A massage table may host up to 50 bodies a week and it’s a therapist’s most important tool besides their hands. If it does its job well, the table will remain unnoticed under the layers of bedding. However, if it’s uncomfortable, squeaks or wiggles, you’ll have an unhappy client. But you could probably count the things you know about massage tables on one hand.
A husband and wife team who know considerably more are Jeff and Linda Riach who started the Oakworks plant in New Freedom, Pennsylvania in 1977. The couple learned about wood-working and how to make massage tables while living in a commune which hosted wellbeing retreats. Today, their 90,000sq ft-plus factory and office employs more than 100 people and turns out around 30,000 tables a year.
The 60 different models of spa, medical and portable tables all start out in the raw materials storage area which houses eco-friendly wood from around the world and, if possible, locally. Then in the mill section, the table tops and frames are cut to size, drilled, glued, sanded and lasers are used to custom cut logos. T-nut bolts are used rather than screws which can become loose over time.
Jeff says: “Running the cutting machines is the most intellectually challenging job. It can take up to two years to master the skills which include operating computer control programs, picking up exactly the right materials and lining up the table, fixtures and jigs.”
In the upholstery department foam and fabric are applied to the top part, which Jeff says is the most physically challenging part of production. But first the quality of foam is tested for its density and Indentation Force Deflection (IFD) – the amount of force needed to make a dent. Ideally, says Jeff, high density/low IFD foam is desirable for comfort and durability. AeroCel foam, which is lightweight, contains no fibres and absorbs sound well, is preferred. Similarly, 100 per cent polyurethane fabrics are designed to be longer-lasting and have fewer off-gases.
THE END PRODUCT
Next stop is the finishing department where motors and other parts that move the table top and lift it are installed. This is also where cabinetry is added, the wood is stained, the top is married to the frame and accessories are added – there are 70 extras including the therapist-designed Boiance face rest (pictured), featuring water spheres embedded into the foam for added comfort.
If the table passes the 20 quality tests, it’s boxed for shipment to a possible 34 different countries around the world.
The factory staff works as a close-knit team and all are cross-trained in different aspects of production to prevent repetitive stress injuries, and to keep their jobs interesting – the double production line for portable tables can crank out 160 units a day.
Jeff says: “There can be up to 600 parts in a single table, and everything must work, look good, and not make noise. It’s quite a change from our days on the commune, but our goal is still the same – to make the best products we can .”