of executive office furniture.
Yet, most people in Chatfield and the Rochester area probably haven't seen Tuohy's products because most of the company's customers are in New York City and Chicago.
"Local people are surprised by what gets manufactured here," said Tuohy's Chief Financial Officer Greg Eichten, referring to the company's small-town location and big-town clientele. "We sell to the Fortune 500 companies, and most of our products are targeted for the corner offices."
Tuohy typically doesn't craft one-of-a-kind pieces; it is a manufacturing plant. But Tuohy's various lines of furniture are modified to suit individual office design projects, Eichten said.
The company has 117 employees working in Chatfield, including Eichten, who has been with Tuohy for 20 years.
During that time, Eichten has seen furniture design change in step with customer demands, he said. For example, because less paper is used in offices these days, desk design has moved to a more open look with fewer drawers.
"And conference tables are electrified now so people can plug in computers," Eichten said. "And we strive for things like making sure wires are not seen — we design in places for the wires to go, like through a table or desk leg. We're striving for as clean a look as possible."
How veneer panels become furniture
Tuohy's plant has two main areas: milling and sanding. However, there are several other steps incorporated into that process, including gluing, finishing, assembly and crating.
Tuohy's subsidiary company Saunders Wood Specialties in Park Falls, Wis., makes veneered particle board panels for Tuohy. That allows Tuohy not to keep an inventory — it requests what it needs from Saunders as orders come in.
On one morning in late January, panels from Saunders arrived at Tuohy's plant for an order of 70 office suites, including desks, credenzas, overhead hutches and conference tables.
The first step was to drill the required holes into the panels using computer-controlled machinery. Workers entered instructions into the computer according to specifications for particular furniture pieces. The machine uses a vacuum system to hold the panels tightly, and holes and slots are cut for hardware and assembly.
After the pieces are drilled, Tuohy workers glue a solid wood edge on the front side of its desks and tables to guard against denting. After gluing, the pieces are put through a large microwave oven, which instantly sets the glue and eliminates the need to clamp pieces and let them sit for days.
The next step is to send the panels through a large belt sander to smooth out the top and bottom surfaces. The sanding machines have four belts in them ranging from coarse to fine, and a sensor that detects board thickness and automatically applies the right pressure for an even sanding job.
After the belt sander, the pieces go to a sanding booth, where workers smooth out the edges using orbital sanders.
The ceiling of the plant's finishing area is equipped with a moving track that carries pieces around the room. Workers first spray a water-based stain on the panels. Once the stain is dry, they spray on a water-based sealant and top coat and the panels move around the track and through a large curing oven.
The company recently switched to water-based stains, sealants and top coats as part of its efforts to become more environmentally friendly, Eichten said.
As the panels come out of the oven, several workers armed with sandpaper scuff up their surfaces before they are sprayed again with sealant and top coat. Sometimes, as many as six or seven layers of top coat is applied to get a very smooth surface on, for example, a conference table.
After finishing, workers attach hardware, such as slide tracks for drawers, cabinet pulls and casters, and they put the furniture pieces together. Most pieces are assembled before leaving the plant, although some are shipped for assembly later.
Before the furniture is shipped off, it is placed on palettes and wrapped with plastic. The more fragile pieces — ones incorporating glass tops, for example — are packed in wood crates.