Full Circle Design Works was featured in the below article on FDMC: Best Practices in Woodworking Technology & Business.
Full Circle Design Works focuses on historic properties, replacing century-old millwork and building new, contemporary cabinets.
The St. Louis company is a builder, but it also makes frameless contemporary cabinets in its own modern shop, plus man doors, trim, specialty mouldings, and some custom furniture. Most work is residential, with about 75 percent renovation and additions, and 25 percent new construction.
“One of the things that sets us apart is that we have the shop facility to do the cabinet work, the man doors, and custom trim details,” said owner Steve Souder. “We do mostly high-end residential work with architects bringing us projects because we are very detail oriented.”
Souder said that Full Circle does quite a few complete gut rehabs with new mechanicals, and compete new interior buildouts. Some rehabs also qualify for historic tax credits, including work to restore interiors matching original millwork details.
“Our typical job is the gut rehab,” he said. “We would pull everything out of the house, except for some of the walls, then we redo everything. We also do projects that focus on kitchens and baths.”
Renovation work has been increasing in different areas of St. Louis City over the past several years, including the street where Full Circle is located. Other projects are in suburban Clayton, Ladue and other towns.
Souder said he loves working in the historic city. “Mostly what we do in the city is historic, tax credit rehab projects,” he said. “There is always work in some of the more wealthy areas built 100 years ago. Those houses have really been taken care of.”
One renovation required removal of the wainscoting and fabricating new material to match existing appearance. In another older house, Full Circle had to build a 1-3/4 inch thick door with two different sides. The dining room side was a five-panel door in a two-one-two panel configuration. On the other side it was a five panel door with five equal horizontal panels.
It helps to have a good shop, Souder said, because, “Who could we go to build one of those? That’s the kind of work we tend to get into.”
The buildings may be 100 years old, but Full Circle’s cabinets are mostly contemporary design and are all frameless. They use both melamine and maple on MDF or particleboard cabinet boxes, with custom veneers for doors, drawer fronts and finished ends. Maple veneer is finished with a post-catalyzed conversion varnish, the same finish as doors and drawer fronts.
This contemporary look is Full Circle’s niche. “St. Louis is fairly traditional, so there are a lot of five-piece doors and crown mouldings,” Souder said. “That’s not what we do.
“Our niche is more the contemporary look. It looks great with an older building and all the running trim, base and casing, and original doors. Then you go in with contemporary cabinets. You can really make it work nicely.”
Matching original look
That original look usually has to be made new also. “We almost never save original casing and baseboard,” Souder said. “Usually by the time it’s 100 years old, it’s not in the best shape. We like to go back in and put in things that are basically new. We include matching original profiles and materials.”
Achieving close tolerances in this work is a strength, and the skill of the people in the shop and the addition of a CNC router have helped achieve tolerances of one or two mm.
“We keep our tolerances for cabinet reveals to 2mm which is tighter than most shops,” Souder said. “We are also a general contractor so we supply our own job sites with all the various sills and plinths to match existing pieces. This helps not only make the finished job fit with the house better but helps keep jobs on schedule.
“The primary architect we work with brings us in to the initial conversation. We can work with him as a team to develop the project and give him samples when he needs them, and ferret out problems we see.
“We usually have an extended time frame, but scheduling is still the biggest challenge that we have, making sure we keep projects moving in the field, and the shop is able to supply what we need.”
A builder’s shop
Full Circle has 10 employees, with three in the shop. The company moved to a larger 10,000 square foot building (a former dairy) two years ago. They design with KCD software, and EnRoute feeds work to the CNC router, then to edgebanding, veneering, cutting and sanding, spray booth and assembly. A solid wood section of the shop is used for jambs and other components.
Several years ago, the Streibig Compact Plus vertical panel saw provided an incremental improvement of accuracy over the horizontal table saw in cutting out panels, and an ergonomic improvement for the people doing it.
“The Streibig saw increased our tolerances and accuracy over our sliding table saw,” Souder said. “And then the C.R. Onsrud CNC router added another level of repeatability and accuracy.
Today, the C.R. Onsrud 145M12 Mate series CNC router is at the center of the shop, and represents a further improvement.
Souder bought the C.R. Onsrud router at IWF in Atlanta, and he has bought other equipment during IWF. “We bought all the machines or did the research at IWF.” He started research on CNC equipment a few years ago, and narrowed it down to five companies.
“It was a little more money but we felt it was a more substantial machine. Parts are (readily available). If you have a part go down on an Onsrud router, you can go to Grainger and get one. We also had good local support with Onsrud.”
Now, they cut all their cabinet parts on the CNC. The Streibig is used more for one-off parts, or if someone wants a large number of the same size. The Felder sliding table saw is now used mostly for solid wood.
One part of the shop handles panels, the other solid wood. Also here are a Biesse Artech Levia 220 widebelt sander and Biesse Polymac Akron 420ER edgebander.
They do all veneering in their shop, and have two veneer presses here. This was a constraint until they installed the second press. They take a panel, apply a solid wood edge, and then veneer the entire cabinet run face so the grain carries through the doors and drawer fronts.
Souder has also been pleased with Felder equipment, including an AD 41 planer-jointer which they’re using as a jointer, and Felder KF7X combination machines that combine a sliding table saw and tilt arbor shaper. The combination machines were an essential part of the previous shop where space was very limited. Also in the shop is a Casadei 24-inch surface planer.
Full Circle is doing all finishing here with Chem-Craft post catalyzed conversion varnish in a Col-Met spray booth. An assembly area is near a large loading dock with capacity for two large trucks. They use mostly Blum hardware and the Legrabox metal drawer system, and some Grass hardware.
In the new building, solar panels are providing most of the power needed by the company. “Some months we have a zero bill,” Souder said. “Other months we might have a $30 bill. It averages about $10. Payback on that investment was an average of three years.”
“Overall, the greatest improvements have been adding the CNC router, doing all cabinet design with the computer and moving to a new location that gave us the ability to lay out the shop floor for better work flow.
“Moving here allowed us to design the workflow and make it quite a bit more efficient. There is a lot more room here. “We couldn’t set up the equipment in a logical sequence in the other shop.”
Future plans include an edgebander with premill capability, and a widebelt sander with newer technology to better sand veneer.
“We look to expand our work doing specialty low volume parts on CNC and custom cabinetwork for other general contractors, working more with metal fabricators when they need wood parts for various projects.”
“We keep busy enough doing what’s in our contemporary sweet spot. Business has been picking up, there is a lot going on and a lot on the books.”