Creating Custom Doors in Guatemala Heat
The Caoba Doors Company, based in Antigua, Guatemala, is center-focused on quality. As a provider of high-end, custom-made doors and windows for real estate developers building multi-million dollar homes, the company can’t afford to be otherwise.
When the company was founded in 1983, it actually built fireplace mantles and pool tables. They got into wood-crafted windows in the late 1990s. First as a partner with Home Depot, then Lowe’s, Caoba Doors provided these major retailers with a variety of sliding and folding window-doors.
As often happens, outside forces unrelated to business can inspire a major turn in a small company’s direction. In the case of Caoba Doors, it was a genuine force of nature. Guatemala suffered a series of terrible flash floods in 2005, and this forced the company to close its doors for nearly a month.
It was during this period of forced closure that the owners decided it was time to leave the retail business. Instead, they focused their attention toward the design and production of windows, doors, and trims for complete home packages.
The result is that today, Caoba Doors is the only high-end wood door and window manufacturer outside of the United States or Europe. It works directly with architects and real estate developers of residential properties. Most of their work is sent to ocean-side, warm weather climates with their biggest markets in the Caribbean and Hawaii. After that, you can find their doors and windows in major cities around the world.
Caoba traveled this road from pool halls to retailers to top of the market real estate because it has kept its focus squarely on quality.
Top Materials and High Yields
All Caoba’s work is custom made. They have no standard items. They work in any wood, any style, any finish to meet the aesthetic and engineering requirements of their clients. So the starting place for high quality is – of course – the wood itself.
Most of the wood used in Caoba designs is local to Guatemala, including Honduras mahogany and local Spanish cedar, which account for between 50 to 60 percent of their exterior lumber. The other 40% is comprised of imported woods like Douglas fir, western red cedar, and poplar. Most of their interior products are built using other high-end woods like oak and mahogany.
Using longstanding relationships with local harvesters and wood importers, they receive the green, milled lumber. Nearly every piece of lumber they buy is graded Number 1 Common or above. They buy at 4/4, 6/4, and 8/4 width and much of their wood is Select grade or FSC certified.
Managing Wood Moisture throughout the Process
All lumber is inspected when it arrives. The local lumber gets stacked, stickered, and air dried for a reasonable amount of time. In some cases, it’s put in one of four computerized kilns.
After the lumber is considered dry, or comes out of the dry kiln, Caoba checks each board. This is how Caoba gets one of the highest lumber yields of anyone in the industry. Each board is measured for its moisture content by a pinless Wagner Meters L622 Digital Recording Lumber Moisture Meter and reviewed for quality and aesthetics. Based on this review, each board is designated for the particular use most suited to it.
Their standard is to dry to 8-12 percent moisture content and the quality control process includes several stops along the way where moisture meters are used to take readings. However, they also make a point to keep moisture content in a range relevant for where it’s going, often hot, ocean-side areas in homes that may also use almost constant air conditioning.
However, they’ll do a dry build for desert work, where they dry the lumber down to 6 percent moisture content. From there, they’ll keep it wrapped in plastic when not in use, and in a sealed area while it’s waiting to be processed.
Once a board has been reviewed, measured, and designated for a specific purpose, it goes through the milling and CNC machines. During these phases, the Wagner L622 Digital Recording Lumber Moisture Meter is used to test samples from the batches to ensure they are using lumber with an acceptable moisture content for its purpose and destination.
According to Caoba’s founder, Paul Kronick, staying on top of their lumber’s moisture content is critical to their overall quality. If a piece of lumber has too much moisture, “The team will have to replace it, it won’t work. Wood moves, it’s a living thing, and if it’s got too much moisture, it goes. There’s a general consensus on how it reacts, but that’s not always the case. Moisture control is the most important thing to make sure that your product doesn’t have a problem in the future.”
The final point of moisture measurement happens right before the wood has a finish applied, to ensure the wood is ready for the finish selected by the architect. After finishing, a final inspection is done, and then the doors and windows are then packed and shipped to their destination.
Through the entire process, Caoba respects the natural beauty and variation of each piece of wood. This attention to detail, purpose, and destination for each piece enables them to consistently execute requested designs at the highest level.
Tony Morgan is a senior technician for Wagner Meters, where he serves on a team for product testing, development, and also customer service and training for moisture measurement products. Along with 19 years field experience for a number of electronics companies, Tony holds a B.A. in Management and his AAS in Electronics Technology.