Oak And Alder Among JB WOODCRAFT’s American Imports
By Lucas Ngu
JB Woodcraft Inc. founder José Bituin poses with his wife Myrna Bituin at their facility in the Phillipines.
Philippines, Betis Guagua–At JB Woodcraft Inc., furniture is very much a family affair with the furniture making operation involving the founder, José Bituin, his wife, Myrna, and four of their children. As president, José oversees the activities of the group with Myrna taking care of the finishing plant while two of their daughters are involved in the daily operations of the woodworking and manufacturing plant. In 1997, a chair manufacturing facility was set up and placed under the care of their son while their youngest daughter took charge of a veneer production facility.
For JB Woodcraft Inc., it all began in 1972 when José decided to set up a mill in the town of Betis, Guagua Pampanga province, which is known as a furniture manufacturing location and a two hour drive from the capital city of Manila.
During the early days, the factory focused on the production of monkey pod wares for tourists. By 1980, it had progressed to become a furniture supplier to the American military personnel stationed at Subic and Clark Airbase.
The company’s big break came in 1986 when it took part in a furniture show at High Point Furniture Market in the United States. At the show, which was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines, Myrna presented a buffet table with simple carvings that caught the attention of the big names like Paul Maitland Smith, Hickory Chairs, Casa Bique and Harden Furnitures.
From a little known 500m2 factory employing just five workers, the production facility of JB Woodcraft has expanded to cover an area measuring 8,000 m2 in size and employs a total of 350 workers. Initially, furniture items were made mainly for the local market. Today, the company’s products are shipped to the USA, Russia, Europe, the Middle East and Japan. For the local market, its clientele includes modern housing developments and luxurious hotels.
North American Oak and Alder are used for the production of high qual- ity solid wood furniture for the U.S. market.
In 1991, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo forced the company to move its production facility to Tarlac, a three hour drive from the city of Manila.
“Over here, American timber accounts for some of what we use for the furniture production,” said José, who has moved back to the volcano-stricken town. The rest comprise local Mahogany, also known as Lauan and Gmelina, a plantation grown wood.
From the U.S., the company imports Oak and Alder, which are used for making classical items comprising chairs, tables and beds while veneer sheets are used for tabletops. Like most manufacturers who export to the U.S., the decision to use American wood was customer dictated.
“We have been getting wood from the U.S. for 10 years. So far, we have been happy with our suppliers and have not encountered any major problems with the use of American wood,” José said.
JB Woodcraft’s forte lies in woodcarving and furniture design.
The factory operates six days a week and its output stands at six containers per week.
At Tarlac, JB Woodcraft uses a kiln drying chamber as well as veneering equipment, though some of the veneering work is “outsourced” to a sister factory.
For veneering, veneer strips measuring 0.6mm in thickness are placed over MDF panels before they are sent to the hot press, a process that takes eight minutes to strengthen the bond. Thereafter, the sheets are sent for sanding, shaping and cutting.
Lamination involves cutting wood to size and placing them in a laminating machine before they are transferred to the shaping, boring and carving stations.
Woodworking involves cutting, planing, routing or shaping and boring, as well as the use of woodcarving machines while the parts are glued.
Gilding, which is used at JB Woodcraft’s facility, involves the application of a layer of gold over furniture parts.
At JB Woodcraft, finishing is meticulously done while quality control is heavily emphasized. Gilding, the art of applying a layer of gold leaf over furniture parts is a specialty of JB Woodcraft’s employees.
For JB Woodcraft, the company’s forte lies in woodcarving and furniture design. This enables it to cater to the tastes of customers in the higher segment of the market. Its clientele includes notable names like Williams Sonoma Home, Julia Gray, Tomlinson and Front Gate in the U.S., as well as And So To Bed in the U.K.
“As far as the marketing part is concerned, we sell to distributors, retailers and also manufacturers,” said José, who is currently president of the association of furniture exporters for Region 3 (PHILEXPORT) and a past president of the Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines (Pampanga Chapter).
Among its outstanding achievements, JB Woodcraft takes pride in being involved in the production of the 22-karat gilt 18th century mirror frames for King Gustav of Sweden. Another company milestone was the creation of the throne for the 1994 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. Today, the highly-prized item can be viewed at the company’s showroom in Betis.
Lamination involves putting sawn lumber pieces together for the production of larger furniture items.
In recognition of its outstanding contribution to the development of the Philippine furniture industry, the company received the Golden Shell Award from the Department of Trade & Industry. It is also a recipient of the Best Entrepreneur Award, as well as the Award of Recognition from the National Productivity Congress.