by George Lausch
Changing for the better
Nickell Moulding Co. shows that a switch to water-based finishes helps more than
just the environment.
In the early 1990s, a fine from the Indiana Environmental Protection Agency spurred Nickell Moulding Co. to
change the way it manufactured its products.
“We thought we were being on the up and
up and reporting everything, and we reported
that we were over our limit on solvents,” says
George Nickell, president of the Elkhart, Ind.-
based company. “We were trying to correct it,
but we didn’t think anything would happen.
Well, they hit us with a $900,000 fine.”
Nickell Moulding contested the fine,
got it reduced to $55,000 and paid it. Then
the company decided to change the way
it finished its products. “We made up our
mind at that point that we were not going
to mess around with any more solvent-based
finishes,” Nickell says. “Whatever it took to
switch everything to water or something
green, we would do that, and that’s what we
did back in 1992.”
The transition cost Nickell Moulding
close to $1 million, according to Matt Kent,
creative and sales director. “We switched
everything over from doing a lacquer finish www.nickellmoulding.com
to water-based finishes, put in all new equipment,” he says. “And
so basically it’s all water-based stains, paints and topcoats — no
Nickell Moulding Co.
Product: Mouldings and components for various applications and
markets, manufactured in an environmentally responsible manner
Plant area: 140,000 square feet
Trial and error
Because water-based finishes were not
common 16 years ago, Nickell Moulding
had to rely on trial and error. “It’s a whole
different learning curve with water-based
finishes,” Kent says. The company tried
alternating coats of different finishes,
but that didn’t work. “I bet you we ruined
hundreds of thousands of dollars worth
of mouldings just trying to find the right
combination of material,” Nickell says.
Nickell Moulding eventually achieved the
desired finish and application method. As a
result of those efforts, the company received
the State of Indiana 1996 Governor’s Award
for Excellence in Pollution Prevention.
Half of Nickell Moulding’s business is
producing components and mouldings for
the residential and commercial markets,
including rails, stiles and trim for the
The company has been using water-based finishes, paints and glues since
1992, when it decided to discontinue its use of lacquer-based materials.
Production employees prepare to send cut-to-size lumber into a Weinig