Carpenter proves doubters wrong
When Richard Vesely, of CNC Automated Carpentry, agreed to build 158 new windows for Sessions House, some people said he was crazy.
The historic building on Church Street is going through major renovations, and required a variety of wood-framed windows, some as tall as 91in.
It was a big job, and there were only four people working at CNC on Cemetery Road in Pembroke, including Mr Vesely.
“I felt both happy and anxious when I accepted the contract from the Government,” Mr Vesely said. He proved the naysayers wrong. “I’m just about done now,” he said.
Total production time took nine months, but was broken up by a 20-month wait for specially ordered glass.
He hopes to see the windows in place by September 2020.
“Those windows are something I will be able to look at for the rest of my life, every time I go across that building,” he said. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime job for a carpenter.”
His secret to success is the computerised milling machine at the heart of his business. It’s so important, that he named his company, CNC Automated, after the “computer numerically controlled” machine.
“The CNC machine means I don’t have any limitations,” he said. “I can do anything just about, from carving to cutting out irregular shapes and three-dimensional work. What takes the machine ten minutes, might take an experienced joiner four hours to do. It is all automated.”
He has often left the machine running for 24 hours.
“It doesn’t take bathroom breaks or vacations,” he said. “I don’t have to pay payroll tax for the machine.”
He first bought the carpentry business in 1999 from his former employer and mentor, Abel Cabral, who ran the business as Rightway Carpentry, and before that Cabral’s Mill.
Mr Vesely said the business was a gift in one sense, because it already had a stellar reputation and loyal customer base when he bought it.
But people were shocked when he announced he was buying an expensive CNC machine. He wasn’t terribly computer savvy at that time, but had heard about what the machine could do, and decided to invest in it.
It cost $75,000 out of the shop, and even more to land it in Bermuda. He had to take out a bank loan.
“I started out with no capital at all,” he said. “I was in the negative, and struggling. I couldn’t make payroll. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay myself for ten or 12 weeks. The first couple of years were rough.” It took him six years to get out from under the machine’s cloud of debt, but it turned out to be worth it.
“Once I got my name out there, and was showing people what we were capable of doing, things got better,” he said. “I was able to become more cost effective.”
The machine could do the work of five joiners, in some cases, so he didn’t need a large staff.
“My labour bill came down and production rate came down, expenses dropped and my profit went up,” he said.
Three years ago he bit the bullet and replaced his first CNC machine with a new one.
“The first was a DOS-based machine operating systems and used software they didn’t make any more,” he said.
Now he says they do a lot of work for other carpentry firms.
“They send us work because they don’t have the manpower, or physically can’t do it,” he said. “A lot of it is unit pricing, not by the hour. I end up making more money doing it that way with less staff.”
During his 20 years in operation he’s done all kinds of projects, from doors and windows to entertainment systems with intricate carvings. For his own home he made a lighthouse, that lights up, to fit on a balustrade.
Mr Vesely said the best part of carpentry is looking back at what you’ve built and hearing positive comments about it.
“I am always trying to strive to do my best,” he said.
The hardest part might be finding good staff.
He has always tried to hire Bermudians. He currently has two Bermudian staff members, but three years ago had to bite the bullet and hire a non-Bermudian staff member.
“I had no choice,” he said. “There was no one here who could fit the qualifications. It got to the point where I was stressing myself out. I could not leave here until 8 or 9pm at night. Carpentry is a dying profession in Bermuda.”
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