Well, folks, it’s been a while since I have felt whole enough to pen anything meaningful for these pages. The economic issues surrounding the collapse of the construction industry that is such a big part of my life and of all of yours, made anything that I may have had to say seem meaningless. After much soul searching and a little prodding from John Wyatt I have decided to end my self-imposed exile from these pages. While things are still very sketchy out in drywall land, there are a few bright spots on the horizon.

During my hiatus I spent quite a bit of time learning about some new products that are being used to help speed up productivity and make for a better finished product. During the next few months I will share what I have learned, and hopefully some of you will be able to take advantage of these new practices, and ultimately make some more money. Also, I am painfully aware of how rough it still is out there, and I will try to mix in a little irreverence from time to time, just enough to get you to crack a smile (at least I will try).

One of the most impressive new technologies to reach our shores is the Grabber PanelMax. If you were fortunate enough to be able to attend the AWCI/INTEX show in Denver this year you probably saw it in action. While this technology is new to North America, This technology has been being used around the world since 2002. For those of you that did not get to see first-hand how this system works, I will do my best to describe it.

Simply put, the Grabber PanelMax is a milling machine that will fabricate gypsum board, cement board, aluminum and wood. Combined with the shaping ability of this machine is the use of a proprietary adhesive system. Contractors are now able to produce a myriad of profiles including corners, radiuses, columns, curved walls and bevels, onsite, ready to be installed. Oh and by the way, this system is totally dust free. I attended a training seminar recently where a machine was set up inside a finished office—on carpet. I had a pretty good idea of how much dust was going to be produced when they started running a router bit down a sheet of drywall and I couldn’t help being a little apprehensive as to what was going to happen when they made their first pass.

I must admit, part of me was hoping to see a dust cloud descend on a few suits, but my disappointment was quickly replaced by disbelief. Not only was there no dust cloud, there was no dust at all. And throughout the entire demonstration, the room was completely clear. The ramifications of this fact alone are pretty powerful. Not only can this machine produce profiles in an efficient manner, the air quality on the job site is not contaminated.

What I saw that day did not even come close to what I witnessed when I visited a church in Atlanta where one of these machines was being used. The contractor set aside a room specifically for making profiles for the entire job. Up to the point of my visit the contractor had already run 50,000 lineal feet of profiles. The day I was there they were milling pieces with four different cuts for soffits. The rooms had multiple soffits on every ceiling running perpendicular to each other. When you looked up, all you saw were rectangles running into each other, and every square could have no more than 1/16 inch variation from one side to the other. If you consider how much labor and material that would have been required to finish these ceilings traditionally, having to tape, bead and coat/sand these soffits would have been a monumental task. The only finishing that needed to be done on these soffits was taping and coating the small butt joints and a few short inside corners between each premade profile. The term “Drywall Art” has been used a lot lately and I have to say, that is the most fitting description for what this machine produces.

While the drywall contractor has been rather tight lipped thus far about his actual material and labor cost savings, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. My suspicion is that he wants to keep those numbers to himself because he now has a serious advantage over his competition in both his ability to produce a better finished product while substantially reducing man-hours and material costs.

After seeing the response this machine got both at tradeshows and from drywall contractors around the country, the company that signs my paycheck decided to fully support this technology. I can personally attest to the level of support Grabber has committed to with this product line. The branch that I work out of in the Northeast has a rig outfitted with a machine that can travel to your job site to manufacture profiles on-site for you to evaluate. I helped set this machine up and got to play with it. I gotta say it was big fun.

One of the things we did while learning how to correctly operate the mechanics of the table was to make drywall dice. Before you laugh, think about it. By taking a small sheet of drywall and milling the backside every 2 inches and then cutting off the correct tabs, you can actually make a perfect 2-inch by 2-inch dice by simply folding the drywall Origami style. Any profile your job calls for is just another form of drywall dice, just on a larger scale.

The different shapes and details that can be produced using this machine are only limited by your imagination. One job recently called for hundreds of access panels. Guess what, they can now be made out of drywall. Not only that, they can virtually be invisible until they need to be accessed. Another contractor was on a job that called for a bunch of curved wall. By utilizing the machine in conjunction with a special water activated backing material he was able to manufacture the pieces to the correct radius in his shop and install them on the job with minimal effort. I have seen guys make light boxes, fluted columns, drywall milled to look like ceramic tile … like I said, the possibilities are limitless.

Like most great tools, this machine is not cheap. That being said, on the right job it will pay for itself rather quickly. If you find yourself facing a detail that seems impossible to finish, give your local Grabber salesperson a call and set up an appointment with one of our specialists. If you give them a detailed drawing of what you need, they will make you profiles to try.

It’s good to be back. I have always enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you all, and sometimes I even come up with something worth reading. I am honored to be able to have a forum to discuss topics dealing with the industry I have spent most of my life in.

Remember; drywall is more than paper covered dust!