Farming: The Art of Making Cigar Boxes
By now we’ve covered almost every phase of cigar making from planting to curing, fermentation, aging and rolling. Now that the cigars have been rolled and placed in the aging room, it’s time to construct the boxes so they can be shipped to a cigar store near you.
As I’ve mentioned in previous issues, Perdomo is a totally vertical company. So, in addition to all of our land, our farming equipment, our curing barns, technology, and our personnel, we also make the boxes for our cigars. Before you can make a cigar box you need top grade timber, and plenty of it, especially No.1 Spanish cedar. We purchase our timber from our supplier on the Atlantic coast, and we only buy the very best trees. Fortunately, Nicaragua has an abundance of Spanish cedar, but from an environmental standpoint, we feel that what you take from the land you should give back. So for every tree that we cut, we plant three more in its place.
After the bark is stripped and the timber has been cut into rectangular blocks, it will later be cut by a Wood-Mizer. Depending on what type of Perdomo box we’re making, this machine is used to cut the wood to the precise box dimensions. Prior to cutting we must know the moisture content of the wood, so we measure it with a device called a Delmhorst moisture meter. The reason we do this is because collecting data is critical to every phase of our operation.
The block is then placed on the Wood-Mizer and cut into planks. The cutting is laser guided, and so precise that every plank is exactly the same width. First, the operator slices off the top portion of the block so he can see how the grain of the wood runs. Once he has matched the grain perfectly, the block is cut into quarter-inch slabs. This is important, because if you don’t cut exactly with the grain of the wood, when you make the box it will begin arcing. This is also one of the many steps we use to maintain quality control. The other advantage of cutting with the grain is the box will have a more beautiful and natural appearance. I see our boxes as pieces of fine furniture, and they’re made that way, too. That’s why we use only the very best grades of Spanish cedar and mahogany for our boxes.
Because the Wood-Mizer sprays a fine bead of water as it cuts to keep the blade cool, the planks are very wet when they come off; plus you have the moisture that’s already in the wood, so we kiln-dry it to a bone-dry 4½-5% moisture content. The result is a cigar box that not only has more integrity, but the cigars have a better aroma, too. Our kiln drying process is also why you’ll never see a warped or sapped Perdomo cigar box.
Hey, you’re kil’n me!
The kilns themselves are 60-ft. high cubed containers, each installed with a kiln machine. It’s like a combination heater and air-conditioner with an extractor, a condenser, and an evaporator that work together. We start the kiln at 85-degrees Fahrenheit, and increase it slowly over a period of five to seven days, the average amount of time it takes to get the moisture content down to our optimum standard of 5%. Generally speaking, we keep enough kiln-dried, quarter-inch Spanish cedar on hand to make almost 35,000 boxes.
Once the planks are dry they’re taken into the box factory and placed on a shaper machine. The shaper shaves another sixteenth-of-an-inch off on both sides of the plank to comply with our precise measurements for a given box.
After the planks have been run through the shaping machine, they will go through the initial brushing and sanding process. This procedure begins with another shaper. This machine both presses and sands the planks down exactly 1/16th of an inch making them perfectly flat and ready for the sanding process.
Working Outside the Box
To make the boxes, the boards are cut on a laser radial arm saw. Not only are the cuts incredibly accurate, we can also cut the pieces at almost any degree of angle required. The radial arm saws are used to cut pieces for constructing the walls of the box, to making a block insert, and any other interior pieces that are needed. Once the pieces have been cut to their specific angles, we can proceed with making the box itself.
Using a special routing machine, all of the box corners are dovetailed, which is why our cigar boxes are so solidly made. Depending on the box, we also have to adjust for the thickness of the dovetails. For example, the Perdomo Habano boxes are thick and heavy. Since the walls are thicker, the dovetails must be cut to a thicker specification. Moreover, we have specifications for all of our lines as well as for the specific cigars sizes and shapes within each line.
Rough Around The Edges
Another machine we use in our box construction is a cliché machine. Using magnesium plates, it literally stamps an imprint into the wood. Depending on the box we’re making, the plates will have the name of the cigar on them, like Perdomo Grand Cru, Lot 23, etc. The operator puts the plate in-between two ink-coated rollers that move up and down. It takes tremendous amounts of pressure to stamp the wood deep enough for the imprint to take and bond the ink into the wood at a depth that gives it a nice, clean look.
Next, the box pieces are given a rough sanding and sent to the assembly department. First, they make sure the pieces are squared, glued together, then a heavy clear tape is applied on all four sides to maintain their integrity.
Once the boxes are set the sanding process begins. The first sanding is done on a lateral sanding machine with a belt that moves left-to-right. There’s also a pulley that moves the belt up and down to work with the grain of the wood. We start with a 60 grit sanding and go all the way up to an ultra-fine 360 grit. By the end of the process the box is smooth as silk.
Many of our boxes require tops that open with a hinge system. For those we make sure the lids open at a 115-degree angle, so they stand-up perfectly on the cigar store shelf.
After the sanding is completed, we have a quality control person who inspects each of the boxes before they go to painting. As you can see from this video segment, we leave no stone unturned when it comes to quality control.
Following inspection, the boxes are moved into the paint room. First they’re coated with a lacquer and stained by hand. When dry, the box is sanded again before applying the second coat of lacquer. The entire process is done in a virtually dust-free room. We use an eight filter system that cleans the air and circulates it so the boxes dry naturally and uniformly, rather than using artificial lights or heat as some box makers do. Additionally, this filtration system removes most of the odor from the varnish and lacquer, which is why our cigar boxes don’t have that lacquer smell you find on some boxes.
Going the Extra Mile
When it comes to the final coat, we don’t even touch the boxes. We place them on a coaster system that rotates the box 360-degrees on a spindle so the lacquer goes on as evenly as possible. We even designed a paint gun that sprays at a natural handheld angle so there’s virtually no wasted lacquer.
We also do our own silk-screening, where we can apply up to eight different colors. As always, everything is carefully done and checked. In fact, there’s so much that goes into making our boxes I could go on for several more pages. With that I’ll just say that I feel it’s important for you to see how we all work as a team at Perdomo Cigars, and put as much time, effort and quality control into making our boxes as we do growing and curing our tobacco.