Tom Wood Custom Drive Shaft: My story. :) - Defender Source
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Old July 14th, 2010, 11:16 PM
Roving Beetle
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Doug
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Tom Wood Custom Drive Shaft: My story. :)

Note: I will update this with pics when possible - I am sorry but after a computer crash and other issues my photos may be lost, but I have a few simple ones in my phone I am trying to load. I wanted to get this posted though. I may be able to load the pics and save as a PDF or some other format to have it "look" better and the pictures inserted within the text where they really help tell the story. But for now here is my "report" on my personal view of Tom Wood's Custom Driveshaft shop in Utah.

For those that don't know or missed my posts long ago about going to see his shop: I was asked to come do a review and "interview" of his shop and business. No I am not selling anything, no I am not making money doing this etc. He got us out there, put us up and treated us well while in Salt Lake but we were not "bribed"

Thanks all for the understanding on the timing of this, special thanks to Tom who has been far above and beyond accommodating.

-----------------------

Forty-five minutes north of Salt Lake City, my wife and I turned off of Route 15 into a quiet industrial park removed from the hustle-and-bustle of the nearby ski town of Ogden, Utah.

Negotiating the grid work of warehouses and shops, we found our way to our destination, Custom Drive Shafts Inc., where we were greeted by the friendly (although slightly intimidating in stature) proprietor, Tom Wood. The shop was abuzz with the noise of machinery that showed little notice of our arrival. After a shop overview and a friendly, almost family-style introduction to the office crew (and why not, as most of them have been working with Tom for five-to-fifteen years in one way or another!), we started the tour where the production of a drive shaft starts, in the next bay over.

Parts in Tom Wood’s shop are stored in neatly organized bins, crates and pallets. Being asked to grab any Land Rover-specific drive shaft yoke we wanted from a large crate of identical pieces (to avoid any chance of things being "rigged"), Tom began to demonstrate his thorough testing of the parts and discuss his requirements for optimum quality. Using custom jigs, micrometers and hardness testing equipment, he showed us how parts are tested for accuracy of fit, form and hardness. He also displayed to us parts that did not meet his specifications and explained how the very slightest deviation threatened to compromise the overall quality of a drive shaft. The truth of this demand for accuracy was evident as we returned to the main work area and passed the sizable recycling bin full of parts indistinguishable to us from the parts inside. We entered the workshop and moved from work station to work station, meeting each specialist as we followed along the production process. Generally, a single person works at each logically laid out station, each of which is distributed evenly around the room. Although each employee is assigned a primary station and responsibility in order to maximize efficiency, the organization enables them to easily transition over and cover each other’s responsibilities as necessary. As Tom put it himself, "I’ve often explained to prospective employees or others, `I could hire a certified machinist, welder or mechanic and we would still need to train them for everything we do.’ In many ways, building drive shafts is a melding of these three fields. The thing I look for in an employee is honesty and a work ethic. Once a person comes into the market as a prospective employee, if they don’t already possess these qualities, they cannot be taught. Everything else can be learned by a person of reasonable intelligence."

As employees light-heartedly relayed stories of Tom's insistence for shop cleanliness and order, it became clear that Tom Wood takes on a bit of a paternal role as an employer. In fact, one of the busy workers turned out to be his son. With not a single note of resentment, the employees told us of the stern guidelines they work under; guidelines that seem to foster a genuine pride in their work and a commitment to their employer. On average, Tom's full-time employees have been with him about seven-and-a-half years; the newest employee has spent four years on the job. It says a lot. "I do pay my employees well,” Tom explained of the longevity. “A more fair statement would be that they earn a more than average wage. It is after all they who do most of the work around here. In reality, they are now the people who support me and I am happy to reciprocate."

It's a refreshing statement to hear that sort of appreciation for employees. Tom clarifies it a bit by continuing, "I don’t believe the longevity of my employee basis is all about money, though. They are treated well too. It really pisses me off when I see companies treat their employees as a commodity or as a `Human Resource.’ I take a good deal of interest in their personal lives. We go beyond the ordinary and have helped many of them out with things like purchasing a new home or car, painting or landscaping. My wife has even tended to their children when needed. I want them to have a life outside of work. This is the reason we are only open Monday through Friday. Their schedules are flexible. I have one employee who comes in early so he can attend classes at the local college. Others come in later. I really don’t care as long as the work gets done, which they all do very well." In my opinion, this type of care for employees is one of the key reasons for supporting a "local" business.

