Brian Way, Owner/Master Craftsman at BP Way Millwork (USA)
Woodworking is as much art as it is passion – Brian Way brought both together in a very innovative way, using Paul Akers’ LEAN philosophy (interview HERE), he built an impressively efficient and compact mobile woodworking workshop! It’s incredibly impressive.
Key takeaways from this interview:
- Sometimes downsizing is the best way to upsize your income potential
- CNC’s add a level of accuracy and consistency that we just cannot duplicate as humans.
- If I don’t believe in it, how can I sell it?
You can visit Brian’s company BP Way Millwork at http://bpway.com.
How did you get into the woodcraft industry and what do you enjoy most about the process of woodworking in general?
I guess it all started early on from my father. He was a painting contractor (H.B. Way Painting) and most of his clients were high-end residential. So, inevitably every house he worked on always needed some repair. I went to a technical high school and took carpentry, although when I entered the school, my original thoughts were to take electronics, as that was the main source of hobbies for myself at the time. I guess one thing led to the next and I ended up in the carpentry department.
From the moment I turned 16 I had a pick up truck with a toolbox on it and was ready to go to work. Doing general remodeling, roofing, siding, and decks for the first few years of my career. As I created a woodworking shop in my parents basement, I seemed to enjoy building small pieces of furniture. I was married at a young age and brought the shop over to my new house for another couple of years.
That was quickly outgrown and I purchased 4000 sq.ft. of space for my first woodworking shop. In five years I had out grown that, and moved to another location of 9000 sq.ft. After another five years and a couple of kids, and more downs, than ups, I was done with the shop. I went back to basics and took it on the road again (2006). At that time my first mobile shop was born.
Your mobile woodshop is amazing, where did the idea come from and how long did it take you to build it from idea to “finished” working shop? I saw Paul Akers American Innovator show which did an awesome job showcasing the thought you put into it.
I knew when I was condensing a 9000 square-foot shop into an 1100sf barn and my 14′ delivery box truck that I was going to have some work ahead of me. Although I had no plan on paper, I had one in my head and built it from leftover material out of my shop. The first thing on my mind was a home for my Festool’s, a workbench, and a chopsaw station.
I was constantly changing and improving things on the truck as time went on. When the truck hit 20 years old, in 2010 I bought another 14 foot box truck, and this time I put some major thought into it. It took me about 100 hours to get it to a functional state that I was happy with. I am literally tweaking and improving upon it on a semi regular basis, I’m not sure there will ever be a final product. I can’t seem to stop.
What were some of the bigger challenges you had to overcome building a mobile working shop inside such a confined space? What tools do you wish you could fit in there but don’t? What have been some of the major benefits of having a mobile shop?
I would say some of the challenges were, making sure there were proper clearances for material on all sides of the machines while at the same time, being able to use each of them with minimal set up and movement of that particular tool. For instance, I later added workbench extensions to allow support for material while using the chopsaw and workbench.
The electrical system was a bit of a trick for me to design. I wanted the ability to use both the voltage inverter and to be able to plug the truck into and power it up. I use a series of industrial relays to achieve this. I also included a battery minder charging system that is automatically activated when the truck is plugged into the wall. This will maintain the battery levels due to the high amperage output while the inverter is turned on.
Believe it or not, there are no tools that I am saying I wish I had on the truck. I have it set up specifically for my needs. If I think I need to add something else, I will make it happen.
I do believe the truck gives me a leg up on the industry. I can go to many jobs, and the moment I arrive, I am 90% set up to work. For instance, I just did some work in an open restaurant, having the truck set up allows me to cut everything on the truck and keep the dust contained while at the same time keeping a clean environment inside. I tend to use CO2 for my nail guns for opened commercial environments. We try to limit the noise for our customers. I like to think the truck increases my profit margins. I know for sure that it increases productivity.
How has Paul Akers’s LEAN philosophy helped you in your business? What are some of the tools you got from FastCap that helped increase the productivity of your business in general and how did they help?
Not only do I use Fastcap’s products in my installation company, but I have been selling and distributing them for almost 8 years now. They have some amazing, time saving products, which is what drew me to them in the first place.
I met Paul Akers about 4 years back at the Providence JLC show. Since then, we have become friends. I would say that Paul’s lean philosophy has definitely changed the way I do things in business. The elimination of the seven different kinds of waste has been a key part to my business and the functionality of my box truck. As many of us have, I learned about “Lean” from Paul Akers.
His energy and ideas are very inspiring. I have kaizen foam everywhere, from my truck, to my shop, to my bathroom and in my kid’s toy storage boxes. I am trying to bring Lean home to my personal life, but with two kids and a busy household it is not as easy as it sounds….. Baby steps, slowly but surely we will get there!
Although you don’t have any CNC equipment, have you ever considered the benefits it could have to your production pipeline? What are your general thoughts on woodworkers who do use CNC routers to make their projects?
Someday I would like to put a small CNC in my shop. The benefits and the capabilities of those machines are incredible. Although I have never owned one, throughout my career I have always had access to them. There were shops surrounding mine, and I hired them to do all of my CNC work for me.
CNC’s add a level of accuracy and consistency that we just cannot duplicate as humans. (Although many of us would like to think we can…) The possibilities are endless, you’re limited only by your imagination and computer skills.
How do you find most of your clients? Has the mobility of your shop helped you promote your services?
I have been in business for over 20 years, I would say 95% of my customers are referrals. Although my business has gone through many changes, my customer base has still stayed strong. I will admit going from a full size cabinet shop to a mobile shop was a bit of a change. But I have enjoyed it.
My mobile shop has allowed me to bring something a little more unique to my customers (and fun for me), they know they are going to get their dollar’s worth. I operate very efficiently and lean. Customers like to see that time does not go wasted, especially if we are getting paid hourly.
What else do you want to build into your mobile shop in the future?
I am currently installing a 12 volt garage door opener that will run off of solar panels and use the truck battery as a back-up. I am going to improve the task lighting using LED’s so as not to add additional draw to the inverter. I would like to add an electric awning off of the back door for use in adverse weather conditions. There is lots I could do with the interior to improve my paperwork efficiency; now this one may take some engineering, but I would like the custom stairs to pop out of the back with the push of a button, perhaps using electric actuators. I could go on, but I won’t.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Overall, I think woodworking is a tough business to be in. Cabinetry has become very competitive. It is very important to keep your current customers happy, so when you quote a project for them, and your price is higher than the next guy, they still go with you because they believe in you. Find that niche in the market that sets you apart from the others. Perfect your craft and you will succeed!
Although I really have no spare time left, I take what I can find & I am currently building a new website that caters to the woodworking community. I sell mostly woodworking products from my ebay store & website BPWAY.COM I make it a point to personally test every product I sell. If I don’t believe in it, how can I sell it?
Here is some information about us, & please follow our Facebook pages & blog!
Facebook – Millwork Installations page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BP-Way-Millwork-Installations/148315965207952
Facebook – Bpway.com, Quality Tools and Hardware page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BPwaycom-Quality-Tools-Hardware/27313579331
Ebay Store: www.bpway-ebay.com
Web Store (live, but under construction): www.bpway.com
Tools Of The Trade Magazine: http://www.toolsofthetrade.net/blog/brian-way/