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"Recent Article about Zongkers Custom Furniture" By Ted Cushman

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Blog entry by Dennis Zongker posted 2005 days ago 1923 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

http://www.woodweb.com/galleries/shop/posts/717.html

Zongkers Custom Woods Inc
Listing #717 Listed on: 08/08

WOODWEB Content Editor, Ted Cushman, Interviewed Dennis Zongker in September 2008

One Piece at a Time

Cabinetmaking is a tough, competitive business, and furniture-making is a challenging craft. So in the world of woodworking, it’s pretty rare to find a business that can succeed at both. But that’s what Zongkers Custom Woodworking (www.zongkers.com) is doing. From their nine-man shop in a former Metz Beer brewery in Omaha, Nebraska (one of the oldest buildings in town), brothers Dennis and Dan Zongkers have built up a million-dollar annual volume, expanding the market for their one-of-a-kind furniture pieces and custom cabinets far beyond their own region. “We’re in about 41 states now,” says Dennis Zongker, “and we just sold a couple pieces to a buyer in Hawaii.”

In a mass-produced world, the Zongkers brothers stand out: they’re dedicated to custom craftsmanship. A prime example is Dennis Zongkers’ hand-carved chess set: not just the chess pieces, but the chessboard, table, and two chairs are hand-made from light and dark wood. An avid chess-player himself (“I’m a chess fanatic,” he says), Dennis built the first chess table for fun. “It was like Alice in Wonderland,” he says — “I just wanted to go overboard.” But since then, he’s built two more sets like it for paying customers — at $42,000 a pop.

The brothers do a good business in more conventional furniture pieces — for example, they sell a lot of conference tables to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — but given a chance, Dennis Zongkers will gladly spend hours on a task like carving griffins for the legs of a triangular table. “I love adding the marquetry and carving to furniture,” he says — “not making it too gaudy, but trying to make it as clean as possible.” The triangle table also required him to invent some new joinery, he says: “I developed a couple of triangle joints that I do on the table saw. That’s as much fun as the carving.”

Built using skills honed on custom furniture, the Zongkers brothers’ cabinetry also tends to be out of the ordinary. And the custom mind set of a furniture builder runs through their cabinet production process as well. Everything is wood — no particle board — and everything is made in house, including doors and drawers. And asking Dennis Zongkers about the joinery he prefers for cabinet construction is like asking a jazz pianist whether he’d rather play sharps or flats. “Hmm …,” he says. “We usually just use rabbets and dadoes … sometimes we use pocket screws … it just depends. We have a chisel mortiser, so we do a lot of mortises and tenons too.” Ask him about a particular curved door on a cabinet shown on his web site, and he says, “Usually on our veneered radius doors, we use bending plywood, and glue it up on a form with yellow glue in the vacuum press. Then we clean it up, and then put it back in the bag and veneer it. But that one might be solid, I don’t remember. If they’re solid, we just cut the angles to get the radius and then we sand it smooth.”

“Rarely do we build the same piece twice,” says Zongker. That makes sales and marketing a special challenge. Since starting their business in 1989, the Zongkers brothers have kept the same division of labor: “Dan does the sales and designing and deals with the customers up front, and then it comes to me and I make the shop drawings in AutoCAD and make sure it all works.” The brothers work well together, says Dennis, because they’re so different. “We’ve been a team, working together, since 1981, really. He’s 48 now and I’m 46. And we get along really well because we are totally opposite. I like to play basketball for fun, he likes to go fishing – you know?”
Besides the CAD work and his carving, Dennis also handles supervision on the shop floor. That’s less work now than it used to be, he says: “It has taken us a long time to get the right guys. We have some really good guys now — great attitudes. And they’re so talented now that I don’t have to spend much time watching over them — I can tell them what I want done in the very beginning, go over it with them real quick, and answer a few questions here and there, and that’s about it.”

With such a strong custom focus, there’s no real place in his shop for something like a CNC router, says Zongker. But power equipment, of course, plays a vital role. “We couldn’t get along without our basic machinery — the panel saw and the planers and the table saws and all that. I love our Pulsar panel saw — we’ve had that for 12 years now.” Zongkers’ favorite piece of iron is an automated dovetail machine used to make all the company’s drawers. “When we first started, when it was just me and my brother, we used to do them all by hand,” he says. “Then we bought an OmniJig, but it just wasn’t fast enough. So then we went to the Olmec automated dovetail machine — I think it cost about $16,000. That’s another machine that we couldn’t live without. It’s nice to put your parts in there and that thing just smoothly cuts ‘em out like butter, you know — and it’s a perfect fit every time.”