To further support his employees and foster a sense of community, Tom either purchases or personally prepares lunch for them each Tuesday. "I am a good cook,” he said confidently. “We’ve had things like grilled salmon (which I caught in Alaska), prime rib, smoked ham, lobster, king crab, soups to die for, authentic and homemade enchiladas and tacos. In addition, I spend six-to-eight hundred dollars a month for the shop pantry, keeping it stocked with plenty of soda and microwaveable foods. I do remember the old California Dairy Association advertisement tag line of `A happy cow is a productive cow.’ I believe it applies to humans too." This type of leadership clearly filters down from the top and creates a solid basis for a productive shop.

Getting back to the process of assembly, Tom’s son demonstrated for us how the cross pin tolerances are checked and doubled checked for the CV yoke. I randomly selected a CV center housing from a large collection. This was fitted with the shops own custom 1310 size U-joints, and was installed with a small amount of lock tight on the caps for security. When ready, U-joint caps were checked for fit and freedom of movement within the needle bearings. Grease fittings were then installed by hand and the fully assembled CV unit was ready to be made in to a full drive shaft. For this Land Rover Discovery shaft, DOM [drawn-over mandrel] tubing of 2 inch OD and 0.120 inch wall was used. A length of USA-made DOM tubing was selected from an organized rack and set into the jaws of a metal-cutting band saw. Looking at a production sheet, the builder then referenced specifications for appropriate fit. Once sized, the ends were cleared of burrs or ridge on a shop-built lathe to ensure a proper fit to the spline section and a good weld chamfer. "The tubing I use is USA manufactured upon my insistence,” Tom explained. “I have tried some of the foreign tube, long ago, in a far away galaxy. Absolutely the best tubing I have found is USA-manufactured. Canada makes some good tubing too, but I use only USA manufactured ASTM 1018-ASTM 1020 drawn-over-mandrel tube. In addition to this, drive shaft components are often made for various wall thicknesses, such as a 2.5" outside diameter for either a 0.065" or 0.083" wall thickness. I stock only the parts and tube for the thicker tube. Most of the Land Rover drive shafts we build use a 2" O.D. X 0.120" wall thickness tube."

We were then asked to grab a standard spline section out of a neatly stacked bundle. It was wiped off and chucked into another shop-built lathe-welding-truing machine. Slid together along with the DOM tube, it was spun and checked in all phases for any run-out or wobble. Satisfied with the initial set-up, the tube was welded to the spline with a semi-automated MIG welding system. The shaft was spun by hand to allow the builder the control needed to get a perfect consistent weld with the proper penetration. Care is taken at all steps to weld the shaft and cool it such that the part keeps it strength and stay true and straight. Next the CV assembly was welded in place with the same care and detail. The shaft was now triple-checked for warping or run-out. Careful heating and cooling was applied in the appropriate locations to bring the shaft back to perfect alignment, a process that can only be learned through knowledge and experience. Every step of the process was clean, methodical and documented.

Probably the most talked about issue with drive shafts is balance and vibration. Custom Drive Shafts Inc. takes this very seriously. The machinery they use, from Axxis, is a work of art in terms of fit and finish, and as a lover of tools, it was a joy to see the machine in action. Even the very slightest bit of play in any part makes a profound and marked change in the overall balance of the equipment, and this machine easily displayed how the slightest vibration in a vehicle’s transfer case or transmission output becomes amplified with the use of a heavier, high-quality shaft. This is not to say a balance issue is never the shaft; certainly, it can be. However, after seeing how sensitive the equipment was and how even a hardly seen or felt "wiggle" at one end could cause a remarkable increase in vibration, it was clear that pinion and output bearings need to be 110% to get the most out of a shaft.

My time with Tom Wood and his crew did not just make me contemplate how a good drive shaft manufacturing company should run, but in these difficult economic times, it made me consider the values of any business that wants to succeed in today’s global economy. It all starts with a quality product, of course, but Wood’s success suggests that there is more at work. Just as important, if not more so, is stellar customer service, the retention and sincere appreciation of employees and producing a product that can compete in cost and quality with imported goods so that jobs can remain within the United States.

