By Marlee Jackson
Cabinets crafted in one tiny Alabama town form the heart of homes across America — and those kitchens come together thanks to the heart of Wellborn Cabinet.
“You can’t beat the people here in Clay County,” said Paul Wellborn, who founded the company in 1961. “It makes us feel good that we can achieve a quality product, put it on a truck and send it all over the country. We attribute that to our people.”
Wellborn’s thousand-plus workers fashion 100% American-made cabinets in Ashland. Its sprawling 2-million-square-foot facility just off Highway 77 houses each step of the woodworking process, from sawing lumber to cabinet construction to transportation.
While Wellborn also makes cabinets with other materials, wood towers above the competition. Most wood is sourced from a 60-mile radius of Wellborn’s on-site sawmill. Specialty lumber like maple and cherry is trucked in from out of state.
Once hewn, the lumber is stacked, graded and processed in a kiln, where it dries to a low-percent moisture, with steam occasionally added to increase board flexibility.
Similar-grain boards are matched by hand. Those boards are glued, dried and cut to size. Molding, framing and other details follow.
Wellborn workers use skilled hands, keen eyes and years of experience to inspect, sand and review again each piece as wood gradually becomes doors, drawers and cabinet frames.
Attention to detail is critical, said John Wellborn.
He’s one of Paul and wife Betty’s five children. Tammy, Angela, John, Stephen and Jason all work at Wellborn, where they carry on a woodworking legacy begun by Paul’s father, Morgan. Grandchildren are learning the business ropes, too.
Wellborn’s multi-generational heritage extends beyond the founding family. From the sawmill to the sanding floor, dedicated employees walk in the sawdust steps of their mothers, fathers and grandparents. Their loyalty is anchored in pride of work well done and a family atmosphere reflected in tangible benefits, such as an on-site daycare, cafeteria and wellness center.
Dozens of designers who visit for weeklong workshops experience workers’ enthusiasm. The intense training hones familiarity with Wellborn Cabinet product lines, in turn helping customers achieve dream kitchens, laundry rooms, bathrooms and more. Those dreams come to life thanks to custom features like stains, paint, pulls, sliding drawers, stove hoods, specialty lighting and more.
Visits include a tour of the factory floor, where designers are greeted with grins, “good mornings” and the light whir of sanding equipment, as craftsmen on bicycles zip from one part of the facility to another.
“When designers come here, they get to experience Southern hospitality and meet the people who make our cabinets possible,” John said. “They see the genuine care people put into each step of what they’re doing.”
And Wellborn staff members are diligent — whether making simple, square, Shaker-style cabinets or fulfilling orders with intricate insets.
Once an order is placed, pieces are sanded, primed and topped with five coats of paint.
Cabinets are assembled by hand, inspected again and boxed for delivery to a network of dealers and customers across the country. Wellborn’s reach includes Southern Living magazine Idea Homes and the Homes for Heroes program, which provides veteran housing free of charge.
The Wellborn family’s influence extends to Washington, D.C., too. In 2020, they fought to restrict imports of low-quality, foreign cabinets. Their work saved 250,000 American jobs.
“A lot of people look at the bottom line trying to make stockholders happy,” John said. “We believe in keeping everything in America.”
To further that goal, Clay County’s largest employer is expanding. Wellborn’s new, nearby facility will add 300 jobs to the economy and reflects the family’s goal: Craft American-made cabinets while investing in their workforce, customers and country.
That commitment and its impact isn’t lost on their family, Stephen said.
“I think about that every now and then — about how many kitchens are going out and will be the gathering place for the family,” he said. “We need more of that in this country.”
Learn more at wellborn.com.