These days, Zongker spends more time at his computer drafting workstation than he does on the shop floor. But he still likes to make sawdust. “I’m on a real nice dining room table right now with decorative parquetry, and yeah, I go out and do my own cutting — cut my radiuses out and all that. I love going out there and running the table saw or the jointer.” And like his crew, Zongker likes the fact that every day brings something different. “My guys will say, ‘I’m so glad I don’t work in a shop where it’s the same thing all the time.’ It’s a joy to do something different every day or every week — it really is. Just making drawers or whatever every day all day long, all the time … that would be like prison for any of us here.” When people see him working on an exacting carving or piece of parquetry, says Zongker, “They say, ‘Wow, you have a lot of patience.’ But when you love something and you’re being really creative, you’d be surprised how easy it really is.”
Contact Name: Dennis Lee
Location: Omaha, NE 68108
Year Founded: 1989
Sq. Footage: 10,000
Employees: 9
Gross Sales: 1,000,000
Web site: www.zongkers.com

Main Shipping Area

Carving & Marquetry Room

Cutting Room

Carving & Craftsman Bench

Large Assembly

Craftsman Bench

Lathe & Router Area

Company Name: Zongkers Custom Woods Inc

Product Specialties: Architectural Millwork – Lathe Turning Cabinets – Cabinet Designers Cabinets – Custom Cabinets Carving – Architectural Ornamentation Carving – General Furniture – Custom Furniture Furniture – Furniture Designers Veneer and Marquetry – General Woodworking – General

Shop Equipment:

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Play online games for FREE at Games.com! All of your favorites, no registration required and great graphics – check it out!

-- Dennis Zongker



10 comments so far

View kolwdwrkr's profile

kolwdwrkr

2821 posts in 2093 days


#1 posted 2005 days ago

Pretty good article Dennis. Speaks volume about you and your company. I work with my brother too but we both love the woodworking. The sales portion of my business suffers because of that. I wish I could figure out that part of it to make it easy and grow like you have. Congrats on the success of your business.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View savannah505's profile

savannah505

1659 posts in 2089 days


#2 posted 2005 days ago

Great article Dennis, speaks highly of the commitment by you and your company and it’s workers, rarely seen today. Whenever the love of what you do, outweighs the money end of it, the work is always better, and it shows. I hope someday we can do some things together, my stonework and your woodwork could be very cool indeed. Have been working on some very unique handles for cabinets made of stone. Always looking forward to seeing your projects you do. Was wondering if you have ever seen this table by DB Fletcher, I will include link to. I imagine you have, but the idea is incredible, and a testiment to creative thinking.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh_qn62zny0

-- Dan Wiggins

View Grumpy's profile

Grumpy

19079 posts in 2354 days


#3 posted 2005 days ago

Great insight Dennis. Thanks for sharing.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View Woodhacker's profile

Woodhacker

1139 posts in 2226 days


#4 posted 2005 days ago

Hi Dennis, that’s a fantastic article! Congratulations on the recognition… you and your company deserve it and are a true inspiration. I’ve been to your site a few times and enjoy seeing the pictures there as well as at woodweb.com.

Thanks for posting this.

-- Martin, Kansas

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

3948 posts in 2566 days


#5 posted 2005 days ago

You, your team and the wonderful things you create; all one of a kind.
Thanks so much for letting me come down to the shop, and make off with the offcuts, drool over the DW488, the Pfeil carving tools, and the mini-shop in the office. It was a pleasure to meet your boy this last weekend. Heck I even got to befriend Patti (the office manager) on Facebook.
Congrats on the great article.
I hope the Lithuanian Bakery Napoleanas Torte was to everyone’s liking. I feel very lucky to have made your acquaintance. It’s a good thing I don’t know how to play chess. I can’t imagine how badly I’d get creamed.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View lightweightladylefty's profile

lightweightladylefty

2486 posts in 2215 days


#6 posted 2005 days ago

What an inspiration! For those of us who will never achieve anything near what you have achieved, we can still enjoy the vicarious experience of your fabulous woodworking and even read the details about your company. Thanks for sharing the article.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View trifern's profile

trifern

8132 posts in 2270 days


#7 posted 2005 days ago

What a great article, Dennis. Thank you for sharing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2350 posts in 2095 days


#8 posted 2004 days ago

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the kind words. Hey Douglas, that Torte was very good. My son Eric and I could only eat about half of it. Talk about filling a person up. I look forward to working with you on some marquetry. Should be ready for that stage in about three weeks.

-- Dennis Zongker

View Grant's profile

Grant

12 posts in 2019 days


#9 posted 2004 days ago

Great articale Dennis. You should post one of your Chess boards, I would be intersted in seeing it.

—Grant Brassette

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6642 posts in 2482 days


#10 posted 2003 days ago

Congratulations Dennis;

You certainly deserve it.

Your dedication to your craft is second to none! (well maybe one) LOL

Lee

-- by Lee A. Jesberger http://www.prowoodworkingtips.com http://www.ezee-feed.com

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