The made-in-the-USA mantle is one that means a lot to Woods. Frustrated at seeing so much manufacturing being done overseas, Tom focuses on the quality of his products to compete. Many times he has had to put countless dollars and hours into having his own parts designed and produced as there are no other viable options. Some of these products are produced outside of the USA, but only as a last option if Woods cannot find a USA-manufactured product that meets his design and quality requirements. He is quick to stress that these overseas parts are not procured from out of the USA to save money; in fact they very often cost him more. It is done only to meet his demand for a superior quality product with the best innovation possible. Some people cringe at the thought of non-domestic parts, worrying about the quality of imported goods, but just as it is State-side, there are good and bad producers abroad. Built to his specs through constant metallurgy testing, hardness and failure tests, Tom Wood feels confident he is offering an absolutely top quality product at Custom Drive Shafts Inc., and he has the paperwork and specs to back this up.

"I will emphatically state that I have never purchased in favor of cost over quality. There are many “me too” manufacturers from China or elsewhere in the world who offer parts that are very similar to those I use. I do not use these parts even though I could easily save 50 percent on many of my purchases. I do know there are a lot of other drive line shops who do use these lowest cost parts and produce a drive shaft that looks a lot like ours." Tom continued, "If there is a US manufacturer who makes a component that suits my needs and my customer’s needs, I will and do use it. I can honestly state too that in every instance of having a part made for me, I have given every effort to have these made by US manufacturers. [Sometimes, however,] they simply will not even consider doing things my way.”

Tom is careful to not "bash" any supplier as it seems to me it's not the style of business he runs. His suggestion to do a search on the Web for Wanxiang Neapco and Spicer India was interesting considering the general public consumer thinking regarding those two well-known names in the drive line industry. This is not to say those mentioned companies are bad; it’s just that their global reputation may not align with what most consumers (myself included) think. Tom goes on to say," There are good manufacturers in almost any part of the world. The hard part for me is to find them. For the limited number of parts that are produced overseas, I believe I have found the good manufacturers. You may also recall seeing the Toyota-type CV components that I get from South Africa. They have proven to be superior to anything I can get anywhere in the world, including similar parts which are Toyota factory original. And that is difficult to do! I’ve said many times, size for size, Toyota components are better than anything made in the US.”

Belief and devotion to this ideal of quality includes generous customer service. Tom spends countless hours with clients, offering advice and exchanging information to be able to provide the best product. An even more difficult task for a company pursuing the highest quality is a willingness to take product back if the client is not satisfied. Although not always convinced the origin of the dissatisfaction stems from his product, Woods is keenly aware that he cannot maintain a reputation of quality without a willingness to receive returns. The best advertisement, after all, is a happy customer. Testimonials, emails and other information about Tom Wood and his business Custom Drive Shafts Inc. can be found on his website: www.4xshaft.com

It's always hard to choose a company to support when there are multiple options out there. In my opinion, however, it's an easy choice in this case, as I feel that Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts Inc. has a quality, innovative product, honest and straight-forward customer service, a long track record and a devotion and commitment to employees that is above and beyond the norm. I can't help but feel good about supporting such a business.

Respectfully,
Doug ******
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  #2  
Old July 14th, 2010, 11:29 PM
rmuller
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Ryan
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Great article Doug... Maybe Tom would be able to snap a few pictures of the shop for you to go along with it?
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  #3  
Old July 14th, 2010, 11:42 PM
Roving Beetle
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Doug
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Thanks Ryan - I am sure he could but the whole idea was that *I* took them, not staged, not rigged blah blah blah.

I have a few cell shots that are not horrible, just need to figure how to insert them in the DOC.

My computer is currently "updating" a whole butt load of stuff and when it's done I can try and post them in the bottom of the post if nothing else.

Doug
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Old August 19th, 2010, 04:01 PM
andyrad
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My new "Woodies" just arrived. I'll take a couple pics and post the results of the install. I'm hoping that I got all the right angles to them so my vibrations will disappear because I've got some wierd ones right now.
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Old August 20th, 2010, 11:01 AM
andyrad
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Wow, am I impressed. The vibrations are all gone and the weight and quality is second to none. You can see the size difference in the fittings, tubes, etc and the range of motion, not to mention how much more room there is to get a wrench in there.
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  #6  
Old April 21st, 2012, 01:37 PM
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Landy_Andy
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Andy
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Nice write-up, already have Woodies on my D2 as it's running a 3" lift, will be getting a rear DC one made up for my 100" conversion & later a front to match.... once the wife approves the funds
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