I became a self-employed builder back in 1980 not because I wanted to go off on my own, but because it was the only way I could find steady work. I started out by taking on just about any job I could find, but as the economy improved and my business grew, my crew and I focused on production. Everything had to be prehung, predrilled, and premilled just to keep up. Now, of course, business has gone back to being like it was in those early days, so keeping as much work as possible in house helps keep us busy.

On a recent project, for example, instead of ordering custom trim, we made our door trim from MDF. With a little planning, I found I can cut the material to trim out one side of five doors from a single sheet. At today’s prices, that works out to about $10 in materials per door to trim both sides. Once the tools are set up, it takes about 30...

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