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David Gregory demonstrates how the different angles work that his father cut beneath the countertop saw at Gregory’s Custom Cabinets. He said they paid for the saw using 10 cents per foot of countertop they produced.

By GRAHAM WILLIAMS
In 1974, David Gregory got married and took two weeks off from work at Torrington. When he got back, he turned in his notice before going to work with his father, building cabinets.
Forty years later, Gregory's Custom Cabinets is still in business at 408 Union Boulevard in the building that Gregory and his father, Grady, moved into before the road was even paved.
The front area of the building is filled with an assortment of cabinets, bed frames and chairs people have brought to Gregory for repairs, along with an old Pepsi Cola cooler one of his sons picked up while he was in college and a pay phone Gregory bought in Virginia which he plans to install in a wooden phone booth.
Down the hall is Gregory's office - the walls are covered with photos of his sons when they played college football for Tennessee and South Carolina and a photo of himself swinging a softball bat while playing for Tabernacle Baptist Church. Two filing cabinets fill a corner of the office; inside are plans for most of the projects Gregory has worked on, including custom dollhouse cabinets and fire truck beds he once built.
Stepping through the doorway into the shop, a visitor notices an old piece of 2x6 wood above the door to the storage room. Gregory explains that his father signed and dated it when he did the framework for a building in town. When it was being demolished, someone spotted the writing, cut out that piece of wood and gave it to Gregory.
The shop itself takes up half the building; machines for cutting, sanding and drilling wood sit at various locations, all of them covered with a layer of sawdust. Suspended from the ceiling is an exhaust system that draws the sawdust from the air and blows it out the back of the building. Connected to this are pieces of rope, each one with a wooden handle that's painted green and red. Gregory pulls down on the green side to activate the exhaust system and the red side to turn it off.
Several cabinets in various stages of construction are at one end of the shop. The back wall has shelves filled with hundreds of pieces of scrap wood. Gregory says he uses them as needed instead of wasting a new piece of wood.
A lot has changed in the past four decades.
Grady Gregory, who left his job at Conso to go to work with his son, died 17 years ago. Gregory's hair, once black and curly, is now thinning on top. His black beard is speckled with gray. Gregory doesn't work seven days a week anymore, either. After having quadruple by-pass heart surgery, he was out of work for three months. Since then he's cut back to working five (sometimes six) days a week.
But through it all, his love of building custom cabinets is still there.
“I'm not bored; I love challenges,” he says, adding that every cabinet he builds is different.
A hammer, saw and a wood plane used to be the tools of the trade - now everything is cordless or runs on air, Gregory says.
“If the air compressor goes down I'll go home,” he says.
Gregory doesn't use a hammer and seldom uses electric tools. And he doesn't use a wood lathe. He had one once, but the knife got stuck while he was operating it and snapped back, breaking his wrist. He sold it soon afterwards.
Wood is more expensive, now, too. Shelving board used to cost 37 cents a foot; now it's $2 to $3 a foot, Gregory says.
He began working with his father when he was in the seventh grade; the shop was in the back yard of the house. Grady Gregory was a policeman, operated a paint shop and built cabinets in his spare time. Gregory says he put the hinges on cabinet doors using a “Yankee screwdriver” - he had to push down on the handle to drive the screws.
During the past 40 years he estimates he's worked with about 90 percent of the housing contractors in Union. He also built 116 cabinets for one of the housing projects in town. He says he measured every unit; all of them are custom made.
Gregory proudly says he built all of the furniture in his house, including a bedroom suit and kitchen cabinets. He and his wife, Melissa, would go to auctions and buy furniture but he couldn't find anything to match it so he built his own. He built one cabinet using just a photo for a model.
Gregory says he uses mostly poplar for his cabinet doors, because there's not as much grain as with other wood. He says he uses the same quality of wood for each cabinet whether it's for a house costing $45,000 or $450,000. He also uses moderate density fiber - MDF - for cabinet doors.
Much of his work comes by word of mouth - people call him. He says he once submitted a bid to build the wooden lockers in Williams-Brice Stadium for the USC football team and got beat out by $45.
Nowadays, Gregory finds himself competing with building supply giants Home Depot and Lowes for projects, as well as IKEA. Most of them use cheap particleboard for their cabinets, Gregory says.
“Mine are hard wood; they are better quality,” he says.
Gregory also makes counter tops - solid surface and rolled - not granite. A 35-year-old counter top saw sits in one corner of the shop. He and his father paid for it using 10 cents per foot of counter top they produced. Grady Gregory cut grooves in the wood at different angles beneath the saw, each one wide enough to hold the edge of a counter top.
When asked about his profession, Gregory will quickly answer that he's a contractor.
“I don't sell anything,” he says.
(Gregory's Custom Woodworks is located at 408 Union Boulevard. The phone number is 426-2792.)

(Posted August 18, 2014)
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