Finishing Touches: From Matte to Metallic

Grace Tatigian

What started as a small custom painting business in 1998 has since grown to the largest independent finishing shop in Western Canada. When Jim Carrigan started Jeco, he painted in high-end homes, working mainly on built-in cabinetry and wood furniture. It wasn’t long before he realized he preferred finishing to painting and invested in his own space to do more work off-site. 

It didn’t take long for the growth to start; just three years after opening his shop in 2003, Jim Carrigan needed double the amount of space. They’re currently finishing up phase one of their latest expansion, having just acquired more space, giving them a total of 11,500 square feet. Step two is integrating automation with a new machine.

“When it comes down to it, I’ve been planning for this expansion for 15 years,” Carrigan explained. “Back in 2015, we almost pulled the trigger and bought a machine. But I was looking around at the market – everyone else’s workload was slowing down, so we decided to hold off. And good thing we did. Because then there was a big downtown in the market.”

But now, they’re facing the exact opposite situation. Everyone has so much work that many shops need to outsource finishing.

“Outsourcing is part of the reason we’re here. It’s the only way that a lot of shops can keep up with demand and have reasonable lead times,” said Carrigan. “These are big problems for small shops.”

Outsourcing finishing has more benefits than just speeding up the process. It opens up more space in the shop, you don’t need to have a finisher on staff, and you don’t have to worry about keeping the finishing area dust-free. That’s one of the most exciting things about this expansion for Jeco. Because they do finishing and pre-finishing, they need to be careful about dust collection. With the expansion, they’ll be moving their brush sander, downdraft, and dust collection into a completely separate section of the building, making it easier to keep the booths and the new automated equipment clean. About 65% of Jeco’s current work could be automated, Carrigan admits, but there will be a portion that will always need to be done by hand – the big pieces and custom millwork will always need to be finished in the booth.

“Automation is an augmentation, not a replacement for skilled workers,” explained Carrigan. “The trouble is, there is very little formal finishing training in Canada. Most finishers are either cabinet makers or painters. Both programs cover the basics – teach them just enough to be dangerous.”

Most people know how to apply a clear coat or a stain but don’t know how to do custom work. So instead, you need to invest in the long game. Carrigan describes it as an “employee trade school.” It takes a lot of time and money to teach someone all the ins and outs of finishing, which is why many shops prefer to outsource that part of the job to a specialized company like Jeco rather than having their own finisher.

“There’s always a chance your finisher could leave for another shop, start their own business, or hold up the process in some other way,” said Carrigan. “It can leave shops in the lurch. If you find a good partner to do your finishing for you, it’s one less thing you have to worry about.”

It also provides more options to small shops that might only be able to offer the basics if they did everything in-house. For example, Jeco is a VeroMetal certified application specialist. If you haven’t heard of VeroMetal, you’re not alone. Jeco’s one of the few companies in Canada that specialize in this kind of service. It’s a cold-workable liquid metal that can be applied to practically any surface. After applying just 120-150 microns, the piece possesses all the optical and physical properties of the metal alloy in question.

Jeco’s been using this product to turn plastic into brass, copper, bronze, and more. There are virtually no design constraints. If a customer wanted a brass range hood, you would typically need to cast the whole thing. It would be incredibly heavy and expensive, but this technique achieves that same look with 90% less metal and 10% of the price. 

This isn’t a trend that will replace painted or stained wood, but it’s a very intriguing selling point to offer this unique service. In terms of trends they’re currently seeing, Carrigan agrees with the data shared in our A Case for Colour in the Kitchen piece; he’s seeing primarily white and off-white when it comes to painted cabinetry. He’s also seeing some bright colours come through with a European high gloss finish, but the reverse is also true.

“We also get requests for super matte finishes,” said Carrigan. “We have customers who say they want their wood to look like there’s no finish on it at all.”

Regardless of the finish’s color or look, Jeco sticks to polyurethane-based products. Although water-based finishes are trending – partly for environmental reasons – Carrigan has decided to stick with a product he knows inside and out. That way, he can ensure that his team delivers exceptional quality every time.

“We are a detail-orientated finishing company. We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality finishes with the most up-to-date, technologically advanced finishes available.”

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